Osteen: “God Wants to Supersize your Joy” — So what’s wrong with that?

The following is by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington D.C. and is used with his permission. This was originally posted on The Daily Caller on May 1, 2012.\


On Sunday night [April 29, 2012], 41,000 fans packed Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., to hear a message of hope, inspiration, and encouragement from Joel Osteen. Most paid about $20 (including fees) for the privilege.

Osteen sold out the stadium—a feat the Nationals rarely accomplish. But did he have to sell out to do so?

Osteen is the latest embodiment of the American Religion—Revivalism. For centuries now, preachers have known how to fill stadiums or circus tents and send people home with hope in their heart and a skip in their step. Osteen promises you will leave a transformed person—at least until his tour comes around again next year, when you can be transformed again.

Osteen’s message is a positive one for a difficult time. Every one of us has seeds of greatness inside, potential that has not yet been released, buried treasure waiting to be discovered. If you were a car, you would be the fully loaded and totally equipped model—”with pin stripes,” he says, gesturing to his suit.

Before God created you, he planned great things for you. As you stretch your faith, “God is going to show up, and show out, in tremendous ways. … If you don’t step into your destiny and release your gift, then this world will not be as bright as it should be.”

That’s a pretty positive message. What could be wrong with that?

The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:

Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.

God is as big as I think him to be.

Yes, this is the American Religion: a program, a plan, five simple steps to help me be all that I can be. This is the religion of the bootstraps, where “God helps those who help themselves.”

By the way, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that is a quote from the Bible. It’s not.

And that’s the second problem. Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.

There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”

One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.

It is not primarily the details of Osteen’s biblical sunbeams that are problematic. It’s the overall message. What’s missing is any sense of human sin. Osteen leads his crowd in a mantra at the opening of his performance: “This is my Bible. Tonight I will be taught the word of God. I can do what it says I can do.” Again, bootstraps.

What does the Bible say we can do for ourselves? Our best works are like filthy rags, the prophet Isaiah teaches (Isaiah 64:6); we are like sheep gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). Paul says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and includes himself in this “all” as “the chief of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The big problem is that we don’t want what’s good for us, and when we do, Paul says, “The good that I want to do, I do not do” (Romans 7:19).

Ring true? It does for me. That’s why the stadium will be full next year. Self-esteem doesn’t help me, it just leaves me with more me, digging deeper within.

How about Jesus? Surely he’s more upbeat than Paul or the prophets? Well, he does offer this simple recipe to happiness: “Sell all you possess, give it away to the poor, and follow me.” You done that yet? Yes, he does say that our faith makes us well, but he is the healer our faith looks to. He also tells the paralytic to take up his bed and walk, but only after he has healed him.

What we want is the excitement and encouragement and affirmation of the stadium—”God is waiting for you to act.” What we need is the truth and compassion of Jesus—”Come to me you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

After the adrenaline boost, I hope some of those 41,000 find their way through the desert to some place where they can get a drink of water.

Earlier Sunday, 45 worshipers (about 0.1% of Osteen’s crowd) gathered at Christ Reformed Church in Logan Circle—and other churches in this city—to hear a message of sin and salvation, the Good News of a God who loves those who are his sworn enemies. They responded to God’s word with prayer, song, and confession, and received the benediction of a God who pardons sin full and free.

There was hope and inspiration too, but of an entirely different sort. Admittance was free.

[Note: The author didn’t make it to Nationals Stadium on Sunday; he caught the previous “Night of Hope Event” at Yankee Stadium online.]

Dr. Brian Lee is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. He formerly worked as a communications director both on Capitol Hill and at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To Read More On This Subject:
What’s Wrong With The New Evangelical Theology Being Taught Today?
Is Joel Osteen’s Anthropology Hyper-Pelagian?
The Pelagian Captivity Of American Evangelicalism
Debunking “If-Then Theology”


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Osteen: “God Wants to Supersize your Joy” — So what’s wrong with that? — 16 Comments

  1. Joel Osteen attended one semester at Oral Roberts
    University and that is the extent of his post-high school
    education. He has no seminary training of any type.
    He was a camera man for his Dad’s TV Worship Services.
    When his Dad died, Joel took over for him in the pulpit.
    The best label to pin on Joel Osteen is that he preaches
    “The Health and Wealth Gospel” just like his father did.
    He appeals to a secular audience who are not looking
    for salvation in Christ, but who are seeking materialistic
    goals for this life only.

