Door: …So you have one of the biggest churches in America right now, what does that feel like?
Osteen: Wow, I tell you it is just amazing to watch what God is doing in so many people’s hearts. I just can’t believe all the wonderful things that we are seeing: People getting saved, healed, delivered, problems going away, learning how to be happy…
Door: …Are you part of any particular group, theologically?
Osteen: Not really, our main thing is just Jesus. We’re focused on Him. He is the one who we need to look to. We need to be careful not to love anything else.
Door: You seem to espouse a more Charismatic view theologically … you often speak of people getting healed and delivered and set free … So you have gotten some criticism from some of the more conservative folks. They claim that even though you talk about those things quite a bit, that you lack solid scriptural basis.
Osteen: Yeah, I have heard that before. This is what I always go back to – our message is one that helps the hurting. People are tired of hearing hell-fire and brimstone sermons. I know that the Bible is full of all kinds of hard issues, but we really want to stay away from those. People really need to only focus on the good. That’s why I talk about all the positive stuff…
Door: Many are concerned that people are coming to your church and hearing only messages geared to make them feel good, and that there isn’t any real spiritual growth taking place.
Osteen: I don’t know if I would say that. I think that the biggest proof of spiritual growth is when we have to keep building bigger and bigger churches to hold all the happy people. We have a slogan here at Lakewood: “If you’re happy enough, people will know where you go to church.” Jesus often spoke through smiles and that is what we are all about. We don’t need to confuse anyone with doctrine or theology. That is for old people. If our people are anything like me, if I were to preach a sermon based on good solid theology, they would only walk away with headaches…” (© The Door Magazine, July/August 2004).
A Biblical Critique
- We are commanded in the Bible, God’s Word, to not only love Jesus, but also to love:
- one another (i.e., Christians/the brethren) – 1 Jn. 3:11; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8; 1 Thes. 4:9; Heb. 13:1
- our neighbors – Jas. 2:8
- our wives – Eph. 5:25, 28
- our husbands – Titus 2:4
- our children – Titus 2:4
- all people – 1 Thes. 3:12
- wisdom – Prov. 4:6
- truth – 2 Thes. 2:10
- Whether people are tired of hearing hell-fire and brimstone sermons or not is irrelevant. We are to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, as all of it is the inspired Word of God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness to make us people of God who are adequate and equipped for every good work (read Psa. 119:160; Jn. 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Notice that 2 Tim. 3:16 says that it’s profitable for “reproof and correction”, which some people might consider “negative stuff”, but actually it’s good and positive if viewed from God’s perspective. If people need to only focus on the so-called “good, positive stuff”, then why does over half the Bible, God’s Word, focus on sin, judgment, punishment, and repentance? The Bible tells us that Jesus and the apostle Paul are our examples to follow/imitate (read Jn. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thes. 3:7, 9), yet Jesus spoke about hell more than any other Bible character, and both He and Paul talked about sin and the need for repentance quite often. Nearly every book of the Bible that Paul wrote was written to correct some error or sin among those in the Church, and Paul wrote nearly half of the New Testament books of the Bible.
Staying away from the so-called “hard issues” or the “negative stuff” is omitting over half of what the Bible/God’s Word has to say and isn’t really helping people, but hurting them because God says they were written for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:6, 11) so that we wouldn’t crave evil things. To skip over what God says was written for our instruction is hurtful, not helpful.
