Joel Osteen: human but not a false prophet

The sidebar of Joel Watts’ blog Unsettled Christianity currently lists as “False Prophets” about a dozen named Christian leaders, along with some Christian ministries and some less Christian ones. Among those named as false prophets are Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. And that is typical of the kind of criticism which many Christians routinely heap on well known megachurch leaders like these two, often without any real basis in fact. I can’t help suggesting that the reason for much of the criticism is jealousy of their success.

Joel OsteenSo it was interesting to read the post by Gez today on that same blog Philip Wagner defends Joel Osteen, with a long quotation from Wagner giving an essentially positive picture of Osteen and his church, including the following:

Joel does not teach classes on theology, the differences of Mormonism and Christianity or a thorough presentation of the foundational beliefs of Christianity. He’s a pastor with an evangelism gift.

Pastors at Joel Osteen’s church, Lakewood Church, disciple people, teach doctrinal truths of the Bible and train people for ministry. They teach people truth from error.

Indeed. The substance of most criticisms of the much maligned Osteen, apart from that he has enviably good teeth, is that his teaching is weak. Yes, perhaps it is, because his ministry is not that of a teacher. He is primarily an evangelist. Those who become Christians through his church and ministry then receive good teaching.

Philip Wagner, whose post Gez quotes, has a lot more to say about criticism of Osteen in his post What’s the Problem with Joel Osteen? He notes how “a well-known pastor in Seattle” (he means Mark Driscoll) used YouTube to “tear Joel apart” for “what he did not say” – the reference is probably to the same video that I discussed here in 2007, when I was perhaps trying to be more conciliatory than I am now. Wagner also writes:

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion – even if it is ill informed.
The disappointing thing to me is that Christian leaders speak out publically against Joel and thereby encouraging other Christians not to respect him or to doubt his authenticity.  They feel the liberty to publically attack those whom they don’t really understand or know.   It’s embarrassing.

As a Christian, I’m discouraged by the behavior of leaders who criticize, attack or diminish the significance of other Christian ministers. 

This behavior and attitude is why many people do not want to be a part of Christianity or go to church because they feel that when they go to church they will be criticized the way our leaders do to each other.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.  Gal 5:14-15 NIV

I believe the main thing leaders should be “called out for” is the arrogance and the divisive example they promote by publically dismissing the relevance of another person’s ministry.

Have these very public leaders, who take the liberty to bring these unfair assessments of Joel Osteen, spoken to him or one of his pastors in private about their concerns?

I may be wrong – but I don’t think they have.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.  Matthew 18:15 NIV

Now Joel Osteen is not perfect. After all, he is human. I happen to think that his remarks about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism were unfortunate, although that could be because they were reported out of context.

I also think Philip Wagner is wrong about this: it is a major election issue, because many evangelical Christians will not vote for Mitt Romney simply because he is a Mormon.

Nevertheless this does not warrant Osteen being demonised in the way that he has been by so many Christians. He may be a flawed prophet, but that is not the same thing as a false prophet.

So, Joel Watts, please can you now take the lead of your friend Gez and remove from your sidebar the accusation that Osteen and other respected Christian leaders are “false prophets”. I don’t expect you to take down old posts, but I would like to see a new post expressing your regret for what you have written about these people in the past.

And please can that be an example to other Christian bloggers, and writers in other media, who are bringing the Christian faith into disrepute by their often ill-informed mud-slinging.

Mark Driscoll head to head with Joel Osteen

Adrian Warnock has posted an interesting video (ten minutes long) of two well-known American preachers head to head. The video is basically part of a sermon by Mark Driscoll, but it includes a long clip from a sermon by Joel Osteen. Driscoll is one of Adrian’s favourites, and has had some generally not so favourable mention on this blog; nevertheless I respect him for his no-nonsense approach. Osteen is, I understand, well known in the USA for his prosperity teaching on TV and radio, but is not so well known here in the UK.

Adrian’s main point in posting this video is to present it as “a model of gracious rebuke”, of Osteen by Driscoll. And indeed it is this. If only Adrian and his other favourite speakers had treated Steve Chalke with this same grace, rather than accusing him of heresy! Then the whole atonement debate would have been a lot less bitter. I too need to take Driscoll as an example of how to show gentle wisdom over such issues.

But I want to look more at the different approaches represented here by Osteen and Driscoll. Continue reading