strange fires

Joel Osteen's Prosperity Gospel

By Lance King and Rafael Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries

Listen To Lance & Rafael's Spiritwatch Ministry Teaching

Often during interviews there is one question that Joel Osteen finds himself compelled to answer and it isn't about his smile. He is often asked about the concept of prosperity that seems to underlie much of what he teaches about. He is asked about what he believes on the subject and if he is preaching a "prosperity gospel." This popular buzzword formerly was used only in evangelical Christian circles in a critical sense about a body of questionable and unbiblical teachings with a materialistic emphasis. But with the insatiable desire for financial security that consumes Western culture, the concept is now anointed in both the secular and religious worlds as one of the most desirable notions to dwell upon and pursue, even if the more spiritually minded try not to seem too worldly-minded about it. Widely circulated for decades before Osteen ever preached it seems inevitable that the prosperity gospel concept was destined to be associated with his blessing-centered teachings.

It is always fascinating to hear Osteen field this question, trying to clarify and qualify what he means when he makes statements like these in his YBLN book:

“What would you think if I introduced our two children to you and they had holes in their clothes, uncombed hair, no shoes, and dirt under their fingernails? You’d probably say ‘That man is not a good father. He doesn’t take care of his children.’ Indeed, my children’s poverty would be a direct reflection on me as their dad. Similarly, when we go through life with a poverty mentality, it is not glorifying to God. It does not honor His great name. God is not pleased when we drag through life, defeated, depressed, perpetually discouraged by our circumstances. No, God is pleased when we develop a prosperous mind-set.” (1)

I believe that God's dream is that we be successful in our careers, and that we be able to send our kids to college. I don't mean that everyone is going to be rich, and I preach a lot on blooming where you're planted. But I don't have the mindset that money is a bad thing.

[My views] may go against some of the older, traditional teachings. But I think we should have a mindset that God wants us to prosper in our relationships, our health, and our finances. God's desire is that we excel. And we see business leaders who are good strong Christians running [big] companies. (2)

On occasion, Joel doesn’t always seem to know how to deal with this line of questioning at times. During an interview for an online article in Beliefnet, Osteen paradoxically contradicts himself when asked if he sees God's justice - as expressed at certain points of his book - in terms of prosperity:

I feel like that gives a bad rap because I don’t in the least bit consider myself a prosperity-type preacher. I don’t think I’ve ever preached a message on finances. It’s just more an attitude of God wants to bless us where we are. When I say 'bless,' I don’t mean go drive 10 Mercedes and stuff like that. I’m talking about being happy and having good marriages and good relationships. I think sometimes I get grouped in with a prosperity-type... like that’s all I focus on, but I don’t mean it to come off like that. (3)

Apparently Osteen seems uncomfortable with being numbered among those he describes as a "prosperity-type preacher." What seems most interesting is the tacit admission he makes here: he’s aware of the extreme focus such preachers have on money and authority as well as the painful stigma that comes with the dubious job description. Although he tries to qualify it in vaguer generalities, it is clear that the kind of "poverty" that Osteen believes is actually dishonoring God does indeed involve financial and material lack. This is - whether he wants to admit or not - at the heart of what he teaches. So it should be noted that Joel Osteen is indeed one of the vast tribe of prosperity teachers that have had long established presences in the spiritual landscape of the evangelical world, ministers who boldly uphold as the Gospel truth their unique “health and wealth” message. The younger Osteen is simply following in the footsteps of his late father, who himself was a “prosperity” preacher.

