The Prosperous Lies of Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen

Even before he takes the stage, Joel Osteen‘s “ministry” sends out the ubiquitous lie: “Discover the champion in you.”

As a pastor whose facility packs 16,000 people in each meeting, Joel Osteen is a mammoth and has become his own industry.   Succeeding his father, John, in 1999 Osteen has written several books including the New York Times bestseller, Your Best Life Now. He has been hailed by former presidential candidate John McCain as “inspiring” and was named on the list of the most interesting people of 2006 by Barbara Walters.

Through the rose-colored lenses of capitalism, Joel Osteen is the zenith of what it means to be a success.  In less than a decade he has taken the church he inherited from his father and built it into an empire of sorts.  His books top the best-seller lists and his name is synonymous with an inspiring and uplifting message.  To share a taste of his teaching, I simply went to YouTube.com and found the most recent of his Sunday “sermonars.”  Take a moment to listen what he has to say in this 10 minute clip before reading on (the rest of the message is here and here):

Most Preachers Use the Bible

Beginning with the weekly ritual of Lakewood Church, Osteen has those in attendance lift their Bibles and call out:

This is my bible.  I am what it says I am.  I have what it says I have.  I can do what it says I can do.  Today I will be taught the Word of God.  I boldly confess.  My mind is alert. My heart is receptive.  I will never be the same.  In Jesus’ name.

What the people do not realize is that they have been indoctrinated into the lie by committing the offense themselves.  There is no biblical teaching in this segment, and certainly not in the rest of his message this particular Sunday morning.  In the above video, the only reference he even gives to Scripture is Romans 15:29, which is completely out of context as it is the apostle Paul’s benediction of his letter, much in the spirit of saying “best wishes.”

The remainder of the talk, and certainly characteristic of his other such “sermonars,” is all about how to get wealth, health, and prosperity.  Osteen’s message is in exact step with those representing the heresy of what has been deemed “the prosperity gospel.”  It is certainly not the gospel at all, because it ignores Christ’s call to come and die and instead twists passages to say that following Christ is a lucrative business, which it obviously is for Osteen.

The ‘Perfect’ Example

Osteen, commenting that he is not even a pastor but more a life coach, uses himself as an example.  He had only preached one sermon prior to becoming the senior pastor of the church after the tragic death of his father. It would seem that Joel must have tapped into some secret knowledge of the ways of God or he would not have become successful.  At least that is his conclusion.

Even outside of a religious context Osteen’s message is a bag of lies.  It is completely illogical to assume that all the thousands that he speaks to each week are going to be multi-millionaires and that it will because they were patient, believe enough that it would happen, and wanted it enough.  It makes no logical sense that other people are going to earn the wealth and that they will drop it into the laps of others who have not worked for it.  He does not take into account that this message would be absolute mockery to millions of people living below the poverty line and starving for lack of the most basic resources.

Let us ignore that it is the thousands of people who give to him out of their relative poverty, with the firm belief that he is teaching the truth, who are funding his lavish lifestyle.  Ironically, having experienced tragedy in his life does not stop Osteen from declaring that each and every person in his audience can be wealthy beyond measure if they only believe enough and have enough desire for that wealth.

Gospel-Free

Even ignoring their teaching, it is clear from the events of the lives Jesus and his followers mentioned in the New Testament that if health and wealth are fruits of believing and desiring, then they each fell incredibly short.  Almost all the people mentioned in the New Testament who followed Christ came under fire for their beliefs.  Most of them died martyr’s death and many spent significant time in prison.  We are hard pressed to find anyone who became wealth, healthy and prosperous as the result of the gospel.

Since it is impossible to preach the gospel without using the name of Jesus (which he only does in the above chant), it is not a stretch to declare that there is a complete absence of anything Christian in this meeting.  The gospel message is that we are sinners, having inherited the depravity of humankind, and it is only the atoning sacrifice that Christ made that was able to mend that broken relationship with God.  While other faiths believe in seeking for God and struggling to connect, we believe in a God who steps into human history to reach out to us in our desperate need for a Savior.  It means that there is nothing that we can do to achieve God’s favor, and that we are called to follow in the steps of Christ as a response to the work that he has done on our behalf.

