I admit it. I have only listened to snippets of Joel Osteen, Pastor of Lakewood mega church in Texas. My mom bought me his Your Best Life Now book shortly after I was saved and I read parts of it. I’ve seen interviews of him on Larry King and other talk shows, talking about prosperity and wealth for people. Meanwhile, I never actually sat down to listen to an entire sermon of his.
Irresponsible on my part to take issue with him without doing my due diligence and giving him a chance? I admit it, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of blasting a “heretic” because so many other people do it. So I decided to take some time today and pull up one of his sermons on YouTube and listen through it. The sermon was called Readjust Your Mind and you can listen to it yourself right here.
The sermon was outstanding. If what you are looking for is to feel good about yourself. Thirty-two minutes of tremendous motivational preaching the likes of Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins. I admit, if you feel down about yourself, your station in life or how others view you, one sermon of Joel’s and you will walk away a bit more confident than when you walked in. Unfortunately that is about as far as the sermon went.
Did he use scripture? Yes. Was it in context? Not even slightly. Perhaps for a person who is a mature believer you could navigate gymnastically to reach the meaning or understand a bit about God’s character. The caveat though is, you’d need to be pretty steeped in Biblical understanding to make sense of the context. Joel’s view of God is great. God is a healer, a caring father and a loving creator. All of these things I can get on board with, and it’s easy to see how others can too.
The God that Joel preaches about wants desperately for you to have everything. He wants you to have lots of friends, a great job, a happy life and zero sadness. Who wouldn’t want that? It sounds like a great offer, and people come in droves to hear this offer of a Best Life Now!
So you are probably asking yourself about when I get to the bad parts. Well, here are some direct quotes from his sermon. To make sense of the quotes, you need to know that Joel began his speaking comparing us to a computer who had a virus. We were made perfectly but our software got corrupted. This corruption came from negative thinking (not sin):
“When God created you, He stepped back and said “another masterpiece”, your hardware is perfect”
“God put the right software in you and He programmed you to be victorious, healthy, strong and creative”
“Your original software said you can do all things through Christ, He programmed whatever you touch will prosper and succeed.”
“we don’t have an abundant life because our software is infected with negativity”
“If you think you’ve reached your limits, you have”
“If you go back to the original software your creator put into you you’ll go places you never dreamed”
“Young children have never been contaminated by negative thoughts, because they have just recently come from the creator”
All of these things sound amazing and promising. You mean I am better than I think I am? Anyone on Earth hearing these things would immediately jump on the opportunity to have something better than they have right now. But where is sin? The only time sin was mentioned in the entire half-hour of preaching was at the very end when Joel led a group prayer and instructed the audience to “repent of your sin”. Sounds easy right? The problem is that there was no mention of what sin is or that it’s sin that is our very first problem.
In order for us to share the Gospel, people must be instructed to understand that at birth we are separated from God by our sin. Our sin is why we are miserable, it’s the very reason we have sickness and death in this world. It’s not faulty programming! We weren’t given a virus of negativity when we grew up, we sinned from the beginning and that sin is why people go to Hell. It’s why Jesus died, to take the punishment of sin. God didn’t look down and say “oh shoot, they got infected with a virus”. God said, “because they cannot save themselves, I will send Jesus to save them”.
Psychologically, Joel is spot on. Negative thoughts, actions and emotions are clinically proven to restrict the dopamine flow to our brain. Positive thoughts, positive influences release that dopamine which brings us a good feeling and a positive outlook. Joel has mastered the manipulation of the human brain. The default psychological position of mankind is in need of a dopamine release to function in well-being. But this isn’t the Gospel.
Joel told great stories of victory! He told his congregation that they were destined for greatness and that God wants to see them utterly victorious over every aspect of their lives. He equated a bumblebee’s ability to fly (engineering-ly speaking they shouldn’t be able to fly) to our ability to be great, if we declare it in Jesus’ name.
It was at this point, at the precipice of promise of greatness and victory that he led the group in a prayer to declare all these things in the name of Jesus. This is the “gospel” that Joel won people to. So when the day comes that trials, temptation and tribulation come, the seed that was sown will be choked out. When the reality of life, when sin rears it’s ugly head or that person gets sick, it’s game over “this Jesus thing didn’t work”.
The Gospel is that we are sinners from birth, separated from God and destined for Hell (not greatness) and only by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ do we have hope that though this life really sucks sometimes, our eternity is going to be amazing.