This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series: That’s not what I call preaching
Joel Osteen is senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He preaches to thousands who attend services at the church, as well as to millions more across 100 different countries via television.
Osteen is a mild-mannered man who is never seen in public without a smile. As far as I can tell, he is unlike most other television preachers in that he does not go out of his way to ask for money. When challenged, as he often is, about why his preaching is devoid of biblical content, he disarmingly replies that others are better than he at explaining the Bible. His gift (he says) is to preach an encouraging and uplifting message.
His church’s statement of ‘What We Believe’ reflects some of the typical commitments of conservative evangelicalism, including biblical inspiration and inerrancy, the Trinity, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ on the basis of his shed blood for our sins.
But what of the practical and doctrinal implications of the church’s statement of belief? There are none, so far as Osteen’s preaching is concerned. He denies nothing, but asserts very little, concerning the fundamental articles of Christian belief.
At the beginning of this 30-minute sermon, Osteen has his congregation repeat after him:-
“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I’ll never be the same, in Jesus’ name.”
And at the end of his sermon, he invites listeners to repeat the following prayer: “Lord Jesus, I repent of my sins. Come into my heart. I’ll make you my Lord and Saviour.” He adds, “If you prayed that simple prayer, we believe you got born again. Get in a good Bible-based church. Keep God first place. He’s going to take you places you’ve never even dreamed of.”
But what of the meat that lies between these two superficially promising pieces of bread? Well, there is no meat. There is, rather, a vacuum. There is no Bible teaching (save for passing references to a couple of verses), no Christian doctrine, no reference to sin as the great problem from which we need to be saved, no placarding of Jesus Christ as the great Saviour from sin, no appeal to godly living or Christian service.
The message is one of positive thinking, pure and (very) simple. ‘Make up your mind today that you are going to have a positive attitude. God wants you to be happy. God wants you to be successful in everything you do.’ That’s the message, nothing more, nothing less.
I might not have taken the trouble to comment on such preaching which (unlike the first two examples in this series) does not even attempt to teach from the Bible. But there are two conclusions to be drawn from all of this that every preacher should take to heart:-
It is possible to pay lip-service to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith while at the same time preaching a message which is entirely devoid of Christian content…
…you can get thousands of people to flock to your church and happily sit under such a ministry.