“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” The words of the Lord Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:15-20
On or about July 19th, 2014, Pulpit and Pen contributor Dustin Germain, published an article on the Pulpit and Pen blog entitled, “Joel Osteen Likes God…He just doesn’t like Jesus [A Twitter Survey of @JoelOsteen]”. In his article Germain observed that since July 8, 2013 (through July 19th, 2014), “Out of Joel Osteen’s 806 tweets, not including any of his replies to other people, he mentions ‘God’ 334 times.” Germain further observed that, during that same time period, Osteen mentioned Jesus only once. Such a revelation may be shocking to some, however, when I read Germain’s findings, I was completely unsurprised. I was already aware that Joel Osteen is a purveyor of what sociologist Christian Smith has labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which according to Smith, is a theology that exhibits the following ideas:
- God created the world.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Such ideas (apart from #1 and most of #2), are hardly biblical and completely ignore the centrality of Jesus Christ to all of existence. Preaching like that of Osteen has been described by author and theologian Michael Horton as “Smooth Talking and Christless Christianity.” Osteen’s brand of prosperity preaching, make no mistake it is a brand, is rightly decried by men such as Germain and Horton. Horton observes:
“Although explicit proponents of the prosperity gospel may be fewer than their influence suggests, its big names and best-selling authors (T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer) are purveyors of a pagan worldview with a peculiarly American flavor. It’s basically what Luther called the ‘theology of glory’: How can I climb the ladder and attain the glory here and now that God has actually promised for us after a life of suffering? The contrast is the theology of the cross: the story of God’s merciful descent to us at great personal cost— a message that the apostle Paul acknowledged was offensive and foolish to Greeks.”
I agree with Horton’s assessment. Osteen is bad, very bad. As I’ve written elsewhere, a picture speaks a thousand words. So, here is a picture of my preaching professor’s hand pointing at a PowerPoint slide of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer as he teaches workshop students about how dangerous these prosperity preachers are to congregants:
At best, Osteen, Meyer, and company dilute the gospel. Yet, I’m thankful to God that a man such as Osteen has exposure in the digital age. Here’s why. In times past, huckster preachers in different geographical areas could fly under the radar of theologically discerning apologists and evangelists. Such prosperity preachers who became popular enough to be featured on television would eventually be exposed for what they were to a larger audience. However, the identity of their followers was largely unknown. Television is a one-way medium. While there is nothing new under the sun, times have changed. The internet is replacing television as the primary medium of mass communication and it…is a two-way medium. Evangelists, shepherds, and teachers can now know exactly who is in need of evangelism, care, and teaching simply by checking who retweets popular prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen. Observe one of Osteen’s latest Tweets.
That bit of moralistic, therapeutic, life-coaching, Christless Deism (which defies the very definition of the word average) was retweeted by 2,970 undiscerning souls who likely don’t know their right from their left…and now anyone who wants to click on the retweet count can know who these souls are and can quickly, cheaply, and easily communicate with them.
Biblically faithful Christians can and often do go on-and-on about what a pox Osteen and others like him are upon our society and the church. We should certainly lament that 3,437 biblically misinformed souls favorited this particular tweet. However, we have to do something more than just complain or lament. Otherwise, we may just come off as being jealous that men like Osteen are more popular and wealthy than us.
We have to act. We can use Osteen and others like him as an evangelistic and educational tool. Just as the Watchtower and the LDS send lost people to our doors without our having to do anything, Osteen sends confused (or lost people) to our social media environment. These people are even predisposed to a high view of scripture! For what more could we ask? Someone retweeting Osteen or posting a Joyce Meyer quote on his Facebook page is practically giving an invitation to have a spiritual conversation. Take up that invitation.
We should follow Dustin Germaine’s example and rightly criticize Osteen for his Christless preaching, but our actions can’t end there. Faithful Christians have to be ready to share the real, complete gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the Osteen dragon rears its ugly head in our flesh-and-blood environment and not just in social media where we have time to think about a response. Thus, we have to be ready at all times. Recently, I experienced a situation, were I was not prepared as I should have been.
The Open Door
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – The words of the Lord Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:13-14
About a year ago, I decided to stop for coffee and check out the reading material at the Open Door Christian Bookstore here in Cartersville. It was the most disturbing trip for a mocha that I ever took. As I perused the books on the store’s shelves, I noticed offerings from Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and even Benny Hinn. What were books written by such proliferators of error doing in the “Christian” bookstore? Apparently, they were selling. If such books weren’t sellers, they wouldn’t be carried. Even someone like me who made a “C” in Marketing 3000 knows that. Towards the back of the store, there was a single shelf that displayed biblically faithful literature: Bible dictionaries, conservative commentaries, and concordances. There were, of course, Bibles for sale, but they were in the back, too. The front-line merchandise was prosperity stuff and moralistic, therapeutic deism.
