A Call for Joel Osteen to Repent

It is time for Joel Osteen to repent. His October 15th appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes was yet another reminder that this pastor preaches a message that can only be construed by the most generous of imaginations as the Gospel. Time and again on his many television appearances Osteen has admitted (smiling all the way, of course) his ignorance of sound doctrine and disdain for the careful exposition of Scripture. He once famously responded to Larry King’s question about the eternal fate of those who do not believe in Jesus that even though he doesn’t know much about what the people in India believe he knows that they are sincere in their love for God. King did not press Osteen about which one of Hinduism’s 300 million+ gods was he referring. It all begs the question: why is this man a pastor?

Joel Osteen, a drop out from Oral Roberts University, was the director of the television ministry for Lakewood Church which was founded by his father John, a former Southern Baptist pastor. When John died Joel stepped into the pulpit of Lakewood which then had an attendance between seven and nine thousand. Since then the growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. Current attendance is recorded at about 42,000 in weekend services. After a $100 million renovation Lakewood now meets in the former home of the Houston Rockets basketball team.

I have a copy of his first book “Your Best Life Now.” A friend sent it to me as a joke. It worked. I laughed. If listening to Joel Osteen “preach” is frustrating, reading him is downright maddening. If he were not the pastor of America’s largest church, there is no hope that anyone would publish his sophomoric drivel. He is a bad Robert Schuller impression. It is reported that his second book, “Become a Better You” earned him an advance of $13 million. Sadly, it is more of the same therapeutic, God is your genie, religious humanism that was peddled in his first book.

When it comes to his responsibility and qualifications as a teacher Joel seems to want it both ways. On the one hand he says of his books and teaching, “It’s all backed up by the Bible.” In other words, “I know the Bible so well that I can formulate an entire system of life improvement while rarely having to refer to specific Scriptures.” But as soon as someone begins to point out his many errors Osteen gives his best “awe shucks” look and says that theology and biblical precision aren’t his “giftings.”

If a surgeon at the local hospital were treating cancer patients by sprinkling chicken blood on them you can be assured that the outrage from the other physicians would be palpable. There would be no cries of, “But he is so nice and sincere!” Astonishingly, many ministers of the Gospel and leaders in the church approach Osteen and his ilk with a “Well, it’s not my cup of tea” kind of response. “As long as he is helping people, who am I to complain?”

Christians are impressed with Osteen’s beguiling smile and oozing sincerity. I have heard his errors excused by appeals to his seeming kindness as if distorting the Gospel of Jesus Christ is okay so long as you are nice about it. Osteen may indeed be sincere. He may be the nicest pastor in Houston. Frankly, I don’t really care. But his inability or unwillingness to clearly articulate the Gospel is a chasm too great for his pearly whites to bridge. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul made it clear that given a choice, he would prefer the scoundrel who preaches the Gospel right to the nice fellow who gets it wrong (Phil. 1:15-18).

The only reason I care about what Joel Osteen teaches and writes is because he does so under the auspices of the church of Jesus Christ. Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah can spout all the Christ-less paganism they like. They are not my fellows in Christ. But Joel Osteen claims the name of Christ and has been given the role of pastor. His errors, and they are significant and many, must not be ignored by the church. He is, whether he knows it or not, accountable to the body of Christ. It is, therefore, the church’s responsibility to call him to repentance.

Scripture is clear that few should assume the role of teacher for they will receive a particularly strict judgment before God (James 3:1). Paul warns us in Galatians that anyone, whether man or angel, who preaches another gospel, that is, any Gospel that differs from what the apostles preached, is under God’s curse (Galatians 1:6-9). The call for Joel Osteen to repent is not only for the good of the church but for the good of his own soul. On that awesome and awful day will Joel Osteen grin, flutter his eyes, and say to God, “I left all that Bible stuff to other people. My calling was to help people”?

Lakewood Church and all of Joel Osteen’s millions of adherents are living embodiments of Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3). When listening to Osteen it is impossible not to think of God’s chastising of the unfaithful shepherds of Israel. “Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the Lord…from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (8:7, 10b, 11). What Joel Osteen calls “lifting people up,” I fear God considers false cries of “peace, peace” when there is no peace. When we ignore sin under the pretense of being positive we are actually healing the wound of God’s people as if it were not serious. Osteen’s preaching does not point sinners to repentance by showing them the terror of God’s holy law. He therefore cannot rightly show them the true glory of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. The diminished view of sin he offers leads inevitably to a diminished salvation. The preacher who refuses to use the words sin, sinner, hell, and judgment can only produce happier pagans.

So, it is time for Joel Osteen to repent. I’m not kidding. I’m not trying to be ironic or funny. I am deadly serious. He regularly fills the minds of people with false gospels and happy delusions of God-sent success and “promotion.” He must turn away from his false teachings and step down from his position as pastor. He has not studied to show himself approved. Rather than proclaiming God’s word he has taught the inventions of man. But God is gracious. As long as there is breath in Joel Osteen’s lungs then God may still grant him repentance.