For multiple reasons, which you can read about here, I’ve decided to analyze Joel Osteen and his official ministry, Joel Osteen Ministries. Today I’m looking at a recent post on the Joel Osteen Ministries Facebook page and intend to analyze it in three ways:
1. Is this from the Bible (If so, where? If not, what part of the Bible contradicts it?)
2. What was Joel (possibly) intending to communicate with this?
3. What is a listener (likely) going to interpret this as?
1. “God will take you places higher than you’ve ever dreamed” —You can make an argument that this is in the Bible, either speaking about Heaven or about the spiritual blessings we can have in Christ, which are higher than the worldly dreams we have. It could be said this is a reference to 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, most notably verses 9-10,“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
“But you’ve got to do your part” –A Calvinist hates this line. A Calvinist also hates the title of a Christian book called “You Can.” With grace and salvation, it is not a “you can” but a “God can.” This may seem like splitting hairs and sure, the line could be argued to mean something more practical and less theological, but it’s important to take note of this trend (as this won’t be the first time we see it). For now, we won’t fight this battle. Let’s give Joel the benefit of the doubt that he just means we have to respond in faith.
“and stir up excellence on the inside.” –This line is pretty troubling. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in Scripture that says that excellence is found in our insides, with the exception of when it’s the Holy Spirit inside of us. But in that context, that excellence is definitely coming from God, not from anything about us and our insides. This reeks of “you can do it!” language. Which at best is cheerleader rah-rah talk and at worst is the opposite of the gospel, a gospel that starts with and says all throughout, “I cannot do it, I need Jesus to do it for me.” Read these Bible verses and ask if there is any “excellence” inside of us to be stirred up:
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
John 6:44 (Jesus speaking) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Romans 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
Romans 3:10-12 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Come up to a higher level of excellence.” Similar to comments about “God will take you places higher than you’ve ever dreamed.” In this case, can sound like 1 Corinthians 12:31, And yet I will show you the most excellent way. Where chapter 13 then explains what love is.
2. In step 2 of the analysis, I will always try to give Joel the benefit of the doubt to the best of my ability. This quote could be a very biblical message that God desires to show us his ways are better than the world’s ways. If we live according to our flesh and according to the world, we will always be at a lower level of meaning and purpose than if we surrender to God’s ways, choosing to obey him and follow him, and gaining the “higher” ways of God in our lives and the blessings they bring. The specific types of blessing or the types of excellence are not defined by the quote from Osteen, so we’ll give Joel the benefit of the doubt in this step that he means spiritual blessings, eternal treasure, and the fruits of the Spirit.
3. They key issue I see over and over with the Joel Osteen Ministries’ Facebook posts is that almost all of the meaning/application of the blurb is left to the reader. This is a theme we will see over and over again with Joel’s messages. I honestly don’t know exactly what Joel is intending when he says these things, but I do know how a lot of people are going to hear what he’s saying. And if he doesn’t give the needed guardrails to guide and contain his message (which I seldom see him doing), then he is responsible for the subjective (and unbiblical) meanings people are taking from his talks, telling themselves these meanings are from God.
For example, when Joel says “God will take you places higher than you’ve ever dreamed of,” what is the average person going to think about? Looking at the Bible verses I listed out under analysis #1, we know every human is very depraved, that is: sinful, selfish and rebellious against God. This is our natural state. So what does a sinful, selfish, rebellious person dream of? Exactly. We dream about money, power, fame, comfort, a pain-free existence, sex, glory, fun, you name it. Some of these things are outright sinful, others aren’t necessarily sinful but are still selfish and are things you’d be hard pressed to find biblical backing that God tells us to dream about. What does “excellence” look like to a sinful, selfish, rebellious person? Same song, different verse. It’s a self-glory-excellence, not a God-is-excellent and I humbly bow in fear and trembling at his feet.
A consistent flaw in Osteen’s teaching is that he leaves the application up to the reader/listener, rather than telling the reader/listener specifically what God wants, which is typically always different than what we want. Back to the quote that started all of these blog posts when Victoria Osteen said, “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really, you’re doing it for yourself…” the debate that this brings up is: Does God want what we want? The answer to that is “most likely not” (something I’ll hit more on later when I compare biblical joy to happiness (a word the Bible doesn’t use)), but ultimately it’s the wrong question to be asking altogether. We should never ask God to want what we want, or to dream things and ask God to bless them; we should always ask God what He wants and then do it, knowing it’s quite likely to be at odds with what we want.