It was an eye-opening experience. The little town of Cartersville abounds with churches. In fact, the Open Door Christian Bookstore is next door to a Baptist church. Cartersville is absolutely full of conservative Baptists and Pentecostals. I couldn’t believe that the members of these generally biblically faithful denominations were providing the market demand for Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer books, but they were and they are. (A later trip to the spiritual books section of the local public library confirmed my suspicions. There was a plentiful selection of Osteen and Meyer.) Right here, in my own home, which appears to be an enclave of Christendom, there are enough sheep without a shepherd to keep the Open Door Christian Bookstore in the business of selling books by prosperity preachers. Then and there, I resolved to talk to the manager or owner of the store in order to voice my objections to the “Christian” material for sale, but no one who fit those descriptions was to be found. I took my coffee and left the bible-verse trinkets, eagle statues, ceramic angels, and prosperity books behind. I did not return for almost a year.
“You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.” Deuteronomy 23:12-15
On a recent weekend, I attended a house-warming party for a friend of mine whom I met in Sunday School at First Baptist Woodstock. I am usually not good at thinking of gifts to buy for such occasions and I had been racking my brain about what to get for him. It came to me that, since my friend is a bold and outspoken proclaimer of the gospel who is majoring in religion through Liberty University Online, a Holman Bible Dictionary would be an appreciated gift. It was Thursday and the weekend party was fast-approaching, but I knew exactly where I could find such a book on short notice. After a late evening at work, I made my way to the Open Door Christian Bookstore. I walked into to the store just before closing time. The only other person there was an older man wearing dress clothes and a tie who asked me if I needed help finding anything. I assumed him to be the owner. He led me his sole copy of the Holman Bible Dictionary and I brought it to the register in order to purchase it.
I was ready to voice my long-held concerns about the products he was selling, but I wanted to get an idea of his beliefs first. “Where do you go to church,” I asked him. He told me that he went to New Covenant Church. The name of his church didn’t tell me much about what he believed doctrinally. “What denomination is that?” I asked. He replied that it was non-denominational. I asked him if it was an independent church that baptized professed believers by immersion. He told me that it was. “Oh, okay it’s a Baptist church, I said.” This observation led to the man going into an impassioned speech about denominational differences. I got the feeling it wasn’t the first time he had given it. He drew a crude analogy between different denominations and the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. Each tribe had its own territory and culture but camped around the same Tabernacle of God. So, too, do Christian denominations have their own differing cultures but camp around the same God. We’re all different, but we’re all one.
Like a Joyce Meyer book, I didn’t buy it. Even if his tenuous analogy could hold, Deuteronomy 23 makes it clear that the skubalon that is a Joel Osteen book belongs outside the camp of God’s people.
I asked him, as he checked me out at the register, what he thought about Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Benny Hinn. He stated that such authors weren’t for him but that some of his customers liked these books and that’s why he carried them. His credit card machine, which he referred to as “the beast” then rejected the American Express gift card with which I was trying to pay. As he ran my card again, this purveyor of Tim LaHaye bestsellers informed me that the government was seeking to take away the money supply in order to control spending. Credit cards, it seemed, were the mark of the beast. As I listened to him rattle off his eschatological predictions, I gazed upon a prominently displayed copy of John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons in quiet dismay.
It was hard to get in a word edgewise but I finally got it out that I didn’t think it was appropriate to sell books by heretics like Joyce Meyer. This struck a nerve. “Baptists don’t have it all figured out!” he told me. This is not a claim I had made but he refuted it nonetheless. Once of the things know-it-all seminary students like me know for sure is that we Baptists don’t have it all figured out. We are equally sure that Joyce Meyer is a heretic. The old shop keeper told me that the definition of heresy was very narrow and that someone had to deny that Jesus was God to be a heretic. I told him that Joyce Meyer claimed that Jesus stopped being the son of God on the cross.
“She never said that,” he retorted.
Undaunted I insisted that she did. It was to no avail. On this day, there was to be no reaching this particular sin salesman. At least I tried. I do hope that every Christian man and women in Cartersville who claims to be a follower of Christ, especially the members of New Covenant Church, will hold this man accountable for the books he sells. I think he knows that he is sin; he showed it by his defensive attitude. He knew he couldn’t defend the people who wrote the books he sold. Instead he tried to defend the conditions of the operation of his business. The best he could do was lay out some red herrings:
“John McArthur is wrong on some things, should I stop carrying him? Some people come in and only want the King James!”
