Joel Osteen: Is He Telling a Good Story or God's Story?

This past Sunday, I referred to an interview that Larry King conducted with Joel Osteen. Joel is senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, probably America's largest church (38,000 in weekly attendance!). Osteen is also a bestselling author. When King asked Joel if he ever used the word "sinners" in his preaching, Joel responded by saying, "I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t." I followed up the quote by asking the question of how can a pastor who is supposedly preaching the Bible never use the word "sinners" when the Bible uses the word "sin" some 2000 times?

Since Sunday, I have been asked by a couple of people to expand on Joel and his teaching. So I thought I would share a little with all of you who visit my blog of what I think about Joel Osteen's teaching.

I want you to know I have read and listened to Joel on several occasions (definitely not as much as some of you may have - but enough). From the get-go, there was something about what he was saying and writing that was not ringing “biblically” true with me. Joel is definitely a winsome individual with an engaging style of communication. He is very easy to listen to (in fact, I actually find his voice soothing!) and his books are quite readable. However, the more I listen to Joel, the more concerned I grow with his message. Especially when I compare the emphasis of Joel’s teaching ministry with the emphasis of Paul’s teaching ministry (“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2). Even the title of his recent book, “Becoming a Better You” gives a good indication of the emphasis of his preaching and teaching ministry. It appears to me to be a very man-focused approach. Now I am not saying he never mentions Jesus Christ or the cross – it is there – but if you listen to enough of his messages or you read enough of what he has written or listen to his interviews (and I have listened to a few) – you have to read and listen carefully to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. And for me, that is a problem. The message of the Bible is not that God wants a better you but that God wants a NEW you – one who is a new creature in Christ (as a result of repenting of one’s sin and accepting Jesus Christ’s death as payment for one’s sin) and is now intent on living life to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) – not intent on living life to get the most out of this life as I possibly can (which is Joel’s emphasis).

Along another line, in an interview Joel gave on Fox News, he was asked about the faith of Mitt Romney (who is Mormon). In answer to the question that went something like this: “Can a Mormon like Romney be a Christian?” Joel responded by saying that Mitt has professed Jesus Christ as his savior and that was sufficient proof for him that Mitt is a true Christian brother. But then he admits a few moments later in response to another question about Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, that he has never really studied Mormonism. This is sad, because if Joel had studied Mormonism, he would know that what Mitt Romney (or any Mormon for that matter) means when saying they believe Jesus Christ is savior is different from what an evangelical Christian means in saying the same thing. Now I mention this because I believe Joel’s “Mormon” comment flows out of his apparent shallow understanding of biblical and theological truth. Sure he can tell a good story – but the question every Christian must answer – is it truly God’s story?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


PS. If you want to check out some other thoughts on Joel and his teaching, check out two book reviews of Joel’s latest book. The first is by Michael Horton at and the second by Tim Challis at


Anne said...

Hey! I really appreciated your thoughts. It really is important to make sure our focus is on track.

Pastor John said...

Thanks Anne. Looking forward to welcoming you to the States and to Lancaster this summer!

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