God wants you to be a millionaire

osteenI have a friend, and former editor, who used to watch televangelists with a drinking buddy. They would come home from a night on the town and keep drinking while watching CBN or some other preacher network. It was all fun and games until one night they accidentally donated $50 to Pat Robertson. The good news is that they realized they needed to cut back on their drinking.

I confess that I also like to watch televangelists while imbibing. And one of my favorites is Joel Osteen. I have been watching the ubiquitous preacher for years now, waiting for him to say anything uniquely Christian. If you watch him, you’ll know he has GREAT NEWS where other preachers just have Good News. Did you know God wants you to be wealthy and get a great-looking spouse? It’s true. Did you know God wants you to get a killer job and a fast car and the respect of your peers? True again.

Osteen is everywhere. His book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, sold more than 3 million copies. He packs the former Compaq Center, where the Houston Rockets used to play, with 40,000 devoted fans every week. The New York Times‘ Ralph Blumenthal wrote a fascinating profile of Osteen, who just signed a huge contract for a new book, possibly as much as $13 million.

“You know what, I’ve never done it for the money,” he said in an interview after Sunday’s service, which he led with his glamorous wife and co-pastor, Victoria. “I’ve never asked for money on television.” But opening oneself to God’s favors was a blessing, he said. “I believe it’s God rewarding you.” . . .

Or, as he also puts it: “God wants you to be a winner, not a whiner.”

He is not shy about calling on the Lord. He writes of praying for a winning basket in a basketball game, and then sinking it; and even of circling a parking lot, praying for a space, and then finding it. “Better yet,” he writes, “it was the premier spot in that parking lot.”

The article is all about Osteen’s teaching of the prosperity gospel, so it includes a lot of details about money. He shows how much money Osteen brings in at each week’s services ($1 million), how much money via mail ($20 million), the size of his staff (300), how much it cost to turn the Compaq Center into a church ($95 million) and the state of the church’s financial statements (notable for their accountability). The most interesting detail by far is that the church put a globe instead of a cross in what would be the apse.

What’s nice is that Blumenthal treats Osteen respectfully while giving a voice to Osteen’s critics:

In “Your Best Life,” Mr. Osteen counsels patience, compassion, kindness, generosity and an overall positive attitude familiar to any reader of self-help books. But he skirts the darker themes of sin, suffering and self-denial, leading some critics to deride the Osteen message as “Christianity lite.”

“He’s not in the soul business, he’s in the self business,” said James B. Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida and author of a forthcoming Simon & Schuster book on megachurches: “Shopping for God: How Christianity Went From in Your Heart to in Your Face.”

“There’s breadth but not too much depth, but the breadth is quite spangly, exciting to look at — that’s his power,” said Dr. Twitchell who called Lakewood “the steroid extreme” of megachurches. He said church critics fault Mr. Osteen for “diluting and dumbing down” the Christian message, “but in truth,” he said, “what he’s producing is a wild and alluring community.”

The article is really interesting and informative, and I’m sure Osteen’s fans and critics would both agree. I would have liked a bit more comparison between Osteen’s theology of glory and the theology of the cross, but that it was alluded to at all is a great start.

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  • Matt

    I stopped wathing television five years ago so haven’t seen Joel Osteen do much. I remember his Dad, though. And I think I remember Joel Osteen sporting a mullet, it was curly, but it was definately a mullet. No matter how many millions of people or dollars he accumulates, I’ll always think of him and his mullet.

  • Mrtriplett

    Mollie,

    I watch Osteen every Sunday when I’m dressing to go to my own church. I find him oddly mesmerizing and totally understand why he’s popular. I don’t really want to like him and his propsperity gospel is rather offensive, but he’s mesmerizing to watch and he does make you feel good.

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with this hidden shame of liking Osteen.

  • BrooksJohnson

    I clicked past Joel on television hundreds of times before finally watching him. Now I’m addicted. I think a lot of criticism comes from those who’ve only read about him. If you watch the entire service (available live online), you’ll find he’s more than what you see on TV. Whatever he’s doing works. I have friends who haven’t been to church in years who are now reading the Bible because of Joel. (One who claims to be an atheist is now reconsidering. My own brother, who is terminally ill, has found comfort through Joel. I have been able to let go of a painful past thanks to his restorative message.

  • http://www.john-hines.com/elliot elliot

    “He shows how much money Osteen brings in at each week’s services ($1 million), how much money via mail ($20 million). . .”

    I just wanted to make a correction, of sorts. Your above quote seems to imply that $20 million is brought in weekly, but the Blumenthal article states that this is an annual amount.

  • Don in Texas

    A few years ago, I read that Lakewood Church does not have a cross in the church. That bothered me a bit. However, about six weeks ago I was in Houston and went to Lakewood with my sister. The articles were right… no cross. However, all the ‘Lakewoodians’ did during the service was sing and talk about Jesus. (I didn’t count, but I know I heard His name at least 100 times.) I must admit, after having attended a service at Lakewood, there is no doubt in my mind that they preach Jesus, sing about Jesus, and pray through Jesus. Perhaps those who insist on crosses in the church are either those who are hung-up on icons or those whose own church services leave visitors in doubt of exactly who they worship. I can attest that when you go to one of Joel Osteen’s services you’re going to hear about Jesus.

  • http://wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott

    We don’t have a cross in our sanctuary. It certainly isn’t required, but the few times I’ve heard the man speak haven’t included the name Jesus. And if he did talk about Jesus I’d almost expect him to be mentioning his gardener. ;-)

  • TK

    I read a cover story on Joel in Texas Monthly a few months back. I was interested to see that though he’s the head of Lakewood Church, he isn’t ordained (or at least, that wasn’t covered in the article). Not just that he didn’t go to seminary–that’s not a requirement in many denominations–he started preaching after dropping out of college and creating a job in media ministry at his father’s church, starting Lakewood’s television presence. It’s refreshing, in a way, that he doesn’t feel a need to be “reverend.” But some training in theology might help, too.

  • Pat

    I know my best life can never be now. I know it will be in heaven. My advice: Listen to his motivational ideas. Ignore his prosperity nonsense. Ignore his theology.


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