Apprising Joel Osteen’s Word-Faith Teachings
by Ken Silva
As one looks deeper into the “feel-good” message of smiling Joel Osteen, it becomes clear that his doctrine is actually far worse than spiritual junk-food, for it is indeed the spiritual poison of the Word Faith Movement which is seeping up through through its decadent and decaying root in the metaphysical Mind Science cults.
The “Cotton Candy” Appeal of Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, is perhaps the fastest rising TV preacher in the country having already “built America’s largest church” (Charisma, June 2004, cover). Writing in The Quarterly Journal from Personal Freedom Outreach, Richard S. Liichow and G. Richard Fisher set the stage:
Many would look at Houston’s Lakewood Church, with its 30,000 people attending services each Sunday in a 16,000-seat arena that once was the home of the Houston Rockets basketball team as the epitome of church success. But that success was achieved at a cost to sound doctrine and spiritual integrity.
Lakewood, a Charismatic, Word Faith powerhouse in the 21st century, was founded by [Joel’s father] the late John Osteen, who started his pastoral career as a Southern Baptist. After receiving ” ˜the baptism in the Holy Ghost in 1958,’ he became enamored with the Charismatic renewal movement. In 1959, he left the Southern Baptist Convention” ¦ Osteen eventually became associated with the Word Faith Movement (“The Leaven of Lakewood,” October-December 2004, Vol. 24, No. 4, p.1).
In an article from The Christian Sentinel entitled “The Prosperity Gospel’s Coverboy” Jackie Alnor further points out that Joel Osteen:
made the list of the Top 20 Influencers of the Pentecostal/charismatic community in the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Ministries Today magazine. He was listed with other notables such as Kenneth Hagin Sr., Tommy Tenney, C. Peter Wagner, and Joyce Meyer. “There is no arguing that the following 20 leaders have inspired us, challenged us and in many ways caused us to rethink what it means to ” ˜do church’ in today’s Culture,” the article boasted (“Joel Osteen: Prosperity Gospel’s Coverboy” , http://cultlink.com/ar/osteen.htm, emphasis added).
Now certainly there is nothing wrong in itself with growing a church or becoming prosperous. However the job of the pastor is to teach a congregation the whole counsel of God and not necessarily to make someone feel good. And therein lies the danger of an immature and ultimately deceiving message like the one espoused by Osteen. From that same article we read:
Osteen gives the new vision of his ministry: “We’re all about building people up. We’re all about helping people reach their full potential. We don’t push some kind of religion.” ¦all we push is joy and peace and victory through Jesus Christ. ” ¦Our message every single week – is through faith in God you can live an overcoming life of victory ” ¦ I believe that’s the message this generation needs to hear. We’ve heard a lot about the judgment of God and what we can’t do and what’s going to keep us out of heaven. But it’s time people start hearing about the goodness of God, about a God that loves them. A God that believes in them. A God that wants to help them. That’s our message here at Lakewood.” (ibid, emphasis added).
One could certainly take issue with Osteen’s comment that “this generation” has “heard a lot about the judgment of God.” Recently Osteen was the subject of an interview with MSNBC correspondent Jamie Gangel who said – “Forget the fire and brimstone. Popular preacher Joel Osteen offers his listeners a simple, upbeat message.” The article then goes on to fill in some background information:
A college dropout who has never been to seminary school There is no fire and brimstone in his church. If the message sounds simple and upbeat, that’s just the way he wants it.
The Christian-based, non-denominational congregation draws a remarkable mix of races, and his televised self-help sermons are number one in Nielsen ratings and broadcast all over the world. And if that’s not enough, his book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” has topped the New York Times best-seller list, selling 1.5 million copies.
[Osteen has] developed his own style ” ” sermons are strictly optimistic and address practical, everyday issues, like time management. His critics say it is all too simplistic, that Joel is part of a new trend called prosperity gospel (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6894347/, italics in original).
