Here is a rather amusing post by Mel Duncan (Ligon Duncan’s brother) which was posted at the Reformation 21 blog. He is the Director of Church Relations at Ligonier Ministries, founded by R.C. Sproul.Â So needless to say, Mel is as Reformed in his theology as they come.Â Enjoy.
â€¦I spent last evening with Joel Osteen.
On a dark and stormy night I (and 10,000 others) came to see the charming preacher with bright eyes and a huge smile. I fought mile long traffic to be thereâ€¦with Joel.
True confession: I came with expectations in hand that â€œAn evening with Joel Osteenâ€ would be bread and circus for the spiritually impoverished. If you want to know my conclusion youâ€™ll have to keep reading through to the end, though in fairness I tried to leave my ref21 hatchet at the door.
I assumed that I would meet those unfortunate souls who at the opening of Joel Osteenâ€™s fifteen city, four nation road show were what we (Reformed types) are so often befuddled by, those teeming hordes of sweet semi-Pelagians who seem to make up the bulk of the American Christian ghetto.
I was expecting to see the poor, uneducated and easy to command, as the Washington Post once famously described evangelicals. People who couldnâ€™t help themselves from being there because they were put under a Vulcan mind meld from their local pastor. I expected to find ancient women with blue hair in attendance from nearby towns like Greer with pre-trib glossy magazines in hand connecting the â€œten horns of Revelationâ€ to the activities of nearby Bob Jones University.
I arrived early (taking â€œJack Bauer typeâ€ precautions that I wouldnâ€™t be followed, and notifying a Ruling Elder in my â€œCTU friendlyâ€ church a head of time), while searching in vain for someone who understood Carl Trueman and had heard of the Ante-Nicene fathers.
Just who exactly comes to a Joel Osteen confab?
I came expecting to find Benny Hinn people and I found instead a Tony Robbins seminar drawing a good representative sample of my community. Indeed, demographically speaking it was astonishingly integrated. It was full of upper middle class Gen X couples (and late boomers) with kids. They came in their tribes of tens and twenties with iPods rather than NIVâ€™s.
My guess is that I was face to face with â€œDog the Bounty Hunter,â€ free-market fundamentalists who were blissfully unaware of the Federal Vision, undecided on the importance of the OT, but definitely unamused by those rascally Calvinists causing trouble in the SBC. Simply because I could, I bought popcorn and Coke and enjoyed the spectacle of Christian roadies doing sound checks on the coliseum floor.
The overall production value of the stage, set and imagery was very good, while at the same time simple and in most ways not overly distracting. There was the obligatory dry ice machine, a few multicolored spotlights and images of the Osteen â€œrotating open globe thingâ€ that seems to be the symbol of Lakewood Church. In the center of the stage there was RC Sproulâ€™s famous nemesis, the dreaded â€œportable plexiglass pulpit.â€ It had one spotlight on it all times (except when the blonde worship leader was singing). There was a box of tissues inside its casing.
The pre-game music was surprisingly toned down (really not unlike that of an RUF meeting). I sensed that the organizers were more worried about turning folks off then they were about meaningfully engaging in crowd prep. I was somewhat proud that those present from my community were on the whole not participatory in the music and theater. Most did not know the words well enough to engage in correct contemporary praise posture. Maybe people at an Osteen event just come to watch?
Why were all these people here? What were they looking for? How had Joel Osteen come to be so important to them? These were the questions I was trying to understand.
My guess is that they came to see this strangely alluring man with his emotionally charged appeal for brotherhood, good works, and hopefulness, who is touching a raw post-modern nerve in the culture; thatâ€™s why I came. They also came â€“unknowingly I thinkâ€”because Joel Osteen has found a new way to treat their spiritual maladies: ignore root causes and tackle the symptoms.
From the start of the event it was a family affair. The night was opened by Joel Osteenâ€™s brother-in-law, and at different points most of his family present held forth on various matters. His mother, the Venerable Dodi, juxtaposed some classic old school â€œname it and claim itâ€ with some new fangled power of positive thinking in a moral exhortation centered on recent health issues in her life. She had the line of the night, â€œIf you have a problem, find a verse in there (the Bible) and tell the Almighty what you need.â€
Victoria (the Difficult) spoke to us on the fascinating subject of what exactly it means to be married to Joel Osteen. Her story is complicated. She used to work in a jewelry store and then one day (((Joel))) came in to get a watch fixed. She ended up selling him a new watch and soon came marriage and a baby carriage. Joelâ€™s brother (a doctor) asked people to give money to the ministry, after challenging those in the audience to give their tithes first to their local churches. At other points in the show his family in attendance including children, nephews and nieces were recognized to applause. The Osteens, it would seem are the Kennedyâ€™s of the Charismatic Nation.
What would Joel speak about when all the introductions were over with I wondered?
Osteen would speak not once but many times throughout the evening in a succession of unscripted 10 minutes pickâ€“me-up-talks. Each presentation was a variation on the previous theme: â€œThings are gonna get better… Keep positive.â€ It was almost entirely bereft of Scripture. In a superfluous way it was very encouraging! I found myself throughout the entire night waiting for the shoe to drop, and saying to myself is this it?
Osteen tells his life story, which in many ways is a classic American success story. He inherited his fatherâ€™s position (without wanting to) and with one week of preparation takes over the family business. The church grows from 6,000 to over 40,000 in 5 years and has recently bought an $80 Million dollar sporting arena. Osteen strikes me as being amazed as everyone else at own his success and very proud of the family business, Lakewood Church of Houston, now the nationâ€™s largest. Only in America.
The story of Osteenâ€™s success would be a fantastic story of Godâ€™s providence if he believed in such a thing. For years he watched the ministry behind a camera, editing and overseeing the development of media. In many ways Joel understood the ministry better than most because he was involved with it in a way that would one day be instrumental in its growth. He also learned a good bit about the charismatic and Pentecostal way of preaching because he listened to these messages everyday in a studio, editing them for television and radio.
Joelâ€™s own sermons are not like those of his fathers (the late John Osteen). They strike me as the next generation of the Charismatic movement. They arenâ€™t about experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in your life; they are just about encountering your feelings. He talks over and over again about your relationships with other people and in the end he doesnâ€™t really ask you to do anything – except try to change. His language is a mix of manifest destiny and late night infomercial. If I had to characterize the 600 words â€œsermonettesâ€ I heard I would say â€œCharismatic emergent, non-threatening, non-spritualized therapeutic language.â€ Maybe American Idol with Paula as the lone judge.
Never once did I hear the words Gospel, Jesus Christ, Trinity, Sin, Cross (except in Scripture songs sung by performers and in a video testimony played before the Osteens arrived in arena)
So what conclusions can be drawn from An Evening with Joel?
Joel Osteen is the slick and polished face of non creedal American Evangelicalism. Joel is youthful, exuding Opie from Mayberry, aw shucks Americana that is uplifting, believable, and even to this cynic, soothing. Joel Osteen is wonderbread.
Now I recognize that everyone (whether we realize it or not) probably has someone in their life like Joel Osteen, a relentless optimist, who simple mindedly prods one to excellence, selflessness, and endurance. Iâ€™m just thinking Joel Osteen is not actually doing this with his people. At the end of the day, Osteen encouraged his crowd not to seek Christ as the solutions to their problems but something else. That something else seemed to be a clever but highly charged view of self. