My blog on Joel Osteen’s very popular ministry, posted on May 9, elicited a considerable response. I am told that this is the goal of every blogger. Upon further reflection I write to respond to several of the comments posted throughout this week. These are general comments, not specific to any single writer who posted their thoughts.

1. Most of those who responded understood quite clearly what I wrote and why I wrote it. Some comments left me wondering what certain readers actually understood by my words.

2. I was most definitely not attacking the character, or intellectual honesty and credibility, of Dr. Michael Horton, whom I know and love personally.

3. I did question Dr. Horton’s use of a hermeneutical system that is plainly situated in a very self-consciously Lutheran-Reformed paradigm. By this I mean that his strong law-gospel antithesis rigorously governs how he sees faithfulness to the gospel. This he admits in his more academic writing. All I was saying was this principle impacts how he judges public ministries.

4. This paradigm actually led Dr. Horton to suggest that Joel Osteen was not worshiping the true God. In Horton’s own words, assuming the Chicago Tribune quoted him accurately, "In this religion God is not worshiped." This is the type of conclusion I very seriously question. He may be making nothing more than a sweeping generalization, and I assume in fact he is, but the sentence leaves me chilled by it’s sense of certainty.

5. I am not big "fan" of Joel Osteen, though I believe he has some helpful things to teach me. I do not believe that I have lost all ability to discern truth from error because I believe Osteen serves some of the Lord’s people positively. This conclusion is a non sequitur. I personally know folks, who have demonstrated love Christ and his church, who attended Osteen’s meetings in Chicago precisely because they deeply appreciate his ministry and believe they are helped by it.

6. I do not think Osteen, so far as I can tell, is a hard advocate of the "health and wealth gospel." He does teach positive affirmation, and the charismatic faith message, which he seems to have received from his late father. His advocacy is much less obvious than that of some such teachers and it does not, to my mind, appear to make him a "false teacher" in the clear truest biblical sense.

7. I most definitely do not share the overall trajectory of the faith message, so far as its proponents explain it.

8. I am not entirely convinced that Hank Hannegraff, and similar "watchdogs," have supplied the last word regarding E. W. Kenyon and the faith message movement. I am doing further research on this subject. For the present I choose to be very cautious about this message but do not paint all its advocates in the darkest tones by applying it liberally to a wide variety of people and churches.

9. The above conclusion, at least to some extent, grows out of my desire to recognize where God is really at work in the world today. It also grows out of charity, or so I hope. The work of Philip Jenkins, author of highly acclaimed book The Next Christendom, gives me real pause about the way many American Christians draw sweeping conclusions about widely divergent charismatic movements throughout the world.

10. The history of the Christian church is filled with odd and off-putting movements which are very often outside the mainstream of the larger historic church communions. Some of these more charismatic waves have been used to bring about real movements of conversion to Christ that appear to have born more good fruit than bad. The interpretation of such movements calls for both truth and grace.

11. Dr. Horton, and similar Lutheran-Reformed conservatives (including me in the past as I have confessed previously), tend to look at church history from a magisterial Eurocentric viewpoint. This reading of history honors the Lutheran-Reformed tradition while it disrespects traditions like Pietism, which arose from within the Lutheran-Reformed  so they are held in deep suspicion. This approach downplays the positive contributions of a multitude of Anabaptist movements in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as the Wesleyan and Pentecostal movements in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I simply do not agree with this approach to history. I would remind Reformed readers that I am not alone in my reading of history this way, even from within the Reformed community.

12. I said in my May 9 blog that I would love to sit down and talk to Joel Osteen, if given the opportunity. I really meant it. I have prayed that God will use him to bring many to faith in Christ. I also skimmed through sections of his best-selling book since Monday to get a better feel for his message. If God uses this man for great good I will rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

13. I wonder why some Christians believe it is wise to continually question the credibility of other Christians if they do not hold to a confessional tradition that is framed by very specific contextual debates from the sixteenth century. Is the standard for all modern theological discussion limited to the formulations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? This approach is not beneficial to the church in the long run.

14. The above statement in no way is meant to downplay orthodoxy or its vital importance, nor the value of older debates and confessions. It does mean they are limited by their human context.

15. Based upon my contextual reading of the Synoptic Gospels I expect many people who are fairly orthodox will miss heaven and some who are confused, at least in doctrinal ways, will be welcomed. If I read the teaching of Jesus correctly "orthodoxy," at least in terms of human creeds, is simply not the final criteria for admittance to heaven; cf. Matthew 25.

16. A certain kind of orthodoxism is at work in many Lutheran-Reformed circles that makes for less than winsome responses at times, both to other Christians and to the world at large. This was part of my unwritten concern in the earlier blog. By stating this I was not attacking motives, as if to suggest that I am above this problem. Admitting one’s perspective, and your resultant bias, is health, or so I think. The response of some to my blog actually demonstrated the very concerns that I expressed in the first place. Many of those who posted comments, in response to such writers, understood this point very well and noted it accordingly.

17. Finally, because a local church is very large in number (Osteen’s church has 30,000 plus attending worship) some Lutheran-Reformed Christians are prone to think this very bigness is itself problematic. I have noticed, after thirty-five years of gospel ministry, that most of those who engage in this type of criticism are often quite content to build small churches on "right doctrine" as and end in itself. I am not alone in expressing my despair over such attitudes and reactions. This emphasis often produces a sterile intellectualism that is both dull and spiritually fruitless in terms of the love of Christ for other Christians who do not share our perspectives. My thirteen years as an itinerant evangelist have done nothing to convince me that this pattern profoundly mars some conservative Christian communities in America. Caveat emptor!