A large part of Osteen’s appeal is no doubt his concept of a “God that wants to help” people which no orthodox Christian pastor would deny anyway. However, this “upbeat message” is then connected to the very heart of what the late Dr. Walter Martin, widely recognized as the “father of modern Christian cult apologetics,” labeled “the Health and Wealth Cult,” which is probably better known now as the Word Faith Movement (W/F). As one Christian author has noted about W/F:
“It sort of treats the Bible as a collection of fortune cookies,” says Michael Horton, a theologian with the Westminster Seminary. “If you claim the right verses, then you can have health, wealth and happiness” (ibid.).
Rob Bowman, president of the Center For Biblical Apologetics and a former colleague of Dr. Martin, explains in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy why this kind of bad diet of all cotton candy spiritual “sweets” is so harmful:
The church today is plagued, not only by heresies and aberrations, but by doctrines which I would characterize as “junk-food doctrine.” Junk food won’t kill you, unless that’s all you eat – in which case poor nutrition will eventually catch up with you (p.54).
The Real Danger Of Osteen’s Teachings
As one looks deeper into this “feel-good” message of Joel Osteen, however, it becomes clear that his doctrine is actually far worse than junk-food, for it is indeed the spiritual poison of the metaphysical Mind Science cults which is the actual root of W/F. Clete Hux writing a Profile on this blight within the Body of Christ gives us some background on its theology from Watchman Fellowship, a leading independent Christian ministry of apologetics and discernment:
Word-Faith teachers claim that God operates by spiritual law and is obliged to obey the faith-filled commands and desires of believers. He not only reveals prosperity teaching supernaturally to the Word-Faith teachers, but personally and verbally confirms their unique interpretations of Scripture (Copeland, Laws of Prosperity, pp. 60-62). http://www.watchman.org/profile/wordpro.htm
In their “The Leaven of Lakewood” article Liichow and Fisher further point out:
This metaphysical belief deludes many, convincing them that they can either create or change their reality by the power of their words. For example, [Joel Osteen’s father] John related the following:
“The miracle is in YOUR MOUTH. Dare to speak those promises out loud” ¦ Confess them in the face of all contrary evidence!” ¦ When we SAY and CONFESS His Word, [God] brings the miracle to pass!” (“Leaven” , op. cit., p.14, upper case in Osteen’s original).
Now consider the following examples from Joel Osteen himself:
“You’ve got to speak it out. Your words have creative power. One of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words. There is a divine connection between you declaring God’s favor and seeing God’s favor manifested in your life. And some of you are doing your best to please the Lord. You are living a holy consecrated life, but you’re not really experiencing God’s supernatural favor. And it’s simply because you’re not declaring it. You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out.” (Audio clip from Bible Answer-Man Broadcast, April 26, 2004).
“Early in our marriage, Victoria and I were out walking through our neighborhood one day when we came upon a beautiful new home in the final stages of construction” ¦ Victoria was excited. She turned around, looked back at the home, and said, ” ˜Joel, one day we’re going to live in a beautiful home just like that!” ¦’ Over the next several months, she kept speaking words of faith and victory, and she finally talked me into it. She convinced me that we could live in an elegant home like the one we saw. I got rid of my limited thinking and I started agreeing with her. I started believing that somehow, some way, God could bring it to pass. We kept on believing it, seeing it, and speaking it (Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, Chapter One).
This excerpt from Osteen’s book clearly promotes the basic tenets of the heretical Word Faith Movement.The Deadly Cancer Of The Word Faith Movement In his book Christianity In Crisis, Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, correctly tells us that W/F is “a deadly cancer [that] is ravaging the Body of Christ” (back cover). He then goes on to say:
in the cultic theology of the Faith movement” ¦ God is nothing but a “faith being” and man is deemed to be sovereign. God is portrayed as a pathetic puppet at the beck and call of His creation. The faith god has height and weight; he is called a failure; he is bound by the laws of the spirit world and is dependent on the force of faith. This god is impotent rather than omnipotent, limited rather than infinite and omniscient (p.87).
