Blogging is a funny thing. You can opt to write about safe things like cookie recipes and football games and cat videos. Or you can even write about safe Christian things like discipleship and your favorite Bible verses. But what about the things people are trying to figure out? What about the things that require a tension and a balance? The things that aren’t black and white, but somewhere in between–yet you see people constantly going to one extreme or another on, unnecessarily and incorrectly.
When you try to live in this middle area, and when you try to blog in this middle area, it is both rewarding as well as humbling. The thing about the middle area is you don’t always know that you are right. When you’re at one of the extremes, you’ve got to be right and you’ll hold your ground with machine gun in hand at all costs.
The middle is much more humbling.
I did a couple of blog posts on Joel and Victoria Osteen a month ago or so after a video clip of Victoria Osteen was making its rounds on the Internet. In the clip, the line that most got people’s heads turning was when Victoria stated during their church service, “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really, you’re doing it for yourself.” I felt this line needed a response. In my response, I call the Osteen’s “false teachers”, a word the Bible uses to warn Christians of people who will change the gospel.
A very good friend of mine contacted me privately and confronted me on how I called out the Osteen’s in such a public manor. I greatly appreciate this friend and it’s really made me think. This friend encouraged me to talk to a mutual pastor friend of ours whom I respect greatly; this friend has benefited from the Osteen’s ministry and has a lot of respect for the Osteen’s.
I always think one of the best ways to learn is to hear from the other side and to gain a different perspective. Even if you don’t end up agreeing, you typically end up in a much more loving, humble position.
Like most things in the middle, the conversation with my pastor friend ended up being very beneficial and also muddied up the waters quite well for me.
Why does it really matter what I or you think of Joel Osteen and his teaching?
It matters because this guy’s teaching is going out to millions, probably billions of people. If something unbiblical is being said that is leading people astray, it should be brought up. The Bible tells us to do this in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22, Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. And also in Titus 1:9 when speaking of elders, He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (which has dual meanings in this conversation: Is Joel holding to what he was taught from the Bible? And as an elder, the Bible tells me to encourage people with sound doctrine and to refute those who opposed it, which could be Osteen in this case)
It matters because 37 of my Facebook friends, some who attend my church, like Joel Osteen Ministries’ Facebook page, along with 9 million other people.
It also matters because Joel is an easy target. His ministry is huge, it rakes in the dough, people adore him, he has a huge smile that is easy to label as “cheesy” to go along with a soft southern drawl. It matters because it’s not right to take shots at brothers and sisters in Christ and create disunity in the Church.
My pastor friend reminded me of 1 John 4:1-3 on how to distinguish a false prophet: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist
He reminded me that Joel definitely preaches that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, has died on the cross for sins, has resurrected from the dead, and is the only way to salvation. He also told me about counter-cultural stances Joel has taken on controversial issues, something that takes a lot of spine and a lot of Scriptural backbone. Being grilled about homosexuality on Piers Morgan’s CNN talk show, Osteen replied by saying, “Well Piers, I believe what the Bible says about that. I am not here to judge any body but I am a Christian and I believe the Bible.” It can be hard enough to respond like this to some Christians in today’s cultural milieu, let alone Piers Morgan on national television.
Which is what makes Joel such a tough person to figure out. It’s what makes even his teaching so hard to figure out. There is most definitely a “tickling of the ears” theme to his teachings, his books and his Facebook page soundbites. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 really does seem to typify him in many ways: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
The tickling of the ears that I see is a consistent theme that if you trust in God, the specific struggle you are going through will change, it’s just a matter of time, so keep hoping in that. And the interpretation of what that change will look like and be is left completely to the individual doing the hoping. Which biblically is holding God to promises he never made and is turning the gospel into something self-centered rather than God-centered.
But within the same Facebook page, and I assume in his sermons and books, there’s also Bible verses or quotes from Osteen that talk about how God’s mercy is enough for us, or how our trials are there for us to learn.
Part of me says, “So which one is it Joel?”
Part of me knows the people he has helped by giving them some hope when they had none. By opening the door and how God has used that door to reveal his true self to someone (maybe in spite of what Osteen taught them?). Or even the people who hoped it and it did happen just like they wanted.
Part of me says, “Yeah but if you mix good water with drops of cyanide, you still end up with poison.” Or how that’s exactly how Satan works: taking something true, then adding a lie on top of it. That way the lie is swallowed without people even realizing it’s there.
So I don’t really know honestly.
I’m not Joel or Victoria’s judge.
I am called to read and study Scripture as well as to steer people toward its truth.
Joel is a very very popular personality with tons of people listening to his advice. My goal with this blog post and ones in the future is not to trash him. In some ways, I want to be a student of him. Not a student of his, but a student of him (more accurately, of his ministry and message). What is this guy actually teaching? What are the good things? What are the things that need to be corrected? Not from me; but from the Bible. I honestly hope people would do the same for me. If I’m teaching things that are unbiblical, or I’m adding unbiblical things to them to make them palatable, I’d certainly like to know so I can hopefully stop doing those things.
If you have advice for me as I attempt to do this, please send it my way. I’m very grateful for my two brothers in Christ who already did this for me. What I plan to do is take the posts from Joel Osteen Ministries’ Facebook page and analyze them in 3 ways: *Is this from the Bible (If so, where? If not, what part of the Bible contradicts it? *What was Joel (possibly) intending to communicate with this? *What is a listener (likely) going to interpret this as?
And from there, my hope is to provide some biblical guardrails for those who listen to Joel’s teachings and read his books. I doubt I’ll get 9 million people to read what I’m writing, but if some of my 37 friends do, I truly hope it will be helpful in your walks with Christ as you discern and test the prophecies coming your way.
Author of Beyond the Battle: A man's guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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