When we hear the term “prosperity gospel” what do we typically think of? Almost everybody would say Joel and Victoria Osteen. This attractive and wealthy couple has gained an incredible amount of popularity among many contemporary evangelicals. And it’s no surprise. You see, as a Christian, I am willing to admit that the life of one who follows Christ is not an easy, or comfortable one. It can often be one of suffering. But it is also one full of joy and satisfaction. So here’s the problem with this prosperity gospel that the Osteens and many others buy into:
IT IS COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE THAT IS PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE.
I would argue that Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest protestant church in North America, Lakewood Church, has presented a perverted version of God’s Word. To put it simply, it’s not God’s Word at all. It’s a false message. So, why does he gain so much popularity? It’s simple. Let’s take a look at this man, Joel Osteen.
Osteen was born in Houston, Texas. His father, John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist minister who eventually founded Lakewood Church. Upon John’s death in 1999, Joel took over as Senior pastor of Lakewood. Since then, Lakewood Church’s attendance has grown from 5,000 to 43,000. Incredible. So what is he doing that all other churches aren’t doing? Now, I am going to commend Osteen on one thing. He is not obsessed with hell. For some reason, many modern day evangelists scare people into accepting Christ so that they do not burn for eternity. This is weird because Jesus never taught this way. But that’s beside the overall point. Osteen cares nothing about repentance or sanctification. Like, not at all. What Osteen cares about is making people happy. In an interesting video I saw the other day, his wife, Victoria, was preaching and she said to not worship God for the sake of God, but for us. Her reasoning is that God is happiest when we are happy. I don’t know where she gets this from, but it sure isn’t God’s Word. The logic of the prosperity gospel goes something like this:
If you worship God, not really caring about Him but caring about yourself, then God will give you a happy life (your best life now) and you can essentially take pride in the fact that God loves you enough to give you stuff.
The Osteens are obsessed with God, but they care nothing about sanctification through Christ. They care about material possessions. They care about getting whatever they can out of God. You can just hear it in Joel’s voice as he preaches. At best, the man is a motivational speaker speaking on a basis of false motivation. Why does Joel Osteen look like he’s got it all together? Because he has turned his church into a multi-million dollar industry by telling people what they want to hear, and not the uncomfortable truth of Christianity.
So, can we get anything out of what Osteen teaches? Sure. He is right in that God does want us to be happy and full of joy. He is wrong in the way that he presents it. This is the most important part about what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is presented in a way that God can be glorified by means of satisfying our sinful desires. That’s the kicker with Osteen’s message. He loves people and he cares about them, but he does not understand the basic message of Jesus Christ. We live in a messed up world that doesn’t need to be destroyed, but restored. God created this world for us to thrive in and worship him in. We are supposed to get pleasure and joy out of worshipping God, but because of our fallen nature, we automatically turn to the one thing that Christ warns us against: Getting satisfaction from the world without having the peace of Christ in your life. That’s when true pain and suffering comes. Ever hear that C.S. Lewis quote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”? The prosperity gospel aims directly at earth. We are called to be a people of repentance, a people who sit in and can be satisfied in God’s loving embrace. We are NOT a people who are designed to get satisfaction out of riches and then claim we got them because God loves us. Yes, all good things do come from God, but if our focus is on getting riches and a happy life from God, then we will never gain the full and joyful life that God ultimately has for us. If you want to hear the real gospel, not one of material possessions but one that is centered around Christ, look at the famous words of Keith Green:
“The Gospel is simply this: Jesus will forgive all your sins if come to him humbly, lay down at his feet and say, ‘You are the LORD! And I will follow you for the rest of my life on earth, so that I can spend eternity with you, and have the glory of your Father!’”