Kenneth Copeland is arguably the head guru of W/F, though he is without a doubt the most influential of all current W/F teachers. According to the Internet website Apologetics Index:
Copeland is responsible for spreading many of the Faith movement’s unbiblical teachings. He distorts the biblical concepts of faith and covenant. He reduces God to the image of man while elevating man to the status of God. He lowers Jesus to being a product of positive confession who took on a satanic nature at the cross. And he promotes the occult practice of creative visualization.
Copeland’s errors are largely due to his negative stance on reasoning, his poor handling of the Bible, his aversion toward theology, and his bias against tradition http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c53.html
In their book When Cultists Ask (p.285) well-respected Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes give us the following information which is crucial in attempting to understand W/F teaching:
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Word-Faith teachers think this means that faith is an actual substance. Kenneth Copeland says that faith is a substance and “has the ability to effect natural substance” (“Forces of The Recreated Human Spirit,” 1982,8). Moreover, “faith was the raw material substance that the Spirit of God used to form the universe.” (“Authority of the Believer II,” 1987, audio tape).
Early in my own Christian life this writer briefly attended a church that adhered to W/F doctrine – and most specifically Kenneth Copeland. Among the things the pastor of that fellowship taught we would hear from Copeland:
“Faith is a power force. It is a tangible force. It is a conductive force” (The Force Of Faith, 1989, p.10).
“The force of faith is released by words. Faith-filled words put the law of the Spirit of life into operation” (ibid., p.18).
“[The substance of] faith is God’s source of power” (Freedom From Fear, 1983, p.12, emphasis in original).
But here is precisely where Copeland’s complete ignorance of biblical languages comes to the surface. As Geisler and Rhodes correctly state:
[Hebrews 11:1] does not indicate that faith is an actual substance. The Greek word translated “substance” in the King James Version is hypostasis, and literally means “assurance,” confidence,” “confident expectation,” or “being sure.” Hence, Hebrews 11:1 teaches that faith is the certainty or assurance that God will do as he promises. Our hope for those things is a certainty in the person with faith (2 Peter 1:4) (Cultists, op. cit.).
In Christianity In Crisis Hanegraaff gives some classic examples of W/F teaching. Here is one from the flamboyant so-called “faith healer” Benny Hinn:
“Never, ever, ever go to the Lord and say, ” ˜if it be thy will” ¦.’ Don’t allow such faith destroying words to be spoken from your mouth” (p.11).
Now let’s contrast that teaching with Jesus of Nazareth in the Garden 0f Gethsemane from Luke 22:42:
“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Then as we take this – speak whatever you want God to do for you – faith teaching to its logical conclusion we find this from Frederick K.C. Price:
“God has to be given permission to work in this earth realm on behalf of man” ¦. Yes! You are in control! So, if man has control, who no longer has it? God” (ibid., emphasis in original).
And now finally here is Joel Osteen once again. You’ll notice that what he teaches here is classic W/F and exactly the same concept.
“You can cancel out God’s plan by speaking negative words. God works by laws.” (Joel Osteen, “Speaking Faith Filled Words,” Tape # 223. Daystar Television, May 2, 2004, as cited in www.myfortress.org/JoelOsteen).