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Matthew 26:39 And He (Jesus) went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Colossians 1:9-12 We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father
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Great post. I’ve often struggled with how to square my dreams and aspirations with Gods will for my life. I believe that to some extent God gave me my dreams and aspirations as they are a part of who I am as a person. However, I also truly want to be in Gods will and do what he wants of me even if that is contrary to my dreams and aspirations for my life. At times these two things seem to be in line, but at other times I am just not sure what gods will is for my life. How do I make decisions in those situations where I am not what Gods will is even though I am seeking him? How do I ensure that I’m not just doing what I want or going my own way because I’m not sure what gods will is?
Hey Scott, thanks for your honest questions. I always like how Scripture gives general rather than specific definitions of what God’s will is. For example:
This text lays out God’s will almost like a checklist you can ask yourself. Are you filling yourself with the knowledge of his will, with spiritual wisdom and understanding? And with knowledge of God (v.10b)? In other words, are you reading the Bible? If you’re not, you’re not doing God’s will. It has to start there or we’ll never know how to obey or how to identify our sinful will opposed to his perfect will. Then next on the checklist it asks if we are bearing fruit in all of our good works. This first implies that God’s will is that we do “good works”. These can be found all throughout Scripture: being generous, loving the poor, forgiving, etc. But then also bearing fruit. I like to cross-reference this with the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). There’s a checklist for you! So we can look at our lives and see if we are showing these fruits or not and if not, we aren’t doing God’s will. And then in conclusion, very similar to the fruits of the Spirit, endurance, patience, joy and thankfulness are mentioned.
It sounds like you are wrestling with specific questions, i.e. “Should I buy this expensive house or live below my means and give the extra money away?” –That sort of thing is tough! And there’s not an easy answer for it. I think you pray hard and go to these Scriptures and ask these questions of yourself. At the end of the day, you probably aren’t wrong either way with a lot of decisions that don’t have obvious sin involved in them. Buying an expensive house isn’t sinful and sin is what we need to avoid. I’m not telling you to buy the expensive house; personally I wouldn’t but that’s because I feel that’s what God has told me when I’ve looked through these Scriptures and asked these questions, but I do believe God convicts us in different ways based on a wide number of variables. But in looking at the Scriptures, we can identify what is and isn’t sin and I’m certainly not going to judge someone who does something that isn’t sinful.
i just wrote a lot and honestly, I don’t even know if it was helpful or answered your question at all! Sorry Scott 🙂 Feel free to clarify or elaborate
If you ever want to get together I can tell you just how damaging name it and claim it teaching can be. Very confusing growing up under it. I still struggle at 40 years old because of it. I heard nothing of God’s grace. My growth was all my responsibility as a child. If I didn’t do XYZ then that’s why I was sick with the flu. My prayers weren’t faith filled enough to get me healed. Crazy!
I hear you. I’ve seen similar damage in others. Thanks for sharing, I think it’s very important for people to hear that from folks like you who have gone through it, not just folks like me who are picking at it from the outside.
Kenneth Richardson says
Thanks Noah. Right on as usual. The Enemy is making self reliance more palatable than God reliance in subtle nefarious ways. Using “Christian” ministers to spread the vile doctrine is becoming a very fruitful avenue for Him.
Thanks Ken! And yes, which is very scary. It’s crazy/scary how Satan truly does throw in just a small amount of lie to something that was true, and how it works time and time again.
I believe if you only ‘judge’ Joel based on Facebook posts it’s not fair. Try watching him on an at least somewhat regular basis. I’m one of those folks he’s helped a lot (though Joseph Prince has done even more for me). Thanks for doing all this.
Hi Michelle, I agree I would have a more comprehensive view of Joel if I watched him regularly and I think that is a good and fair point to bring up. Though at the same time, I do think it’s fair to see a pattern in his Facebook posts and in the book portions I have looked at, and the interviews with him, to be able to hold him accountable for the things I mention here. I also think it’s helpful to point out I’m not “judging” him as an individual Christian, that’s between him and God and that’s not where I”m going here, but his teaching does influence tons of people, including those in my church, so I need to be obedient to Titus 1:9 and other Scriptures and refute those who oppose sound doctrine. I think it’s fair to separate refuting doctrine from judging a person’s soul.
Another point to make, I don’t doubt that Joel helps people. But this can’t be our only test for if someone is preaching sound doctrine. Atheist psychologists, marriage counselors and social workers help people every day, and I celebrate that. I’m not saying this to be snarky, I only bring it up because I hear that a lot from people trying to defend Joel’s theology/doctrine (heard the same thing about Rob Bell), but helping people and sound theology are independent of each other.