Here’s why I’m analyzing Joel Osteen’s Ministry.
Here’s the Facebook blurb we’ll be analyzing today:
I never like it when people say “The Scripture tells us…” but they don’t give a reference. This is a good indicator that they are about to take something out of context. Something Joel does in spectacular fashion here. The “prisoners of hope” verse Osteen is referring to is from Zechariah 9:12 (as that phrase isn’t used anywhere else in Scripture), Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Technically, this verse isn’t telling us or anyone else to be prisoners of hope, it’s simply identifying an existing group of people as prisoners of hope. But that’s minor compared to what Joel is actually trying to do with this text.
The first significant problem in Joel’s teaching (not just here) is that he is using old covenant promises and applying them to Christians today. I write about this concept in detail in this post: What is the old covenant and why doesn’t it apply to us? In a nutshell, God made a specific agreement with the ancient Israelites that they agreed to (Exodus 19-24) and within this agreement there were terms (blessings) if they obeyed God and terms (curses) if they didn’t (Deuteronomy 28 & Leviticus 26). Zechariah takes place in around 500 BC. It would have been near the time of Nehemiah and Ezra when the Israelites were allowed to return to their land after being exiled in Babylon for 70 years. They were returning to the land they lost because they broke the old covenant, just as they agreed to and as the covenant terms told them would happen. So the one level of hope that Zechariah is talking about is that God is finally going to give the ancient Israelites their land back. It’s very important to understand: this promise of land within the old covenant has nothing to do with us today. We can learn about God and his faithfulness but we can’t take the “hope” that they had in land that God has promised them and just swap in whatever we want to hope for and apply the same verse to us. Reading the Bible that way is as unbiblical as it gets. But it’s not nearly as bad as it gets.
The second theme throughout the entire book of Zechariah, besides the return to the land of Israel, is the future coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. I’m going to briefly answer question #2 (*What was Joel (possibly) intending to communicate with this?) in our analysis here, then jump back to question #1 and what this text is saying about Jesus. It’s pretty evident what Joel is trying to communicate: Have hope that God will make good things happen to you–in fact, hold him to this. It’s his job to make good things happen to you.
Ok, now back to the meaning of Zechariah 9. Zechariah 9:9 says, Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This is an exact prophecy to Jesus the Messiah, which is fulfilled in John 12:12-19 when Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey in the 1st century. Zechariah 9:10b continues to elaborate on prophesying about Jesus, He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
So what was the hope that Zechariah tells the people they are prisoners to? The immediate hope was that they would receive their land back, but the ultimate hope they had was in Jesus himself!
Do you see the problem here? Joel Osteen just took a Scripture that tells us to put our hope in Jesus and he’s telling people to have hope that good things will happen to them. And he’s not referring to Jesus as the good thing. He’s referring to good things as the good things: money, a raise, problems solved, etc.
Jesus. Be encouraged by Jesus. Put your hope in Jesus. Hang in there and Jesus will save you.
Good things will happen to you. Be encouraged that God will make good things happen to you. Put your hope in good things happening to you. Hang in there and good things happening to you will save you.
THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS.
I love Jesus, I love the gospel, and I love the Bible, and this genuinely upsets me. It should upset you too.
*What is a listener (likely) going to interpret this as?
A listener/reader is going to completely misunderstand the Bible and God after reading these words from Osteen. God is telling us that Jesus is our hope. Osteen is telling us good things happening to you is your hope, and that you can hold God to this!
Osteen has no excuse here. You can’t say “he didn’t mean it”, or “he didn’t know any better”, or “that’s not what he meant.” Nor can you say “Well other parts of the Bible say what he’s saying.” What, that our hope is to be in good things happening to us? No, the Bible never says this anywhere. Osteen is telling people God is saying things that God simply never said–in fact he’s replacing Jesus, which is the opposite of everything God has said. It should be both shocking and scary how so many people eat this up. I recently watched a 60 Minutes interview of Osteen from a few years ago. When Joel is pressed about the incomplete message (something I haven’t even blogged on yet) he gives people, referring to a recent book he published, he answers (And concludes the interview with)…
“There’s a lot better people qualified to say ‘Here’s a book that will explain the Scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting.”
This is a pretty huge problem is you are the lead teaching pastor of any church, let alone possibly the largest ministry (if you include books sales etc) in the United States. Not being able to explain the Scriptures is also an automatic disqualification of Joel Osteen for the biblical qualifications of eldership listed out in Titus 1:5-9. Specifically verse 9, 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.
I really am not trying to pile on to Joel here. If you feel I am, please let me know. I’m trying to be as honest as possible. There are minor theological differences that I can agree to disagree on but when you blatantly misteach Scripture and when you replace Jesus with personal gain, that has to be called out for what it is, which is an incredibly sad and incredibly dangerous (and incredibly seductive) false teaching.