What All of Us “Real” Christians Can Learn From the Feel-Good Prosperity Gospel of the Osteens

September 10, 2014

What does Joel Osteen know that the rest of us don’t?joel-osteen-and-wife1

If you are not one of his fans, you would probably answer, “Nothing.”

There has been quite a little bit of chatter as of late about Victoria Osteen finally “outing” herself and her husband and the gospel they are really preaching. She summarized their philosophy by saying that when we obey God, we do not do it for God, but for ourselves. We do it because God’s greatest desire is for us to be “happy.” So this whole exercise of going to church, reading our Bibles, being Christians is not really for God, it’s for us.

Well those statements set off a little chain reaction among quite a bit of blog-land. “Finally,” we said, “at least we know what they really believe!” At least one mega-famous pastor is being honest about the false gospel he is preaching.

But wait a minute.

Take everything that you might believe about the Osteens, their church, their gospel, their wealth or their haircuts. Take all of that pent up frustration and wad it up into a big wet lump in your throat.

Because despite all of these things, as loathe as we may be to admit it, much of the evangelical church can learn something from the Osteens. We might even learn something about ourselves.

Think This Might Be What She Meant…Maybe

It’s true, I think the prosperity gospel is a theological train wreck.

Despite this, I can kind of wrap my brain around where Victoria is coming from.

After all, God is an infinite, self-sufficient being. That means He needs nothing from us. For Him to need from us would make Him not God.

So to say that God needs our obedience then is not true. God desires our obedience. But why? Why should God care?

Because God cares about our welfare, not just getting us to heaven. And our obedience will affect our welfare. Obeying God should have tangible and positive effects in our lives. Essentially, despite whatever our present circumstances, obeying God should make us more joyful, more patient, more loving, more wise, more peaceful…and maybe more happy, though that word is not in the Bible. God gets glory from all of these things, so God does get something for himself. But he had glory before we were here at all.

I have no idea if that’s what she really meant. Maybe I’m throwing the Osteens a theological lifeline. But there is more to this than just the question of who is this supposed to benefit.

What Does He Have That Many of Us Do Not

Now the question I ask myself is: why do people flock to these people to hear the same razor thin message week after week?

I mean, it seems that if you have heard one message from a man standing in front of a giant spinning globe, you’ve heard them all. And yet, people show up and tune in week after week. Why is that?

Because the man with the gleaming white teeth is giving these people something that they are not finding elsewhere.

They are finding someone who makes them feel good.

They are hearing a message that reinforces their aspirations.

They see a man who embodies a role model for them.

How many of our churches are wading through the useless muck of politics? Not the Osteens. How many of our churches are using the same old threats and shame to keep their followers in line? Not the Osteens. How many church members leave Sunday morning feeling worse than when they showed up? I guarantee, no one at Lakewood feels bad when they go home.

That is what much of the church can learn from the Osteens. While so many of us are stuck in endless arguments about who is or is not going to hell, or going to churches where we are made to feel ashamed, or trapped in completely fruitless talk about everyone else’s sins, at least on pastor in America understand that people come to church to feel better, not worse.

Who Is the Real False Prophet?

Strip down the Osteen gospel, take away all the trappings, all the books, everything and what is left at its core?

If the Osteens understand nothing else about the gospel and its implications, they understand this:

The gospel is supposed to be good news.

People don’t come to church to hear bad news. But that’s what they are getting from a lot of churches. They are hearing shame. They are hearing politics. They are hearing hopelessness. And after a while, that kind of stuff just wears you out.

Regardless of what you think of the news that Osteen is preaching, at least he’s got that part about it being good right.

So I ask you a tough question, a question that if we are being honest may provoke some real soul-searching:

Where did the feel-good gospel come from? It did not come out of nowhere. It is a reaction to something that has been festering for decades. The feel good gospel is a reaction to the pervasive, almost viral feel bad gospel.

The preachers of prosperity thrive because we create a need for that kind of preacher. We fill our airwaves with feel bad messages and pollute our spiritual space so much that people have to get out or they will suffocate. It is we who consider ourselves enemies of prosperity preaching who helped create what we loathe so much. We are the false prophets who made it possible for this very shiny, positive false gospel to exist.

The prosperity gospel only looks so dang appealing because so many of us look positively unappealing. If the gospel is supposed to be good news, and so many of us are preaching bad news, then who is really the false prophet?