  2. How is Osteen even considered “evangelical?”

    That makes no sense to me. If every non-catholic who gets on TV and says “Jesus” once an hour qualifies as an “evangelical” then everybody on “Jersey Shore” is an evangelical too!

  3. Every one of us has seeds of greatness inside, potential that has not yet been released, buried treasure waiting to be discovered. If you were a car, you would be the fully loaded and totally equipped model—”with pin stripes,” he says, gesturing to his suit.

    I wish he’d give us examples of people who have released their “greatness”. Is he describing the Avengers?

  4. I have friends that attend Lakewood. I think that Christians are looking for encouragement and self help advice that is not specifically anti Christian. I have read stuff on all manner of topics from ostensibly neutral secular gurus that outright violate Christian principles. I think that is why people like Dave Ramsey are so popular. People want decent financial advice that doesn’t violate Christian principles. Well easier said than done. Ramsey and Osteen aren’t perfect but plenty of others are pure poison. Ramsey doesn’t generally pretend to be a pastor like Osteen does. I remember once reading a parenting magazine that had an article on financial management. One of the pieces of advice was if you tithe, stop. I showed that to a Christian relative of mine. She gave a look like the article had just suggested drowning the kids. That is why people go whole hog the other way. They know they aren’t super discerning and that pitfalls are everywhere and “neutral” advice isn’t neutral. They want Christian parenting advice, Christian financial advice, Christian cookie cutters, okay I made that up, but there probably is a Christian cookie cutter company! I think that is why Osteen is so popular. He is very encouraging. He is a great speaker. And people need encouragement. His flaw is that too often he puts his encouragement in place of the Gospel. Christians really do need encouragement from other Christians, but they need the Gospel to be the Gospel.

  5. @Dave Likeness #1

    I think you overstate that. I have Catholic friends that like Osteen, too, but they still go to mass. I wouldn’t say my friends that attend there are totally clueless. I think of one about friend of my son. My son was upset that Obama was elected because Obama is pro abortion. The friend, age like 11 at the time, said to him not to worry because God was still on his throne. I think talented encouraging people like Osteen have a role to play, but given his (evidently) limited theological understanding, that role really legitimately isn’t pastor. Maybe it could be if he studied.

  6. @Mrs. Hume #4

    I agree, encouragment is great and people sure could use more of it. My beef with Osteen is that he doesn’t dish out encouragement. He uses flattery to get people to give him money. He’s a sweet-talking playboy. That’s not encouragement – that’s just lying to people while you smile and look good. Ultimately what these people are being told isn’t true and their balloon of delusional self-esteem is going to keep being popped by ugly hard reality. If we were all cars, we wouldn’t all be fully-loaded top of the line models. Most of us would be plain jane grocery-getters with too many miles, just one good smack away from the crusher.

    Real encouragement is telling people the truth – that they have no good inside them. That they are capable of nothing but lies and deceit. That they all deserve far worse than all the pain and suffering they already have. But all is not lost! Our existence isn’t meaningless stuggle and despair! Because God has given us life abundantly, and though a man dies, yet he lives so long as he is in Christ! This same Christ has promised to return and make all things right, and you can believe it because He is God almighty and already proved to be master of death and life. He has also given us a helper, His own Spirit and His own Word to help keep us and guide us, and He has promised we can never fail so long as we stay in Him. He has promised to always be near us, and though we can’t always see or feel it, He’s there. He’s also given us other brothers and sisters in the faith to help uphold each other. So we walk in thankfulness, and confidence that even though we may die a painful death, we’ve never left the palm of His hand. And the One who made us the first time will personally resurrect our body someday a second time, and He can do it easier than waking us up from a nap.

    You don’t hear this type of encouragement from Joel. You hear how God wants to make us happy. That’s like bringing balloons to a person trapped in a house fire.

