I have contributed two previous posts to this blogspot on the rising popular ministry of Houston preacher Joel Osteen. I am amazed at the interest expressed about these two entries. It has forced me to read numerous comments, both critical and supportive, and thereby rethink the whole issue several times. I find myself in agreement with certain points made by my critics but still feeling they generally miss the central points that I have made.

1. I did not intend to write an apologia for Joel Osteen or his ministry. I am not qualified to do so.

2. I did say that his ministry was useful for some Christians. Though very simplistic, his writing and preaching do offer simple words of Christian hope. I can learn a great deal from this. I need to be simpler in my presentation of truth, a quality that does not overflow with abundance in my own circles of theological conviction.

3. I also concluded that Osteen, contrary to some critics, is not a heretic. He is a very popular charismatic minister, warts and all.

4. Finally, I questioned one major aspect of Dr. Michael Horton’s published criticism of Osteen. Though some of Horton’s comments were useful, and even suggestive of further problems to be properly observed, I believe he went over the edge when he wrote: "In this religion, God is not worshiped. He is used." In fairness to Horton, and I noted this in my second post, he could have been misquoted by the Chicago Tribune, or perhaps was quoted out of a larger context. My point was that this kind of certainty is over the edge and grows out of a particular hermeneutical framework. Though I have far more sympathy with Horton’s interpretive system than Osteen’s, I do not think it is above question. No human framework is final. Horton’s has flaws that are rarely admitted by those who ardently use and promote it.

Since this little discussion began only nine days ago I have found myself praying for Joel Osteen, as I said in both previous posts. The results have been nothing short of amazing.

Several have noted, through personal comments, that Joel Osteen’s message has been immensely helpful in their own lives, through both his preaching and best-selling book. You can’t imagine how encouraged I am by these comments. Osteen’s message, and the way people indicate that they hear this message, underscores the very point I made in my two earlier posts. Osteen’s message is simple and clear. Young believers can easily grasp the central points that he makes. Most of the time they do not read errors into or out of this message of faith and hope. I believe that generally there is a common sensibility in the sheep that far exceeds our complex systems of thought. This is not to say that serious theology does not matter. It is to say that serious people tend to take themselves, and their arguments, far too seriously!

Finally, it never ceases to amaze me that when I change my critical attitudes about someone’s ministry, and begin to pray for that person and ministry directly, God often surprises me in how he uses that very same ministry in my life, and in the lives of people I know.

I have learned from this discussion:

1. People with theological frameworks that lean towards being critical of popular preachers should employ these frameworks far more openly and carefully.

2. One should never be too amazed at what God uses to bring blessings to your friends and answers to your prayers. "His ways are not my ways."

I am learning a lot through this discussion, and repenting as I learn. One of my profound griefs is that it has taken me so long to learn both of these two points. I still have a long way to go.

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  1. Craig W. Booth May 17, 2005 at 9:56 am

    What I have learned from your Osteen blogs is: my prayer life is woefully inadequate, but especially so with regard to praying for the ministries of those with whom I have disagreements.
    Thanks for the lesson.

  2. Paul Schafer May 17, 2005 at 11:46 am

    Concerning your point, “Finally, it never ceases to amaze me that when I change my critical attitudes about someone’s ministry, and begin to pray for that person and ministry directly, God often surprises me in how he uses that very same ministry in my life, and in the lives of people I know.”
    This is so true about God and the way He deals with me in discipline. I have been so hasty and harsh in my critical attitude towards church leaders in the past and God has disciplined me for it. I don’t always check the facts thoroughly before I start my gum warfare. I see many critical Christians do not check the facts thoroughly before they start their gum warfare either.
    I know that prayer is so vital. God can do the impossible and change the leader’s heart that I am critical against. But do I trust Him in those moments?

  3. Gene Redlin May 17, 2005 at 2:22 pm

    I too could take a lesson, while at first blush I might come across as an apologist for Joel, I am more neutral than all that. I have his book. Have read much of it. It’s good. I taught Dale Carnegie in the 70’s and 80’s. Much of his writing is out of that mould. Ditto John Maxwell by the way. It’s all wisdom hammered out on the anvil of experience. Solomon was right, there is NOTHING new under the sun.
    A confession however. I have a very hard time praying (other than superficially “get’em God”) for ministries and so called men of God with whom I am in deep disagreement. Not you; anything I might disagree with you on is not that deep .
    My rant is with Liberal theologians who dispute the Divinity, doubt the authenticiy of the word of God and question defined sin. They are NOT my brother in Christ.
    I have yet to learn to pray for them other than to hope for them to get saved. The worst ones are those who are or were high officials in mainline denominations with long lettered doctorates from seminaries. (My opinion is no graduate of a seminary should be allowed to interpret the Bible without coming to faith first. The two are not coincidental). Of course the mainstream media always quotes them first with thier rank apostacy. I’m no watchdog, but I’m watching. Keep up the good work.

