Let me begin by saying I am not a Joel Osteen fan. His style and his emphasis are completely different than what I like. And like so many other people, I do not agree with what appears to be a prosperity gospel. I personally don’t like how he preaches in that I feel he is “proof-texting.” He has a message he wants to preach and then finds verses to fit into his message. I personally do not like that. I would rather a preacher start with the Bible passage and then draw his messages from the verses, not the other way around. But he is not the only preacher who does that. I would venture to say that many of you sit under pastors every week who “proof text.”
But what of Joel Osteen? What kind of preacher is he? In his own words, Joel Osteen claims to be an “encourager at heart” whose “message is a message of hope, that’s God’s for you.” Very few of even the most fundamental Christians would argue that it is wrong to be an encourager who gives a message of hope by telling people that God loves them. Isn’t that one of the main messages of Scripture?
Yet so many today are blasting Osteen for living up to his mission statement. Some have gone as far as to doubt his Christianity and say he is speaking blasphemy while misleading thousands upon thousands of people, saying that he will face God’s judgment for what he is teaching. Yet so many of those who are so adamantly against Osteen are not really listening to what he is saying or why he is saying these things. I fully believe he has the gift of exhortation (encouragement) and yet we are calling him on the carpet for exercising the very gift that God has given him.
If you read his doctrinal statement, he states very clearly that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus Christ. And out of his own mouth comes the following declaration, “I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life.” Yet, we continue to criticize him because he has not taken such a strong stand when interviewed by the secular press, including Oprah and Larry King. Admittedly, I would have rather he had given a stronger statement concerning salvation through Christ, would have wished that his answers were less ambiguous. But think about it. Remember his gift and calling is to encourage people to understand and experience God’s love. In keeping with that very principle, he has made some Christians mad by saying such things as he believed homosexuals can go to Heaven and that its not his position to judge who and who will not go to Heaven. Amen, Joel. Far too many of us in Christianity have made ourselves judge, jury, and executioner of those people around us. We cannot know their heart or what God might be doing in their heart. Osteen doesn’t pretend to. He just keeps presenting God’s love to them, knowing that it is God who convicts and saves them. Not him.
I know one statement that he made to Oprah caused a major explosion with many Christian circles. And at first glance, I though the same thing. Did he really just say that? In the following statement, did he really say that there are many ways to salvation. When Oprah asked, “Are there many paths to get to the one God?” Osteen responded, “Well, I believe Oprah that there, I believe that Jesus is the way to the one God, but there are many paths to Jesus. You know, you don’t know how Jesus would reveal himself to somebody.”
Instead of falling into the temptation that so many have fallen into and resort to name calling, I decided to examine what he was actually saying. He did say that he believed that Jesus was the only way to the one true God. But the statement that he believed there were many paths to Jesus is the one that caused so many to take up spiritual arms against him. But why? He explained his line of thinking when he continued that we do not know how Jesus reveals himself to somebody. And we don’t! Sometimes He reveals Himself through other people’s lives or their words. Sometimes He does it by circumstances. Other times through nature. All too often, we put God in our own little box and say this is the only way that God reveals Himself. Who are we to put God in our own box?
Instead of casting judgment on Osteen, which by the way goes directly against Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 7:1 (Judge not so you are not judged), I wish that all of Christianity would actually live by the Apostle Paul’s example in Philippians 1:15-18 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Why are we not rejoicing in the fact that Christ really is indeed being preached by Osteen. It may not be in the same style or way that we would do it. But the truth is that people are coming to Christ through his ministry, many of which may not have been drawn to Christ by our style of evangelism.
So please, Christians, stop the stone throwing. You don’t have to agree with Osteen or his methods. I know I don’t. But like the Apostle Paul, I do rejoice that Christ is being preached. I know many of you don’t think that Osteen is preaching Christ. But I have heard a few of his sermons. It may not be the way I would preach Christ. But he is preaching Christ. People are coming to know Christ through Osteen’s ministry. So please, let’s be a better example to the world at unity (something Jesus Himself prayed for His Church) and stop publically tearing each other down in front of the lost world.