Conclusion: Pick Another Profession

If Joel wants to be a life coach, he needs to get himself a degree in psychology and earn his credentials to actually and professionally instruct people in ways that would actually help them to live better lives.  In doing so he may come to a point where he can indeed face the reality of the lies that he has been selling like the charlatans who sell hair tonics and love potions. 

Instead Osteen is lying to these people and taking advantage of their sensibilities.  He is promising what he cannot deliver and what God has never promised.  Osteen is building unrequited hopes in the lives of thousands, and he is successful only in distracting them from the gospel and an eternal relationship with the Almighty God. 

Joel Osteen needs to get out of the church business.

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

14 responses to “The Prosperous Lies of Joel Osteen

  • Treva

    Thanks Aaron….I have often thought….am I the only one who thinks this guy should be selling cars……but not to me 🙂

  • Boz

    OP said:

    It is completely illogical to assume that all the thousands that he speaks to each week are going to be multi-millionaires and that it will because they were patient, believe enough that it would happen, and wanted it enough.

    How is this substantially different to a religious service that emphasises faith and hell/heaven?

    Both services make unsubstantiated promises of a very desirable situation (being very rich, being in paradise), and both say that the promise will be fulfilled because the follwers were patient, believed enough that it would happen, and wanted it enough.

  • Tiffany

    I whole-heartedly agree with you on this one!

  • Aaron

    @ Boz

    First, take a look at this post and the comments there and let me know if that helps with part of your question: http://pastoraaron.info/2009/09/02/templeton-prayer-study-fail/

    Secondly, Christianity is based on the Bible. Had Osteen been speaking from the Bible he would have shared about the promise of heaven, but not the promise of getting rich off the money that other people are making.

    Also, it is a corruption perpetrated by our American capitalist society that if we believe enough or desire it enough that something will happen. This is totally insane on any level. It is certainly not Christianity as defined by the Bible!

  • Aaron

    Author of the book “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church,” Warren Cole Smith, compares Osteen’s message with the words of the serpent when Eve was tempted: “You will be like God.”

    As Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.” (Matthew 16:23… and check that context!)

  • Bobby

    This is interesting.. I’m a big fan of Joel Osteen. This post give me another insight about Joel, however even sometimes i also felt that Joel sermon and quote from bible out of context but i think he give his best. and people like it.

  • Aaron

    If Osteen is quoting the Bible out-of-context, can he really be teaching what the Bible says? Is being a best-selling author and saying what people want to hear a sure test that it is the truth that he is spreading?

    Take a look at 2 Timothy 4:1-8

  • educator

    interesting, thank you.

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  • Lanny Grant

    The amount of sniping at Joel Osteen tells me he’s doing the Lord’s work. Joel’s teachings are Biblically-correct: God wants us to believe for “wealth and health,” despite our present circumstances, because that’s what faith in Him is – believing all things are possible with Him, even though “in the natural” (as Joel calls it) it doesn’t seem that way. Joel always stresses for us to avoid temptation, live a life of generosity, integrity and honor, and believe in God for all things – which is also Biblically-correct. People can go to most any church and hear about hell and condemnation. Osteen knows that. He’s just found his own niche in the faith, and a very inspiring one at that.

  • EarleyDaysYet

    One of my high school classmates was the son of a woman who had had polio as a child. Twisted & bent, she was still the most beautiful, joyous, content, loving Godly woman I’ve ever met. Her church pastor sat down with her husband one day & explained that she hadn’t been healed because her faith was insufficient. They left that church immediately, and my opinion of the “prosperity” Gospel was cemented. It makes no sense to claim that all True Christians deserve wealth and health, in the face of endemic illnesses and global recession.

  • Anthony Harkin

    I heard about the, “New Evangelicalism”, written on by a Bible church representative. I had no idea what he was talking about, until, that is, I listened to Osteen. This junk isn’t Biblical at all, but for some reason it appeals to the masses!

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