The “prosperity gospel” has been taught by the Osteens and other ministers in what has come to be known as the Word of Faith movement, a vast subculture established primarily in Charismatic and Pentecostal Christian circles. It was first formulated in the 1950’s by Faith movement “fathers” like the legendary Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin, along with their equally successful disciples Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle and Charles Capps. Joel Osteen’s father John was a confidant to all of these and other Faith teachers as his Lakewood Church grew and was undeniably impacted by Faith teaching. The gospel according to “prosperity” teaches that God is a “good God”, that Christ died to bestow prosperity as well as salvation to all who would believe upon Him and that they use faith in spiritual laws to rule and reign over the universe. It also emphasizes that these laws are meant to be freely tapped into by the believer so he can gain what is called “divine health” and “divine wealth” and live a victorious lifestyle through the power of spoken affirmations that literally create these blessings. From Juanita Bynum to Creflo Dollar and from Steve Muncey to Joyce Meyer, this alluring spirituality has attracted millions to its siren song and the Osteens are no exception. It is one of the lamentably most successful "missions exports" that has been freely adopted by ambitious prosperity preachers around the world who have come to view it as true Biblical Christianity and have amassed fortunes with it there that ambitiously seek to emulate the example of their brethren in the West.

Without the late John Osteen’s presence, there would be no Lakewood Church. It indelibly molded Joel Osteen’s teaching and practice as he attended his father’s church services and was raised in a Christian home that accepted this overarching Faith worldview as their accepted view of reality. A Southern Baptist preacher whose passion for God brought him into contact with and an acceptance of the Pentecostal dynamic of Christian life, John Osteen at first was far more spiritually orthodox than he was in his later years. Unlike his son, John Osteen actually had formal theological seminary training and a liberal arts education. Not long after leaving his Southern Baptist denomination he became involved in the non-denominational Charismatic movement. He attributed the miraculous healing of his infant daughter Lisa from a palsy-type ailment to the power of his positive confession that - not surprisingly - parallels the practice as advocated by Faith teaching. 

So it was inevitable that during his ministry in the 1960's, Osteen adopted and promoted a form of Faith teaching that wasn't as stridently obsessed with the carnal materialism and subtle blasphemy this doctrine often logically concludes with (and enthusiastically proclaimed by more extreme Faith teachers). Osteen emphasized a positive verbal confession of faith in “God’s promises” that relied upon absolute faith in the atoning death of Christ on the cross as the source for its' transforming power. He taught that faith in the person of Jesus Christ also could literally manifest material blessings, as He would become "the High Priest of our confession" as Osteen’s classic tract shows:

“Look at one of His promises that fits your situation. Believe it in your heart. Now start BOLDLY SAYING THIS PROMISE TO YOURSELF, YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR FAMILY AND TO THE DEVIL!!!! BOLDLY declare to all – This is what God, my Father, has said – I believe it! It is mine now!! Hold on to it and declare it in pain, trouble, fear, sickness and need. Jesus is the ‘High Priest of our confession” and He will surely see that it becomes a reality in your life.”  (4)

It is John Osteen's ministerial history that shows how he articulated this admittedly questionable premise in his pastoral duties, applying as something that he passionately believed would bestow blessing and provision for the needs of his flock. The Lakewood Church community direction was thereafter fully set. Discipling and outreach initiatives were molded on this belief. The course of the ship laid in, the church attracted hundreds and then thousands of people who wanted to learn about a Jesus who not only could save your soul but who could heal your body and help you gain prosperity. Discerning the congregation’s spiritual health and maturity would be a laborious yet fruitful line of inquiry to help determine how Faith teaching shaped its’ witness to the larger Houston community but this is outside the scope of our paper. Suffice it to say that Joel Osteen is as much a sire of the marital union of John and Dodie Osteen as the product of the Lakewood culture that freely drank from the wells of other Faith teachers active in those days (such as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Charles Capps and others).

Joel Osteen’s Word Of Faith Teaching

In both YBLN and BABY, the principles of Word of Faith teaching derived from John Osteen are clearly a dominant influence on his son Joel’s teaching. One example of this is found in the book’s section entitled “Discover The Power of Your Thoughts And Words.”  The next to last concluding paragraph on page 125 uses his father’s tract title as an opening sentence. So therefore it should be no surprise that Joel’s teachings readily reflect what he learned while sitting under his father’s ministry, and a few of these can be easily cited:

(a)  Prosperity a divine birthright of the atonement  - Osteen teaches that the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary over 2000 years ago is a guarantee of earthly prosperity, health and divine blessings. Implicit to Osteen's declaration is that Christ's atoning death paid the price for personal salvation from sin, although he most deplorably neglects to spell sin out as moral failure that separates the soul from God, choosing to focus upon "reward" instead of regeneration:

“You must understand that the price has already been paid for you to have joy, peace and happiness. That’s part of the package that God has made available to you. God is pleased when we develop a prosperous mindset. Too often we become satisfied and complacent, accepting whatever comes our way. ‘I’ve gone as far as I can go. I’ll never get any more promotions. This is just my lot in life.’ That’s not true! Your ‘lot in life’ is to continually increase.. to be an over comer, to live prosperously in every area. .. You need to get a fresh vision of what God can do in your life and develop a prosperous mind set.” (5)  

"You may never have realized how valuable you are. Perhaps you never realized the price God paid for you. You need to recognize what you have on the inside. It says in First Corinthians that you were bought with a high price. God gave His very best for you, His only Son. So please don't go around thinking that you are worthless, that you don't have a future. You are a champion on the inside. It's in your blood." (6)

Indeed, in the chapter in BABY entitled "Breaking Free From The Strongholds Of Your Past", on pages 49-59, Osteen resolutely confuses the Biblical word iniquity, which refers to an actual evil doing of moral failure, with something related to "negative things in our family's bloodline" that are spiritually inherited strongholds. This effectively robs the word of the full thrust of its Biblical meaning and gives Osteen an opening to redefine spiritual depravity as a condition to be "taken authority" over .. not repented over! Once again, it must be emphasized - as it was in our previous article - that this is just one of many examples that Joel has left behind on how he blunts the plain meaning of Scripture to suit his own oratorical agenda.

(Click here to view an YouTube clip of Joel Osteen explaining what kind of "victory" Christ died to give us.)   

(Click back when you're finished!)

(b)  Words have creative power – He also asserts that the very words we speak will  summon spiritual powers that can create and bless or destroy and curse; words should be carefully chosen to create pronouncements of blessing and not carelessly used to potentially cause negative and unwanted effects in our lives:

"One of the best ways that we can improve our self-image is with our words. Words are like seeds. They have creative power. It says in Isaiah that 'We will eat the fruit of our words.' That's amazing when you stop to consider that truth: Our words tend to produce what we're saying. .. Every day we should make positive declarations over our lives. We should say things such as, 'I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am healthy. I am talented. I am creative. I am wise.' When we do that, we are building up our self-image. As those words permeate your heart and mind, and especially your subconscious mind, eventually they will begin to change the way you see yourself. The Scripture says 'With our tongue, we can either bless our life or we can curse our life.' Some individuals curse their own future by saying things such as 'I don't have what it takes. I'm so clumsy I can't get anything right. I'm so undisciplined. I'll probably never lose this weight.'  We must be extremely careful what we allow out of our mouth. Our words set the direction for our lives." (7)

If you’re in a storm today, now more than ever you need to guard what you say and not allow any negative, destructive words to come out of your mouth. Scripture says, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and you will eat the fruit thereof.  In other words, you create an environment for either good or evil with your words, and you are going to have to live in that world you’ve created. If you’re always murmuring, complaining, and talking about how bad life is treating you, you’re going to live in a pretty miserable, depressing world. You may be tempted to merely use your words to describe negative situations, but God wants us to use our words to change our negative situations. Don’t talk about the problem, talk about the solution.” (8)

These teachings are at the heart of what Osteen believes will guarantee blessings of “divine wealth” and “divine health.”  Like all other Faith teachers and preachers including his father, Osteen sees in the cross of Christ an open door to special favor in the sight of God and man which will make it possible for all to “bloom where they are planted” through the creative power of their spoken words.

