“…[T]here will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:1–3
I’m surprised when I hear people say that we shouldn’t judge preachers. “That’s not loving” or “The Bible says not to judge” are often responses.
My gut reaction is, “Have you ever read the New Testament?”
The New Testament is FILLED with warnings to beware of false teachers who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) disguised as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13–15) and lead many away from the truth (Matthew 24:24). Our call as Christians is to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17 and search the Scriptures to see if what we hear aligns with God’s Holy Word.
I share this because of reports that Kanye West, an apparent recent convert I’ve mentioned here before, will take the stage at the church of someone I consider a false teacher—Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston. (I hope Kanye shares a clear gospel presentation.)
Beware of Joel Osteen
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Osteen without a smile. I am not anti-smile, but I am anti-false teaching because it feeds sugar-coated poison to lost and hungry souls. Preaching the Bible is more than just holding a Bible while you preach and occasionally quoting it to support your ideas—you might be mangling the Bible’s message like Satan did when he tempted Jesus in Matthew 4!
Below is an excerpt from Osteen’s book, Daily Readings from Become a Better You: 90 Readings to Improve Your Life Every Day, that shows the danger of his teaching. In this excerpt, he refers to Genesis 3, a foundational chapter in the Bible that establishes the sinfulness of humanity and our need for a Savior:
“Back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they hid. In the cool of the day, God came to them and said, ‘Adam, Eve, where are you?’ They said, ‘God, we were hiding because we were naked.’
I love the way God answered them. He said, ‘Adam, who told you that you were naked?’ In other words, who told you that something was wrong with you? God immediately knew that the enemy had been talking to them.
God is saying to you today, Who told you that you don’t have what it takes to succeed? Who told you the best grades you could make in school were Cs rather than As? Who told you that you’re not attractive enough? Who told you that your marriage is not going to last?
Who told you something was wrong with you?
Those are lies from the Enemy. You need to reject those ideas and discover what God says about you.
“Well, I don’t think I could ever get this promotion, Joel.”
Who told you that? God said, “No good thing will I withhold when you walk uprightly.”
“Well, I don’t think I’ll ever get married, Joel. I haven’t had a date in so long I don’t think I’ll ever find someone who would love me for who I am and with whom I would be compatible.”
Who told you that? God said, “When you delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.”
“Well, I don’t think I could ever be in management. I don’t think I could be a leader.”
Who told you that? God says, “You can do all things through Christ.” The potential is inside you. It doesn’t change just because you don’t believe it or just because you’ve been through some negative experiences in the past. It has been deposited in you permanently by the Creator of the universe.
What Genesis 3 Really Says
No, Joel, God didn’t ask Adam and Eve, “Who told you something was wrong with you?” Scripture is clear that something was wrong with them: they had sinned against God who commanded them to not eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:16–17). God was confronting them for their sin, not comforting them in it. Instead of explaining the origins of sin in our world and how Jesus is the Savior promised in Genesis 3:15, Osteen thinks God merely wanted Adam and Eve to feel better about themselves.
I can only think that such teaching would make Satan smile.
While Osteen’s narcissistic words sound good to itching ears, they have more in common with the words of Satan than the Word of God. When Satan tempted the man and woman in Genesis 3:5, he said, “You shall be like God.” Osteen communicates the same idea with different words when he puts the fleshly desires of man at the center of the conversation.
Osteen’s words here are anti-gospel. The gospel says deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ (Mark 8:34). It says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). The god of Osteen and prosperity theology is nothing more than a butler who serves people what they want—health, wealth, and happiness. The human is at the center and God is our servant.
Osteen’s false “message of positivity” from Genesis 3 offers no comfort for the laid off man or the unmarried woman longing for a husband. If anything, it makes them feel worse about themselves and their “lack of faith.” When teaching neglects to expose sin and show our need for a Savior, it will distract listeners from what they truly need: salvation in Jesus.
The gospel doesn’t give us our best life now as Osteen promises, but it does give us hope through suffering. We are promised our best life later if we trust in Jesus and repent of our sins. The gospel teaches that God Himself is the greatest treasure imaginable, better than any amount of success or fleeting pleasure we could ever attain in this life.
Why I Share This
When I think of the prosperity gospel, I can’t help but think of my friend Cesar. He and his family attended a prosperity gospel church for many years that preached Osteen-esque messages. They thought they were good Christians on God’s path. But then God stepped in and opened Cesar’s eyes to the truth as he searched the Scriptures. Now, Cesar often shares with tears in his eyes how thankful He is for God rescuing him from the clutches of false teaching.
My hope for this post is that God would turn many more people like Cesar from false teaching and to His life-giving gospel. The true gospel is so much better because, as Albert Mohler frequently says, “…the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little.”
Other Resources to Help You Discern
- Got Questions: Who is Joel Osteen, and are his teaching biblical?
- The Bible Answer Man’s Unpacking of Osteen’s Scripture Twisting
- Michael Horton discusses Osteen on the White Horse Inn series “Christ-less Christianity”
- Michael Horton: Joel Osteen and the Glory Story (PDF)
- Pastor Osteen and Christian Narcissism: Symptom of a Larger Problem by Daniel Wallace
- I’d be remiss to mention that I am thankful to serve with an organization that fights the prosperity gospel in Africa, Asia, and Latin America by training pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word.
Michael Horton shared this graphic in the PDF I linked to above:
Watch this clip if you want more proof
John Piper: “Prosperity cannot be a proof of God’s favor, since it is what the Devil promises to those who worship him. (Matt. 4:9)”