WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH JOEL OSTEEN?

A couple of years ago Joel Osteen was preparing to have a “Night of Hope” at Dodger Stadium. Since the Dodgers are in our home city, Los Angeles, I wanted to support the effort. I mentioned to our congregation about the upcoming crusade and helping out so we could be a part of reaching thousands of people who would make decisions to follow Christ.

A few days later someone said to me,
“We’re supporting Joel Osteen? He is pretty controversial you know.”
I was surprised.
I thought to myself, “Joel Osteen, controversial? How could that be? He preaches the most clear and simple gospel message a person could hear.”

I had not been keeping up with what people and other leaders were saying on the Internet.

One local pastor said to me later, “I hear you are supporting the Joel Osteen Crusade.”
I said, “Yes I am. He reaches thousands of people for Jesus Christ, he’s in our city, I want to be a part of it.”
The pastor responded, “I’m not going to, I can’t go for all that positive gospel stuff.”

I don’t even know what that means!??!
Are we supposed to be preaching the negative gospel?
What is the “positive” gospel?
Our sins are forgiven? God loves us – just like we are? God has something special for each of us to do?
Just sounds like the ‘regular-amazing-outstanding-full of mercy- gospel’ to me! You know… ‘Amazing Grace’ …and all that.

In the last year I’ve discovered there are many outspoken Christians and leaders who don’t seem to like Joel Osteen.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion – even if it is ill informed.
The disappointing thing to me is that Christian leaders feel the liberty to publically attack those whom they don’t really understand or know. There are always such attacks and slanderous public accusations against the most well known of American pastors – Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Bishop TD Jakes and others. Leaders are encouraging other Christians to think it’s appropriate – even spiritual maturity – to disrespect or doubt the authenticity of genuine preachers and to publically express that opinion.

Frankly, 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 critical 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.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 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 in order to exalt their own.

Have leaders who take the liberty to bring 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.

I love the insights brought to us by Pastor Phil Munsey in an article, “The Joel Osteen Most People Don’t Know” in which he points out that over one million people have received Christ through Joel’s “Night of Hope” events and that Joel pastors the largest church in our nation’s history – 45,000 in one building.

Look at this situation that the disciples brought to Jesus and notice His response.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
…Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem …but the people there did not welcome him… When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? But Jesus turned and rebuked them and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of
 “– NKJV) Luke 9:49-55 NIV

So, what’s really the problem with Joel Osteen?

Critics say,
“He’s shallow.” “He’s a phony.” “He’s a liar.”
“He’s not really a pastor.”  “He presents an easy, feel-good gospel.” 

This reminds me of being in the 8th grade.

I know Joel Osteen.
I consider him a friend.
I’m not a ‘Joel Osteen fan’ – I’m a friend.

I know him to be a genuine man, a humble man and know that he has a desire to lead people to become followers of Jesus Christ. He believes the same fundamental truths about the Bible and Christianity that main stream Christianity teaches and preaches from the pulpits of America.

The problem is not with Joel Osteen –the problem is in the hearts of the ‘Christian critics’ (sounds like an oxymoron) and ‘the haters’ –the newest gift in the body of ChristThey speak without thinking.

Joel is focused on reaching lost and unchurched people. He does it really well.

In interviews with Larry King, Piers Morgan and others, they always try to get him into controversial or divisive topics, (homosexuality, politics, Mormonism, who’s going to hell, etc.) and Joel avoids answering those questions with much detail. His focus is reaching those who have been alienated and are not being reached for Christ with the message of God’s grace. He tries to stay on point.

Why is this so hard to understand?

Joel is criticized for everything.
What he says. What he does not say. (This is my favorite one.) What he ‘really’ believes. What he is thinking. How he should do things. How he could be better at what he does.

While looking at YouTube I saw a video posted by a well-known pastor that shows this pastor addressing an audience (not sure if it was his congregation or a leadership meeting) but it was public. He took time on his platform to show a video clip of a few minutes of Osteen preaching – and then proceeded to tear apart what he said and what he did not say.

This pastor is a good leader, a quality speaker and influential.
He took the platform God has given him to preach the gospel, to put Joel down with an arrogant, condescending grin on his face. Why is that I wonder?

It is easy for people to take a ‘portion’ of anyone’s sermon and criticize what the speaker ‘did not say.’ That doesn’t even make sense.