He wanted me to defend MacArthur, the Southern Baptist denomination, or a certain Bible translation and see that I couldn’t do so and hold to my own supposed standard of not selling error. I didn’t bring any of those subjects up and I wasn’t there to defend any of them. They were, quite frankly, irrelevant to the task at hand. Watch out for tactics like this when you stand up for God’s truth. Don’t be baited into defending your guy, your translation, or your denomination. Stick to God’s word and Christ crucified.
Readers might say at this point, that the owner of the Open Door Christian Book store is running a business and not a ministry. That’s fine. You can go ahead and assert that if you like. I wonder, though, if you would make the same assertion if the store was selling Playboy Magazine or pornographic movies. There are just some things that a Christian should neither buy nor sell. I say the owner of the Open Door Christian Book Store is putting money before God, and in a big way by selling such things.
Joel Osteen books are just as bad as pornography. They are harmful. Think about that the next time you hear or see someone quote Joel Osteen and don’t say one word of correction to him. Think about that and think about the example the Apostle Paul sets in scripture:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Walking Through the Door Joel Osteen has Opened
“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I can do what it says I can do. Today, I will be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess: My mind is alert, My heart is receptive. I will never be the same. I am about to receive The incorruptible, indestructible, Ever-living seed of the Word of God. I will never be the same. Never, never, never. I will never be the same. In Jesus name. Amen.” Joel Osteen
I made a “C” in Marketing but I made an “A” in Business Negotiation. There is a negotiation technique called the “consistency trap” that is quite useful in many situations. If someone has committed to a certain position, it is psychologically difficult for him to go back on his own word. Such a person can be caught in a consistency trap and held accountable for his words.
Consider the case of a car salesman who sees a dad walk in to his dealership with three small children. The car salesman says, “With a family full of small children, I’m sure you’re looking for a very safe car.” Any dad worth his salt will respond in the affirmative. The salesman then says, “I can show you this model, it’s the safest in its class but, of course, the top-of-the-line safety features drive up the price.” What can the dad say now, “Sorry, I don’t want to spend the money to keep my children safe.”? He can’t say that. He’s caught in the consistency trap and if he can’t get out of it, he’ll have to buy the car.
How easy should it be to witness to someone who has repeated the words of Osteen quoted above? There is no need to defend the veracity of the Bible, the ancient wisdom of the Old Testament Law, the age of the earth, or the possibility of miracles. Someone who repeats after Osteen already claims to believe every word the Bible says. It should be easy, therefore, to set a biblical consistency trap:
Isn’t your heart receptive? Didn’t you boldly confess it so? You just said you are what the Bible says you are? You just said the Word of God was incorruptible.
Well, the Word of God says you are a wretched sinner and you need pick of up the cross of Christ and follow Him. It will be hard, you will be persecuted, and you may lose some friends. There is no seed faith to provide you with favor. Rather, you are more than a conqueror because Jesus has defeated death at the cross.
These Osteen people are waiting for you, faithful Christian, to share the true gospel with them. Unfortunately, Osteen and company think that these people are waiting for them to take their money. Osteen, Meyer, Jakes, and Hinn are the kind of people Paul was talking about when he said:
“For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:6-7
What are you going to do? Are you going to walk into church, pour your cup of coffee, walk right by the woman who was posting Osteen quotes on Facebook last night, and take your seat before the praise music starts? Put that coffee down. Do the work of an evangelist.
Every time someone retweets Osteen, you’ve got a lead on a spiritual conversation. Use that lead. Before doing so, however, make sure you’ve studied up on Osteen and can clearly communicate why he’s a man who shouldn’t be followed. Dustin Germain and others have already done the work for you in this area. Use it. Most of all, study up on what scripture says. If you know what the Bible says, you can’t go wrong.
In practice, it’s not going to be as quick and easy as setting a consistency trap. When it comes down to it, most people aren’t going to care how much you know, they are going to care how much you love. Correct gently. Be nice. Most of all, pray. You can’t do the work of an evangelist by yourself. You need the Holy Spirit to guide you. Let Him do so.
Be on the lookout, as Michael Horton points out:
“..the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.”
Some version of what Osteen preaches may have already slithered its way into your church.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
 Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 162– 71, 258, 262.
 Ibid., 162-163.
 Horton, Michael (2008-11-01). Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 65). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Horton, Michael (2008-11-01). Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 68). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 It never ceases to amaze me that some people who attend “non-denominational” churches don’t understand that they are Baptists. A Baptist church is any church that is autonomous and baptizes believers by immersion.
 I’ve never even read any John McArthur books.
 Yes, I’m playing of “Glengarry Glen Ross“ to drive these points home.
 Horton, Michael (2008-11-01). Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 16-17). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.