Osteen vs. Luther: in a theological debate, go with the dead guy

osteen luther

There’s no doubting televangelist Joel Osteen’s appeal to millions of Christians. The senior pastor of the largest Protestant church in the US, Osteen’s televised sermons are seen by more than 20 million viewers monthly in more than 100 countries, and he has written five New York Times bestselling books.

The Texas-based preacher has been lauded for touting God’s love for humanity, efforts to inspire others to overcome personal setbacks and emphasis on the need for mission and purpose in life.

Similarly, Osteen has been criticized for his simplistic black-and-white thinking, being a theological lightweight and applying Scripture out of context.

While I generally keep my distance from televangelists and megachurches, I will also readily admit to not being able to see into the hearts of others.

I can’t determine, in this case, whether Osteen is a well-intentioned individual who is doing his best, and has very likely provided solace to a significant number of people, or if he is part preacher, part carnival barker who has used his ability in the pulpit to enrich himself.

That said, there are many theologically savvy types who have had a field day picking apart Osteen’s teachings. Among them is the individual who created this imaginary back and forth between Osteen and 16th century Protestant reformer and noted killjoy Martin Luther.

While the twitter conversation is, of course, imagined, both Osteen’s and Luther’s quotes are taken from the respective religious figures’ various sayings and/or writings.

Luther, not remembered as a light and fluffy sort, would probably have had Osteen burned at the stake after sitting through just a few minutes of one of the latter’s feel-good services.

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17 thoughts on “Osteen vs. Luther: in a theological debate, go with the dead guy

  1. His father started that church and was a very good preacher with solid theology and a solid theological background and lived modestly and kept relatively modest income for himself. Joel probably never heard read a page of Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Calving, et al, much less studied him or any other classic theologians. He was a cameraman in daddy’s church and never had any theological training whatsoever. He pushed aside other family and longtime lay leaders in the church took over to peddle in “prosperity theology.” There is no cross to be found anywhere in his “church” and you’ll never hear him preaching about the suffering Christ and him crucified and why that’s what makes Christianity Christianity–that’s not conducive to “positive thinking.” If you’re a good person and you’re kind to others and love God and ask for his favor at every turn and stay positive, God will reward you. Of course, you’ll never prosper as much as him and the other “prosperity televangelists.” Don’t get me started. (Luther, btw, can be a fun read–he was never one to mince harsh and colorful words.)

    • I’ve never really understood the attraction of the televangelist types. I guess it works for some folks, but not me. How does someone like Osteen deal with questions like suffering in the world, or at home? I don’t think the fake-it-until-you-make-it approach is a realistic longterm strategy. We live in a world where there is a great deal of sadness and tragedy; thinking happy thoughts isn’t going to change that, and I can’t see how any rational person would be swayed otherwise.

      I can only imagine how frustrating such platitudes must make you, as a pastor, feel when you’re out there with your eyes open, working to effect change among those who suffer and struggle daily.

      • Are his followers really any different than the average voter here in SC? You know, the ones that believe that if they always vote Republican they will someday find themselves in a tax free utopia where all services are funded by unicorn farts?

      • I’d say they’re no different than any voter who blindly believes their political party is the font of salvation. Both parties are full of snake oil salesmen who knowingly make promises that they have no intention or ability to keep. We get the government we deserve.

      • I agree with your first two sentences, but I cannot agree with your third. “We”–I, and most other I’s–have our decision-making adversely affected by economic stress, overcrowded living conditions, poor diet, and environmental toxins. Our sources of information are suspect, and it requires a major time commitment available primarily to retired or disabled or unemployed people to become and stay informed from objective sources.

        I could go on, and usually do…
        but for once, won’t.
        (quiet, scattered applause)

      • I suppose I refer to the many people who continue to vote in incumbents in their own districts, but are distinctly displeased with Congress, their state legislature, etc., as a whole. They like the goodies their own legislator can bring them, but they don’t like that everyone else gets the same thing.

        I agree that our information sources are suspect, often very suspect, but when, as in my own state, a disgraced former governor can be elected to Congress simply because he’s a member of certain political party that’s in favor, that doesn’t show much foresight. Perhaps the statement “We get the government we deserve” is too harsh, but many people in our nation shouldn’t be surprised by the government they get.

        And you can always feel free to expound. Unlike many political types, I have no problem with those that agree to disagree. 😉

  2. Pity the ‘exchange’ just featured Luther’s abuse…he’s a good read taken overall.
    I suppose these prosperity peddlars allow their listeners to consider themselves /christian without worrying about the hard stuff…

  3. I won’t even start to say anything about televangelists and megachurches… the ‘comment’ would overtake the post. The Luther response tweets are pretty hilarious, though.

  4. I’m n evangelical pastor serving in a Southern Baptist church with solid reformed credentials. I truly enjoyed this. I think Luther nails it 😉

    • Thanks, Bruce. Platitudes and feel-good bromides only get you so far in life. There’s definitely a place for positive thinking, but when times are tough parishioners need somebody who can impart more than hokum.

      • I have never understood why someone needs all those rooms, unless they have or plan to have many children and grandchildren, or do much entertaining and have many overnight guests. But then, I had a three-bedroom house as a single person. How that looks to people living with nothing! (One room was my library.)

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