Joel Osteen is a popular heretic and the author of Your Best Life Now, which is a book that advocates prosperity theology. Osteen states that, “God wants to pour out his favor and wants this to be the best times.”1 Christians need to be warned that Osteen’s teachings are not commensurate with Scripture. This essay will attempt to show that Osteen preaches a false gospel by addressing the purpose of his ministry, heretical statements, and prosperity gospel that he propagates.
I. OSTEEN’S MINISTRY PURPOSE
Osteen’s ministry purpose is not that difficult to understand since he teaches a health and wealth gospel in one of the largest churches in America. Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, is regarded as the largest and fastest growing church in America with over 38,000 weekly and seen in almost one hundred nations around the world.2 The website of the Lakewood Church also reveals the purpose of Osteen’s ministry which states:
There is a new generation rising at Lakewood Church a generation who doesn’t believe in limits, and who believes all things are possible. Pastor Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are leading this generation with a practical message that is transforming lives. A message of hope, healing and forgiveness. A message that you can live the abundant life that God is calling you to. A message that you can discover the champion in you!3
The message of abundant life in God that Osteen delivers is disturbing. In the book, Your Best Life Now, Osteen repeatedly states that, “Happy, successful, fulfilled individuals have learned how to live their best life now.”4 Osteen seems to imply that people cannot be happy if they are not living their best lives now. This seems to be Osteen’s purpose of ministry as his book teaches about enlarging vision, developing a healthy self-image and discovering the power of thoughts and words. This is also similiar with the Lakewood Church website which states that Osteen’s deepest desire is that his life would be an example, “That everyone who hears the message of hope would accept God to become all that God wants them to be.”5
Osteen states that living a good life now demands that people start watching their dreams come to pass and by, “Conceiving an image of life a person wants to live on the outside.”6 This is something that would be appealing to unregenerate individuals because Osteen offers them everything they desire in the world. And Osteen preaches a positive message of hope without repentance which is something the unbeliever would rather have in lieu of hearing the whole counsel of God. This is why Christians must refute the teachings of Osteen as a false gospel that does not reflect the New Testament teachings from Christ.
The Bible does not teach that a message of hope is in living successful lives, nor does the Bible adjure anyone to discover the power of words as Osteen suggests. These are examples of flattery speech that Osteen uses to manipulate his audience. The Scriptures would remind of this. Paul teaches that believers should not allow anyone to deceive them with empty words, “For such persons do not serve the Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Rom. 16:17-18). And the Bible also warns in Eph. 5:6 to avoid teachers who will try to deceive with empty words.
There is the startling difference between the teachings of Jesus and Joel. Jesus teaches that a person must suffer persecution in Mark 8:34-48, while Joel teaches that a person will produce what they continuously see in their mind.7 This is proof that Joel is more focused on the things of the world, and not the word. According to David Wells, “Worldliness is an alternative to God and provides counterfeit meaning.”8 And the Scriptures teach that loving the world will make a person an enemy of God (Jam. 4:4).
A counterfeit gospel will be a stumbling block for many since the Bible clearly teaches that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). To uncover a false gospel, Christians must understand how to expose the counterfeit teachings that come from men who love to practice lies. This will now be examined.
II. OSTEEN’S HERETICAL STATEMENTS
Osteen speaks about God in a manner that opens the doors for carnal people to listen. Osteen explains that the most important part of his teachings is to increase in God’s favor.9 Osteen shares what seem to be comforting words for people who claim to be searching for God. Osteen provides examples of finding favor by explaining that God wants to assist, promote, and give advantages.10 Osteen also states that God wants to make lives easier.11 To make matters worse, Osteen acknowledges that he expects to be treated differently,12 because God has crowned him with favor,13 and states that he has already received tremendous favor because of his earthly father.14 What happens when a person makes a confession to receive Christ and they find out the Bible teaches that persecution will be demanded of them and not the preferential treatment as Osteen promises (Acts 14:22)?
Osteen’s misleading teachings on finding favor with the Lord is not the only time he has misrepresented God. In an interview with the Washington Times, Osteen was asked questions about GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs. Osteen made a representation that Mormons are Christians.15 In addition, Osteen explains further by stating that Romney professes to be a believer in Jesus which means he must be a Christian because that is, “One of the core issues.”16 But Osteen failed to mention that the Mormon gospel is a false gospel that has never saved anyone, nor will it ever! Only the true Gospel can save. And God must draw the elect to Himself (John 6:44).
