The easiest targets are those that are big and bright. Joel Osteen has, in recent times, become possibly the most talked about speaker in Christian circles. His church is the largest. His speech is the smoothest. And his outlook the most positive. Taking all of that into consideration, it is no wonder that he has been stung by the pointed words of so many other prominent names.
In short, he has been accused of universalism, liberalism, relativism, and of smiling too much. For all that can be said against him, true or false, the one issue that we should concern ourselves with is the same that we should ask of any man. Is he preaching as Christ would?
For an immediate answer, we can start with a verse from Matthew. In Chapter 4, verse 23, we see a summary of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Jesus is doing three things here: teaching in synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. No matter where you turn in the gospels, you’ll find that what Jesus is doing falls squarely into one of these three catagories.
As each of us can only be part of the body of Christ, no one person can fulfill all three aspects of ministry as fully as Christ did. Not everyone who stands behind a pulpit is necessarily a preacher, nor is a college professor the only Christian minister that is suited to teach. Osteen, in focusing on life principles, is not abandoning the ministry of Jesus. Instead, he has only been very successful at a different aspect of Jesus’ ministry, one that, in our day, is usually remanded to the classroom.
The question of his biblical integrity comes through two motives, one negative and one positive. The negative reason may simply be a matter of envy. In a span of a few years, Osteen has accomplished what many older, more conservative preachers have longed to accomplish: he’s gained the ear of millions of Americans. It’s easy to say that he’s only done so by watering down the Gospel, but we would then be forced to ask ourselves, why was Jesus reaching record numbers of people in his day? Every church wants big numbers, and every minister is aware that there are only so many people to go around. Despite the fact that when Spurgeon preached and drew thousands, causing the nearby churches to grow along with him, many envious men still think that Osteen is gathering the masses by stealing them from other churches. The other motive, and the one that I would prefer to think of as the dominant one, is the positive possibility that these preachers are acting as modern-day Bereans. In Acts, chapter 17, Paul commends a group of believers for double-checking his words against the scriptures. As no man is perfect, a Berean is sure to find some points of contention, either because their subject is wrong, they themselves are, or both are.
Whatever the conclusion, it should be noted that just because Joel Osteen chooses to teach, rather than preach, it should not be assumed that he has abandoned the Gospel. At the worst, he can be accused of mislabeling his teaching as preaching, but that’s a charge that hardly deserves the response that he has received from the more traditional crowd.