The following clip of Victoria Osteen, wife and co-pastor to Joel Osteen, has been making the rounds on my Facebook feed. In the clip Mrs. Osteen encourages the 40,000 some odd congregants of Lakewood church to “do good for your own self”. But, she adds, to do good not just for God’s sake, but “do good because God wants you to be happy.” The clip finishes with a shot of Bill Cosby saying, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” from the Cosby Show.
It struck me that some people who watch, listen, or read Joel & Victoria Osteen, and find their messages encouraging, might be confused by this. Perhaps you’ve heard others say critical things about the Osteens. Why are people saying this is a stupid statement? Who would want to knock down the Osteens when they inspire so many? Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Why are people so against of these Christian ministers?
I’ll tell you why this video has people so upset. This was a rare occasion where the Osteens have stated what they believe and teach in plain language. Victoria came right out and basically said, “It’s all about you.” It is true that God desires our joy, but that joy is only to be found in God. It’s an issue of who is at the center. The very purpose of our fulfillment in God is ultimately to bring God glory. It’s for His sake. In the Osteenic view the roles are reversed. God exists to make you happy. Your joy, your fulfillment is not in the giver but in the gifts He blesses you with. You are the central focus, not God. This is no minor quibble! To remove God’s glory as the center point and insert anything else, including yourself, is idolatry. In essence the Osteens teach self-worship.
The fact is, Joel Osteen has spent his ministry actively and consistently avoiding topics such as sin, judgement, Jesus Christ, and even the gospel. You say, “Ya, well you can’t cover everything!” Friend, these are the most basic tenants of Christianity. You leave these out, and no matter how many crosses or spinning globes you have in your church, it ain’t Christianity anymore. Check out this interview he did on Larry King a few years ago. These aren’t things a Christian, or a pastor no less, should be uncertain about. Osteen’s focus is not Christ it is YOU—YOUR happiness, YOUR success, and YOUR personal fulfillment. Lest there be any confusion, let me say it emphatically, the Osteens fall into the biblical category of false teachers.
Objection: “But they seem so nice! And they help so many people!”
Answer: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15
You look at his smile and say oh he’s harmless. But our Lord points to those pearly whites and says, all the better to eat you with, my dear. If wolves dressed like wolves they couldn’t trick the sheep. If false teachers all looked like false teachers no one would follow them. Beware.
Objection: “He really inspires people, and his messages make me feel good about myself. What’s wrong with that?”
Answer: 2 Timothy 4:3 – “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
False teachers scratch where our self-centeredness itches. It feels good because he tells us what our sinful, selfish hearts want to hear. It feels good because it’s all about me. But it’s wrong because it’s not all about Christ.
Friend, I don’t write these things to upset you. I write that you might not be deceived. Don’t take my word for it. Please, just turn off that TV and open your Bible. Read about Jesus. Compare His message to what the Osteens teach. It’s radically different. Do not be hoodwinked by hucksters that only tell you what you want to hear.
Can I tell you of a joy that is much greater than what the Osteens can offer you? But before I do, first you must face some hard truths. Are you ready?
You don’t have within you the potential to achieve your dreams, you won’t be able to save yourself through the power of positive thinking, you aren’t even a good person. Ouch.
A lot of people have in their minds that on judgement day God will have a few of the more burly angels haul out a big scale. Then we will place our good deeds on one side and our bad ones on the other, and if our good deeds outweigh the bad we will get into heaven. We all imagine that if we aren’t as bad as Hitler we’ll be good to go. Now I don’t know the atomic weight of a deed, but I know this: That good deeds side of the scale is going to be much lighter than you think (Isaiah 64:6). It helps me instead to imagine God’s evaluation of us as a college exam. God has demanded 100% perfect obedience out of you, you need to get 100 out of 100 right (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16), but after you turn in your Scantron sheet you realize you’ve forgotten your #2 pencil and misspelled your own name. You aren’t going to pass! It’s not even going to be close. You can’t go back and fix it and there’s no extra credit.
The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). and that “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23). that means what you’ve earned for your sin, your wages, what you’ll be paid for break God’s law, is death. Eternal damnation. This is more serious than a couple of oopsies, this isn’t something you can make up for later by determining to be a better person. Your “hidden potential” is impotent to help with this problem. We’ve broken God’s righteous law. Our lives have been an affront to a holy God who deserves and demands perfect obedience. It’s not that sin just makes you unhappy, and being a better person would make you more fulfilled and successful; its that you are in massive trouble with the Creator of the universe. Am I saying what you think I’m saying? Yes! Left to themselves, all people are destined for hell. You are destined for hell. Are you listening yet?
