How Joel Osteen Has Impacted My Life

John ArmstrongThe Church

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.