Judging Joel

I went to church in Houston the other day, and got convicted. At Joel Osteen’s massive Lakewood Church, of all places. Hear me while I testify.

I’ve been really excited about what God is doing in and through rapper Kanye West lately and wanted to see for myself what his Sunday Service is like. So I watched the video of his recent one at Osteen’s megachurch, with a particular interest in the gospel choir that performs with him because I heard them on James Corden’s show and they were spectacular. They did not disappoint in Houston and I could probably write a whole post about their excellence and exuberance in worship, but that’s not what convicted me.

Likewise I could produce paragraphs about Kanye’s obvious faith in God and his devotion to his wife and children, but his witness to God’s work in himself is not what had me rethinking and repenting neither.

It was the cognitive dissonance I felt watching this pure, Spirit-filled offering of praise to God while in my own spirit I was harboring a judgmental attitude. This is Joel Osteen’s church, and everyone knows he’s a false teacher, leading his deceived congregants astray. The many thousands of them filling the seats there, and Osteen himself, are probably hearing the true gospel for the first time. This was the basic content of my background thoughts while in my foreground thoughts I was worshiping and praising God along with the choir and the congregants.

So I brought my background thoughts to the fore for a close examination. Why do I have this opinion of Osteen as an impostor, and this sense that he should be shunned? I asked myself. Because that’s what I’ve read about him, I answered. That’s what other people have said. And of course, if it’s on the internet it must be true.

But maybe these other people are wrong. Or even if they’re right, maybe their attitude and treatment of Osteen is wrong. I was feeling conflicted, and then got convicted. Am I unfairly judging an actual brother in Christ? Am I dismissing as inauthentic the genuine faith of thousands and discounting some real Spirit-powered work at the largest church in America?

I knew I needed to listen to Osteen myself so I tuned into the livestream of his Sunday morning service, sans Kanye. And after watching, listening, reading, thinking and praying, here is what I have concluded.

Jonathan Edwards he’s not, but who is?
Joel Osteen is all about encouragement, positivity, and hope. I only watched one service but from his own admission, things others have written about him, and just the titles of his sermons and books I feel pretty confident in that assessment. He doesn’t talk about sin much, but it wasn’t completely missing from his message. So he’s a little heavy on hope and light on conviction, but aren’t many of our pastors guilty of an inadequate treatment of sin and God’s call for us to be holy as he is holy? Does an overemphasis on God’s love and provision justify condemning Osteen as a false teacher?

But neither is he Jesse Duplantis
Osteen is accused of promoting a prosperity gospel, and that certainly seems true if you’re talking about the teaching that God will bless you if you’re faithful in giving. But he doesn’t ask for money during his services and I haven’t seen any evidence of him trying to swindle his congregants or TV viewers by promising them wealth if they hand over their hard-earned cash for a God-ordained upgrade of some sort, like certain televangelists do. He’s very wealthy himself and though I believe being ostentatious as a minister of the gospel is a bad look, it’s not a sin to be rich. And I have no reason to believe he’s acquired his millions illegitimately or unethically.

The Bible does teach that we are to tithe and even give beyond that for God’s work if we can, and that he will provide for us when we are faithful in obedience to him. That’s a solid message that any respected preacher can get behind. Promising, however, that if you give a certain amount God will definitely come through with great financial blessing is something different, and I haven’t heard that from Joel Osteen.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Please check back tomorrow for Part 2.