Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Gospel According to Joel Osteen

Making light of the theological depth of Joel Osteen is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. It is just way too easy. I would never do that. I'll let Chris Lehmann do it, here. A few gems, collected below.

Osteenian theology:

"Even many good, godly people have gotten into a bad habit of slumping and looking down...[Y]ou need to put your shoulders back, hold your head up high, and communicate strength, determination, and confidence."

"get in the habit of smiling on purpose"

"It doesn't please God for us to drag through life like miserable failures," he scolds. The Creator "wants you to succeed; He created you to live abundantly."

"If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be up on it. If God carried a wallet, your photo would be in it."

The Osteen Creed:

"This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I do what it says I can do, I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible, ever-living seed of God, and I will never be the same. Never, never, never. I will never be the same. In Jesus' name. Amen."

Lehmann is having none of it.

Mr. Osteen's rigid – and plainly dangerous – nominalist faith sits uncomfortably alongside an obsession with blood heredity, which seems to contradict the notion of a purely spiritual and supernatural health-care eerily collapsible spiritual narcissism that downgrades the divine image into the job description for a lifestyle concierge.


Magotty Man said...

I hope you post something else soon. Opening up a blog and seeing a picture of Osteen gives me the heebie-jeebies...

BTW, the internetmonk had a particularly strinking post on Osteen some time ago - but you might enjoy the accompanying graphics...

Terry (John) said...

I know, I know. It creeps me out too. Any suggestions for a picture less offensive???

Magotty Man said...

Maybe something less creepy - like the bug in Men-In-Black ?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe it when they released the Joel Osteen board game. Unbelievable.

Terry (John) said...

A board game??? You've got to be kidding! But no, I just Googled it, and there it is--now marked down to only $26.99 plus shipping. Just goes to show--things are usually worse than you can imagine!

Ochlophobist said...

Joel Osteen board game! It is information such as this which keeps me an avid reader of this blog.

You can get the game for $14.97
on Amazon. I have several friends who will be horrified at this year's birthday.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I believe in telling the WHOLE story than just focusing on the positive- that we have eternal life in Christ and the saints, but must suffer and bear our cross as well. At the risk of sounding like an Osteen defender (which I am not), I would say his "theological ancestor" is more like Norman Vincent Peale than Oral Roberts. If he is up front that he is not, by any stretch of imagination, even a theological lightweight, should we just nod our heads and go about our business? I guess my question is: is there more harm done with the presence of no milk whatsoever than with the presence of milk to spiritually newborn babes? I understand that the telos is the ability to masticate and digest solid food (steak and potatoes), but isn't this a case of beating up on the grade school teacher (when he is up front about it and not pretending to be such) for not being a professor? Just a thought- would love to hear your follow up.

Terry (John) said...


You make some very valid points. Osteen is certainly more in the tradition of NVP and, I might add, Dale Carnegie. We used to joke about a family member who took a Dale Carnegie course years ago. The consensus was that the course ruined him. Thereafter, he was all smiles and sunshiny platitudes. Osteen is very much in that vein.

You are also correct in that he in no way purports to be a theological heavyweight. If asked, I can see him denying it in his "aw shucks" sort of way. Certainly this grade school teacher would never be mistaken for a professor. But would that he were a grade school teacher.

But to get to your main question--I actually believe, in the long run, he actually does harm. With a congregation of 40,000 (I think), television exposure, and his smiling face staring back at you from every book rack in America, Osteen is very much the public face of the broad and shallow mainstream American religiosity. His congregation, his viewers, his readers all walk away from Joel Osteen "feeling good about themselves." Why is that so bad? From my own perspective, the times I was feeling really, really good about myself were the times I was farthest away from God. Self-esteem doesn't really have a place in any life of Christian service. What it is, in actuality, is simply Americanism. But it is not really Christianity--or at least the Faith in the way it has been understood for 2000 years. There is comfort in Christianty, indeed "the peace that passeth all understanding," but that is far cry from having a healthy self-image, standing up straight and expecting God to bless you with a larger house. Such an approach reduces Christianity to even below its least common denominator, or as the author of this piece would say, it reduces God to the level of a "lifestyle concierge." Such a misreading of the Faith is dangerous to believers, certainly, but also dangerous to our culture in general. It appeals to narcissism and individualism in a society that needs no encouragement in these areas.

If Osteen was just a huckster selling self-improvement and/or get rich in real estate programs on late, late night TV, then that would be one thing. But, Osteen is prime time, and the product he is pushing is coated with the thinnest veneer of Christianity to make it more marketable. I find his message troubling, and to the extent that he is so very representative of our times, I find it doubly troubling.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments greatly- and I agree with you. I think since our nation and culture is so market driven, results are now solely measured in hard numbers (commitments, or seats in pews), as spiritual growth is harder to put down on a spreadsheet as a metric. Since evangelical Protestantism is now working from this presupposition, all other things (such as spiritual growth) are negotiable. I think if Osteen had a ten week series on how difficult the cross of Christ is to bear, the numbers at Lakewood would thin considerably. I write my previous comments not because I defend Osteen, but because I have family members who like him quite a bit and I am looking for ways to intelligently argue this. My veer towards liturgical worship and exploration of Orthodoxy (and heavy doctrinal agreement) has raised a few eyebrows, to say the least (hence, the anon). I believe this is a process for my family and I, and if I come out with guns blazing, I could do more harm than good.

I really appreciate the fact that you took significant time to share your thoughts.

Terry (John) said...

Thanks, anon. I appreciate your comments as well.

You are wise to forego the "guns blazing" approach. I too have had a little experience with incredulous family members (unfortunately, more than raised eyebrows in my case!) If I can ever be of any assistance or encouragement, feel free to email me (the address is on the upper left of the blog home page).