Joel Osteen has been the center of popularity and criticism for some time now. I, myself have even thrown a couple of elbows his way for some of his statements.
In the last couple of days the Texas pastor has been somewhat exposed for his inconsistent understanding and application of theology (see Dr Mohler’s article). The result is a bit of commotion (conveniently coinciding with the release of his new book Every Day’s a Friday).
At the same time, I have to call a timeout. CNN featured a story on the smiling mega-church pastor today and indicated that Osteen is being criticized by many for preaching “a gospel-lite.”
This is just unfair and uncalled for. There is enough fodder from the preaching file of Joel Osteen to confirm that this is simply not true.
Osteen does not preach a gospel-lite because he doesn’t preach anything near the gospel. To call what he does anything like gospel is not fair to the gospel. When I want a soda I grab a “Diet Coke” because I still want a Coke without the calories. What he does is more like drinking Mello-Yello. It is not a Coke product. To say he is preaching a gospel-lite is simply not true. He is not preaching a Christian product.
It has been widely reported that Osteen is preaching a prosperity gospel that is laced with self-help. He is part televangelist and part Dr Phil.
It was interesting to read in the CNN article what one of his defenders articulated:
“Osteen may not have the grasp of theology and church history that some pastors have, but he knows how to connect with ordinary Americans through a therapeutic message that draws heavily from pop culture…”
Did you catch that? His loose grip on theology and church history is a virtue along with his “therapeutic message.” The danger with Osteen’s approach is that it’s billed as Christian while it is devoid of the gospel. When Jesus is mentioned it’s like Osteen is stealing his bandwith just to promote his brand.
This is another unsettling reminder of just how uncalibrated he is to historic orthodox Christianity. The call to discipleship is not a calling of self-fulfillment but self-denial. Jesus said as much himself:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9.23)
The denial of self is the repudiation of the value, identity and potential of the self. It is the full renouncement of the self and the full embracing of Christ. In Osteen’s preaching that denial is carefully replaced with the word fulfill. This is deadly because it’s not only false but it doesn’t work. It’s a sham. You will not enjoy Your Best Life Now if you follow Jesus. On the contrary, you are promised conflict and difficulty (Phil. 1.29; 2 Tim. 3.12). Look at church history. Look at Paul. Look at Jesus.
Keeping with Osteen’s theme and new book, Every Day a Friday, isn’t it ironic that Jesus too lived a number of Fridays, most notably Good Friday when he was crucified because of what he believed and taught. Yes, we follow that guy. And yes we Christians preach about that day.
A Christian preacher who does not emphasize the sin-atoning cross of Christ is not preaching a “gospel-lite” because they are not preaching the gospel.