The most dangerous man in the world may not be who you think it is. It's not Usama bin Laden. It's not the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq...whatever his name is. It's not George Bush either, just in case there happen to be any politically liberal readers on this blog (which I doubt). No, in my opinion, the most dangerous man in the world today is the smiling preacher, Joel Osteen.
Joel pastors the Lakewood Church in Houston Texas which boasts a staggering 35,000 in attendance each week, not to mention the millions of viewers of his weekly television program. So why do I consider Joel Osteen to be the most dangerous man in the world? Isn't that something of an overstatement, a hyperbole perhaps? Absolutely not!
At the risk of sounding like a political radio program, let me begin with a couple of quotes--sound bites, if you will--from Osteen himself:
- "You can cancel out God's best plan by speaking negative words." (“Speaking Faith Filled Words," Tape # 223. Daystar Television, May 2, 2004)
- "Many of you today know this, you believe it down here in your heart. But the reason that your not experiencing as much as you should is because your not declaring it. You've got to give life to your faith by speaking it out. Your words have creative power. When you go around saying, 'I have favor, people want to be good to me and supernatural doors are opening.' When you make those declarations of faith, you are charging the atmosphere. And your own words can help to bring it to pass. That is why we should get into the habit of every day consistently speaking God's favor over our lives." ("Experiencing More Of God's Favor," Tape # 212, Daystar, July 10, 2004)
I would include more, but they’re all very similar. Now, just to put Osteen in perspective, he has not come up with something novel or something that no one else claiming to be Christian is saying. In fact, Joyce Meyer is the female counterpart who travels the country writing books and lecturing, giving the same message. Joel and Joyce are both representative of a bigger Pentecostal movement known as the Word Faith movement which has one central, core doctrine. No, that doctrine is not the substitutionary atonement of Christ. No, that doctrine is not sola fide. In fact, the core belief of the Word Faith movement has no parallel in Scripture, the early church or the Reformation. It’s core doctrine is that health and prosperity are promised to all believers, and are available through faith, specifically, faith spoken in words.
Again, the question is, why do I consider Joel Osteen the most dangerous man in the world. So he’s a little too happy. So he thinks God wants to give him a good parking space. So he thinks God wants him to be healthy and happy. What’s the big deal?
Here’s the big deal. Someone has rightly said that the most dangerous errors are those that sound the most like the truth. In other words, it’s not very dangerous to be told, “Drink this Kool-Aid that has poison in it and we can all travel on this comet to a better life.” Any sane person will gladly trade in his Kool-Aid for Diet Coke. However, the man who tells 35,000 people (plus the 7 million TV viewers) each week that God wants them to be as happy as possible has used a truth to pave the way for error. (By the way, for a defense of the idea that God wants me to be as happy as possible, check out the works of John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Rutherford, or any other Puritan for that matter.)
Every chance I get I tell the people at my church, teens and adults, that God wants them to be as happy as possible. In fact, after one such message, a lady shook my hand and told me that I reminded her of Joel Osteen. I knew she meant it as a compliment, so I resisted the urge to slap her. However, at least at that propositional level, Joel and I agree. God wants me to be happy! The difference is in how that happiness is achieved, what it looks like in reality and what it's goal is. For Osteen, prosperity or happiness is “having a happy family, having good friends and having good health.” (That quote comes straight from the horse’s mouth in an interview at faithfulreader.com.) For me—and for God, I might add—happiness comes from being satisfied with all that God is for me in Christ. That is, real happiness is found not in myself but in God. The goal of Osteen's happiness is entirely self-centered. The goal of God's desire for my happiness is His glory. As John Piper has so memorably stated it, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
So here is, in a nutshell, why I am calling Joel Osteen the most dangerous man in the world. Osteen starts with a truth that is the deepest longing of all humans: happiness. Osteen insists that God wants us to be happy—something I agree with. However, Osteen’s non-gospel message finds the source of our happiness within ourselves rather than in God Himself. Joel Osteen glorifies and exalts man rather than God. When God is the source of my happiness, He receives all the glory for being my sole Supplier of joy. When I am the source of my happiness, God is not necessary. For Osteen, God is nothing more than the tool through which I find happiness in myself.
Terrorists may blow up a hundred or a thousand—or even 3,000—people at a time. Joel Osteen will send millions of people smiling their way to hell. Osteen’s “gospel” contains no sin, no cross, no Savior. Osteen’s solutions contain no God, no Christ, and in reality, no hope.
(For a good review of Osteen’s best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, click here.)