“I thought you said something about joy… ?” Hang on. I’m getting there.
So that’s the diagnosis. What’s the prescription? It’s not more cowbell and it’s certainly not repeating “I am” statements in the mirror over and over.
God’s only begotten Son was sent to this earth 2,000 years ago in the flesh of mankind and lived a perfectly righteous and obedient life. He never sinned once. He fulfilled God’s law perfectly. He lived the life that we were supposed to live. He got a 100%. And then he was crucified, and in that death God laid on Him all the wrath of death and hell that sinners like you and I have earned as the wages for our sinfulness. He was our substitute. He was buried, and 3 days later He rose again, defeating the power of sin & death. And He has ascended back to the right hand of God the Father. Here’s the good news, if you will turn from your sin, tell him you want to leave it behind, and put your trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope of righteousness, He will forgive you for your sin and impute to you His perfect righteousness. That means God takes Jesus’ 100% test and signs your name at the top of it. In His sight you will be justified—declared righteous! And He will begin the process of transforming you to be more like Christ, and He grants to you eternal life with Him!
Why would you refuse this offer? Why would you continue chasing the poisoned candy folks like the Osteens offer? Do you love some sin in your life? Do you find it hard to let it go? Friend, your sin is killing you. Turn to Christ. Give your life to the One who offers life. Repent and believe the gospel. Have your life transformed to a life that brings Him glory, and you’ll find that only there is true joy to be found. You are free to drop the self-affirmations because you’ve been affirmed by the only one whose judgement really matters.
Maybe you’re saying, “I know all this stuff! I’m a Christian. I have put my trust in Jesus Christ.” Praise God for that! But why on earth are you watching Joel Osteen? A man who lives to steal the glory that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so richly deserves and give it to you. How dare he. How dare you! Turn off that garbage and get on your knees. Direct your praise, direct your attention to Him. Do good, sure, but in His power, to please Him not just to please yourself. And the wonder of it all is that you will find joy in this as a byproduct. But let your motivation be His happiness, His glory, His pleasure. Not yours.
It’s not all about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about Him. And thank God that it is, for what a privilege it is to find our joy in Him alone.
I hear a lot about revival these days. Indeed, I too long for a revival that would see droves come to Christ in repentance. However, if you look back at some of the revivals of the past—The first and second Great Awakenings, the Welsh revival, etc—you will find that often what killed them were the unBiblical emotional excesses that crept in from the fringes. These excesses lead to the sectarianism that eventually buried the revivals
In our age where discernment is quickly shrugged off as divisive, hateful or not coming from a “spirit of unity,” how long would a real revival last here? Even with the great and devout mind of Edwards the First Great Awakening quickly descended into the ridiculous. The following comes from Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George M. Marsden.
In his letter to Robe, he provided a concise summary of what he had learned from seeing two revivals come and go. Gentleness and gentleness and genuinely self-renouncing humility were far better evidences of true saintliness than were merely intense experiences. “Many among us have been ready to think, that all high raptures are divine,” Edwards explained, “but experience plainly shows, that it is not the degree of rapture and ecstasy (although it should be to the third heavens), but the nature and kind that must determine us in their favor.” Genuine raptures would be accompanied not by a “noisy showy humility,” but rather by “deep humiliation, brokenness of heart, poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, solemnity of spirit, a trembling reverence towards God, tenderness of spirit, self-jealousy and fear, and great engagedness of heart, after holiness of life, and a readiness to esteem others better than themselves.”
What concerns me is that in old revivals the likes of Edwards fought hard against excesses, but those who call for modern revival seem to be fighting hard to produce them. From non-stop repetitive music at rallies, emotional appeals, or even the so called sign and wonders, the aim is simple. Get them excited. Get them crying. Any emotional experience is counted as the work of the Holy Spirit. But all emotional experiences are not necessarily works of the Holy Spirit. I cried at the Muppet movie on Friday. I really hope that wasn’t the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit!