Osteen’s lack of Scripture knowledge is why he made the comment about Mormons being Christians. By Osteen’s own admission, he is not properly equipped to handle the Scriptures. This is interesting since the Bible teaches that Christians must be able to rightfully divide the Word (2 Tim. 2:15). In an interview on 60 Minutes, Osteen was asked questions about his new book Become a Better You, which has “no mention” of God or Jesus.17 Osteen provides a cavalier response to his critics by explaining why he lacks Scripture knowledge. Osteen explains:
That's just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I'm called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there's a lot better people qualified to say, 'Here's a book that is going to explain the scriptures to you.' I don't think that's my gifting.18
A careful examination of the Mormon faith would prove that Osteen is misleading. According to Ron Rhodes, Christians must know their Bible,19 which Osteen admits that he does not. Rhodes also states that, “A cult is a religious group that derives from a parent religion such as Christianity,”20 and, “In fact departs from their parent religion by denying one or more of the essential doctrines.”21 Rhodes admits that Mormons are cults since they derive from the parent religion of Christianity.22 This is because Mormons deny the eternal deity of Christ and argue that humans can one day become gods.23 This is something Osteen failed to mention in his interview which is why Christians must know why Mormons are cults and Osteen is a liar.
In a study of Mormon doctrine, George Arbaugh describes some pertinent information. It is impossible to cover all of the Mormon doctrines in this section. A quick review will be examined to prove Osteen’s statement that Mormons are Christians is false. According to Arbaugh, “God himself was once as people are now, and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.”24 Arbaugh also explains that the process of Mormon revelation was cut short before and will never be completed.25
There is more to the Mormon doctrine than people may know. Mormons will use the same language that traditional Christians will use which makes it difficult to understand for some. The Mormon belief that God was once a man is just one of the doctrines that explains a different view of God than in the Bible. According to Cky John Carrigan, Mormons believe in many gods,26 deny the historical doctrine of the Trinity,27 and believe in multiple sources of authority.28 The Mormon beliefs are the affirmations that Osteen declares as being Christian. This is aberrant on Osteen’s part since none of these beliefs are affirmed in Scripture.
To address the first Mormon belief about many gods, the Bible states in Is 44:6 that besides God, there is no other. The Bible teaches in Matt. 28:18-20 that Christians are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Bible also teaches in 2 Tim. 3:16 that the Bible is “God breathed,” and that perils will come for those who add or change the Scriptures (Rev. 22:18-19). These Scripture passages are proof that Mormons are not Christians. This means that Osteen has not been truthful to the millions who watch him. If Osteen misrepresents Mormons as Christians, then what else has he misrepresented? The millions who follow Osteen must concede that he is not the Christian leader they need. The misrepresentations from Osteen should cause concern to all his followers as to who he really represents. Here is what the Bible says in John 8:44 about those who are misleading and do not speak the truth:
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
III. OSTEEN’S PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Osteen declares that people are made to be winners. Osteen promises to show people how they can live their best lives now. Osteen says that, “If you develop an image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold these things away from anyone.”29 The prosperity gospel that Osteen teaches is concerning because it is a promise to achieve the world and everything in it. Is this why Osteen has achieved so much success? Are the thousands of followers from Lakewood Church searching for God or wanting to collect on the riches that Osteen promised? Does Osteen offer the unregenerate everything they already have? According to Rom. 8:5, "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh..."
There are many churches that are offering a new positive message that does not offend. This would fit the profile of the prosperity movement since it emphasizes God’s favor. Osteen states, “God wants this to be the best times of people’s lives.”30 The prosperity movement is a belief that God wants every believer to be prosperous. Members of the Lakewood Church and followers of Osteen are believers that the prosperity movement is biblical. That is because the natural person will never understand the things of God because they are foolish to them and they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). This is why people must be exposed to the true teachings of the prosperity movement.