  4. Mr. Knox May 17, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    John sez: “I made in my two earlier posts. Osteen’s message is simple and clear. Young believers can easily grasp the central points that he makes.”
    I haven’t heard anyone accuse Osteen of being unclear. I think the point most of his critics have made, and consistently, is that his “simple” message is simply NOT the gospel; he doesn’t ever really preach the gospel; and his Dale-Carnegie-style “wisdom” isn’t even COMPATIBLE with the gospel. See 1 Cor. 2:1-2.
    I realize, that comes from my particular hermeneutical framework, but as it happens, if the framework I use (which begins with my conviction that Scripture is both true and authoritative) is a CORRECT framework, then a LOT of “popular preachers” are preaching false messages (and in some cases they are DAMNABLE false messages). I don’t see anything in Scripture demanding that I cease refuting such errors and pray for the purveyors of those errors instead.
    I DO see plenty of warnings in Scripture about being overly tolerant of such people (2 John 7-11).
    Meanwhile, I still wonder, John, if you would have chided Paul for his gross intolerance of the Judaizers and THEIR message.

  5. Mike May 17, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    I’m a newcomer at this party, so forgive me if my comments/requests are redundant. Basically, I have two questions:
    1. My first question stems from the following statement:
    “I did say that his ministry was useful for some Christians. Though very simplistic, his writing and preaching do offer simple words of Christian hope.”
    Is ministry supposed to be useful to us in a therapeutically, pragmatic sense, as his is, and is the hope Joel offers for this life or the next?
    2. My second comes from the following:
    “My point was that this kind of certainty is over the edge and grows out of a particular hermeneutical framework. Though I have far more sympathy with Horton’s interpretive system than Osteen’s, I do not think it is above question. No human framework is final. Horton’s has flaws that are rarely admitted by those who ardently use and promote it.”
    To what hermeneutical framework are you referring, and what are the flaws you see and what specifically makes them incorrect?
    I know I may be asking for more than you have the desire or time to provide, but your criticisms (to me, as a newcomer) are unsubstantiated and unidentified.
    Thank you for your consideration of my request.

  6. K. Darrell May 17, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    “Mr. Knox”, maybe you can address my questions in the previous thread, b/c, I believe, they apply directly to your “correct” hermeneutic? Also, please provide specifics from Joel Osteen’s teachings that qualify him for “rank heresy”. If you cannot demonstrate this, then your posts are…

  7. K. Darrell May 17, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    Hi Mike,
    1. “Is ministry supposed to be useful to us in a therapeutically, pragmatic sense, as his is, and is the hope Joel offers for this life or the next?”
    I don’t know enough about Joel’s teachings (in part due to “Mr. Knox” not showing his ‘rank heresy’), but, yes, God’s Word is ‘useful’, both therapeutically, pragmatically, and, as Paul says, godliness has its benefits in this age and in the age to come. Unfortunately, due to the influence of Lutheran hermeneutics this is often denied.
    2. John may see it differently, but Horton’s consumption with the ‘law-gospel’ hermeneutics leads to flaws. It, I believe, is simply imposed on the Scriptures. You can search the net and other venues to look into this more if you care to, but John’s blog, especially the comment section, is not the place to carry out a debate on this topic.

  8. Mike May 18, 2005 at 9:04 am

    Apparently, I stepped over the line. Sorry.

  9. Mr. Knox May 18, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    Sorry I missed your grilling in the previous thread.
    Osteen’s heresy is his fundamental corruption of the biblical concept of grace. He teaches that divine favor is obtained by what WE do. And, unlike the Judaizers, he doesn’t even teach that the means of obtaining God’s favor is any divinely-prescribed ritual. Osteen claims God’s favor is obtained by what we SAY–as if magic words could unleash God’s favor upon anyone. In one of his trademark messages, “Increasing in Favor,” he says,
    “I believe one of the main ways that we grow in favor is by declaring it. It’s not enough to just read it. IT’S NOT ENOUGH JUST TO BELIEVE IT. You’ve got to SPEAK it out. YOUR WORDS HAVE CREATIVE POWER. And one of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words. And there is a divine connection between you declaring God’s favor and you seeing God’s favor manifest in your life.
    “You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out.”
    …as I said, rank heresy. He illustrates that doctrine with a series of anecdotes about how his utilitarian god has arranged for him to have the chief seats on airplanes, moved him to the head of this or that queue, handed him material wealth, and other similar worldly nonsense. If you’re not outraged and apalled by that, you ought to examine yourself.
    In the meantime, why don’t you and John Armstrong actually do a little reading and listening to Osteen AND his critics? The tape I have quoted above is downloadable from his website. If you knew anything whatsoever about what this guy stands for, there’s no way you would be coveting a teatime chat with him. He has broadcast his stuff everywhere. It really shouldn’t be hard for someone with a modicum of discernment to see what is wrong with him.
    John, it truly breaks my heart to see the direction you are going with all this.