Let us continue to pray for masses of people to come to know God through faith in Jesus Christ his son, but let us not equate all emotional experiences with the Holy Spirit, especially those that WE MANUFACTURE with big shows and music.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
Note: I have nothing against music or even big productions necessarily. I love worshipping my King with fellow believers. I am talking about using emotional manipulation, whether intentional or not, to create a revival. Genuine raptures, as Edwards notes, ought to be accompanied by, “deep humiliation, brokenness of heart, poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, solemnity of spirit, a trembling reverence towards God, tenderness of spirit, self-jealousy and fear, and great engagedness of heart, after holiness of life, and a readiness to esteem others better than themselves.” Let’s shoot for preaching the word faithfully and let God produce those things.
Nice title, right?
You probably started reading this thinking it would be a call for evangelistic methods that are more loving and gentle. Methods that aren’t so abrasive. After all, we certainly don’t want to be like those nutty street preachers. Well, this is actually just the opposite. Read More…
If you’re a Christian in the Metro Detroit area and you haven’t heard of Lou Engle’s The Call you’ve either been living under a rock or you go to a church that uses some kind of discernment when endorsing events.
My purpose in writing this article is to give a fuller explanation to those who have asked me why I am wary of The Call and to urge others to use discernment.
So what is The Call – Detroit?
The following is taken from their website:
On November 11–12, 2011, thousands from across America will gather to Ford Field (Home of the Detroit Lions) to fast, pray and cry out to God. We will gather to this city that has become a microcosm of our national crisis—economic collapse, racial tension, and the shedding of innocent blood of our children in the streets and of our unborn.
But the place where they say there is no hope, God has chosen as His staging ground for a great communal healing and His house of prayer for all nations. Therefore, we are calling the nation to a 24-hour solemn assembly, daring to believe that Detroit’s desperation can produce a prayer that can change a nation.
Come and take your place on the wall in Detroit, where we will ask God to send fire on our hearts, to forgive our national guilt and establish justice in our land.
Sounds pretty, stinking exciting!!! LET’S CARPOOOOOOOL!!!!!!!!
Whoa… sorry, I got caught up in the excitement of it all. Let’s look a little deeper.
Lou Engle has been doing these events around the world since 2000, and saying the exact same things. Sometimes focussing more on a specific issue depending on the venue, but always the same message. “Cry out to God to heal the nation!” “This city is from where God will launch his national revival if we just want it bad enough!” “No more abortion, or homosexuality.” Everyone gets pumped up emotionally, blasphemes the Spirit of God for a while, and goes home. Neat event right?
^ I guess Detroit isn’t so special after all 😦
My suspicion, and experience from talking to friends, is that for most Christians when they heard about The Call Detroit they experienced some cognitive dissonance. Maybe you’ve felt the same way. On the one hand, you jive with the idea of “turning America back to God!” (more on this later), but on the other hand, you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right about The Call. But, some are going anyway out of a fear of missing out. So what should we do?
Here are just 3 of the issues I have with The Call. But please, as Levar Burton of Reading Rainbow used to say, “you don’t have to take my word for it!” There are more links at the bottom if you would like to do further research.
1.) America is not Israel
The promotional material for The Call talks a lot about turning America back to God. This notion is based on the idea that America is, or was, a Christian nation. The reasoning goes something like this: America was founded on Christian principles, therefore God is constrained to bless us. But if we stop being good, God will remove His hand and our crops will die, or something. I will say this once, America as a nation does NOT have a covenant relationship with God. We are NOT Israel. Do you think God cares about “Christian Values” in people that are not Christians? Any person who trusts in their Christian values to save them is practicing a works-based righteousness. Our good works are worthless! (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10).
If you go you will hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 a lot “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” this was a promise to Israel. However, the principles of this promise do carry over to Christians because we who are Christ’s “are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). The promise is NOT for America as a country. The emphasis for us is on individual Christian repentance. It does not apply to those who are not in Christ. When we take these promises and apply them to our country because “we are a Christian nation” we yoke ourselves unequally to anyone who shares our values, whether they are in the faith or not. The end result is always a forsaking of the gospel and truth for the sake of morality or perceived blessings.
Check out The Fallacy of 2 Chronicles 7:14 for more on this common misapplication of scripture.
2.) Moralism Isn’t Enough
TheCall.com says, “Come and take your place on the wall in Detroit, where we will ask God to send fire on our hearts, to forgive our national guilt and establish justice in our land.”
The trick with the Call is that as Christians we agree with much of what they say. America is certainly sinful. Its a wretched hive of scum and villainy as a certain Jedi Master once said. Abortion is awful. It is murder and it is wicked. We ought all to be grieved by it, and do what we can to stop it. Similarly, the Bible is plain, the practice of homosexuality is a sin. And the wages of sin is
a lack of economic prosperity death (Romans 6:23).
