By Andy Johnson, Pastor Crossroads Baptist Church Farmerville, La.
Recently on her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) show titled “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” the 57-year- old talk-show icon interviewed the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas: Joel Osteen, and his wife Victoria.
Lakewood Church is recognized as the largest church in America, meeting in what used to be the Compaq Center in downtown Houston. The building seats more than 16,000.
Among the topics discussed during the interview were televangelist scandals and mega-church business practices as well as the 48-year-old Osteen’s success in authoring several New York Times bestselling books.
But the questions that remain leave me wondering why this church and many like it have become so popular in today’s culture.
One thing that puzzles me is the blatant absence of scriptural references in Osteen’s sermons. In the interview, he addressed this by reflecting on his early days as Lakewood’s pastor.
Joel Osteen’s father was the founding pastor of Lakewood Church. When the elder Osteen died of a sudden heart attack in 1999, the role of preacher was seemingly thrust upon Joel.
Osteen recounted, “… I got comfortable and said, ‘Okay, I don’t have to quote twenty-five Scriptures or read a long text to feel like I’m doing the right thing’…. I got into my groove when I started encouraging and telling stories, and just taking a part of the Scripture and make it applicable ….”
Some evangelicals take issue with Osteen’s message of easy-believism and emphasis on positive thinking. However, many people seem to believe that Osteen is preaching the right message at the right time in history.
Oprah referred to Osteen as “America’s Preacher” during the interview, a distinction that has long belonged to Billy Graham.
Whether or not Osteen deserves the title of “America’s Preacher” is debatable. What is certain is that he at the forefront of a massive felt-needs-based religion that accentuates the positive and majors on motivation. People are flocking to preachers like Osteen like so many moths to a flame.
The problem with Osteen’s teaching and so-called religion is that it is quite shallow. There is hardly any mention of sin, repentance, and/or holiness, and certainly no mention of hell. So why is there such magnetism toward churches like Lakewood?
Joseph Prince has in inkling and his response is eye-opening. Prince is the Senior Pastor of New Creation Church in Singapore, one of Asia’s largest churches. His doctrine is not unlike Osteen’s in that he preaches a motivational, favor-of-God, positive self image type message.
He and his wife recently made their first journey to America and met with Osteen and his wife, Victoria. They sat down for an interview on an episode of TBN’s “Praise the Lord” program.
Prince directly tackled the issue of the style and method of the new, popular doctrine of righteousness. He even pointed to 2 Corinthians 3:9 and Romans 2:4 as justifications for preaching a feel-good Gospel.
“… [I]t is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance,” Prince said. “Under the old covenant, you have to repent first before God blesses you. But under grace, the new covenant, is the goodness of God that leads one to repentance.”
The “old covenant,” according to Prince, is a “ministry of condemnation.” The “new covenant” is a “ministry of righteousness.” It is the latter which Prince says he and Osteen and countless other positive preachers now emphasize.
The motivational messages dripping from the lips of Osteen and Prince emphasize a formula that says faith plus positive thinking will result in an abundance of blessings – especially in the areas of health and finances
While I do not entirely disagree with the premise that God is on the side of His children, I do take issue with the lack of an authoritative context in which the message goes forth. God has promised to meet the needs of His children, not their greed.
I also take issue with the fact that millions of people buy into the premise of receiving God’s grace without first facing the reality of their own sinfulness.
I say that it is highly plausible that the millions who have become addicted to this gooey-grace-filled, happy-go-lucky God teaching have never considered their own sin as being a deal-breaker with a thrice Holy God.
I understand that times have changed and the message that we preach should be relevant. But I disagree with the premise that we have somehow entered into a new era where sin needs no longer to be addressed, repentance doesn’t need to be encouraged, and impending judgment from a holy God should not be proclaimed.