Is Joel Osteen a Christian? Does he preach the Gospel? These questions continue to linger among conservative Evangelicals who are leery of Osteen’s lack of doctrine and penchant for moralism and “prosperity gospel.” Osteen has been a constant whipping boy of horribly unorthodox theology (rightly so, many times) among the student halls of my seminary; I have even cracked a few jokes about the famous preacher myself. These facts coupled with more recent mentions of him in a positive light in my preaching class (at Reformed Theological Seminary, nonetheless) have whetted my curiosity enough to look at two of Osteen’s public statements and to re-think one aspect of my quick judgments against him: Osteen’s relativism.
Osteen’s Blatant Relativism
On June 20, 2005, Joel Osteen, the pastor of the largest “evangelical” church in America, proclaimed that he did not believe Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Watch the segment of Larry King Live for yourself (read full ranscript):
Blatant question dodging and deflection on basic doctrinal questions such as the common confession of Christ as the exclusive Lord (Romans 10:9-10) rightly angered Christian ministers, who, according to the Scriptures, are to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On Christian terms, Osteen’s words here are heretical.
Osteen’s further confused comment about the interrelation of faith and works belie a failure to understand the interrelation of Romans 3:28 and James 2:24.
When I saw the above clip, I joined my evangelical brothers in righteous anger, as King pointed out. Why could God allow so many thousands of people to be captured in the Pelagian web of a heretic?
A little further digging, however, offered a faint glimmer of hope that Osteen possibly could be a (very theologically immature) brother. (Maybe.)
Osteen’s (Weak?) Retraction of Relativism
Interestingly, Osteen reappeared on the Larry King Live show on December 22, 2006. King made a point to ask him why so many Evangelicals were upset at his denial of the exclusivity of Christian truth. I don’t have the video clip, but here’s the relevant snippet of the transcript (read full transcript):
KING: We’re back. On this program you angered some evangelicals two years ago when you did not say that accepting Jesus is the only way to heaven. This is the birth of Jesus coming up Monday. You still believe that?
J. OSTEEN: No. I believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
KING: So you misspoke?
J. OSTEEN: I thought that I said that. I said I believe in a personal relationship with Christ. You go back and pull things out of the transcript, it could look like that, but the foundation of the Christian faith is that Christ came as a sacrifice so that we can receive forgiveness.
KING: So you don’t believe, you don’t go to heaven?
J. OSTEEN: I believe it’s true what you’re saying, that you have to have a relationship with Christ. I mean, the “Scripture” is so clear. The most famous “Scripture” is God sent his son to, you know, forgive the world and if you believe in him, you will have everlasting life. And another place it talks about Jesus said, you can’t get to the father unless through me. So I do believe that. It’s the foundation of our faith.
KING: So was that out of context two years ago …
J. OSTEEN: I think that being young and …
KING: Did I trick you?
J. OSTEEN: No, I never felt like that whatsoever. I just think — and I was first to admit, if anybody took it like that, I’ll admit an oversight.
Osteen’s answer is timid and political-sounding, lacking the holy boldness that everywhere coexists with the heralds of the Gospel portrayed in the Sacred Scriptures. I want to puke reading his answers. However, his answer does offer a faint hope that mild orthodoxy might be seeping into Joel’s thinking. I have to admit that he admitted to “being young” and to making “an oversight.” He even said, “I believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.”
Joel had better get this figured out, and fast. For, it was Jesus himself who said:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)
Osteen’s answers leave much (MUCH!) to be desired in terms of proving that he is a brother and not a heretic. Perhaps, though, the above comments should have us leaning with love on the side of the former rather than pouncing quickly to the side of the latter. Accordingly, I pray that someone will give him a Bible and a few theology 101 books and will then come along side him and disciple him in the Truth. Perhaps no one has ever loved him relentlessly enough to offer this.1
- Don’t misunderstand me; it is a high Scriptural duty and a constant need to stomp out heresy. My point is that perhaps Joel has never been catechized in the basic truths of Christianity. Perhaps he has and is rejecting the truths. If so, let research be done and error exposed. Until then, it seems wise to avoid quick judgments (i.e. judgments without researched warrant). [↩ back]