And what if abortion, homosexuality, and violence all ended tomorrow? The promise of the Call says we would have economic blessing, healing to our land, and people would come to Christ. If we saw more blessing, what would that indicate? The presence of physical blessing isn’t necessarily a sign that God thinks we are doing “good enough” morally.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
So, just as they say, “America are experiencing hard times, so we must repent!” someone could also rightly say, “God has blessed us so much as a nation, we need to repent!” Indeed we do! We must first individually repent of our rebellion toward God, not just the obvious sins, but the radical corruption of our hearts. Place our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection and profess him as Lord of our lives. Then, the fruit will come as God changes us from the inside out. It’s a cart before the horse kind of deal here. People don’t need to be better first, then they will be ready for Christ. It’s just the opposite. We are wholly incapable of being good without Christ.
The people of the nation need the gospel. Not as a, by-the-way-you-should-become-a-christian-too. A mere side-dish to moralism. The preaching of the gospel is God’s plan for turning people to himself.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:21-25
Some will say I am being too critical because The Call wants really wants revival too. But be very careful with those who take the focus off of the cross. Even if the gospel is present somewhere in the message, that doesn’t give them a free pass. If the cross is not at the very center, you are treading on dangerous ground, drifting further and further into error. Why pray all night for something God has already given us a solution for?
They Blaspheme the Holy Spirit
If I had to give only one reason for my lack of support for The Call it is this: I am not going to The Call because Lou Engle and his ilk blaspheme the Holy Spirit of God by repeatedly giving false and self-fulfilling prophecies, claiming the Spirit is doing things which He is not, and preforming blatantly false signs and wonders supposedly by the Spirit’s power. And all the time they lift themselves us, boasting of how God is using them because of their radical spirituality.
John MacArthur, just a couple weeks ago, did a talk on the Modern Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit he names Lou Engle and Mike Bickle by name. I highly recommend it. He seems to look right through all the fog and confusion and point out the simple fact that they dishonor God.
Conclusion – Should You Go?
I’m not, but I plan to watch online.
I don’t particularly care whether you attend or not. EDIT: [I actually do care. If you don’t agree with the premise of the event then you shouldn’t go. You would be giving your implicit support by attending.] But if you do, keep your ears and eyes open. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you listen to what is said.
- Does this exalt God (not just by lip service) or man more?
- Am I seeking an experience?
- What is the context of that verse they just quoted?
- Why do they use so many obscure Old Testament passages?
- IS THIS BIBLICAL?
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.”(Matt. 24:24-25)
And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.”
Don’t let me deceive you either. God will not excuse our laziness in discernment, especially when His Holy Spirit, who was sent to lead us into all truth, is sending us warning signs.
Let’s dialogue in the comments. I would be happy to be shown if I have made a mistake.
Links for more Info:
I only touched on the things that I found most disconcerting at the moment. But there is much more to learn. Here’s some info to get your started: Lou Engle is a senior leader at Mike Bickle’s IHOP in Kansas City. Cindy Jacobs, C. Peter Wagner, they all fall under the conspicuously conspiratorial-sounding umbrella of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). They share most of the same theology and are gaining influence. If you want more information here’s some keywords. Dominionism, Seven Mountains, Joel’s Army, Bob Jones (the discredited prophet who was mentor to Lou and Mike), Paul Cain.
Local Supporters – If You Believe in Guilt By Association Look These Guys Up.
Watch some of the videos of the local supports. Look these guys up online. Word of Faith preachers (name it and claim it), prosperity gospel preachers, and wannabe apostles. No thanks.
John MacArthur – The Modern Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
If you listen to nothing else, listen to this. He talks specifically about Lou Engle and Mike Bickle of IHOP
Lou Engle Calls for War
This seemed a little bit too alarmist for me, but is certainly interesting
Fresh Air on NPR talks about the New Apostolic Reformation. This definitely has a political bent to it but it’s a good summary of the movement that Lou Engle is affiliated with.
Another episode of Fresh Air. Interview with C. Peter Wagner, the founder of the NAR (or was it KFC?). This is just a good example of how whacky some of this stuff gets and it in his own words.
Talk 2 Action The Call Conference Call Transcripts
Talk 2 Action is another group who is worried for political reasons, but they have TONS of information.
Edit 1: fixed some typos and made a small change to the conclusion.