(c) Joel’s Positive Thinking Twist - However, Joel Osteen's approach to how the spoken word derives its powers is significantly different. This may reflect the fluid evolution of his own thoughts about Faith teaching and likely will change over time. While he doesn’t dogmatically advocate the rigid system of determinative “spiritual laws” as other Faith teachers would, he appears to break from his father's teaching at this critical premise. While John Osteen flatly says in his forementioned booklet that he wasn’t speaking of “positive thinking” and “not speaking of mind over matter,” (9) Joel’s position explicitly embraces the power of mind over matter. He de-emphasizes his father’s position on the preeminent role of Christ and God’s Word in the act of positive confession, instead asserting that the direction of one’s thinking is what shapes their reality. Positive confession becomes invocation in which the atonement of Christ has little or nothing to do with the process. “Standing on God’s promises” in Joel’s view is the equivalent of positive mental attitude:

"We usually talk to ourselves subconsciously, without even thinking about it. But in the back of your mind, you have these reoccurring thoughts. And for most people those thoughts are negative: I'm clumsy. I'll never overcome my past. I don't have what it takes. All through the day they allow defeated messages to permeate their mind and self-talk. .. Many people are living in mediocrity because they are playing that negative recording day after day, over and over again. .. We have to reprogram our minds. Please don't lay in bed every morning thinking about everything that's wrong with you. Don't lie there and rehearse all your mistakes .. You have to shake off those negative messages and experiences and put on a new recording. Remind yourself often: 'I am a child of the Most High God. I have a bright future. God is pleased with me. I am talented; I am creative; I have what it takes. I will fulfill my destiny.' We should be talking to ourselves that way, not in arrogance but in a quiet confidence."  (10)

 “Words are similar to seeds. By speaking them aloud, they are planted in our subconscious minds, and they take on a life of their own; they take root, grow, and produce fruit of the same kind. If we speak positive words, our lives will move in that direction. Similarly, negative words will produce poor results. We can’t speak words of defeat and failure yet expect to live in victory. .. When you say something often enough, with enthusiasm and passion, before long your subconscious mind begins to act on what you are saying, doing whatever is necessary to  bring those thoughts and words to pass.” (11)

“What are you doing? You are reprogramming your mind. .. Learn to dwell upon the good, reprogram your thinking. The Bible tells us that we need to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our mind.’ If you will transform your mind, God will transform your life. … Our thoughts contain tremendous power.” (12)

Whether he intends to do so or not, the younger Osteen actually distances himself from an explicitly Christ-focused positive confession in favor of a decidedly more humanistic approach to this issue of using one’s words.  It still relies upon faith in positive, spoken confession of “faith-filled words” for, as he says “commanding the light to come” (13). This is a highly significant development that must be carefully considered After years of sitting under his father's teaching, and that of other Faith teachers, what was it that triggered this subtle yet critical shift of his thought on the place of Christ in one's positive confession to a seemingly far more human potential-oriented one?

It would seem that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes once again is dead on target. In a 2005 interview on the CBS Morning Show with Harry Smith and by his own admission, 3 years into his ministry, which would be in 2002, someone gave Joel a copy of one of the late Norman Vincent Peale's many books. This was done just 2 years prior to his writing Your Best Life Now. Peale, who died in 1993, was the iconic ministerial legend whose preaching from the pulpit of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City virtually defined for two generations what "positive confession" was from a Christian-oriented perspective, long before the Word of Faith movement appeared. While not identifying which one of his books he read, whether it was his best known work The Power Of Positive Thinking or not, Osteen was undeniably attracted to the thought of Peale. During the CBS interview, Osteen eagerly identified with Peale's teaching with a frank air of almost fan-like adulation:

When I read it, I thought you know what .. he thinks like me .. I think like him. It seems it's the same, you know, the same base there, that .. God's on our side and if you think right .. I believe like he, like Norman Vincent Peale did, that your life follows your thoughts. You get up each day negative, depressed thinking "what's wrong," your life is going to go that way. His goal and mine is "let's think the right things." (14)  