Another early W/F teacher who also drew his doctrine from the murky cultic waters of metaphysical philosophy was E.W. Kenyon (1867-1948). There is no doubt that Kenyon also had a major influence on Kenneth “Dad” Hagin, Sr. From “Kenneth Hagin, ‘Word of Faith’ Preacher, Dies at 86,’” a Christianity Today Weblog article posted September 22, 2003 by Ted Olson we read:
[Hagin] is considered by many to be (after E.W. Kenyon) a father of the “Word of Faith” and “Positive Confession” movements, which critics summarize as “name it and claim it.” Hagin put it differently:
“Say it, Do it, Receive it, and Tell it.” Often you create your own negative situations yourself with wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong speaking,” Hagin wrote. “So start believing according to God’s Word. Then begin making positive confessions of faith and victory over your life. ” ¦ If you don’t like what you have in life, then begin to change the way you are thinking, believing, and speaking. Instead of speaking according to natural circumstances out of your head, learn to speak God’s Word from your spirit. Begin to confess God’s promises of life and health and victory into your situation. Then you can begin to enjoy God’s abundant life as you have what you say!” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/138/11.0.html
In a highly recommended book about the dangers of W/F, A Different Gospel, D.R. McConnell proved beyond all doubt that Hagin did generously plagiarize from Kenyon’s writings. Below is Kenneth Hagin, Sr.’s stand on illness:
“I believe that it is the plan of God our Father that no believer should ever be sick” (Word of Faith, August 1977, pg.9, as cited by McConnell in A Different Gospel, p.9).
In the following you will see that this concept was lifted right out of Kenyon’s cultic teachings. And then G. Richard Fisher of Personal Freedom Outreach clearly demonstrates in turn that Kenyon’s own “Christian” W/F teachings were themselves birthed out of the Mind Science cults and are “a template for most all W/F teachers and followers” :
“I know that I am healed because [God] said I was healed, and it makes no difference what the symptoms may be in my body. I laugh at them, and in the Name of Jesus I command the author of disease to leave my body.”
“You are healed. The Word says you are. Don’t listen to the senses. Give the Word its place. God cannot lie.”
“Sickness does not belong to the body of Christ. It is not normal or natural.” (all quotes cited in “Why God Is Not Word-Faith,” The Quarterly Journal, January – March 2005, Vol. 25, NO.1, p.5).
Fisher then clues us in that in “Kenyon’s view, all sickness is essentially from Satan and we can – with the power of faith – command Satan and demand our healing” (ibid, emphasis added). And this is what Kenyon means when he says – “I command the author of sickness to leave my body.” And note also the phrase “the power of faith.” Here is one of the rotten roots from which Copeland’s erroneous statements regarding faith would later sprout.So What’s Wrong With Teaching Faith?At this point some will ask: What’s so bad about teaching people to have faith? Does it really matter how someone defines faith? Hanegraaff is so right when he says it “makes all the difference in the world. Just remember the tragedy of Larry and Lucky Parker who bought the lie [of W/F doctrine] and let their son die” (Crisis, op cit., p.71).For those who may not know the Parkers had a young son named Wesley who was a diabetic. They were also heavily involved with a church that taught this W/F theology. Somewhere along the way the Parkers became convinced that by confessing Wesley healthy using their “God kind of faith” – as Kenneth Copeland puts it – they would cause their 11 year old boy to be healed.Dreadfully the Parkers would choose to carry the spiritual cyanide of W/F doctrine to its logical end – the very same W/F teaching perpetuated by Joel Osteen and his late father John. They would choose to drink deeply of the spiritual Kool-aid believing their “words have creative power” and that by confessing “His Word, [God] brings the miracle to pass!” And so, because they believed “God has to be given permission to work in this earth realm on behalf of man,” tragically Larry and Lucky Parker “got rid” of their “limited thinking.” They exercised “the faith of God,” because as W/F teachers like Charles Capps have said, “God is a faith God” and the Parkers believed with all their hearts that they should dare “to speak those promises out loud.” Even as little Wesley, lying helpless before them, began to deteriorate before their very eyes they continued “speaking words of faith and victory.” The Parkers “kept on believing it, seeing it, and speaking it.” Perhaps they followed this kind of teaching from W/F preacher Marilyn Hickey. As Hanegraaff tells us, when “it comes to Faith theology, truth is often stranger than fiction” ¦ Marilyn Hickey, for example, teaches people to speak to their bodies” :
“Say to your body, ” ˜You’re whole, body! Why, you just function so beautifully and so well. Why, body, you never have any problems. You’re a strong, healthy body.’ Or speak to your leg, or speak at your foot, or speak to your neck, or speak to your back; and once you have spoken and believe that you have received, and don’t go back on it” ¦speak to your circumstances; and speak faith to them to create in them and God will create what you are speaking” (Claim Your Miracles, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, cassette tape #186, side 2, as cited in Hanegraaff, Christianity In Crisis, p.63).
