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What’s Wrong with Joel Osteen?

Faith must confront the question of evil.

by
Andrew Klavan

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October 14, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.

I stumbled on Osteen before he was famous. It was more than ten years ago, when I was wrestling with my own conversion to Christianity. I was  struggling deeply with the fear that faith would limit my freedom of thought (it didn’t) and the idea that I might be betraying my Jewish heritage. Late one night, while channel surfing, I came upon one of Osteen’s half hour sermons on some religious channel. I (who generally dislike religious programming) was bowled over by him. He was brilliant at conveying God’s love for his human creation and I found his words very moving and comforting. I remember telling my wife about him over our morning coffee. I was well aware of the intellectual flaw in “the Osteenian view.” If God wants only good things to happen to us, and we have to “activate his blessings,” by our positive prayers and good actions, then indeed, as Lars says, suffering must always be a result of some failure on our part. Still, I found his optimism and generosity of heart compelling.

And there is some Biblical support for his point of view. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all,” says the Psalmist, whereas “Evil will slay the wicked.” This attitude dominates both Psalms and Proverbs. But it is offset by Job and Ecclesiastes. The latter tells us: “Here is a pointless thing that happens on earth: A righteous man receives what happens to the wicked, and a wicked man receives what happens to the righteous.” And Jesus, who knew a thing or two, remarked that the sun shines on the evil as well as the good and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

Not surprisingly, the Bible is right on both counts. That is, of course, in general, a good life is likely to make you happier than a bad one, and good habits will probably make you healthier and more prosperous than bad ones. No good parent tells his child, “My son, go forth and treat yourself and others like garbage, it’ll be great.” There’s a reason the proverbs say what they say.

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Top Rated Comments   
To many, praying and doing what's right should bring them a life without trouble. The Lord is treated like a genie in a lamp, a servant to come and make everything well. That is not faith, that's superstition.

The Ten Commandments, if followed would lead to a more satisfying life as many of our troubles (health & wealth) are self-inflicted by over indulgence and instant gratification. There is no guarantee that everything will be great in your life by being a practicing Christian or Jew, however when trouble comes you will be more capable of handling it.

If one chooses to go the Atheist route following the Hedonist map they'll be more likely to have an unpleasant existence. Things do not make us happy, the more we have them more we have to worry about. How long is someone happy about the new car they bought versus the contentment of knowing they did their best to do what's right?

The Lord gave us free will to make our own way and we'll all have troubles it is how we respond to them.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a child I lived in El Paso, Texas. Anglos there were mostly Southern Baptist and the only Catholics were either Mexican Americans or nationals or families of soldiers stationed at Ft. Bliss. As a Catholic I remember a distinct difference between the fundamentalist Christian belief about God and pain and suffering and how Catholics viewed the same. The Baptists harped on pain and suffering as punishment from a vengeful God while Catholic belief made clear that pain and suffering had little to do with punishment for wrongdoing but was something that must be borne by innocents and guilty alike and offered up as a sacrifice. Osteen is a product of the fundamentalist tradition it seems to me.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am shocked! God wants only good things to happen to us humans. That is only possible to believe if a person totally shields him-her-self from any awareness, let alone solidarity with the billions of people through out history that have suffered, been destroyed, gone mad, been aborted 54+ million times in America since 1973. I will not turn to the usual massacre of Jews (in which context you did betray your Jewish heritage), rather go to the evil side, Nazi Germany, where some 500,000+ civilians, old men, women, young people, babies, not yet born infants -- ALL non-combattants were bombed to death by Allied planes!!! Some literally melted in the bomb firestorms. What about the some 25 million dead Russian civilians. Hell!!! All that is but aggragate numbers. Let us get individual. I think of a man who lost his wife and 6 children in a car accident. In distraught he killed himself -- and I would have surely done the same. More personal: my premature son almost died--I had arranged for his burial--, but was saved. On the day I picked him up from the station, a baby just his age died in agony before my eyes as the doctors could do nothing. My parental joy vs another person's parental sorrow. Where is criterion for God's kind decision? It is all for human good? Bull!!! A God who means it good in this life for all people failed miserably re which baby died.

