(photo taken from Google images)
I don’t want to start this post stating all the reasons I’m not a fan of Joel Osteen, but I do want to discuss some problems with his belief system. For those who don’t know, Joel Osteen is the founder of Joel Osteen Ministries, and he pastors Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. You can find his website here. I will readily admit that he is a great humanitarian who has done (and is doing) many good things for people around the world. He and his wife Victoria are “…involved in vaccination programs, abandoned baby centers, and centers for young troubled teens looking for a new life and a fresh start. [They] are helping feed the hungry, clothe the needy and provide hope to the hopeless” (taken from joelosteen.com).
However, the kind of “gospel” he promotes is not what I would describe to be the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was introduced to Joel Osteen’s church when I was in high school and stumbled upon his telecast on TBN. As I started watching, I realized that everything he was saying sounded really, really good. He talked about “living in victory,” “living abundantly,” and that our faith in Christ would show itself to be true through our mental, physical, emotional, and financial lives. I began to think, “Yeah! That makes sense!”
Joel Osteen is clearly passionate about Christians living in “victory.” In the beliefs section on his website, his last point is, “…As children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life He has in store for us.” What does this mean, exactly?
The definition of the Prosperity Gospel, according to Wikipedia, is “…a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.” This is the foundation on which Joel Osteen bases his belief of living in “victory.”
However, what do we see when we look at Scripture?
In John 16, as Jesus is speaking with his disciples, he says to them, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”(NLT).
Followers of Christ have historically been known to suffer hardship – we see this in the lives of Peter, Paul, Luke, and many others. We see this in the persecuted church worldwide, where people are being tortured and killed for their faith. Paul himself describes the hardships he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27:
“I know I sound like a madman, but I have served [Christ] far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have raveled o many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”
Clearly, Paul experienced many, many hardships in following Christ. Does this mean every believer must experience the same things he did? Absolutely not – but I don’t think the Christian life was ever meant to be lived in material “victory.”
To the contrary, I believe the Christian life was meant to be difficult, but it is our responsibility to find contentment in Christ amidst our difficult circumstances. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Mountains and valleys exist in the lives of every human being. We experience heartache, tragedy, illness, job-loss, etc. Christians are not exempt from this – we must experience the realities of our broken world just as everyone else does. Jesus never promised that we would have easy or “abundant” lives. He only promised that he would be with us in our circumstances.
Over the next weeks, I will be discussing more in depth about this topic (and may do a chapter-by-chapter review of one of his books), and why I believe the Prosperity Gospel is a lie that too many Christians tend to believe. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. J