Your Best Theology Now?

Over the past few months two different friends, both of whom I respect dearly, both theologically informed, liberal-minded folks, suggested I read Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. Osteen is kind of our generation’s answer to Norman Vincent Peale, a wildly successful prosperity gospel preacher based in Texas. He’s the pastor of what I understand is America’s largest congregation, has his own TV show, etc. and this book has sold upwards of four million copies.

So I gave it a whirl. I will admit that I liked it better than I thought I would; Osteen has a sweet and engaging style and, as befits his theological niche, is relentlessly positive and encouraging. He does say some good things not only about positive thinking and remaining hopeful even when life appears to be going down the tubes, but he also has a clear sense that when we pray for (and receive) material blessings, the ultimate purpose is to give them away, to share them with others.

Still, it’s a troubling book, because of the subtle message that God’s purpose is to shower us with blessings, and that we are in charge of whether those blessings flow or not. Here it is in a nutshell: on page 269, Osteen says:

You might as well choose to be happy and enjoy your life! When you do that, not only will you feel better, but your faith will cause God to show up and work wonders in your life.

Friend, I don’t know about you, but the God I worship is a whole lot bigger than that. I believe that God will work wonders in our lives, but we don’t have to do anything to make God “show up.” God is already here. And if the wonders we are currently receiving don’t look like wonders — well, maybe it isn’t God who needs to change.

I’m all for prosperity thinking and believing in blessings. But there’s a way in which Osteen and his ilk can help us see why Augustine wasn’t entirely wrong when he attacked Pelagius.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • A Lee

    Back in March, Anderson Cooper had an episode on Christianity that included coverage of the Gospel of Prosperity. It was worth the watch and some interesting comments were made; especially toward the end of the show.

    If you’re interested, the transcript can be found at:

  • Peter

    Hundreds of comments have been posted on Osteeen’s book, so I will just say that any brief look at “The Cost of Discipleship” or similar works will show the lie of the shallow prosperity gospel. Jesus told us to take up our cross to follow him, or we “cannot be my [his] disciples.” When Jesus told Simon Peter that he (Jesus) was going to have to suffer and die, Peter rebuked him, presumably out of fear that he, too (Peter) might have to suffer if he followed through with following Jesus. The Lord said to him, “Get outta here, Satan! You are following the thought patterns of men and not of God.” If we suffer with him, we will rise with him, and reign with him…
    It may be that the prosperity gospel can only develop in relatively peaceful and affluent times and places. People are hungering for a friendly, kind, all-supplying God to come and meet their needs. That’s fine as far as it goes, but Jesus has in fact called us to radical, costly discipleship, and to skip that part of his message as irrelevant or inconvenient is to dishonor him and to cheat your audience of the great treasures of the benefits of total dedication, even abandonment, to him at all costs…

  • Rev Rafael

    Once again, Joel Osteen’s utter failure to uphold Christian truth in an age of apostacy only further supports what is all too clear about his teaching: it is spiritually bankrupt.

    Here is a link to articles our ministry has created on Osteen’s heretical compromise that is anointed as “Christianity” today.