Joel Osteen's new book, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, hit shelves today. Thus, Osteen has been all over the news this week promoting it, including a feature on CBS' 60 Minutes on Sunday evening. The purpose of this post is not to deride Osteen as a human being, or to judge that he is not a believer. But I do feel a responsibility to warn anyone within my hearing, particularly those under my care as Pastor of Worship & Prayer, that the message Osteen preaches is not the Christian gospel.
I've read a number of good articles about Osteen this week, in response to his public appearances. There are good articles by Tim Challies, Michael Horton, and Michael Spencer. But the best, and most relevant to corporate worship, is by Bob Kauflin. I'm going to copy and paste his article below, and I encourage you to read through it. (The other links I provided in this paragraph are worth reading, too, but at least read the Kauflin one.)
Sin and Sunday Morning
Joel Osteen was interviewed by Byron Pitts on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. I didn’t see the program but was able to watch it at CBS News Online. I recognize that the media can distort what someone actually says. But taken at face value, the interview was concerning. Here’s one portion from the transcript:
“You said ‘I like to see myself as a life coach, a motivator to help them experience the life of God that God has for them. People don’t like to be beat down and told ‘You’ve done wrong.’ What do you mean?” Pitts asks.
“Well, I think that most people already know what they’re doing wrong. And for me to get in here and just beat ‘em down and talk down to ‘em, I just don’t think that inspires anybody to rise higher. But I want to motivate. I wanna motivate every person to leave here to be a better father, a better husband, to break addictions to come up higher in their walk with the Lord,” Osteen says.
Later on in the interview, this exchange takes place:
“To become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that,” Pitts remarks.
“That’s just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I’m called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, ‘Here’s a book that’s going to explain the scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting,” Osteen says.
Every leader in the church of Christ is called to help people. But God has made it clear how we’re to do that. He hasn’t given us the liberty of devising our own message. God couldn’t be clearer about what our message is, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
“Christ died for our sins.” We have no better news, no more powerful news, and no other news to give to the people we serve. All change that takes place in our lives is rooted in the atoning work of the Savior. A few other relevant Scriptures come to mind such as Col. 2:6, Col. 3:1-4:1, and Col. 1:27-28. There are many more. We cannot “live out the Christian life” apart from an ongoing, deepening, clear dependence on Jesus Christ. Specifically, our problem is sin, and Jesus came to set us free from its penalty and power.
Yes, “people already know they’re doing wrong,” but they’re unclear on the extent, the significance, and the object of that wrong. We cannot become better fathers, husbands, or better anything apart from recognizing our guilt before God and our complete inability to change ourselves. Change begins by understanding that we stand condemned before a holy God and need to be reconciled to him through the substitutionary death of Christ. Change continues by standing firm in the Gospel we’ve received (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Paul Wells does a fine job addressing some of the modern misconceptions about the meaning of the cross of Christ. One of the problems he addresses is the attempt to offer people hope without addressing the problem of sin. He writes:
“Efforts to create a god who does not react to sin render God less than personal, and at the same time make a true understanding of his love for sinful man, in its breadth and depth, impossible. God’s love appears in its true light only in the context of man’s sin and misery, and his rebellion against God. God hates sin.”
As a worship leader, I can be tempted to use songs that make people “feel good” apart from acknowledging the sin that Jesus came to forgive and free them from. I can put together a better song list that will “lift people’s spirits” and give them a profound emotional experience without drawing any attention to how God hates their sin. But that ends up diminishing the glory of God’s love. He loves us freely and undeservedly. He loves us at the cost of his own Son. He loves us to change us. He loves us not because we’re so lovable, but because He is love.
I pray that Joel Osteen sees the importance of reminding people of the pervasive and deceptive sin that dwells in each one of us, and the powerful Gospel that sets us free. I pray that regardless of our gifting, every pastor and leader in the church would see that we are responsible to explain what the Scriptures mean. Most importantly, I pray that I never seek to offer people hope apart from the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14 ).