Joel Osteen is Anthony Robbins with a pulpit

I stumbled onto a broadcast from Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church tonight and decided to watch. They put on a good show. The praise band is professional quality, and Joel and Victoria are undeniably charming and attractive.

However, the crawls on the screen advertising their upcoming tour and Joel’s books, Live Your Best Life Now and Be a Better You, are annoying, drawing the viewer’s attention away from what’s supposed to be a worship service. Plus it’s hard not to notice that all of the ads direct viewers to JoelOsteen.com, not the church’s website (www.Lakewood.cc).

Is Joel a pastor or a rock star?

A better question: Which god does Joel Osteen serve?

Joel just delivered a 27 minute sermon and only mentioned Jesus Christ twice, once during his opening mantra (“This is my Bible. I have what it says I have…”, etc.), and again right at the end as he breezed through an invitation and prayer in less than a minute. Isn’t that unusual for the pastor of a Christian church?

More to the point: Why should anyone want to invite Jesus into their hearts? Based on Joel’s sermon, which focused (like most of his sermons) on keeping a positive attitude, you’d think that the primary benefit of becoming a Christian was the supernatural good luck that God is just waiting to send to anyone who’ll ask — as long as they haven’t let anyone steal their joy.

God doesn’t bless grumpy people, apparently.

Joel also has a habit of using himself as an object lesson. In every sermon I’ve heard, there’s been at least one story that Joel shared with the 20,000-plus at the former Compaq Center and the millions watching at home in which the basic message is, “Live like me. I’m your role model.”

Um hmm. I thought Christ was our role model. This teaching doesn’t fit with the example of humility that Jesus set for us. And I don’t recall reading that any of His apostles lived in the kind of luxury enjoyed by Joel, Victoria, and their kids.

No, the purpose of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord is not to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise, but that we’re all sinners under a divine death sentence. But God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has already stepped in and fulfilled the verdict for those who will simply repent of their sins and ask. We can get a pretty good handle on those who are sincere by how well their actions track with Christ’s teachings.

Respected theologian Ben Witherington points out that the New Testament contains more warnings about the evils of wealth than about any other ethical subject except possibly sex and relational issues. Why then does Osteen preach like a life enhancement coach instead of a sin-killer?

Well, that’s easy. It’s pretty hard to convince 20,000 people to show up on Sunday morning to be told that their sinners in need of a divine intervention. And you can forget about a book with that message getting to #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

But as Witherington wryly notes:

You would have thought that after the Enron scandal the good Christian people of Houston would have become a little more wary of…lusting after the lifestyles of the rich.

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