Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight last Tuesday, October 4 – the release date of Pastor Osteen’s new book Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week. The interview covered a multitude of topics that might lead a sharp viewer to a couple of general observations: 1) Joel Osteen is an incredibly nice guy and 2) Joel Osteen knows very little about the basic articles of faith of Christianity, i.e. Christian doctrine. That’s really a shame because you want such a nice guy to be on top of his pastoral game, especially since he’s the pastor of the largest church in the United States (Lakewood Church in Houston), with 40,000 attendees per week.
If you check out the website for Pastor Osteen’s church, you will find that it does contain a basic Gospel message, yet his sermons and public appearances are nearly devoid of orthodox Christian doctrine or teaching. It’s as though someone else wrote the web page. Why is that? Because he’s a Word-Faith preacher (although a less egregious example). The Word-Faith movement, also called “positive confession,” “name it and claim it,” “blab it and grab it,” etc., believes that you speak reality into existence. If you believe what you’re speaking, your words create that reality. Faith is a power or force to be harnessed by visualization followed by verbalization – God becomes your personal valet controlled by your “faith” – you speak it and God’s obligated to make it happen.
You can see evidence of Pastor Osteen’s Word-Faith beliefs in his interview with Piers Morgan. For instance, when speaking of putting your faith in God, he says that “When you do that, to me, you’re releasing your faith, and that’s what allows God to change things.” His oft repeated creed “I believe it and declare it” is another example of this “faith.” What is lacking in this theology is true faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, without which, no one can be saved. Believing that life is about speaking reality into existence, there’s no need to emphasize your real need, the forgiveness of sins, and thus no need to trust in Jesus; the Gospel is subtly replaced by a prosperity gospel. Your faith becomes not faith in Christ, but faith in faith, which is ultimately faith in yourself. There may be Word-Faith people out there that will be saved in spite of what they’ve been taught, because they do believe that Jesus is their Savior, a case of felicitous inconsistency.
The Word-Faith movement has many iterations (whose gurus include Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, and Kenneth Hagin), but one thing all Word-Faith proponents realize is that their belief system often fails them, hence they need to leave themselves an “out.” The failure of their words to create reality is generally attributed to a lack of faith, or if something bad happens, it’s because you thought something bad. You can see evidence of this in the interview as well. This ought to be a rather obvious red flag – their theology doesn’t “work.” Here is precisely the spot where we can jump in and help people trapped in the Word-Faith movement. An honest person will admit that they’re not having a lot of success with their “faith,” which presents an opportunity for us to share with them what real faith is all about.
It’s a shame that the world fawns over those with the biggest following, who are often those with a false message. “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 ESV). Yet we can be thankful that their false beliefs offer us an opportunity to become “little Christs” and share the message of the Gospel with those in need.
An overview of the Word-Faith movement can be found here.