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  1. Craig W. Booth May 13, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Thank you for constantly reminding me that men see the visible (doctrines and actions) about which they may make biblically discerned judgments; while only God sees the heart (motives, emotions, hidden character traits) and reserves for Himself the right and ability to judge those qualities.
    Was Horton out of line to assess whether Osteen’s church services were worship? I would personally have been more comfortable had he defined what worship is from the Bible, then compared Osteen’s visible church services to that criteria to demonstrate where the services may fall short (which he may have in fact done though not fully quoted in the article). I guess I am not so ready to dismiss his opinion merely because he brings his opinion from a specific theological paradigm, and to be consistent, I must be willing to do the same with Osteen.
    In so much that Osteen and Horton cause us to resort to quoting Scripture instead of “common knowledge” to answer the question, “what is worship?” the dialogue is a productive one, in my opinion. If it degenerates to name calling and character aspersions, that is non-productive.

  2. Daniel Kirk May 13, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Your posture toward Christians of all stripes, your open-eyed assessment of the weaknesses of the conservative Reformed world, your winsomeness and charity are all amazing to see. Thank you for this post and others like it.

  3. Rob Wilkerson May 13, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    A worthy couple of posts on Osteen. They reflect the attitude of Ephesians 4:1-3 which I came to learn from you since we first met. Thanks for continuing down this path and being an example to younger believers and ministers like myself.
    Personally, I have watched enough of Osteen’s broadcasts to become dissatisfied with his approach to utilizing the Scriptures in that particular setting. I worded that sentence very carefully. The series I heard him expounding upon was better living through eating right and taking care of oneself. There were about three sermons on this matter.
    This is certainly a subject to address among today’s self-centered, gluttonous believers (and I’m probably one of them!). But my question is whether or not the pulpit on a Sunday morning is really the place to address such issues? A steady diet of this will unwittingly come to teach those in the audience that this is the correct way to approach Scripture, to see it and use it as some sort of encyclopedia for a better life. Perhaps your assessments are the same, though you never outright stated them.
    Thanks again for your ministry, brother.

  4. Steve Scott May 13, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    As to #13 and #16 above, I’ve observed that we Reformed tend to impute every last minute “official” doctrinal belief of a denomination or church to every member of that church. I’ve held in the past (along with some of the churches I’ve attended, sadly to say) that no Arminian, Roman Catholic, Jew, Witness Lee, etc, could even be saved, let alone sanctified. Simply because their churches differed from Reformed standards of theology. Yes, there are very important differences, but do we really expect them to be accomplished theologians when one of our criticisms is that they are weak in theology?
    Maybe they don’t even know what their church believes so they really don’t affirm a heresy. And not many of “us” know history well, either. Jesus and the apostles attended what we might term a systematically apostate church, but did God reject them? Why should we?
    John, I appreciate your blog and the issues you raise. I started a blog with a few common ideas, if you care:
    with a specific post about the dangers of being Reformed:

  5. Michael Craven May 13, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    I find myself chuckling a bit by the responses to your Osteen post. You are constantly challenging “conventional wisdom” and our dogmatic commitments to this position or that. I love this about you. Of course you always do this in the light of scripture and love of Christ which is really hard to swallow since it is so convicting. (Ouch!) This sort of dialogue is certainly needed within the Reformed community where we love always being right and superior to every other flavor of Christian! Keep pushing brother!

  6. Mr. Knox May 13, 2005 at 9:15 pm

    1. Upon your contextual reading of the Synoptic Gospels, which character featured therein do you think most resembles Joel Osteen?
    2. I still would like to know, John, when you read Galatians 2, do you identify more with Peter, or with Paul?

  7. Keith Darrell May 14, 2005 at 1:17 am

    “Mr. Knox”,
    Since you have now posted twice on #2, and you referred to Osteen as being involved with “rank heresy”, let me ask you, Do you think Peter was lost in Galatians 2? How would you respond to Peter today? Would you say that he is involved in “rank heresy”? Does “rank heresy” exclude one from the Kingdom of God? If not, does your assessment of Osteen mean he could be saved? If he could be, what is your definition of “rank heresy”?
    Now, to your question, I guess it depends on what perspective, ‘law’ or ‘gospel’, I am looking at the issue from. From the ‘law’ standpoint, do you not agree, “Mr. Knox”, that your heart is inclinded to the greatest of Pharisaism, self-righteousness and separation? Consider the standard Reformed view of total depravity and ‘law/gospel’ hermeneutic before you respond. So, do you not identify more with Peter from this standpoint? If you do, what will you do with yourself? What will you say about your self? If not, do you understand the issue from a ‘gospel’ perspective?
    Grace and Peace,

  8. Doug Baker May 14, 2005 at 7:26 am

    I have been continually amazed to find how much can be learned even from rank heretics.
    John Milton, the author of the greatest piece of Christian literature outside of the canon, the greatest piece of literature written in English, was a rank heretic. He was an arian, which had been declared to be heresy a thousand and some years before he was even born. He believed that Jesus had been created by God and that he was eternally inferior to his Father. Yet, I would be a fool to ignore the glory of God that is on parade in Paradise Lost on that account.
    CS Lewis was a rank heretic. He believed that he had to pay for his own sins by suffering here on Earth in order to be purified and prepared to enter life. Therefore he practiced penance intensely. He also believed that he could (or should be able to) establish a spiritual link between himself and his wife so that he could mystically suffer for her and she would not have to suffer. Shirley McLain (spelling?) should borrow that one from him. Yet, is there a Christian in America who has not benefitted from his teaching and his stories?
    If these (and a thousand others) who would be called heretics can be used of God for his Glory, and not as pharoah was used, by his death, but by their lives, then why not Osteen?

  9. slamb May 14, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    If you are fond of the early days of Reformation and Revival ministries and journal, then you will appreciate this recent book review by Jim Elliff of Joel Osteen’s book.

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