The Main Thing that Concerns Me about Joel Osteen’s Theology

I recognize that Joel Osteen is a great communicator (even Forbes does), and there are numerous things I appreciate about him and his ministry (see my previous post here).

Nevertheless, there is a repetitive theme in his ministry that I find troubling. And it is particularly troubling given the millions of people who listen to his sermons and assume that whatever he says is biblical.

Joel Osteen declare

My primary concern (others could be raised) is that Joel seems to think that our words and thoughts make things happen.

Joel Osteen Declare

Or to put it more precisely, Joel’s prayers and sermons seem to indicate that our declarations and thoughts are religious formulas that manipulate God to respond to our wishes. And the result is that we will be “blessed” and experience “victory.”

According to his book titles, if “I Declare” things, I can have my “Best Life Now.” And if I only “Think Better,” I will then “Live Better.” So simple. So wrong.

Our declarations won’t necessarily get us what we want, no matter how loud or how sincere they are.

In contrast to what Joel teaches, here are a few things we need to realize:

1. It is impossible that everyone who listens to Joel will experience what Joel declares.

Here are just a few examples:

I declare that we are strong in the Lord. We are healthy, we are blessed, prosperous, redeemed, forgiven, talented, creative, disciplined, focused, confident, secured, prepared, qualified, motivated, valuable, free, equipped, empowered, anointed, accepted, and approved, not average, not mediocre, but children of the most high God. Victors, never victims, in Jesus name.” (Joel Osteen)

I wonder how this might apply to someone whose MS is getting worse (“healthy”?), to someone struggling with ADHD (“focused”?), to a high-school dropout (“qualified”?), or to a young lady who was just raped (“never victims”?).

We thank you that our best days are not behind us, but they are still out in front of us….We are moving forward…Better in our relationships, better in our career, better in our finances, wiser, smarter.” (Joel Osteen)

And at the end of his sermon:

I thank you [God] that every person under the sound of my voice will have a blessed week. A faith-filled week.” (Joel Osteen)

Too bad for those who weren’t under the sound of his voice.

(To be clear, I didn’t “hunt” for these quotes. These were all taken from one service that I randomly picked to watch.) [1]

2. One can have deep faith in God, and still not expect or declare that God is going to do a miracle.

Whoa….What heresy do I speak? No heresy.

Witness Martha, whose brother Lazarus died (John 11:21). She didn’t expect Jesus to raise him from the dead. In fact, she protested when Jesus was going to do just this (verse 39). And yet, she still had faith in Jesus (verses 22 & 27).

To put it plainly, our faith is not the same as our declarations, or lack thereof.

3. No matter how much faith we have, or what we declare, we will still experience suffering, and our lives may end in suffering.

Joel believes:

We have to trust him [God]…I believe and declare, you are going to come out of your Gethsemane, into resurrection. You are going to see promotion, healing, restoration, vindication. God’s going to turn the frustration into favor. You’re going to rise higher, accomplish dreams, and become everything he’s created you to be, in Jesus’ name.” (Joel Osteen)

By contrast, the book of Hebrews offers to us as great examples of faith many Old Testament saints who suffered greatly. More importantly, the Bible claims, “All these people were still living by faith when they died,…yet none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:13, 39).

4. There are no examples in the Bible of the apostles or anyone else declaring things over themselves or other people.

Our words have power in that they can bless or destroy people (James 3:5-6). And the Bible repeatedly implores us to declare God’s praises. But we are not told to declare things over our lives in order to make them happen.

What you do find consistently throughout the Bible is people praying or asking God for things and leaving it with God to decide how to respond.

But if we are always busy declaring or decreeing things over our lives, there is no need for actual prayers to God (in the petitionary sense).

In conclusion, with Joel, I pray that your hope in God will be strong and that you will constantly declare the Lord’s praises.

(Final Thought: Why post publicly about an individual’s theology? I didn’t write this post to correct Joel. Instead, I am writing so that people who listen to him will be more discerning about his teaching.)

