Christianity Today posted an interesting article on Joel Osteen, who recently preached at a Night of Hope event in Hawaii. Osteen leads the largest church in America, boasting some 40,000 in attendance on Sunday mornings. Osteen has been criticized for preaching a prosperity gospel that is inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture. Osteen centers his messages on his listeners thinking positively about themselves, founding this anthropology on a theology that God wants what is best for you and He has promised to bless you. In the Christianity Today article, Osteen defends his theology.
Osteen states, “I think for years people have been pushed down by religion, and I don’t say that disrespectfully, but they’ve been shown a God that you can’t measure up to." This is a revealing statement. Osteen pits his theology of positive thinking and prosperity up against religions that push people down by showing them "a God that you can't measure up to." Let's break this down.
Osteen's Anthropology vs Biblical Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity; biblically speaking, anthropology is the state of humanity or the human condition. Osteen stated, "...people have been pushed down by religion. By "religion," Osteen defines this as a movement that reveals "a God that you can't measure up to." This religion is called Christianity. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "both Jews and Greeks are under sin" and "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:9, 23). As the Psalmist asks, "If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:3). The biblical answer is "not one is righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). Osteen's view of humanity is that religion should not push them down. This is foundational to his positive thinking motif to his messages. Religion should exalt humanity rather than push humanity down.Osteen said, "I think that God wants us to excel" (emphasis added). According to Osteen, God wants human beings to individually excel; in other words, God wants to make much of us. Yet, the Bibles says, "no man may boast before God" and "let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:29, 31). The God of Scripture is quite the opposite to Osteen's description. Humanity is to boast in God, not God boasting in humanity as Osteen details. Osteen's prosperity gospel is summed up in this way: "I think that God wants us to excel and be the best at what we can do and have happy families." Osteen says that God makes much of us by "smiling down" on us and having a "great plan for your life." In Osteen's anthropology, it is all about you. In the Bible, it is all about God.
Osteen's Theology vs Biblical Theology
Osteen's view of God stands in contrast to what he claims is "a God that you can't measure up to." This means that Osteen sees God as one that people can measure up to. To Osteen, God can be approached by sinful human beings. This is an outright rejection of God's holiness. God is not set apart from the world because, according to Osteen, people can measure up to him. Contrary to Osteen's doctrine of God, the Bible calls God the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:41 et al) who cannot be approached by sinners (Psalm 24:3-4). We already discussed that the Bible defines the human condition as utterly sinful and fallen short of God's glory. Man in his sin is incapable of approaching God. God in His perfect holiness cannot be approached by sinful man. There is a great separation between God and man. To make a god that can be measured up to by sinful human beings of his own creation is a god that lacks position above his creation (transcendence) and moral superiority to his creation (ethical holiness). The God of Scripture is a God of Light, "and in Him there is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5).
"My goal is to make God good..." states Osteen. That's right, Osteen's preaching makes God good. Osteen sees the God that cannot be measured up to by sinful people who are pushed down by religion as an evil God. Osteen fancies himself as a repairman to the broken, wrathful God that cannot be measured up to. Yet, God is holy and unapproachable. God is wrathful against all unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And yet, the Bible states that God is perfectly benevolent as well (Psalm 106:1, Psalm 34:8). To entitle the God of Scripture as evil that needs to be reformed ("made") good by popular psychology is blasphemous.God is not broken, He does not need human public relations to be "made" good. God's perfect love and perfect goodness is shown to sinners by sending us His Son; though we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That, Mr. Osteen, is the demonstration of God's goodness. His perfect love and goodness are found in the gospel, not in the positive thinking of sinners exalting themselves and avoiding conviction over sin.
Jesus warned us, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). John MacArthur comments that false prophets impersonate true shepherds promoting the wide gate and the wide way toward destruction. Sure, Osteen has a nice smile and is kind to others. He is peaceful and is just plain nice. However, his theology is shepherding people along the wide path toward destruction, blaspheming God and promoting a theology in rebellion to the teachings of Scripture. Inwardly, that is not very nice at all. There is a total absence of a genuine articulation of the gospel in Osteen's teachings, which has been replaced with positive thinking by perverting God into a god that must be "made" good and can be measured up to by people who make mistakes.
Tomorrow, I will turn to Joel Osteen's view of the gospel versus the biblical view of the gospel.