  10. Doug Baker May 18, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    Dear K. Darrell,
    What do you mean by Lutheran hermaneutics denying the present value of God’s word? The threefold use of the Law is part of the bedrock of historic Lutheranism: Political (restraining evil here and now, even among the unregenerate), theological (it leads us to Jesus), and didactic (leading Christ’s body to expressions of his love through good works). That God’s word is “useful” here and now, is a staple not only of Calvinistic preaching but of Lutheran teaching also. This is one of the many areas in which we are in agreement with our historic Lutheran brethren.
    And why should Mike not ask about Horton’s hermeneutic failings when John mentioned them in his post? “My point was that this kind of certainty is over the edge and grows out of a particular hermeneutical framework.” I too am curious to what exactly John is refering.
    I might offer that Horton’s hermeneutical shortcomings spring from an overeagerness to deflate all of scripture down to a series of credal statements that are “proven” and can be used as tests for orthodoxy among all of God’s children. While there are many indisputables in Scripture, God did not give us such a long, complex and beautiful book so that we could freeze dry it and repackage it as a list of affirmations with proof texts. This tendency reigns among some of the most orthodox, some of those with whom I most agree on doctrinal issues but with whom I equally disagree concerning the right attitude with which to open God’s word. This reductionist hermeneutic feeds an argumentative approach to debate rather than a nurturing care for those with whom we disagree.
    However, I doubt that this is what John had in mind and I am still curious exactly what he meant by Horton’s “particular hermeneutical framework” and Horton’s “flaws.”

  11. K. Darrell May 18, 2005 at 8:54 pm

    “Mr. Knox”,
    I won’t use John’s blog for a debate, but I think you fundamentally diverted the questions, namely, “Does ‘rank heresy’ exclude one from the kingdom?” In the previous thread I said that Mr Osteen’s “diet” isn’t Biblical, so I don’t know where you get me coveting “tea time” with the man. Anyway…

  12. K. Darrell May 18, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Doug,
    I have not personally spent much time with Luther, but my interaction with Lutheranism is through Concordia Theological Seminary (St Louis), various Lutheran writings, and a radio show called “Issues, Etc.” Within this community there is NO third use of the law. Sanctification is getting used to your justification and is simpley by means of the “gospel”, which excludes ALL commandments. “Gospel” is simply what God does and Law is what God requires. The Law, within this paradigm, does nothing but condemn. The preaching of practical godliness via Law is anti-Gospel. Maybe Lutheranism has traditionally held to the Reformed perspective of the Law, but it is not prevalent among the Missouri Synod that I have interacted with. Since it is from MO Synod seminary I figured it is representative of their position. In fact, one student told me the most important thing in understanding the Scriptures is to never confuse the law & Gospel. It is THE meta-hermeneutic.
    Mike & Doug, my apologies if I was unclear in my original post to Mike, but I have no problem with Mike asking John these questions (or “Mr. Knox” persisting in his ways) on this blog. My comment was with respect to how I will not debate this topic (law-gospel), because I don’t believe this venue is the best format for that discussion – a ‘law-gospel’ debate in this instance. My apologies for any lack of clarity in my writing.

  13. Mr. Knox May 18, 2005 at 11:21 pm

    Darrel: “Fundamentally diverted the questions”? The only “question” I can see that you gave (above) was: “Please provide specifics from Joel Osteen’s teachings that qualify him for ‘rank heresy.'”
    I did that.
    If you now want me to answer a DIFFERENT question, fine, but don’t accuse me of “diverting.” I answered you as directly as possible.
    In answer to your latest question (“Does ‘rank heresy’ exclude one from the kingdom?”)–certainly it CAN, and it seems to me that calling someone who is teaching rank heresy a “brother in Christ” is at least as foolhardy as reflexively assuming that every person we disagree with is “hell-bound.” May the Lord deliver us from BOTH kinds of foolish judgment.
    But it still seems to me that 2 John 7-11 warns us of the deadly danger of the former brand of foolishness. I see no equally stern warning against the latter.