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You might also like my posts, “4 Things to Like about Joel Osteen” or Is God For You…Not Against You?

Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D., is the author of Touched by God: Experiencing the Holy Spirit (forthcoming) as well as three academic books, including The Lord is the Spirit. He is a theology professor at Horizon College and Seminary and serves on the Theological Study Commission for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. You can follow him on Facebook or on Twitter.

[1] All quotations are from a service at Lakewood Church, recorded Sunday, September 24, 2017, previously available at https://www.lakewoodchurch.com/Pages/Watch-Online.aspx. You can find similar quotations in just about any service that Joel Osteen preaches in, usually around the 2 minute mark, the 25 minute mark, and in his sermons.

 

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15 thoughts on “The Main Thing that Concerns Me about Joel Osteen’s Theology

  1. Is it just me, or is prosperity teaching often associated with charismatic/pentecostal theology? Since you identify as a pentecostal theologian and yet clearly do not believe in a prosperity gospel, what do you think can be done to change this mindset that exists in some pentecostal congregations?

    • You are 100% correct. Historically prosperity teaching came from preachers in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement. BUT, though the teaching is often “tolerated” by Pentecostals and charismatics, it isn’t accepted everywhere. For example, back in 1980 the Assemblies of God published a position paper trying to correct some prosperity teaching in their ranks. See here: https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/The-Believer-and-Positive-Confession.

      What to do about the mindset? Just keep talking about it and addressing it. In other words, we shouldn’t just keep tolerating it and overlooking it where and when it occurs. Do you have any additional ideas?

      • I try to do my best to show how the Bible shows believers struggling, suffering, and not trying to gain prosperity for themselves (whether physical health and safety, or material wealth, etc). I do find it difficult because often the quotes and scholars I reference are not from a charismatic mindset (David Platt is one of my favourites on this, or on many subject actually), so those who claim to be more pentecostal dismiss them because they come from a different denomination. Do you have any charismatic/pentecostal resources you would recommend that show pentecostal scholars providing Biblical teaching about this issue (besides yourself of course!).

        Also, I have commonly come across the argument that when it comes to physical illness, the New Testament always shows healing and never shows someone asking for healing and leaving still sick. This is used to say that while we may be persecuted by others, it is not God’s will for us to have disease or sickness. A response I’ve given is that we should not base a doctrine simply because “the Bible doesn’t say this…” because arguments based on absence are not the strongest. But I’m curious if you have any more thoughts regarding this?

  2. I think Jesus himself said that when we pray we should believe and then we will have whatever we say. There is nothing wrong with saying and believing positive things. I think I will listen to Jesus and not a pharisee like yourself.

    • Thanks for your comment and for reading.

      Biblical scholars generally understand Mark 11:23-34 as a call for us to have faith (trust) in God when we pray. This is what Jesus says explicitly as he leads up to these verses: “Have faith in God” (verse 22). But that is not the same thing as declaring things over your life in order to make them happen.

  3. I aggree of alot of Olsteens theology needs work but we are told not to quash prophesy

    1 Thessalonians 5:20 KJV
    Despise not prophesyings.

    This will not allow the spirit to move hence

    1 Thessalonians 5:19 KJV
    Quench not the Spirit.

    Even if Olsteen is lead sheep as a wolf, we cant use this premace to dismantle his ministry. Its not biblical

  4. I often wondered if the Lord asked these rich evangelist, pastors or teachers to give up there riches and live humbly would they do it.

    • I declare that Andrew is blessed, forgiven, talented, creative, disciplined, focused, confident, prepared, qualified, motivated, and valuable.

      • I receive that declaration 🙂

        As I’ll explain in a future post someday, I think there is an important difference between the idea of a declaration as an announcement of something that is true versus a declaration as an attempt to decree something to happen.

  5. My problem with joel is had to be pressured to help his fellow man out when thar flood happened in texas. The man is clearly a money hunger jerk and should recieve no support from true christians