And when their young son then went into a coma the Parkers didn’t want to “cancel out God’s plan by speaking negative words” so they continued “to speak it out.” Maybe they followed Kenyon’s advice to not “listen to the senses.” Because after-all Kenneth Copeland teaches that sometimes “people won’t receive their healing.” So they’d need to make sure Wesley wasn’t “full of fear or doubt or unbelief.” The Parker’s knew “when that happens, the last thing you want to do is withdraw your faith and say ” ˜Well, I guess it didn’t work this time.’ No,” they just knew they shouldn’t “do that!” They believed that their “faith may be the only hope” Wesley might have. “So,” they just kept “on believing God.” And the Parkers denied their son his insulin “standing in faith for that recovery.” However, Wesley would later die needlessly in plain sight of his own parents even as they spoke “those promises out loud,” continuing to speak “words of faith and victory” and to “confess them in the face of all contrary evidence!” And this true life experience of Larry and Lucky Parker can be found in their 1980 book We Let Our Son Die which was published by Harvest House.A 2002 newspaper story about Larry Parker brings out a very telling point:
Parker discussed his new book, “Assumptions About Faith And Tradition,” in which he writes that if he and his Wife, Alice “Lucky” Parker, had studied the scriptures more closely in 1973, the tragedy of their son’s death might not have happened. He said his primary goal with the new book is to warn people not to blindly accept what others say about Christianity. http://www.desertdispatch.com/2001-2003/103461237653349.html
The Roots of Osteen’s “Self-Help” Teachings
So, do we still think these “up-beat” W/F teachings that come from a smiling Joel Osteen or a very confident Joyce Meyer are simply an annoying aberration within the Church of our Lord? Or are they so much more? Consider this from 2 Peter 2 ” “ But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” “bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.And sadly it is simply beyond question that Joel Osteen’s message of an “overcoming life of victory” that “this generation needs to hear” is actually drawn from the very same polluted stream of gnostic metaphysical cult philosophy of W/F doctrine from which the Parkers once drank so deeply.Here is an example of the occultic Mind Science teachings of Phineas P. Quimby who was “considered by many to be the Father or Founder of what is now known, as the New Thought Movement” (http://ppquimby.com/cmd102.htm). In the Handbook of Today’s Religions Josh McDowell and Don Stewart inform us that Quimby:
was a self-professed healer who applied hypnosis and the power of suggestion in affecting his cures” ¦[the] early 19th century mesmerist and psychic healer [was also the person] from whom Mary Baker Eddy learned the principles she later claimed were revealed from God as Christian Science” (pp.126,130).
Look closely at what follows from Quimby and you will see where Joel Osteen’s “self-help sermons” have their ultimate root:
“for a person is to himself just what he thinks he is,” ¦and my sickness is my belief, and my belief is my mind; therefore all disease is in the mind or belief. Now as our belief or disease is made up of ideas which are matter, it is necessary to know what ideas we are in; for to cure the disease is to correct the error;” ¦ How can this be done? By a knowledge of the law of harmony” ¦ Your error is the cause of your sickness or trouble. Now to cure your sickness or trouble is to correct the error” (“Is Disease A Belief” , http://ppquimby.com/articles/is_disease_a_belief.htm, emphasis added).
“I know of no better counsel than Jesus gave to his disciples when he sent them forth to cast out devils and heal the sick, and thus in practice to preach the Truth,” ¦ produce harmony by your Truth destroying error… if you are not afraid to face the error and argue it down, then you can heal the sick” (Science of Man, as cited by Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Zacharias, Gen. Ed., p.152).
