The prosperity gospel is a concern to me, but the “positivity” gospel bothers me more. What I refer to as the positivity gospel is a watered down version of the former. It has influenced many of us without us even realizing it, because it is less overt. It transformed American culture in the 20th century, and now this way of thinking can hide in plain view. I was concerned enough that I wrote a book. BUT this post is honestly not meant to be a promotion of my book! Rather a bit of a defense of Joel Osteen.
I think some people who read my book did not get what they were expecting. Some expected a detailed analysis of specific prosperity and positivity teachers and their teachings. Nope. That was not my intent. Some expected me to name names. Nope, I avoided that. I was evasive about current Christian ministries and individuals. I gave hints or general examples but that was all. I wanted to avoid “attacking” anyone.
My book is really about Christian living and growing in spiritual maturity. Many Christians have been weakened in their everyday lives of faith by a self-focus and false optimism that infiltrated our culture in the 20th century. This approach to life lingers over the lives of many Christians, and they don’t know it. They may even be very opposed to overt prosperity and positivity teachings!!
And that is my point. Should we be so focused on critiquing the prosperity and positivity gospel, when we are influenced by it too? Let’s get our own house in order. Let’s consider our own lives of faith. As Matthew 7 addresses, we don’t want to overlook the log in our own eye as we point out the log in another’s eye. (There is a proper time for judgment and critique of course. See this post.)
In blog posts, I do mention Joel Osteen by name sometimes, but even then I try to be diplomatic. For example, in part 1 of my book review of The Power of I Am, I state:
“Please know that I am not attacking Osteen as a person. He sure has a winsome smile, and I think he means well. Years ago he took the mantle from his father, feeling unequipped to do so, and I think Osteen never imagined where the ministry would go. Yet here he finds himself years later.”
In a post entitled 5 reasons to be concerned about prosperity or positivity teachings, I state:
“While I have serious concerns with Joel Osteen type of theology…God can still use him to bring people to genuine belief. Osteen can be an encouraging word when people need it. However, far too often it leads to an off-kilter and weakened Christianity that distracts people from Christ and the eternal.”
I see Christians on social media call Osteen strong names – a wolf, a charlatan, etc – with comments that border on hateful. I don’t think this is helpful. Calling people names does not typically get people to listen to you, especially if that is what you spend most of your time doing. Recently on social media, I tried to diplomatically defend Osteen a bit, against someone calling him a wolf. I stated this:
“I am uncertain how to describe Osteen. A wolf? I don’t know. He took over for his dad years ago, and I don’t think he ever imagined where things would go. He is likable, wants to encourage people, and I think he was probably surprised when his ministry grew so large. I honestly don’t think he set out to purposefully lead people astray, like some religious charlatans. But he lacked a proper biblical foundation, and got tangled up in imbalanced teaching. His approach distracts people from Christ…I wish more Christians could discerningly read/listen to him, see the problems, and separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Ya know what, I can not “win” – not that I am trying to – but I receive polar opposite critique. Some Christians accuse me of being too soft and kind towards Osteen, while others accuse me of being too harsh and critical. Which is it? haha!