Osteen is like Thomas Mann's Felix Krull, i.e., a skillful conman, a salesman of large portions of opium (in a way that fits Marx's criticism). The most prominent symbol of Christianity is a man, tortured and beaten, hanging from a cross, the most demeaning way that Romans had to insult those they executed!!! What the dickens did Jesus do wrong? The Cross is a symbol not of happiness, joy, fun and games in this life, rather of confronting suffering, death, injustice; yet leading to salvation from the sins in this life. Salvation from the sins in this life for the next vs good things happening in this life, PERIOD! Osteen fails, as all con men do in pushing their phoney product, because he does not face life as it has been and is full of suffering for the overwhelming majority of humans--except for the con men, be they criminals or preachers.

A young literary genius in 19th Century Germany, Georg Büchner, bothered by the unfairness and sufferings in life, died at the tender age of 23. In his last hours he proclaimed: "We do not suffer enough, for it is through suffering that we come to God." Jesus on the cross is suffering that brings humans to God. And Osteen peddles "God means it good" for all persons and thereby robs his followers of the ability "to come to God" in a way corresponding to the Cross. I would pick atheist Camus any day to the theist Osteen, a preacher who sells an opiate Christianity.





41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (79)
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The Beattitudes say it all. Blessed are the poor in spirit etc. Joel is a great preacher and he would disagree with the way he is portrayed in this article.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Luke, 22 42-43
" 'Father,' he said, 'if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.'
43 Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength.

No, Christ's prayer did not go unfulfilled. Although He asked to be spared the passion, He prayed that God's will be done. Although He wasn't given what he asked for, He was given what he needed- His prayer was answered by an angel being sent to strengthen Him to do what was necessary.

You also miss the point that bad things don't necessarily happen TO you per se, they happen FOR someone else. Perhaps so you can set an example for others, perhaps so you can gain the wisdom from your experience to help someone else.

If we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisioned, heal the sick that unfortunately means that there must be the hungry, naked, imprisoned and sick for us to help.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"It’s not that God is absent, it’s that (as Job discovered) the moral context of life is larger than mortal man can comprehend."

I think it's even deeper than that. Wondering "why does God let bad things happen to good people" implies that the speaker wants God to be a puppet-master. But almost no one would like it if that were true.

Consider from physics: If you have Hydrogen, Gravity, and Natural Law you "automatically" generate stars, the other elements, and eventually people. The universe is all about evolution, both physical and spiritual. God set it up that way, perhaps with the goal of producing Saints.

Evolution, both physical and spiritual, proceeds by iteration and exposure to a myriad of conditions. The sort of world we find ourselves in, as opposed to the "ideal world" where a puppet-master only lets good things happen to people, is simply way more efficient at producing the desired result. Sure, intelligent choices can optimize progress and make life more pleasant, but they don't necessarily deflect circumstances. And of course one of the desired results is that we learn to use our God-given intelligence to make intelligent choices.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
" But in the end, if you don’t have a sense of evil and unfairness, I don’t think you can preach truly."

I have been in the depths of despair and have cursed Jesus and God.
Do you think I'm a better candidate for the job of a preacher?


40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice lynch mob you have gathered here.

I'm not a practicing Christian yet you folks are leveling accusations that you don't back up with proof.

Collectively, you're saying he's a false teacher, charlatan, leading people astray, etc. Just because of his soft approach that brings in congregants and their money.

Remember, Satan is the Hebrew word for "The Accuser".

Guard against false teachers?
Hell, I guard against Satan before that>
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
My apologies to those in this thread that are not of the accusatory type.
My bad.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"... the idea that I might be betraying my Jewish heritage".

Mr Klavan,

I'm curious as to how knowledgeable you were concerning your "Jewish heritage". With all due respect, I doubt it was very much.

I can understand how it is that Christians might be charmed by the preachings of a Jewish convert such as Osteen, but even an ethnic Jew should recognize him as a swarmy little huckster

Nice post by Prof LW, btw.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Faith must confront the question of evil."