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes declared that "there is nothing new under the sun," meaning that there are no actual unique inventions of human design, only updated retreads of long established and older ideas. This Biblical precept rings true in regard to human culture and Joel Osteen's Word of Faith doctrine. We think it is entirely appropriate to assume that Osteen's unique prosperity gospel spin took the present shape it now has after his encounter with Norman Vincent Peale's book and became articulated in Your Best Life Now. We believe this is significant for it would closely resemble the same approach that well known ministers Robert Schuller and C.S. Lovett used in a generation past: they also emulated Norman Vincent Peale’s recirculation of positive mental affirmation (PMA) credos to sculpt the mental processes of the common man through positive thinking. But Peale, far from being "ahead of his time", was simply an ardent and creative expositor of PMA concepts that were created around the turn of the century by even earlier apologists of humanistic optimism.

    Ralph Waldo Trine     Napoleon Hill        Mary Baker Eddy        Charles and Mary Fillmore          P.P. Quimby

These earlier links in the chain of imitation included "pioneer" figures of people like Ralph Waldo Trine, Napoleon Hill, as well as Mary Baker Eddy and Charles and Mary Fillmore, all of whom owed a greater debt to the philosophy of "Dr." P. P. Quimby, one of the first American practitioners of "mental healing" (15) in the early 19th century. Trine and Hill helped advance the PMA message into motivational directions aimed at unlocking "human potential." Eddy and the Fillmores would go on to actually found movements we know today as the Unity School of Christianity and the Christian Science Church which take a similar approach to the Bible and reality that Osteen has arrived at - approaches, we might add, that are unbiblical deviations from Biblical orthodoxy.  What Joel has apparently caught from his PMA mentors - and Word of Faith teachers - is the same pick and choose approach to Scripture that they have taken in their own writings and teachings. Osteen in essence has made the Bible out to be little more than a pragmatic guide of proverbs you can proof-text yourself into prosperity and victory by.

The Reduction Of Christianity: Joel Osteen's Doctrinal Deemphasis

It is important to remember at this point that Joel's position on the value of formal doctrinal understanding seems intentionally vague. Inspiration and encouragement of his audiences and readers are the itches he seeks to scratch. Like too many other Evangelicals Osteen's teaching emphasis makes the pragmatic and the topical his chief concern. Boiling down "principles" to live one's life by into a 7 point outline for easy digesting (such as evident in the book) is his focus. This is readily seen in Osteen's carefully crafted homilies as broadcast on his weekly telecast. It is by this attitude and example that Osteen appears to deliberately downplay the necessity for the doctrinal and the expository. He refers to the exposition of doctrine as tools of a craft he doesn't feel "qualified" to present (16), despite the fact that the Bible itself makes clear that pastors are to be "apt to teach" and divinely charged by apostolic authority to "preach the word; (to) be instant in season, out of season; (to) reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (1 Timothy 3:2 with 2 Timothy 4:3).

Tragically then, study and application of the truth of the Bible has degenerated into a selective usage of Scripture as a book of inspiring aphorisms that empower one's personal discipline of positive thinking - and not Biblically edify and bring to full Christian maturity those who handle Scripture so one-dimensionally. Without any reference to regarding the total canon of the Bible as anything else but a source for happy tidings, Osteen unapologetically directs his readers to follow this practice:

Search the Scriptures and highlight those that particularly apply to your life situation. Write them down and get in the habit of declaring them.”  (17)

 “You’ve got to believe good things are on their way. You must believe that God is at work in your life, that He is restoring you to your rightful place. In other words, you’ve got to see those things coming to pass. You’ve got to see your marriage being restored. You have to see that wayward child coming home. You need to see that business turning around. It has to be conceived in your heart. Look at life through your eyes of faith into that invisible world and see your dreams coming to pass.” (18)

"It says in Proverbs 'If you acknowledge God in all your ways, He will direct your paths." One translation says, 'He'll crown your efforts with success.' " (19) 

By default, Osteen establishes his own doctrine that distorts the Bible and encourages others to do so. The Bible isn't formally taught from in any organized manner from Osteen's global pulpit or from his bestselling books either. We have no other choice but to make this conclusion. Giving reasons for belief through formal doctrinal presentation is alien to his "ministry of the Word", so we cannot take seriously his claim to be a presenter of "practical Bible truths" when they are nothing more than his own Faith tradition slogans based on anything but the Word of God.

