Culture,  Theology/Bible

Disappointed with Osteen

One of Larry King’s recent interviews has been very disappointing. In this case, the interviewer is not the one disappointing me, but the interviewee, Rev. Joel Osteen. I think it is unfortunate that Osteen, having voiced his agreement with the prosperity-gospel, is still put forward as a spokesman for evangelicalism. Moreover, Osteen makes remarks that I don’t know how to interpret except as a flat out rejection of the exclusivity of the Gospel message.

The following is from Larry King’s interview with Joel Osteen. I hope that Osteen just misspoke and will retract some of this. The end is especially troubling.

OSTEEN: My message, I wanted to reach the mainstream. We’ve reached the church audience. So I just try to, what I do is just try to teach practical principles. I may not bring the scripture in until the end of my sermon and i might feel bad about that. Here’s the thought. I talked yesterday about living to give. That’s what a life should be about. I brought in at the end about some of the scriptures that talk about
that. But same principal in the book.
KING: Is it hard to lead a Christian life?
OSTEEN: I don’t think it’s that hard. To me it’s fun. We have joy and happiness. Our family — I don’t feel like that at all. I’m not trying to follow a set of rules and stuff. I’m just living my life.
KING: But you have rules, don’t you?
OSTEEN: We do have rules. But the main rule to me is to honor God with your life. To life a life of integrity. Not be selfish. You know, help others. But that’s really the essence of the Christian faith.
KING: That we live in deeds?
OSTEEN: I don’t know. What do you mean by that?
KING: Because we’ve had ministers on who said, your record don’t count. You either believe in Christ or you don’t. If you believe in Christ, you are, you are going to heaven. And if you don’t no matter what you’ve done in your life, you ain’t.
OSTEEN: Yeah, I don’t know. There’s probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you’re a believer in God, you’re going to have some good works. I think it’s a cop-out to say I’m a Christian but I don’t ever do anything…
KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know…
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t hey?
OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

There are many problems in this exchange, and most of the readers of this blog will spot them without my commenting upon them point by point. Yet there is one item that is particularly troubling. When Larry King asks about the destiny of sincere Muslims, Osteen will not come out and say that Jesus is the only way of Salvation. I do not understand why Osteen couldn’t just quote the Bible (maybe John 14:6 or Acts 4:12)? If he can’t bring himself to say it in his own words, why can’t he just quote the Bible and leave it at that?

My fear is that unbelievers hearing this interview probably did not glean the truth that every person who has ever lived faces judgment because of their sin and that faith alone in the crucified and risen Christ is man’s only hope of salvation. This is the heart of the Gospel, and it was not at all clear in Osteen’s interview. I don’t think that this man believes that there is more than one way of salvation, but the interview seems to imply that people of other faiths might be okay after all.

So I am disappointed and hoping for a retraction or perhaps some clarification. I hope one or both comes soon.


  • Jim Hamilton

    Not only have they failed to communicate the desperate urgency of the Gospel, they have implicitly denigrated the worth of the death of Jesus and the necessity of the cross. If God could save people of other religions without the cross, what’s the big deal about Jesus?

    Thanks for speaking the unpopular truth, Denny!

    People may thing it’s mean to say such things, but it’s actually the most loving thing we can say.

    What’s more, speaking the truth is the only way to please the Lord, which is our ultimate desire.

    May we be those described in Revelation 1:11, and may we be faithful to the Lord though everyone else thinks we’re not very nice.

    Trust Jesus!

  • Jim Bryant

    Diplomacy is no substitue for a clear statement of belief. If Jesus is the only way to heaven we should be willing to stand up and say so. The lack of his basic theological training certainly shows. However, I do agree with him about God being the only Judge. None of us knows what transpires between God and an individual soul just before death. Jesus’ admonition to us not to judge is appropriate here. I have never felt comfortable saying any particular person is in hell. Yet the Bible says that hell had to have an enlargement program to fit all those in who seem to be intent on going there. That doesn’t mean God sent them there. Nor should we. God just simply says to them, “Thy will be done.” Why not send your blog to Joel Osteen and get his reply?

  • Anonymous

    To be honest with you, Joel Osteen is a great example of a believer in Christ. It is all about serving, giving, and loving others. Faith without works is DEAD. Yes – Jesus is the only way to the Father and we must believe in Him (Jesus Christ) to be saved but it is not our place to judge anybody. I believe it is not my right to tell a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or whoever that he or she is not going to receive the kingdom. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” God did not call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
    God bless you.
    Greg Miranda

  • Denny Burk

    Thanks for the comment, Greg. I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying, but I appreciate your taking time to read my blog.

    My prayer is that all of us will be crystal clear about our exclusive devotion and obedience to King Jesus. He will not suffer any rivals, and I hope that none of us ever gives the impression that He does.

    Denny Burk

  • Rick

    You are right about service to Christ being the essence of the faith but I believe that your incorrect to assume that we should never make judgments of other faiths. I believe “Do not judge” is a reference to not judging harshly or hypocritically because if it meant “all-out no judging at all” than Jesus would have contradicted Himself when He commanded us to “make a righteous judgment” and “not to judge by mere appearances.” (John 7:24) We do the severest of disservices to those who do not embrace Christ if we do not bring the Gospel to them. We leave them in their unsaved condition heading for an eternity of punishment. John 7:24, 1 Cor. 16:22 and Galatians 1:6-9 would be good places to check out. Greg, God is pleased when we affirm hard truths like hell and Christ alone for salvation. Sometimes that is the best service we can do for Christ and to others.

  • Daniel Jordan

    Dear Greg,
    It was a bit disappointing that Osteen didn’t take the time to point out the uniqueness of the Christian faith vs. works oriented religion. I understand that on his website is an apology for giving the impression that Jesus is not the only way. I believe that he is genuine.

    I also think we need to give the benefit of the doubt to Joel since his answer did imply that God was a just judge and would judge according to light received and acted on? Is this not true?

    I’m sure it’s not easy to be grilled by Larry King!

    3 John 2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

    You say “prosperity-gospel” as if it was beyond the pale. If it is not God’s desire that we prosper, why this prayer? I believe that God is into soul prosperity and physical prosperity. If that makes me a prosperity preacher, so be it. But I hope you will be less deprecating towards your brothers who believe likewise.

    I enjoyed your blog.

    In love,

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