  14. Jeff Downs May 19, 2005 at 6:38 am

    I have not read anything from Osteen nor have I heard him preach. But, I am being told that Osteen has taught that Jesus had to go to hell to battle with Satan, that thoughts can kill and that we need to declare, out loud, our blessings.
    If these things are true (some are worse then others) they come straight from the Word of Faith Movement.
    If one would do google search on “Osteen Infinitum… (Resources)” you will come up with a list of resources (articles, audio) in which Osteen’s teachings are address.ed Pay particular attention to the audio with Bob Liichow.

  15. IndyChristian May 19, 2005 at 2:09 pm

    You’re all going to love this… the newest Business Week adding fuel to the conversation… “Evangelical America”… and regularly discussing Pastor Osteen.
    You can pick up the trail here… Blogs+News=Blew.net.

  16. K. Darrell May 19, 2005 at 7:58 pm

    “Mr. Knox”,
    Well, this shall be my last post on this thread with you, because I think you possess an uncanny inability to read and this is effecting and coloring your particular, “correct” hermeneutic. For you say, “The only ‘question’ that I can see that you gave above…” I wrote, “”Mr. Knox”, maybe you can address my questions in the previous thread, b/c, I believe, they apply directly to your “correct” hermeneutic?” You then reference my “grilling” in the previous thread and then pawn it off as a single question. This, “Mr. Knox”, is very poor ‘proof-texting’.
    One of the problems with fellows like yourself, and most ‘watchdog’ type personalities and men of your temperment, is that you get cackled, a party spirit develops, and almost everyone that disagrees is instantly an enemy. You write impatiently. John might think Joel Osteen isn’t lost and we can glean some things from him, so John is x, y, & z. (An aside: I already pointed out Olsteen’s tie with ‘positive confession’ and an unBiblical diet…)
    At this point you are writing just to write, just to respond. Where the John Armstrongs and John Frames can and should be applauded is that they are patient and loving enough not to reach this stage. They follow Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. But, we know, it is just the ‘truth’ that you are after, right? You are always driven by ‘love’.

  17. Randall Lang May 26, 2005 at 10:28 am

    I have been a Christian for 14 years now, and though I am not a scholar on the Bible or in theology, I do know Christian princables, Joel Osteen is a good teacher of these and has inspired my walk with God. God is a big God and can handle all kinds of people and I believe God is pleased with anybody that brings people to know him. Big deal if Joel doesn’t fit to everybodys way of thinking of how a preacher should be. I’m sure that when he gets to heaven God will say “Well Done my good and faithful servant” If everybody taught the Bible in the smae way it would be pretty boring. Let Joel be Joel and move on. Life is short! Serve God, Love God, Worship God!
    Saved by Grace.
    Randall Lang

  18. Sunil Patel August 12, 2005 at 9:55 pm

    I have been touched by Joel Osteen’s teachings and messages. Do not forget the prayer and worships sessions which build intimate relationship with Jesus. I am saddened by the controversy our his ministry. It is my prayer that there is any issues that need resolved with this ministtry, I have faith the Lord will rectify it and show us the truth. God is love. We should fix our eyes on Jesus not man. I believe that ministers and pastors are human beings who make mistakes. The Lord will utilimately will final say. Do not forget King David, Solomon, Mose, Samson, Peter, all fell down. But God’s mercy is always there. Fix our eyes our Jesus!! This world needs Jesus not condemnation which comes from Satan.

  19. Joel should teach Jesus is Way August 11, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Joel needs to center his sermons on Jesus.
    not on the things that make you happy or may help temporarily
    you cannot give enough money or time to God to make him Happy with you
    If you do not have a sweet fellowship with Him.
    you must know Him personally and he must know you.
    Joels sermons seem to center on the things that you can do to make things better.
    these things will not last.
    Jesus is eternal, forever He will last he gives us JOY, not just happiness.
    Joel is just not sound in his doctrine.
    in all the things that I have read and seen from him.
    he does not focus on Jesus
    he does not preach on Hell, and does not tell people to repent of their sins and get down on their face and ask God to forgive them.
    according to the Larry King interview he thinks the Muslims and the Indians from India have the same God as us.
    Their god is NOT THE SAME as my LORD JESUS.
    He should know Jesus is the only way to God the Father.
    Joel needs to figure it out and tell his congregation this Bible truth.
    I pray that he will stand firm on Jesus’ Truths and follow the old paths.

