Please do not be deceived by his winning smile, designer suits or immense popularity. Despite the tens of thousands of people that attend his weekend services at Lakewood Church in Houston, and the multitudes more who watch on TV, and the millions who have read his books, Joel Osteen’s message serves up nothing more than an ear-tickling, feel-good theology of “affirmation without salvation,” a phrase borrowed from Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Osteen is painful to watch on such interviews as given recently on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.” He was introduced as “one of the most recognizable faces in Christianity in America today.” Yet, he is unable to give clear answers on decisive issues. He fumbles around for words and refuses to take a bold stand for biblical truth. You don’t hear him mention the name of Jesus in these interviews. You don’t hear him speak of the gospel. You don’t see him pointing people to the cross.
While he may be the darling of the masses and the face of Christianity for mass media, he makes a terrible and embarrassing spokesperson for Christ.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).
One thing Osteen says he doesn’t do is preach against sin. He doesn’t like to be negative, so he just avoids issues that might make people feel bad. You’re sure not likely to hear him preach as both John the Baptist and Jesus did, urging their listeners to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).
“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22).
Think about this. Let’s say you go to the doctor for a routine physical. He finds that something’s wrong with your heart. But instead of telling you about it and telling you what you need to have done about it, he just smiles and says everything’s great. You’re going to be fine. Just keep on being the best you that you can possibly be.
You’d call that doctor a fraud. He’s not doing his job, and he doesn’t need to be practicing medicine. Pastors are called to be shepherds of the flock that is under their care. Often that means encouraging them in the faith. Sometimes it means rescuing them from danger and pleading with them to turn from the error of their ways.
The Scripture is our authority, and gives us the authority as we preach the word to “correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). That time has come indeed.
There are plenty of strong, yet humble, Christian shepherds who are not afraid to speak the truth in love. Joel Osteen is not one of them.