What’s the Problem With Joel Osteen?

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Jim's picture

I've concluded that many have the Gospel wrong - how so?

  • "Decisions" and "counting decisions" is emphasized: Anecdote: a woman from our church recently went on a medical missions trip to Honduras. Her role was to counsel people post-treatment. These meetings were approx 15 minutes in duration. She came back with a glowing report of having lead 70 people to Christ. Think about it: she doesn't speak the native language, she had never been in "the culture" before, and she "won" 70 people to Christ! I haven't won 70 people in 25 years (and I work at it). Imagine after a medical treatment that you had to be counseled for 15 min to "get out of there". It would be very easy to say "yes" "yes" "yes" and bow one's head in prayer. Ditto with child evangelism. I've hear many people in our churches who said they were lead to Christ at 4 and 5 years. I have a 4 year old intelligent granddaughter. Her attention span is about 5 minutes!
  • The content of the Gospel is often de-emphasized: The nature of God; the Trinity; the authority of Scripture; the sinfulness of man; the Lordship of Christ! I'm in  a very good church. I've heard some testimonies that make me cringe: how much one has done for God, et cetera.
  • The word "believe" is often misunderstood. In my mind "trust", "make allegiance", or "commit to" Christ expresses more clearly the meaning of the Greek verb πιστεύω.  See John 2:24 where it is translated "commit". This author suggests "have allegiance to" is better.
  • In my view the Kingship of Christ (deriving from Jesus as the true heir of the Davidic convanant ) should be given greater emphasis 2 Samuel 7:16
  • The typical American gospel presentations do not follow the pattern of Acts 2 (the prototypical message to Jews) and Acts 17 (the prototypical message to Gentiles)
  • Repentance is de-emphasized: See Acts 2:38 and Acts 17:30


Consider the 4 Spiritual Laws: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life"

I'm not complaining but using this to illustrate:

  • I've been a Christian for 47 years
  • 30 years ago I broke my neck and was paralyzed ... now walk not as well as Frankenstein
  • I've suffered for half a year (now cured) from a very serious infectious disease
  • I've had back surgery twice and neck surgery 3 times
  • I've had cancer, cancer surgery and I still have cancer
  • My B-i-l isn't a Christian. He retired at the age of 52 as a multimillionaire and is still healthy at the age of 80
  • Outwardly his life is much more wonderful than mine!
TOvermiller's picture

Jim, I posted this some time ago, "What's Wrong with the Prosperity Gospel?". I concluded:

While God does bless some believers with financial prosperity, this is his sovereign right to do so. And he does so for the purpose of enabling them to meet the needs of others (1 Tim. 6:17-18). At the same time, many believers throughout the world do not have the same experience (Heb. 11:35-38). Whatever the case, Paul teaches that we should be fully content, whether we are rich or poor in material resources, whether we are hungry or full (Phil. 4:11-12). God does not promise earthly riches. He promises contentment in this life and eternal riches in the life to come.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

TylerR's picture


I'm working through Job for family devotions. I couldn't help but notice how Zophar's view of a believer's life tracks very closely with the presuppositions of the modern prosperity preachers. After insulting Job rather viciously, he advised (Job 11:10-19):

      10 If he passes through, and imprisons, 
      and calls to judgment, who can hinder him? 
      11 For he knows worthless men; 
      when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? 
      12 But a stupid man will get understanding, 
      when a wild ass’s colt is born a man. 

This is a particularly nasty, sarcastic jab at his friend. God is all-powerful (true). But, he assumes Job is suffering because of unconfessed sin (not always the case). The presupposition is clear: Please God = blessing; disobey God = punishment. Solution = just repent and life will be great!

I don't think we should miss what comes next - Zophar thinks God will bless you abundantly if you just give him what He wants:

      13 “If you set your heart aright, 
      you will stretch out your hands toward him. 
      14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, 
      and let not wickedness dwell in your tents. 
      15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; 
      you will be secure, and will not fear. 
      16 You will forget your misery; 
      you will remember it as waters that have passed away. 
      17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday; 
      its darkness will be like the morning. 
      18 And you will have confidence, because there is hope; 
      you will be protected and take your rest in safety. 
      19 You will lie down, and none will make you afraid; 
      many will entreat your favor. 

If Job would just do right, then life would be perfect, merry, happy and he'll be blessed with prosperity. This is certainly not true. This is the message the prosperity preachers have; but their theology proper is much worse than Zophar's. Instead of exhorting people to repent of their sins and be faithful to God (like Zophar), prosperity preachers peddle modern-day indulgences and promise prosperity in exchange for monetary gifts, etc. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

It looks like even Osteen's defenders skip a wee little step in the Gospel called "repentance" (Acts 2:38) by assuming that even without faith and repentance, our sins are forgiven.  And I loved Johnny Mac's takedown of Osteen.  Really, if we're all supposed to be healthy, whole, wealthy, and all that, God owes the Apostles a serious apology.  

It strikes me that we ought to contemplate what kinds of prosperity theology errors we have in our own churches.  OK, we're not driving Bentleys and flying in private jets, but isn't "vision casting" generally the same syndrome?  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


In the Job dialogs, the three friends represent a way of thinking that has expressions in the prosperity gospel but also in other erroneous teachings in more biblical ministries. Their thinking is an overly simplistic retribution principle: If you do good God blesses you like crazy materially; if you don't, you suffer; ergo, suffering people have brought it on themselves.

So Job explores this, and simultaneously explores his own grief and frustration on the question of why he is going through what he is. In the end, God says jobs friends were wrong. Job says he himself was wrong as well, though in a different way.