Like many other Word of Faith ministers, Joel observes how "religious tradition" kept his family poverty-stricken, using "Holy Ghost" straw man argumentation to defend his unbiblical doctrine. He seems to imply that doctrine was behind this sad state of affairs and builds a typical Faith straw man to knock over to prove his point: 

“As I mentioned earlier, Daddy grew up with a ‘poverty mentality.’ That’s all he had ever known. When he first started pastoring, the church could pay him only $115 a week. Daddy and Mother could hardly survive on that little amount of money, especially once my siblings and I came along. .. (A businessman in the church) handed my dad a check for a thousand dollars, tantamount to ten thousand dollars today!” (16)

Taken straight from the YBLN book, this particular assertion by Joel that his father and family were hardly able to survive due to an unspecified "poverty mentality" is hard to accept. Using his own standard of comparison, if $1000 in John Osteen's day is the equivalent of $10,000 today, then it stands to reason that the $100 or so a week that his church supported him with would be an equivalent of $1000 weekly. Therefore, Osteen’s family received over $4000 a month from his church, which would then factor out into just about $48,000 a year.  That’s not an unreasonable salary for a lot of starting ministers today, let alone considering what the cost of living was in the 1950’s and what could be financed by that kind of cash flow.

This is My Bible .. And This Is What It Says About Joel Osteen's Faith Teaching

What does the Bible actually say about the unique claims of the Faith movement that promise God has ordained prosperity for all, that "divine wealth" can be creatively spoken into existence and that to financial and material wealth is what prosperity actually is? These are at the heart of Osteen's teaching, so another review of Scripture is in order here, although it will be briefer one. An extensively detailed analysis of Word of Faith teaching may be found in another article here on our website (click here to read it). For now, we are examining the foundational principles behind Osteen's Faith teaching, which he steadfastly and endlessly presents behind his pulpit, during his teaching times and of course, in his book.

The belief that words have power that can bless or curse and manifest natural and physical effects are derived from the Faith teaching ideal which affirms that we can "call those things that are not as though they are," enabling us to "speak" good or bad into existence in our lives. The phrase about "calling" into existence natural realities is taken straight from the New Testament in Romans 4:17 but even the most casual reading of the verse quickly raises one serious question: who is it in the verse who is said to quicken (raise) the dead and calls those things which be not as though they were? One doesn't have to read very far to see that it is God alone who asserts this power, a power of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) that only a tragically deluded mindset of presumption would claim to have arrived at. Osteen and others of his Faith movement tribe, however, have bought into this belief and creatively rephrase, rework and restate it in their own unique way to keep their spiritual product lines "fresh."

There is no hint anywhere in this or any other Biblical verse that suggests that Christians have attained the same exalted level of power. No other Scripture in the Bible supports the concept of a creative power expressed solely by spoken words. Osteen - and other Faith teachers - might respond that Mark 11:23 is such a proof text showing that Christ taught that prayer is an exercise of creative word focus. They point out that Jesus stated one "shall have whatsoever he saith", and hasten to add that this surely means that one's confession can manifest blessing or cursing.

When considered in the context of the Bible's other teachings on prayer, the words of Jesus in Mark 11:23 become qualified in a far more different context: by abiding in Christ and the Word of God, as well as submission to the sovereign will of God (John 14:7, 1 John 5:14, James 4:2-3, 13-17), we may "ask what we will" and receive freely of God those things that He ordains we should have. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is how we approach God for His great mercies, and those in such a position will be aware of the wonderful confidence that comes in being able to ask for his aid as long as they are submitted to His ultimate direction and determination - not our own. It is God's will for our lives we are to build our lives upon - not our own, and there are times of silence in which heavenly answers for what we ask aren't received. Such a position understandably doesn't resonate with most people who want to feel "empowered" and in the driver's seat of their lives, but it is the way the Bible actually sets forth in direct contravention to the self-centered focus they'd rather pursue in their dealings with God. But if His will is submitted to, we will still be blessed for we've left Him to sort out what is best for us at one time or another, recognizing that our choices often may not only be counterproductive to His plan for our lives but even disastrous!

