Apologetics Index

Joel Osteen – “Christianity Lite”

As mentioned, Joel Osteen’s popularity can largely be explained by the fact that he sounds and acts more like a motivational teacher or a success coach than as a Christian preacher.

A sound Christian preacher will strike a healthy balance in his message. While the Bible talks about the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ, it also talks about the reason for the good news: the need for sinful people to make peace with God by accepting God’s own peace offer.

The Bible does not only talk about blessings, but also about suffering and self-denial.

While the Bible talks about money, it certainly doesn’t offer Christians a blank check to prosperity. Instead, it warns that you can not serve two masters (both God and money), and talks about “men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5) That passage goes on to say:

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6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
– Source: 1 Timothy 6:6-11

There is no room for such passages in Osteen’s gospel:

In “Your Best Life,” Mr. Osteen counsels patience, compassion, kindness, generosity and an overall positive attitude familiar to any reader of self-help books. But he skirts the darker themes of sin, suffering and self-denial, leading some critics to deride the Osteen message as “Christianity lite.”

“He’s not in the soul business, he’s in the self business,” said James B. Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida and author of a forthcoming Simon & Schuster book on megachurches: “Shopping for God: How Christianity Went From in Your Heart to in Your Face.”

“There’s breadth but not too much depth, but the breadth is quite spangly, exciting to look at — that’s his power,” said Dr. Twitchell who called Lakewood “the steroid extreme” of megachurches. He said church critics fault Mr. Osteen for “diluting and dumbing down” the Christian message, “but in truth,” he said, “what he’s producing is a wild and alluring community.”

Laceye Warner, assistant professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies at Duke Divinity School, praised Lakewood’s reach, but she said that “Christian faith is about relationship with God and neighbor and such form of worship has become entertainment.”

Mr. Osteen acknowledged an ecumenism that may alienate some purists — there’s a globe, not a cross at what would be the apse — but he said, “I’m just trying to plant a seed of hope in people’s hearts.”

“I don’t believe I ever preached a message on money,” he said. “But I do believe, you know what, God can want you to have a better house. God wants you to be able to send your kids to college.”

Before the collection was taken, Victoria Osteen urged generosity as a way of drawing God’s favor. “He not only wants to enrich you but do things for you you know nothing about,” she said. “Let him breathe the breath of life into your finances and he’ll give it back to you bigger than you could ever give it to him,” she said. To which the congregation, said, “Amen,” and the buckets went around.
– Source: A Preacher’s Credo: Eliminate the Negative, Accentuate Prosperity, The New York Times, Mar. 29, 2006

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First published (or major update) on Friday, March 31, 2006.
Last updated on August 11, 2006.

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