Joel Osteen is an author, televangelist, and the Senior Pastor of the largest Protestant Church in America. His house is worth 10.5 million dollars and his net worth is over 40 million dollars. He is most well-known for the “Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel” that he preaches on a weekly basis. His basic message is simple: If you believe in Jesus you will get rich and all of your needs will be met. The Prosperity Gospel is not in line with biblical truth and is ultimately a false gospel. Millions hear this false gospel and believe it, thus putting their hope in a lie. As Christians, it is our responsibility to edify the church in love. With that in mind how do we respond to Joel Osteen and his Prosperity Gospel?
First we must realize the Prosperity Gospel is a false gospel. The Prosperity Gospel says if you believe in God you will get rich and have all your needs met. On the contrary, the Bible says that sometimes good guys suffer and bad guys prosper (Jeremiah 12 and Job). It says that life on earth has momentary affliction and the best is yet to come (2 Corinthians 4:17). When we look at the life of Paul, it is clear that those who follow God don’t get rich or get all they want. Paul went to prison and was severely beaten because he followed Christ. In Romans 5:3-5, we see that suffering is inevitable, and in fact, suffering is beneficial because it “produces character, and character produces hope.” It is evident that Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel is far from the gospel we find in God’s Word.
Among many Christians there is a lot of discussion revolving around Joel Osteen. While I do believe we need to talk about him, I also believe there is a right and wrong way to go about it. In the majority of Joel Osteen discussions, there is much chatter that doesn’t edify the church but rather hurts it. It is easy to look at Joel Osteen and become angry at him. Hear me when I say: Joel Osteen does preach a false gospel and lives a false gospel. I am not okay with this and I believe as Christians, it is our obligation to respond to this situation. Unfortunately, the majority of Christians approach this situation with angry, hateful, bitter, arrogant and prideful hearts. We have the right to be angry about a false gospel being preached, but no right to respond wrongly out of anger.
I have been part of many Joel Osteen discussions that involve phrases like “he is the devil”, “he is a cancer to this world”, “he needs to die” and “he is a disgrace to Christianity.” While these claims may be extreme, I have heard other Christians say the words “Joel Osteen” as they begin to laugh uncontrollably. When we talk about Joel Osteen, a deeper issue comes to the surface. Behind our poisonous words and prideful laughter, there is a heart that is also living a false gospel. We criticize Joel Osteen not to edify the church, but to build ourselves up. We think that if we can all agree Joel Osteen is a terrible Christian, we can conclude that we are the “better” Christians. It takes the focus away from our own sin and places it on another person. I do believe we must talk about Joel Osteen, but not the way we have been doing.
Joel Osteen is a man with a lot of power because his reputation is larger than life. Because of his reputation, people are quick to believe whatever words he speaks. Hebrews 13:9, Romans 16:17-18, 2 Peter 3:17, Titus 1:10-11, 1 Timothy 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:16-18, Galatians 1:8-9, and 2 Peter 2:1 all say that we must be aware of false teachers. It is our responsibility as the Church to edify the Church. In order to do this, we must talk about Joel Osteen, or even better, the true Gospel of Jesus.
As others hear Joel Osteen speak, they may begin to believe the Prosperity Gospel. It is our job to tell people of the real gospel. Imagine a man has a gallon of water. He goes to a town full of people who have cancer. He tells them that if they drink from his water they will be healed. Let’s say I knew that his gallon of water was not actually water. It was really poison that slowly kills you. Knowing this, it would be my job to go around the town and tell people that it is not real water and it will not heal them, but actually kill them. Joel Osteen is like a man carrying the gallon of water. He says whoever drinks from it will have a prosperous life. It looks good and attracts many because of its appeal, yet it is a false gospel that will slowly kill you. This false gospel is dangerous, so how do we respond to Joel Osteen and his teachings?
We must pray for him and the Church every single day. He preaches a Prosperity Gospel, but with all our criticism and hatred, we are also preaching a false gospel that says the desire to criticize far outweighs the need to pray. And when I say the word “criticize” I do not mean making fun of someone. Making fun of someone is for our benefit while criticizing is for the church’s benefit. Yes, we must speak truth and tell people about the real gospel, but if we dismiss prayer, we are living out a false gospel. If you have a desire to see Joel Osteen turn to God and embrace the truth, why do you criticize without prayer? When Paul wrote to different churches, he didn’t just criticize them, he criticized and prayed. If you are someone who talks negatively about Joel Osteen more than you pray for him, you need to take a moment to evaluate your heart. Here are some math equations to think about:
Criticism – Prayer = Destructive
Criticism + Prayer = Edifying
So how do we respond? We respond by preaching the gospel not only with our words, but also with our actions. As we do this, we are to be continuously praying not only for Joel Osteen’s heart, but also for our own. The Church is not built up by anger, hate, bitterness, arrogance or pride. The Church is built up by proclaiming the truth in love. I challenge us to be people who humbly love others while proclaiming the truth as we pray without ceasing.