Unfortunately, Osteen's sunnily delivered Faith rhetoric is found completely at odds with the teaching of the Bible at this point. This is why Faith teaching is not only false but aberrant. It prompts the unwitting to redefine what submission to God in self-absorptive terms, making their understanding of who God is and what He commands of us completely warped to the more comfortable position of God as "co-pilot" of one's life - not the actual Lord they profess to bow the knee before. The Bible actually takes a dim view of those who trust in the power of their own words to deliver themselves out of their predicaments or create their own personal havens: Psalms 12:3-4 is soberingly clear:

The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, with our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?   

So it would seem that Yahweh is far from pleased when those seeking His blessing engage in the futile exercise of "speaking" to create new homes, promotions, thinner thighs and worse of all, new hearts and minds that only personal and intentional repentance from our sins and faith in Christ alone will bring about. Those who truly fear God and seek Him through Biblical understanding will not want to be numbered among those who trust in their confessional power and a murky view of His will. 

Indeed, according to the Bible, those who actively seek material gain risk being turned aside from a truly Biblical understanding of the Christian faith. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 is one of the many verses of inconveniently contradictory truth claims the Bible sets forth which haven't made it into Osteen's book:

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The plain sense of the verses is sobering inclusive of the human heart: it lays bare the stubborn bent of humanity to desire the abundance of riches, identifiable in monetary terms, and how those seeking them are exposed to temptations and lusts derived from their inherent materialism. The infatuation with acquiring "stuff" is as morally deranged as the sexual permissiveness of the age. The classic Bible warning that love for monetary gain is at the root of all evil is an admonition ignored at great spiritual peril, but that doesn't seem to matter one whit to Faith teachers who rationalize the powerful warning away in various ways. Whatever efforts Osteen makes to warn his readership of this are presented in crisp, measured qualifications that never squarely address the deep, primal depravity of the human condition that lends itself to falling prey to this alluring sin.

The Biblical perspective on abundance begins in the Old Testament and is settled in the New. Proverbs 30:7-9 and 1 Timothy 6:6-8 with Philippians 4:11-13 provide for us a critical balance of understanding on this issue - one that is completely absent from Joel Osteen's prosperity gospel. The prayer of the psalmist gives us divine insight into how those seeking the best for their life now should consider "prosperity":

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

It is unbelievable but true: the witness of the Bible here is to a godly writer who desired just enough provision to live life itself and not riches itself! This is an astonishing perspective, but one that shows that the psalmist was fully aware of the same kind of temptations that riches bring. It doesn't square with the popular and yet carnal view that the accumulation of "stuff" is our God-given right to possess. He makes clear that poverty isn't a desired position, either - something many prosperity teachers love to use as another one of their "Holy Ghost straw men" to deceptively teach that the Christian Church has enshrined a "poverty mentality" to keep people needy.

And the admonitions of the apostle show how he took this Old Testament truth to heart and applied it with a concise and yet penetrating exhortation, one that is largely absent throughout Osteen's book - and for that matter, unknown in much of Word of Faith-dominated Christianity.

.. I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. .. For godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us therewith to be content. 

