Posted by: Damon Whitsell | August 12, 2010

JOEL OSTEEN: Bad news masquerading as good

good news bad newsSOURCE: After making a flippant but completely uninformed remark about Joel Osteen (with whom I had no familiarity except a short video clip), I was convicted that I ought not criticize things/people I know nothing about. After all, one of the charges against the false prophets in Second Peter is that they “speak evil of the things they do not understand”.

I rescinded my flippant remark and said I would look into Osteen more before making an evaluation. Thus, I traveled to my local library and picked up one of Osteen’s books–Become a Better You.

What I found shocked me and troubled me deeply. In some ways, Osteen is just another prosperity preacher of the Word of Faith tradition. He confuses the promises of the gospel with the idea of self-fulfillment and turns God into a vending-machine in the sky. The so-called prosperity gospel is a disturbing corruption of the true gospel–but I’ve known many who ascribe to a version of the prosperity gospel who still maintain at least a degree of faithfulness to the true gospel: that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for sins, on our behalf, thus reconciling us to God.

I see no evidence that Osteen has maintained any modicum of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Instead, Osteen has replaced the gospel with an “I’m good, you’re good, we’re all good” self-esteem talk. He tells his readers that “God has already put in the talent, the creativity, the discipline, the wisdom, and the determination. It’s all in you.” “We have to believe that we have what it takes.” Over and over, he states that “God has placed the seeds of greatness inside of you”. He emphasizes the goodness of creation–but completely ignores the fall.

I almost thought he was going to address the fall when he refers to Adam and Eve hiding after eating the forbidden fruit. “Great,” I thought, “Now he’s going to tell them that the created goodness has been warped and twisted by sin, but that Jesus died to redeem us from that twistedness, to reverse sin.” Alas, it was not to be. Instead, Osteen uses God’s response to Adam and Eve (“Who told you that you were naked?”) as “proof” that they weren’t actually naked, that they were believing a lie from the enemy. Except that wasn’t a lie. They were naked. They had something to be ashamed of. They had something to hide. It wasn’t a lie. It was the truth.

Now, this might sound like a huge downer. Osteen’s got good news, I’m bearing bad. But am I?

You see, Osteen’s message of self-esteem and “you’re all good” is a cheap substitute for the truly good news. The good news is that while we were completely worthless, God endued us with worth by sending His Son to die for us. While we were incapable of helping ourselves, Jesus Christ made us new. The good news is that while we were yet dead in our sins, Christ died for us.

Osteen’s message skips the fall–and thus sees no need for the cross. In the first seventy pages of Become a Better You, Osteen mentions the cross exactly never–unless one considers this gem on page 35: “God gave His very best for you, His only Son.”

In ignoring the fall and the cross, Osteen leaves out the essence of Christianity. As Charles Spurgeon points out (HT: Justin Taylor):

“Yes, it is Christ, Christ, Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave Him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel.”

You do not really preach the gospel if you leave Christ out; if He be omitted, it is not the gospel. You may invite men to listen to your message, but you are only inviting them to gaze upon an empty table unless Christ is the very center and substance of all that you set before them.”

Want to become a better you? Osteen can’t help–he can only try to convince you that you’re actually not that bad. Only in Jesus Christ can bad become good and sinners saints. Denying sin will not make it go away, it will only lead us into delusion. Only by recognizing our sin and by faith receiving Christ’s work on the cross can we be made righteous.

The gospel that Osteen shares is not good news at all–it is bad news masquerading as good


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