In his classic textbook The Kingdom of the Cults Dr. Walter Martin points out that for “decades Christian Science was the matriarch of the Mind Science family” ¦ the Mother Church [First Church of Christ, Scientist] dominated the Mind Science movement, more important in almost all respects than Unity School of Christianity, Mind Science, Religious Science, Divine Science, and their other siblings – [like New Thought]” (ibid., p.149).Now take a look at this example from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, who was obviously influenced by P.P. Quimby. You will notice that here we have isolated the sources from which the teaching that sickness is only an illusion arose:
“When the first symptoms of disease appear, dispute the testimony of the material senses with divine Science. Let your higher sense of justice destroy the false process of mortal opinions” ¦ Suffer no claim of sin or of sickness to grow upon the thought. Dismiss it with an abiding conviction that it is illegitimate, because you know that God is no more the author of sickness than He is of sin” ¦you have divine authority for denying that necessity and healing the sick” (S&H 390:12)
Osteen’s False Teachings In Light of Scripture
As we can now see this shines much light upon the darkness of these so-called “Christian” teachings from Joel Osteen and also further illuminates these doctrines which are found throughout the entire cult of W/F regarding illness and the “speaking” of so-called “victory.” Using the Bible to examine these messages we can immediately tell that indeed they do not originate with the God revealed in Holy Scripture.Rather, in 1 Timothy 4 we read the following warning – The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.These very teachings that we have seen from the Osteen family and a whole host of other false prophets of W/F would instead seem to prove that the time has come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).Myths such as:
John Osteen – Dare to speak those promises out loud” ¦ Confess them in the face of all contrary evidence!” ¦
Joel Osteen – “I got rid of my limited thinking” ¦believing that somehow, some way, God could bring it to pass” ¦[I] kept on believing it, seeing it, and speaking it.”
E.W. Kenyon – “I know that I am healed because [God] said I was healed, and it makes no difference what the symptoms may be in my body” ¦ I command the author of disease to leave my body” ¦ Don’t listen to the senses.”
Kenneth Hagin – “you create your own negative situations yourself with wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong speaking,” ¦”
Kenneth Copeland – “Sometimes people won’t receive their healing. Sometimes they’re full of fear or doubt or unbelief, and they can’t take what God is giving them. But when that happens, the last thing you want to do is withdraw your faith and say ” ˜Well, I guess it didn’t work this time.’ No, don’t do that! Your faith may be the only hope that person has! So, just keep on believing God. Say, ” ˜Lord, I did what your Word said. I laid hands on the sick and as far as I’m concerned, every person I laid hands on is recovering. I’m standing in faith for that recovery’ ” (“Believer’s Voice Of Victory” , October 1999, pg. 23).
Marilyn Hickey ” “ “speak to your circumstances; and speak faith to them to create in them and God will create what you are speaking.”
When Joel Osteen’s message is tested by the precision laser of Holy Scripture as we are instructed to do (see” “Acts 17:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21) it becomes clear that he is nothing more than the male equivalent to another very popular W/F teacher Joyce Meyer. Essentially the basic “message” they convey is very much the same kind as that of secular self-help proponent Tony Robbins.Osteen and Meyer both start off with a simple message of self-esteem and then spray it lightly with a veneer of Christian terminology in an attempt to pass it off as “biblical.” However, the rotten root of this type of improvident tripe goes all the way back through Robert Schuller to Norman Vincent Peale until finally it returns to its seemy source of origin in the kingdom of the cults.If these “teachers” would just leave it at self-esteem, perhaps it wouldn’t be as much of a concern. But unfortunately they don’t, and Osteen and Meyer et al then attempt to convey the idea to the unsuspecting masses that what they “preach” is in line with the historic orthodox faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3, NASB). However, these false prophets of “Christian” self-esteem, such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer have been shown clearly to be a part of the cult of the Word Faith Movement. And as such, they do not represent the Christian Church and are definitely not worthy of the support of true Christians.