What is the question?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are many cells in the "Body of Christ"
If Christians attack the body from the "inside", there is nothing The Accuser has to do to defeat us. We become the destroyer.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
(1Tim 5:20 [ESV2011])
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

While you're at it, do a search on "rebuke" and "reprove".

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
What commandment is he in violation of that you level a charge of sin?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.


2Pet 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

2Cor 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.


Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

2John 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

I could go on in the same vein, but perhaps you get the idea. Osteen's teaching is contrary to Scripture. We are commanded to evaluate (judge) teachers, and to reject those which teach contrary to Scripture.

That may not feel good, but it's our duty.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
" Osteen's teaching is contrary to Scripture."

Evidence please?

Perhaps you've listened to the man for a number of years? Been in the congregation?
Or are you leveling false accusations?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Read the Scriptures, listen to Osteen. Contrast and compare.

It's really that simple.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can do that.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"2Pet 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people,"

I've never heard him claim to be a prophet.

"...just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction."

Well, since he hasn't been destroyed, shall we assume Osteen doesn't fit that description?

"2Cor 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ."

I don't know how he perceives himself, as an apostle or not, Do you?
No matter, all of the apostles died along time ago. Anyone who claims to be an apostle is nuts.

"Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect."

Do you have proof of Osteen performing wonders or signs (whatever signs means)?

"To lead astray..." Evidence please?
Ascribing motive to the man is pure projection on your part.

And just who are the Elect?

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Anyone who claims to be an apostle is nuts."


Or mistaken. Or just a crook. I've seen all three types.

But that's Apostle, as in, the official designees of Christ, chosen by Him for a one-time purpose at the beginning of the Church.

The world also has another use. We could call it the "small a" use. (Just like Deacon and deacon.) The word simply means "messenger", and this is the sense used in that passage, and is the sense in which it applies to Osteen.

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
In answer to 1John 4:1, the very next verse.
1Jo 4:2
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: "
So you postulate Mr Osteen doesn't?

Give me time & I'll look into your other passages

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry, but the criticism just rings of sour grapes to me.
Who among us is the most righteous to judge this guy's calling?
Should we turn into a piety society? Hold piety pageants?
Whoever is without sin will judge Mr. Olsteen.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oops, meant "Osteen"
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've listened briefly to Osteen -- I thought he's a typical convert to Christianity (from a Jewish background). I don't think I'll say anything further...
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
on the other hand, when i've seen the people who watch his televised sermons- that anyone likes them is good news. I worked at a drug testing facility. They would host people for a month at a time, to test new drugs. On Sunday morning, different groups would have different church services- the DIY service in the cafeteria, different people watching the televisions scattered around. The scariest looking group of people watched Joel Osteen, held up their Bibles and recited his little thing about Bibles. Scary, beat-up, scarred people that I don't think other pastors could reach.

It might be baby food, but sometimes people need baby food. Then, they grow up, and want toddler food. I wouldn't feed peas to a newborn, and i wouldn't expect a two year old to live on formula. Same thing.

The people he reaches, from what i've seen, already know suffering and pain. That they might even have a chance to have things work out- that's really news to them. It's different than anything they've ever heard. That he gives simple, little, easy to follow guidelines and examples- maybe it's like Alcoholics Anonymous for living, except without the drugs bit. "be nice to your wife" is pretty vague. "Remember to say something nice to your husband every single day." That you can put on a checklist. You can do that, and keep track. And, hey, it works- who'da'thunk? Lots of people don't know stuff like that.

Or, say, "do your best at work." "show up on time." Okay- so, what does best look like? "Show up on time" is a good first step. I've seen articles here griping that people don't know to show up on time. You can check a clock, and see if you've shown up on time, and then learn the next thing.

He's working with the down so long they don't know what up looks like. Houston is a majority blue-collar, deep-South, grimy industrial city, pulling itself up by the bootstraps. Isolated, rural, east texas-ers, and mountain-types moved there. Oh-and lots of yankees. they need what he's got. He's telling them stuff they haven't heard before.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"It might be baby food, but sometimes people need baby food. "

It's not baby food. It's not scrapings from the dumpster.

It's toxic waste.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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