- Spiritual growth has nothing to do with numerical growth and the size of a church building. Where do you see that in the Bible? Using that faulty logic, one would have to conclude that the cults (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) and world religions (e.g., Islam) are growing spiritually too. Yet, the Bible would label them as spiritually dead and accursed (Gal. 1:8-9; Eph. 2:1-2; Rom. 6:23). Happiness is not an evidence of spiritual growth either. Nowhere is that found in Scripture. Rather, spiritual growth is evidenced by increased Christlikeness, which is God’s goal for the Church (read Eph. 4:11-16). Nowhere in the Bible does it say that “Jesus spoke through smiles”, let alone “often”. There’s more biblical evidence that Jesus spoke harshly or with anger than that He “often spoke through smiles” (read Mk. 3:5; Jn. 2:13-16; Matt. 21:12-13; 23:13, 15-17, 25, 27, 33; 12:34; 15:15; 21:18-19; Mk. 8:17-18, 21, 33; 7:26-27; 14:6; Lk. 9:41, 55; 13:15, 17, 31-32; Jn. 8:43-44, 55; 13:8). If smiling is what Lakewood Church is all about (which can also be accomplished by going to a circus or other place of entertainment), then they are in sad shape because that’s not what the Bible says we are to be “all” about. Rather, we are to be “all about” being Christ-like in character (Eph. 4:13; Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; Col. 1:28; Gal. 4:19) and mission (Lk. 19:10; Matt. 28:19-20; 2 Tim. 4:5; Rom. 14:19; 1 Thes. 5:11; Eph. 4:11-13). People can smile, look clean-cut and conservative, appear really nice, yet be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Remember what God says in 2 Cor. 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…”
And as for “judging”, the Bible commands us to judge. That’s right! We are to judge with righteous judgment (Jn. 7:24), that is, judgment based on facts, and the Bible is fact/truth. So, if someone states something that is contrary to what the Bible says or says something that the Bible doesn’t say, then we have the responsibility to judge and correct the false teaching and false teachers. The Bible is filled with examples of such righteous judging. All of God’s Old Testament prophets did it. John the Baptist did it (e.g., Matt. 3:1, 7; Lk. 3:19; Mk. 6:18). Jesus did it (e.g., Matt. 23:13-33; Jn. 8:26, 43-44, 55). Peter did it (e.g., Acts 5:3). Stephen did it (e.g., Acts 7:51-53). Paul did it (e.g., Acts 13:8-11; 1 Cor. 3:1-3; 5:3-5, 11; Phil. 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:19-20). And we are to do it (e.g., Jn. 7:24; 1 Cor. 14:29; 5:11-13; 10:15; 11:13).
Theology (which means “the study of God”), if it’s biblical, is necessary and beneficial because one’s concept of God will determine how one thinks and lives (e.g., Rom. 4:18-21; Heb. 11:17-19; Gen. 50:15-20; 1 Sam. 14:6; 17:45-46; Num. 14:8-9; 2 Chron. 20:6-7, 9, 12; 32:7-8; Neh. 4:14, 20; Job 1:20-21; Jonah 4:2; Psa. 135:3-6; 100:2-3; 9:10).
Also, doctrine (which means “teaching”), if it’s biblical, is not given by God to confuse, but to instruct, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness, as has been already stated by God Himself in 2 Tim. 3:16-17. If it’s biblical doctrine, it’s needed, helpful, and commanded, so that we can grow properly, be guided correctly, live right, and not be swept into error. That’s why God gave gifted Bible teachers to the Church (Eph. 4:11-16).
And if a pastor/elder/overseer/spiritual leader isn’t teaching sound doctrine, then he’s disqualified to be in that position (Titus 1:7-9) and disobedient to God (Titus 2:1, 7). And we’re commanded to turn away from those speaking teachings/doctrines that are contrary to what the Bible, God’s Word, teaches (Rom. 16:17-18). Or, if you’re a spiritual leader who knows the Bible really well, then you should correct them initially with the hopes that they’ll change (2 Tim. 2:24-26), or reprove them severely if the situation calls for it because they’re rebellious deceivers (Titus 1:10-13). God describes those who have wrong/false doctrine rather than sound words/doctrine as conceited and understanding nothing (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
Timothy, a spiritual leader/pastor/minister, is commanded to preach the word; to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with instruction/doctrine, and to do so “in season and out of season” (i.e., whether it’s welcome/wanted or not welcome/wanted), 2 Tim. 4:2. A pastor/minister who’s not doing this is not being obedient to God’s Word, as Timothy represents what all pastors/ministers are to do. And why are they to do this? Because the time will come (and is now here) when people will not endure sound teaching, but want their ears tickled and will turn away from the truth and believe myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This sounds like what Joel thinks about the people in his church, based on his own words, “If our people are anything like me, if I were to preach a sermon based on good solid theology, they would only walk away with headaches”. It also sounds like Joel is trying to be a people-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser, and should, therefore, read Gal. 1:9-10. Sounds like Joel needs to read the whole Bible and not omit teaching the majority of it, so that people see the error of their ways and repent rather than feel good about themselves while living in sin (read 1 Thes. 5:14).
If Jesus was here today and went to Lakewood Church, there’s a good chance He’d cast/drive the leadership out like He did the moneychangers and sellers of merchandise in the temple because the Lakewood leadership turned God’s “house of prayer” into an “entertainment center” (Mk. 11:15-17; Jn. 2:14-16).
This critique does not address other false teachings of Joel Osteen, such as: man having a free will, the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and healings still being for today, women teaching men in the church, the prosperity heath-and-wealth gospel, etc.