Part of what I do for a living involves a whole lot of exposure to popular level preachers. Joel Osteen is one who I encounter almost weekly. I find him to be a fascinating phenomena, not so much of questionable doctrine, but simply by virtue of being an American Icon. His books have sold millions. He has the largest church in the U.S.. He fills a stadium 52 weeks a year (not including his speaking engagements elsewhere).
Joel is what I would like to call an easy target. He doesn’t pretend to have some complex, sophisticated theological framework from which he articulates the Christian life. It’s really simple – your life is meant to be better than it is, and I’m going to help you get there — right now. There’s actually a certain beauty in the simplicity. Yet people who aren’t even Christians can see the inconsistencies he has with his teaching. A first year bible student could do an exegetical masterpiece on Osteen. But that’s not the problem.
That hasn’t ever been the problem.
The problem is that people still flock to Osteen by the millions to hear a message of hope.
The problem is not merely how theologically incorrect Joel Osteen’s teaching is. Osteen actually has lots of decent things to say. Albeit simplistic and trite, but he is genuinely offering people help. I’m sure when people leave Osteen’s church they feel better about themselves, ’empowered’ to face the next week’s challenges. How is your pastor doing at that? I digress…
The greatest problem with Joel Osteen’s teaching is what he’s not telling you. And this is indicative of an iceberg in the evangelical world. Sadly, Osteen’s effort to give genuine hope into his disciples is built on a foundation of sand. The saddening an even, at times, infuriating part of Osteen is that he is actually robbing people of even better news.
The best news you can give to someone is not Your Best Life Now. This is actually quite terrible news. Because if my best life can be had now, then what happens when I die? This is the question that Osteen dares not confront. The best news that you can give is that The Best Is Yet To Come. This is where Osteen fails so sadly in his message. Osteen, in his effort to give people hope in the here-and-now, actually robs people of the greater hope that they could actually have.
But Osteen, in all of his apparently non-sinister motivation, is indicative of so much of the church today. The more I am exposed to what the Christian Church is offering, the message is still the same. Sure, there are better versions, and there are genuine, honest preachers who are doing their best to be faithful to scripture (or not?) yet, at the end of the day, their message comes down to this: Your Best Life Now.
To which I must respond, your good news is just not good enough.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)