Ken Sarles provides a theological evaluation on the prosperity gospel. According to Sarles, the prosperity movement is not a denomination or tradition.31 Instead, Sarles says that the prosperity gospel is a “broadly based, variegated movement that overlaps both the charismatic and non charismatic spectrums.”32 This is important to avoid any erroneous views on the prosperity movement. Sarles shares his concern on the prosperity gospel movement view of Scripture. This should concern everyone and not just the prosperity supporters. Sarles explains that, “Two areas where the view of authority is seriously compromised are the extent of revelation and the method of interpretation.”33 How can this be explained to supporters of Osteen who believe he is biblically based? Sarles exposes prosperity interpreters by explaining how they misuse the Bible:
The procedure adopted by prosperity interpreters starts with their own American middle-class experience and then "baptizes" that experience with a handful of Bible verses that seem to substantiate what is claimed, when in reality those verses have been removed from their original context and misinterpreted.34
Osteen explains the prosperity gospel by twisting versus in the Bible to substantiate his agenda. There is a reason why Osteen does this. That is because it works for him. Osteen has the biggest church in America, an elegant home, well-adjusted children and an “adoring partner in ministry.”35 Regardless of Osteen’s worldly success he is still regarded by some as the “cotton candy theologian.”36 Michael Horton calls the men who support the prosperity gospel, “Purveyors of a pagan worldview with a peculiarly American flavor.”37 These are several good reasons why Horton has exposed the false teaching of the prosperity movement.
People must turn away from the prosperity movement because it is false gospel. To offer someone health, wealth, and prosperity is something Osteen teaches and also the Devil. In Matthew 4, Jesus was tempted by the Devil after fasting for forty days and forty nights. The Bible reveals the humanity of Christ by stating that he was hungry. The tempter came and promised Jesus health when he asked Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Jesus said in Matt. 4:4, “That man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” In Matt. 4:8-9, the Devil promised Jesus wealth and prosperity if he would bow down and worship him. Jesus rejected the health and wealth gospel because it is no gospel at all. This is the perfect example that self-professing Christians must model if they are to overcome the wicked assaults of the prosperity movement.
Christians must learn to walk as Jesus did. To remind the wicked that man cannot survive by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God is important. If this is accomplished, then people will start to understand that the Bible warns about preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:8-10). To make matters worse, Osteen is not the only supporter of the prosperity movement. There are many more. Supporters of this movement will take genuine biblical insights and distort it beyond recognition in an attempt to make it support their extravagance.38 This is why Christians must reject the false prosperity gospel.
In closing, this essay has carefully examined the false gospel of Osteen by exposing his purpose of ministry, heretical statements, and the prosperity gospel that he teaches. The Bible warns in 2 Thess. 1:7-9 that men and women who do not obey the gospel will be judged. This is why Christians must reject the false gospel that Osteen teaches and pray that Osteen will one day repent and trust in Scripture alone.
 Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (New York, NY: Warner Faith, 2004), 5.
 Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen, http://www.lakewoodchurch.com/Pages/new-here/Joel-Osteen.aspx (accessed September 30, 2013).
 Lakewood Church, Our History, http://www.lakewoodchurch.com/Pages/new-here/Joel-Osteen.aspx (accessed September 30, 2013).
 Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, ix.
 Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen.
 Osteen, Ix, 4.
 Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, 5.
 David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 54.
 Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, 38.
 Ibid., 39.
 CBN News, Joel Osteen Says Mormons are Christian, http://www.cbn.com /cbnnews/us/2011/october/joel-osteen-says-mormons-are-christian/ (accessed September 30, 2013).
 CBS News, Joel Osteen Answers His Critics, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-3358652.html?pageNum=2 (accessed October 1, 2013).
 The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 37.
 George B. Arbaugh, “Evolution of Mormon Doctrine,” Church History 9, no. 2 (1940): 164.
 Ibid., 169.
 Cky John Carrigan, “The Mormon Mirage a Closer Look at the Teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Southwestern Journal Of Theology 46, no. 2 (2004): 5.
 Cky John Carrigan, “The Mormon Mirage a Closer Look at the Teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” 5.
 Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, 5.
 Ken L. Sarles, “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143, no. 572 (1986): 329.
 Ken L. Sarles, “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” 329.
 Ibid., 337.
 Ibid., 338.
 Jason Byassee, “Be Happy the Health and Wealth Gospel,” Christian Century 122, no. 4 (2005): 20.
 Michael S. Horton, Joel Osteen and the Glory Story, http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/joel-osteen-and-the-glory-story (accessed October 1, 2013).
 Sarles, “A theological evaluation of the prosperity gospel,” 350.