  20. Bill August 13, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Mr Olsteen messages says that GOD only can work with people that are up and not depressed. You must be happy and fullfilled to get GODS favor. GODS LOVE is what delivers people from darkness and evil its been told over and over again. GODS LOVE is the only light can fill the heart of a person that has given up on life, GOD has saved through his LOVE and kindness many souls that might have been taken without that LOVE to fill their harts. The Bible is a document on paper, and many times has not recorded the complete truth when written by man, however man needs no one to connect to GOD every heart, every soul knows what to do. It is crazy to agrue over the merits of the bible when most people never read and or study it, yet they have deep passion for a LOVE that only can be found by connecting their hearts our maker. You dont have to read the bible to find GODS LOVE. A LOVE that can not be found anywhere else. Olsteen is proud of the fact that GOD supernationally built the 100 milion dollar church that he talks from. Olsteen talks very little about sharring his own compassion to people in their most desperate times. Be happy no matter is what he says otherwise you will not get connected to recieve any thing from GOD. What would Mr. Olsteen feel like if he really had to pull him self from poverty, no LOVE support form anyone. When your all alone broke dirty and rejected because everything in your life turned into NOTHING.
    As far as being saved by JESUS how many people after being saved giving their lives to Jesus wind up broke homeless and helpless it happened to me. If just giving our lives to JESUS worked then we would have not need to listen to anyone but GOD. Olsteen really gives his father very little credit for building that empire. John Olsteen really came form poverty and spoke and carred for people in a much carring way. Millions of people are lonley lost and confused even after giving their live to JESUS. When people are able to find GOD it is a feeling that takes over, in doing so it will fill them with LOVE then HOPE for their lives. All Churches need to remember that the money given to them is it is to be used to help the less fortunate people in this world. Not to buy a bigger house or worship center. He could brodcast his message from a studio therefore using the money to help people that are down and out an nowhere to go. No person should go without feeling compassion and carring just because they are broke and off track. If these leaders werent selling GOD and making all this money I wonder what they would be doing to make a living. Maybee they might be one of those people that became lonley and broke. JESUS never asked for money from people like the leaders of today do. His mission was to heal people, yet so many people are still lonley and isolated. It apears that LOVE comes form GOD and healing people is what JESUS did not much LOVING of people, yet LOVE is what our existance is all about. I DO LOVE GOD, yet money and fortunes have not come to me, just a feeling of LOVE in my heart that only GOD can fill

  21. Susan September 12, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Dear John,
    A number of years ago I could not have listened to Joel Osteen without thinking his message was shallow and weak. Now, I find myself led by God to listen to his podcasts on an almost daily basis. I am not listening for strong biblical teaching but because they consistently point me God. Joel Osteen reminds us that God is more powerful than our circumstances. He encourages us to monitor and control our thinking so that we don’t let the enemy in. He helps us to keep focused on the positive expectations we should have in terms of God’s work in our lives. This message is actually like a drink of cool water in my life at the moment. I have been a Christian for over 25 years and most of those years have been focused on heavy teaching and personal responsibility. I have to say that I am worn out. I have had a series of trials and difficulties in life and I need Joel’s teaching. He has a ministry of encouragement. God has been gracious enough to use his podcasts to help me recover and regain my strength as a Christian. I am not listening for theological truth – if there is such a thing. I am listening for the encouragement and hope that I needed and I literally feel the Holy Spirit working in me as I do so. I think we need to realise that God is in charge and human beings cannot define him, control him or box him. Perhaps the real false gospel is taking the ‘good news’ out of Christianity.

  22. John H. Armstrong September 14, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Susan writes what is one of the more moving posts I have read for some time on this blog site. And this original post is more than three years old! Readers would do well to go back and read the original post and then the comments of others.
    Susan’s post does not argue or debate but she appeals to her own need for encouragement and grace. What a refreshing comment my sister. You made my day when I read your words.
    If you inclination is to “argue” against Susan then you have a leading spiritual indicator of where you live your faith, mostly in your ideas and mind.
    I urge every reader to “listen” carefully to what Susan says and how she says it. We who argue about the “false gospel” are often the ones who have kept people from the acceptance of grace alone.
    If you want to be really honest then read Susan’s comments and do a personal spiritual inventory. If she speaks to your heart you get my point and if she doesn’t then it is unlikely that you will get her point until you are hungry enough to want it.
    God bless you Susan. You refreshed my spirit so much.

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