So much for Joel’s disdain of our “lot in life”! We are given a far more Biblically based view on how to view abundance then Osteen's book, let alone his preaching and teaching before thousands in a revamped sports arena, has yet lead us to understand. Biblical prosperity at its core is the enjoyment of spiritual godliness with an acquired and yet contented trust in the sufficiency of God ALONE through ALL circumstances. The apostle Paul completely refutes the "pastor" Joel here. There is so much truth to mine in these verses from his epistles, but we don't have time to expound on them sufficiently so we will summarize his high points:  

  • He defines what Biblical prosperity really is: it doesn't involve the material whatsoever, but is derived from the peace of mind and renewal of self that comes in knowing Christ, which is true "godliness"
  • He is honest enough about the need to intentionally and actively learn how to find contentment in whatever state of personal affairs he finds himself in - whether in lack or in abundance.
  • He is not reactive but proactive about these situations, seeking to know God's direction to live his own best life in the now, in spite of encountering the worst it could throw at him
  • He was dedicated to simplicity of life that treated the essentials of life - like clothing and food - as being all that was really needed to live on.
  • He makes no suggestion about using positive confession to speak into existence anything to bring the "increase" that he supposedly has a birthright to lay claim to
  • He is emphatic that such an understanding and the lifestyle it led to is not only possible but one that Christians should aspire to, one that they should be content with

This is what prosperity is from the Bible's point of view - not Joel Osteen's.  

Who should we believe - a smiling preacher or the Word of God?

It must be firmly stated at this point that Osteen once more is found in a complete dereliction of Christian pastoral duty by not using his position to make these timeless Biblically Christian truths abundantly clear. He instead leads millions to embrace a perspective that is worldly, carnal and entrances the appetites of the fallen nature of both Christians and non-Christians. We will leave his followers to make up their own minds if they should just be passively swallowing what Osteen is shoveling here or whether or not they need to be considering an alternate perspective on how to live a "Best Life Now", whether this is really the way to "Build A Better You."

These seriously skewed suppositions Joel displays in his book about the place of prosperity in the life of the God-fearing raise a lot of breathtaking and serious questions about just how they really ought to be living. They are disturbing and yes, they seem "negative." But they deal with reality as it is, not as Osteen's prosperity gospel-tinged worldview paints the picture of life as they think it to be. And as terribly off the mark as his teaching on this subject may be, even far more serious errors remain which cannot be ignored or rationalized away by Osteen's readership at the possible peril of not just their life now but life in the world to come.  


(1) YBLN, p. 87

(2) "Expect God's Favor: Interview with Joel Osteen" 

(3)  For all of his attempt to avoid the label, it still comes home to roost in Osteen’s Lakewood eyre, as indicated in this Businessweek article entitled “Meet The Prosperity Preacher.”

(4) Osteen, John. There's A Miracle In Your Mouth (John Osteen Ministries, 1972) p. 22

(5) YBLN, p. 83, 87, 85

(6) BABY, p. 35

(7) ibid, p.109-110

(8) YBLN, p. 124

(9) Osteen, John,  ibid,  p. 13   

(10) BABY, pp. p. 121, 122

(11) YBLN, p. 122

(12) YBLN, p. 108, 109

(13) ibid, p. 125

(14) “Osteen: God Is On Your Side”, CBS Morning Show 10/21/2007 

(15) Without the seminal influence of Phineas Parkhust Quimby, the forementioned forefathers of the positive mental affirmation credo upon which the "positive" and "prosperity" messages we now know might not have come to formulate their philosophical systems which laid the foundations for Norman Vincent Peale to build upon.    

(16) Click here for a YouTube video on Osteen's rationale on why expounded Scripture isn't a feature of his sermons.

(17) YBLN, p.132

(18) YBLN, p. 79

(19) BABY, pp. 259-260 - The version of Proverbs 3:6 that Osteen cites is not a translation of Scripture. It is a paraphrase from Kenneth Taylor's "The Living Bible" paraphrase of Scripture. Taylor's paraphrase, while a wonderfully helpful aid to understanding the Bible itself, is not a true translation whatsoever. He did not use for his paraphrase work Greek or Hebrew texts, but English translations, and his rephrasing of Biblical vocabulary in terms easier to understand for laymen were not viewed with unanimity by Taylor's editorial staff.   It is this kind of Biblical paraphrase, with its deficiencies of precision and clarity of Biblical truth, that many evangelicals naturally gravitate to, all too often at the cost of their Biblical literacy when they find such paraphrased versions preferable to actual translations.

(16) YBLN  p. 86

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