Monday, July 28, 2008

The Attraction of Joel Osteen

As the pastor of an average size church I often wonder how untrained men like Joel Osteen can attract tens of thousands of people. Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, has weighed in on what he thinks makes Joel Osteen attractive to millions.

While there were a lot of things to critique, I couldn't help but ask the historian's analysis questions: why does this message appeal to so many...what are the verbal and facial cues that draw people in? why does it seem that Lakewood is amazingly interracial (a fact that is much more common in Pentecostal-oriented churches than Reformed); how do you account for that? I think the driving reason that Osteen is hugely popular is that he sells hope.

Osteen sells hope. Isn't that what every faithful minister of God's word is called to do? By faithfully preaching the Law and the Gospel along with frequent observance of the sacraments, (particularly Communion) he is proclaiming the most hopeful message we could possible want to hear: that we truly are loved, forgiven, absolved, and adopted by God because of the finished work of Christ. All we must do is accept that with a believing heart and look to Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins (John 3:14-15). Moreover, the faithful minister helps his congregation see the big picture of redemptive history from God's eternal decrees (prior to Genesis 1) to the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21 &22). He anchors his people in the here and now with the assurance that they are God's beloved and are part of the great work of reconciliation that He has been performing and will bring to pass (II Corinthians 5:17-20). The Apostle Paul understood this so well that he exclaimed, "For the love of Christ controls us" (II Cor. 5:14) (NOTE: the word 'control' has been interpreted as compel, constrain, urge or impel).

If you've ever watched Osteen you know that this isn't his message. His book titles alone reveal his theology: Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You have nothing to do with my previous paragraph. He speaks of the here and now as if there is no tomorrow, no grand hope of the age to come. He seems ignorant of Paul's theology that "the present form of this world is passing away" (I Cor. 7:31) and that this present age is evil (Gal. 1:4).

What compels Osteen and his followers? It is the hope of a life in this world where problems are minimized, blessings abound, and people get along. Those are good things -- things that I'd like to have. But as I get older the fleeting nature of life in this world only whets my appetite for what lies ahead. A faithful pastor is one who shares this unabashedly with his congregation.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." I Corinthians 2:9.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18.

"For this slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." II Corinthians 4:17

Our best life lies ahead, when we enter The Eternal Promised Land and begin our eternal Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9-10).


Jim Mascow said...

Great article. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

What's going to happen to these people who's hope is based on improving their lives here and now? I fear that they will just move on to something else thinking that they have tried Christianity out and found it wanting.

The Gospel is the timeless truth about how sinful man can be reconciled with the only true God who is absolutely holy. May we be found faithful to that message.

Ken e said...

"What's going to happen to these people who's hope is based on improving their lives here and now? "

They become atheistic! I've watch a few charismatic/word-faithers do so and it's sad.

Without good doctrine being preach(Christ as prophet, priest and king through the enire text of Scripture) sunday to sunday. Many charismatics don't have much hope when they face their word-faith crises!