10 responses to What All of Us “Real” Christians Can Learn From the Feel-Good Prosperity Gospel of the Osteens

  1. Matt,
    This is good stuff. I felt the backlash when I made similar suggestions on Facebook last week. I wonder if there would have been as much uproar if that same message had come from someone like John Piper who (basically) espouses the same message – with less “me-centeredness”.
    Thanks for saying this and for challenging.
    Ryan
    Ryan recently posted..Interview :: Matthew Paul Turner

    • Ryan:

      You may want to re-read Desiring God if you think Victoria Osteen was simply channeling her inner Piper. Their messages are miles apart, with Piper focused on God and his sovereignty and the Osteens focused on human beings and their happiness. I do appreciate the Osteen’s sincerity and from what I have heard from Joel Osteen in interviews, he seems genuine and humble. Nonetheless, their theology is an inch deep and a mile wide and simply won’t stand up when true suffering or persecution hits because it has no answer. Piper’s, on the other hand, provides a much stronger foundation because he starts and ends with God.

      Gus

  2. By Joel Osteen standards Jesus was a failure as a preacher. His crowd kept getting smaller and then they killed him. The apostles also did not seem to have much luck getting people not to try and kill them. Maybe they should have read how to win friends and influence people first :-). Joel doesn’t preach the biblical gospel because he doesn’t bring up repentance. He preaches self-ism. I get your point in the post, but more than does our message make people feel good, is our message the one Jesus and the apostles preached??? To be sure the manner in which we preach the biblical gospel is vital and I think that is what you are getting at.

  3. Matt, I am glad you wrote this. I think I’ve been having similar thoughts. When she said “we don’t do it for God, we do it for ourselves,” I thought, yes, that’s true, to a certain extent. It feels good to worship God. But then I think she went too far—God does not exist to make us happy, nor does he care if we’re “happy.” And he doesn’t NEED anything from us. But if our worship isn’t coming from a desire to please God, to serve him, to live out what he’s done for us, then I don’t think it is what he wants. Anyway, thanks for posting. I enjoy hearing a different perspective.
    Kelly Stanley recently posted..touching the unseen

  4. I agree that there are some churches that seem to be more about what they are against than spreading the God News. And I get that what they preach sounds like good news. But what they are really preaching is another form of legalism, which really is Bad News wrapped up in sugar and chocolate. If I am happy when I obey God, them if I am not happy, I must not be obeying God. And that brings to mind the question of whether God loves me. The REAL Good News is that God loves us no matter what. When we sin, He isn’t necessarily happy with us, but He still LOVES us and He promises to never leave us, even when we tend to ignore Him or do what we want because we think it will make us happy. And because He loves us, He is happy to forgive us when we return to the Source of joy and help us through the mess we have created in the pursuit of our happiness. Right now, I am going through some tough times. For the past three weeks I have been a hair’s breadth away from becoming a puddly mass of tears. But I have joy because I know that God is working in this and so there is joy in the process wen through years of sadness and regret. And that is the Really Good News.

  5. “The Osteens know… gospel is supposed to be good news.”

    Nice try to redeem their message, but tone doesn’t trump substance. The Good News is that your suffering, death, and love do not go wasted in a world where where it seems otherwise. There’s so much deeper good news than “God gives you that parking spot.” Especially when you’re sitting on the bed of someone who listens to the Osteens and have just lost their son or daughter, brother sister… parent. It’s a hollow message even though they have the tone right.
    Luke recently posted..#SYLFAITH5

  6. The problem in my mind is the whole thing stops with “ME”. As long as I am happy God is happy and screw the rest of the world, the hungry, the orphans, the widow, the imprisoned. (Matt 25). What are you doing with your happiness. Using it to sit on the beach and drink Corona?

  7. We start with death. THEN move to the resurrection.

    “If you would gain your life in this world, you must lose it.”

    And God does this to us, for us, ahead of time in our Baptisms.

    Romans 6.
    theoldadam recently posted..“Why I’m in the Church”

  8. I’ve had the privilege to meet Joel Osteen personally and observe his “Night of Hope” somewhat from behind the scenes. Joel is secure and passionate in his message of Hope for the soul. His unapologetic and unique calling is to give hope. Other televangelists are called to evangelize the unbelievers, or heal the physical bodies of the sick and infirm or teach deeper spiritual principles to mature believers. And yet I hear no one attacking them for their calling or niche in the body of Christ. In my humble opinion, it’s hypercritical, if not hypocritical, to demand Joel change his message when others aren’t being asked to change their niche message to the world. By the way, two things that most impressed me after meeting Joel; his genuine humility and deep spiritual sensitivity.

  9. “Happy is the man whom God correcteth.” Job 5:17 There are a couple dozen other places where the word “happy” appears in the Bible. (Using KJV)

    However, I think you have made an excellent analysis of the prosperity gospel popularity. Blessings.
    vanilla recently posted..Wild!