A Christian blogger criticized the title of Joel’s recent book ‘Every Day a Friday’ – by saying that Friday is not the most important day for Christians, Sunday is because that’s when Jesus rose from the dead.”

Are you kidding me?? Really? If this does not reveal shallow thinking, critical intention and bring into question the rest of his comments – at the very least the title of his blog, “The Insufferable Joel Osteen” should be a clue!

Joel’s book is not a study on theology or Christian history. It is just a book to encourage the millions of discouraged in our country.
Is that wrong?

It would not take long for one of these self-appointed ‘judges of all ministries’ to listen to one of my messages and find flaws.

I leave things out.
I mis-speak.
I don’t say what I was going to say and sometimes say what I should not.

But that does not make me a liar, a hypocrite, a fake or a false prophet.  It just makes me human; doing the best I can to do my part in reaching our city for Jesus Christ.

In an interview on Fox News, they asked Joel questions about his thoughts on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.

Joel said, “Mitt Romney says that Jesus Christ is his Savior and that’s what I believe, I’m not the one to judge the other details.”
Joel was saying if a person (even a Mormon) believes that Jesus Christ is their savior – it does not seem right to doubt them.
He also said, “I can’t say that I believe everything I’ve heard about (Mormonism).” Osteen’s critics do not quote this last part of his statement.

Have you ever been on National TV and been asked questions designed to put you in an awkward position and to answer questions off the point of what your message is? Have you ever been on TV?

Is this difficult to understand? If you are an “Osteen-hater” then everything is wrong. Many Mormons have come to Jesus Christ through his ministry. People don’t receive Jesus if your sermon title is “Mormons and gays or (…insert your favorite issue here…) are going to hell and here’s why!!”

Our church, Oasis Church LA, has a ‘shallow end of the pool’ – it’s an entry point. We don’t teach everything we believe every time we speak. There is a ‘deep end of the pool’ as well – it’s discipleship. Much more is taught to people in those areas of our church ministry.

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.

This reminds me of how much criticism Billy Graham took from evangelical leaders who criticized him and questioned his faith and integrity because of how he conducted his evangelistic efforts. Now most people hold him in high regard and an example to be followed.

We pray for the lost in America and then when God is using someone to reach the people that other ministers have not been able to reach – we tear them down. God forgive us.

Have we considered that reality that TV hosts like Larry King, want to interview Joel and not the leaders who attack him, because Joel communicates the grace that others pastors can’t seem to discover?

So what’s the problem – really?
Is it jealousy? Is it arrogance and self-righteousness?
I’m not sure.

I do know that Joel reaches people other preachers do not reach. I see that news reporters who won’t interview other pastors and leaders interview Joel. He sells books about hope and faith to the thousands who will not buy the critics books. Hmmm?

I recently read a blog by the vice president of editorial and acquisitions for Thomas Nelson, who wrote “Osteen parades himself around as a minister of the gospel.” Nice.

He also posted a photo of Joel with a ‘Joker face’ (as in Batman) ‘photo-shopped’ on his face. This is a clear sign of deep biblical insight.

This horribly embarrassing blog was tweeted about by The Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers on a couple of occasions, obviously lending his support and endorsement to these self indulgent and reckless assessments.

I was shocked, saddened, disappointed and discouraged by the attitudes of these Christian influencers.  But this is just not right and should not be overlooked because of his stature and position.

Do these publishers know everything their authors believe? Everything? Do they know when their authors have ‘misspoken’ or not articulated something correctly or made a mistake?

Does Thomas Nelson write blogs to publically ridicule and humiliate their authors who have their own flaws? The comments that these people make are not intellectually honest nor are they spiritually appropriate.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you
.
Ephesians 4:29-31 NIV

Arrogance is hard to see in the mirror.

I don’t know that those who have spoken from arrogance would apologize or recognize their error – but I’m hoping that you, the reader, will be more aware of what is appropriate and Christ-like.

Christians – Please!! Don’t follow this example and criticize publically those ministers whose methods you don’t agree with or understand.

Leaders – this has got to stop. Please, Please – it’s NOT your job to judge everyone publically.

Let’s encourage each other, let’s pray for one another and teach those you influence to have more grace.

It is difficult enough to be a minister because of the challenges we face – the spiritual warfare we encounter! We don’t need our own Christian brothers needlessly attacking.

We need to preach about what we are FOR not what we are AGAINST.