  7. Joe, your comment is a pearl of great price and is going in my permanent file.  Thank you so much.

  8. I hope he doesn’t get invited to the next Annual Day of Homiletical Reflection at the seminary in St. Louis.

  9. I have watched Osteen’s TV show a number of times. Never has he come anywhere near teaching the Words of Eternal Life.

    ELMER GANTRY is a 52 year old movie starring Burt Lancaster. Watch it if you have the chance.

  10. Osteen is a snake oil salesman of the finest type. He found the sickness in society which is narcissism and promises to have the only cure which is to buy his books, give him a forced tithe to even buy his medicine and then gets out of Dodge fast. Elmer Gantry himself was not so skilled. Oral Roberts managed to fleece the public for decades and my blessed grandparents who sent him money regularly were never made well from their terrible car accident. Yet Oral was able to build, build, build. Not the church did he build but an army of flim flam artists who survive to this day. The Bible belt was built on men such as these.

  11. The televangelists who have fleeced the American public for
    their own financial gain include: Robert Schuller, Jimmy Swaggart,
    Jim Bakker, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer.

    Schuller’s empire went bankrupt, Swaggart confessed to adultery,
    Bakker was convicted of fraud and served prison time, Copeland,
    Hinn, and Meyer have been under investigation by the IRS for
    failure to report income. These false prophets are part of the
    “Electronic Church” which has lured the gullible TV audience.

  12. Joel Osteen is no different than “Reverend Ike” who was an old am radio charlatan when I was a kid. At least he was entertaining!!!

  13. Dave Likeness :
    Joel Osteen attended one semester at Oral Roberts
    University and that is the extent of his post-high school
    education. He has no seminary training of any type…….

    That actually explains a lot!

  14. What advice would you give or how would you approach those raised in Osteen’s church? I have friends that I truly love who are sincere sweet people that go there. I have a hard time blaming people who are led astray for what they were taught. They are not very discerning, I know, but at one point neither was I. You can’t know what you don’t know. Any ideas?

  15. Good post. In a narcissistic culture as our own, this ‘spiritual’ message of, for and with ‘me’ is compelling. But in these here United States, this strain of Christianity has deep tangled roots into the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings. During the 1st one, there was a region here in our neck of the woods (Blue Ridge Mountains/Applachia and points further west in the frontier, Kentucky) in which people experienced the “jerks”: one Methodist circuit riding noted 500 people jerking about simultaneously. Then followed the “barking” meetings; another minister of the time, late 18th century, reported, “It was common to hear people barking like a flock of spaniels on their way to meeting.”

    When revivalism was rampant, in the Civil War period, the president, Rev. Samuel Schmucker of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary (btw: the campus was part of the Gettysburg Battle, and if memory serves, Pickett’s Charge was adjacent to the campus) wanted Lutheranism to fit into revivalism, so he promulgated his own ‘reader’s digest’ of the Book of Concord eliminating the Doctrine of the real Presence. His “new measures’ were defeated by Revs. William Sihler (LCMS) and Rev. Charles Porterfield Krauth (Pennsylvania Ministerium) But in our day, in the LCMS, I think Schmucker is posthumously winning.

    Then with the advent of radio, came the first media evangelists, such as Billy Sunday (mentioned above) and especially, Aimee Semple McPherson. I think Sinclair Lewis’ satire, Elmer Gantry is based upon her and it was made into a movie, starring Burt Lancaster and here is a fascinating pair of scenes illustrating the black and the white of revivalism, and says much to us in the LCMS:


    I bring this history up so we know what we have been up against (Walther knew!) and that it is finally not a struggle against flesh and blood, but power and principalities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6: 12)

  16. In the 19th century, Charles Finney made revivalism into a
    big business and profession. He was a layman who shunned
    college education and seminary training. He developed “the
    decision for Christ” system as he manipulated his audience.
    Following in his steps were Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy
    Graham. None of them graduated from a seminary but relied on
    their speaking ability and magnetic personality. Osteen is not
    an evangelist in their mode, but he does fleece his audience of
    their money.

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