The Slate reviews Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen is the pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, which may well be the largest congregation in the country. Even beyond his own congregation, he is well known for his positive message of the Gospel — a message that many call the Prosperity Gospel. Chris Lehmann reviews Osteen’s latest book, Become a Better You, and is not at all impressed:

Joel, who succeeded to the Lakewood pulpit on his father’s death, has pointedly refrained from pronouncing visions, performing wonders of the spirit such as speaking in tongues, or really doing much biblical preaching at all. He has the wardrobe and tirelessly dapper mien of an oil industry lobbyist; it’s as a walking advertisement of the success creed, and not as any manner of prophet, that he’s made his name. “I’m not called to explain every minute facet of Scripture or to expound on deep theological doctrines or disputes that don’t touch where people live,” he writes dismissively in Become a Better You. “My gift is to encourage, to challenge, and to inspire.”

. . .

There’s, of course, nothing inherently suspect or dishonorable about seeking uplift and consolation in the Bible. But the point of those “deep theological doctrines” that Osteen seems to deride is to leaven that quest with the less agreeable features of life—pain and suffering, the persistence of evil, the fleeting quality of all endeavor, the cosmic insignificance of the human self, let alone that self’s subordinate chosen modes of expression in body posture or a near-pathological penchant for smiling. After all, the same Bible that Lakewood’s arena full of believers champion as a handbook for what they can do and be also contains these words, in Revelation 3:17: “Thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing: and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”

Read it all here.

So what do you think? Is this a fair criticism of Joel Osteen’s message?

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4 Comments
  1. Yes – fair — the wealth and health gospel is just a way to make Joel et al wealthier.

  2. I don’t think that it is fair to lump Osteen with the other televangelists–his messgae, unlike most Prosperity Gospel preachers, has little to do with giving money to the church. I think Osteen is sincere.

    What is interesting about Osteen is that if you look at what he urges people to do (and ignore the promise that God will reward you if you do), he offers lots of very good advice. In my view Osteen is a pretty decent “slep help” speaker.

    My problem is theologocal–I don’t think you can reconcile his view that life will be peaches and cream with the way of the Cross.

  3. USA Today blogs has this on Osteen compared to the others,

    http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/01/the-gospel-of-m.html#more

    Osteen, a rising young star in the evangelical firmament, has stopped taking a salary from his 48,000-member congregation, thanks almost entirely to his own best-selling books. “We make plenty of money from our books,” says Osteen, who does not solicit contributions on his nationally televised broadcasts from the Compaq Center. “But we just live normal lives. We try to be conservative and honor God with our life and with our example.”

    (Not always, however. Osteen’s wife and co-pastor, Victoria, was not above a diva-like snit fit on a flight bound for Vail, Colo., in 2005 after claiming her first-class seat had not been cleaned. An altercation with flight attendants led to a two-hour delay, and the Osteens were asked to leave the plane. Victoria, who called the incident a “minor misunderstanding,” later paid a $3,000 fine assessed by the Federal Aviation Administration.)

    Osteen owns just one home where he and his wife have lived in for 13 years, and until recently, he drove a 9-year-old car. Osteen flies commercial and, on the road, pays his own hotel bills.

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