Question: Why is Joel Osteen considered a false teacher?
Answer: Greetings friend. Although it is always with fear and trepidation that I comment on high profile persons in the Christian culture, I shall respond to your concerns about Joel Osteen. Many in the evangelical community consider Osteen to be a false teacher because he ignores the Gospel, shows lack of biblical discernment and has a skewed view of Jesus Christ. He also propagates aberrant doctrines. However, let us proceed humbly and with caution. None of us can truly know the heart of another person.
A true Christian is a person who has responded in faith to the salvific work of Jesus Christ — one in whom the Holy Spirit, therefore, resides. So, how do we test this in other people? Sometimes I wish it were as clear as having marks on our foreheads, but the reality is that we must test every minister’s teachings against the Scripture and form our opinions from there. If Joel Osteen understands the Gospel of saving grace through Jesus Christ, he gives it low priority, and that (in my opinion) is the tell. Those of us who have been pulled back from the brink of hell tend to keep the core Gospel elements as our underlying message, and since Osteen makes the Gospel such a low priority, I’m not sure that he has ever been converted. Perhaps he does not speak the words of life because he cannot speak the words of life.
Osteen must give the Gospel a low priority because he is a leading proponent of two aberrant doctrines, which, because of how they work, undermine God’s sovereignty and the Gospel itself: The self-esteem gospel and the Word of Faith theology. Since neither of these doctrines reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ, I must hold their adherents as spiritually suspect — no matter how large their following.
Osteen pastors the 40,000+ member Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He has also authored two bestselling books, Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (Faith Words, 2004), and Become a Better You: Seven Keys to Improving Your Life Everyday (Free Press, 2007). Osteen is congruent in that lives what he preaches. He is very successful...but what is he successful in? Sadly, not in preaching the Gospel.
Bob Hunter reviewed Osteen’s second book for the Christian Research Institute, and he found many problems, but the issue below is foundational to some of his specific doctrinal anomalies.
Preaching the Whole Word of God. Joel Osteen has said that digging deep into the Scriptures and preaching about sin is “not my main calling.” He has a congregation of more than forty thousand people, in addition to millions who watch him weekly on television rather than attending a regular church. He is, in effect, their pastor. If he isn’t going to faithfully preach the gospel to them, then who will? The same applies to his readers. Except for two brief paragraphs at the end of the book, there is no presentation of the gospel to those who are lost. This is undoubtedly the saddest part of his “gospel-light” message. — reviewed by Bob Hunter. http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAO171.pdf.
Osteen’s books answer the question, what must I do to become a better me? The Bible answers the question, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30). In light of the latter, the former loses all importance.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, ESV)
Herein lies the problem. There is nothing wrong with prospering per se—many true believers enjoy this world’s riches. But Jesus uses the concept of worldly gain as an antipole to the thing of real value, the salvation of the human soul. Osteen reverses this emphasis, and anyone who reverses Jesus’ emphasis on the relationship of one's possessions to the human soul shows the spirit of anti-Christ in his teaching (1 John 2:18).
One might legitimately ask, what’s the problem with a little positive verbiage among God’s people? Is Osteen really hurting anybody? Absolutely. He wears the mantle of God — influencing millions! But he preaches positive thinking and self-help instead of the Gospel. My friend, the Gospel is the opposite of positive thinking and self-help. The Gospel says, I’m a wreck! Help me God! The true Gospel is edgy — it divides — and I count it as unlikely in a church that attracts 40,000 people, that there would be even a whiff of the true Gospel. True salvation displays humans that are wrecked by sin. It requires a suffering Savior, the essential unworthiness of the believer... and the emptying of self. These are not in Osteen’s showcase.
To assess for yourself whether or not Osteen represents the biblical Jesus Christ in his preaching or if he interprets the Scriptures correctly, just read his books or listen to his preaching. If you are a true Christian, you’ll soon discern that he uses god-flavored language to propagate an ungodly concept. The Word of Faith theology and/or the prosperity gospel tells us that God wants us rich! That’s a lie. God does not want us rich — he wants us holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Riches are neither here nor there.
Word of Faith purports that faith is a force and that words are the containers of the force, therefore, words create reality. So, saying good things can make good things happen and saying bad things can make bad things happen. Now, I don’t know about you, but my God is not subject to an algorithm — and that’s what we have here, a flowchart telling us how to make God jump through hoops. Any mature Christian understands that hardship and woe are as much God’s tools as are joy, mercy and grace. A congruent Word of Faith proponent cannot, at the end of the day, believe in a sovereign God — and that’s the only kind of God revealed in the Bible. My question is (as always), are they reading it? If the prosperity people are indeed reading their bibles, they are missing a fundamental truth.
Let’s go out on a limb and say that true Christianity is about Jesus Christ or it is about nothing at all (1 Cor. 2:2). With that in mind, take a look a Jesus’ portfolio...because counting his assets is easy. Up until his crucifixion, Jesus owned the clothes on his back. (Then he lost even those!) (Matt. 27:35). He had no bank account (Matt. 17:27), he owned no house (Matt. 8:20), and he died naked on the cross, so mark this well: When Jesus died, he had zero assets. Now, how does one parlay the example of the absolute poverty of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 8:9) into the idea that God wants us rich? With help from below, I’m afraid. The world cares only for itself, the flesh wants its ears tickled, and the devil will help out in any way he can.
The greatest problem with Osteen is this; unconverted people (as well as believers who are not well grounded in the Bible) might confuse his success in the prosperity movement with success in actual Christianity. Fortunately, this confusion is curable. Every person who names the name of Jesus Christ should embark on a prayerful and careful study of the Scripture. This not only cures confusion, it prevents future outbreaks.
To learn more about Osteen and his ilk, visit these links.
See also the Christian Research Institute's materials from their advertisement below: