Judging Joel – Part 3

(Concluding my reassessment of Joel Osteen and his ministry. Please see here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.)

Context is king (but Jesus is King)
Back to Kanye then, which is where I began. His bringing a gospel choir and a message of his personal salvation to a church I was led to believe doesn’t even preach the gospel got me thinking, and repenting. I realized I was unwisely relying on other people’s opinions of Joel Osteen, and unfairly judging him based on second-hand information that may or may not be accurate. Watching and listening to an entire Sunday morning service at his Houston church gave me a different perspective, resulting in a more complete and fair assessment of him and his congregation.

And when I heard these two famous and oft-criticized men discussing what God has been doing in Kanye’s life, I was cut to the quick by my prejudice…my pre-judging a reported comment Kanye made as evidence of some as yet unrepented arrogance. When I saw and heard him say it in context, I got a totally different view.

In talking about how God shifted his focus from acquiring wealth to serving him, Kanye said, “I told you about my arrogance and cockiness already. Now the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for him.” That last sentence when reported out of context led to headlines like this from the LA Times: “Kanye West praises the Lord — and himself — at Joel Osteen’s megachurch.” And it led to me sharing it with others with a slightly smug comment that sanctification is a process.

But after watching the exchange myself I now believe the comment was meant to be sarcastic. The way Kanye smiles before and after the comment…I really think he was getting in a little dig at himself for his pre-salvation pride. Yes, God will need to continue dealing with that sin and others in Kanye, as in all of us, but when heard in context it seems Kanye’s comment wasn’t intended to magnify himself but rather to highlight the heights from which God needed to bring him down.

Conclusion of my conclusions
I suspect that many of us will be surprised by who our neighbors in heaven are. The better I know Jesus the better I know myself, and the more I marvel at the magnitude of his grace and mercy in just getting me there. Who am I to presume to know the limits of his grace and mercy with others?

Joel Osteen has been the target of criticism from the church for a long time, and undoubtedly most who repeat the criticisms have never listened to nor read the man himself. My objective with these posts is not to claim him innocent of all charges but to argue that before we judge him, or anyone, we do a little research so that we can judge fairly. My investigation of Osteen was less than thorough so my judgment of him right now is that we should reserve judgment. He doesn’t seem to me the wolf in sheep’s clothing I pegged him as from what I had read of him, so I won’t be presenting him as such to others. Maybe with a little more unraveling of wool a real wolf will emerge.

But unless and until I see real evidence that he’s a heretic or a swindler I will consider him a brother in Christ, just as I do other professing Christians who hold to the core of “mere Christianity” but practice or teach things I believe are unbiblical or misleading. And if I’m right that Osteen’s error is more of emphasis and imbalance than it is of heresy or deception, other church leaders would serve God and his church better by coming alongside him with counsel and direction rather than condemnation and exclusion.

Considering the immense impact Joel Osteen has…over 7 million weekly viewers…he should not be ignored nor ostracized. Whether he is perverting the gospel, sugarcoating it, or just failing to adequately address the bad news which makes the good news so good, those who are faithful should lovingly correct him if they can. And all of us should be more circumspect in judging him, or anyone, on merely the opinions of others.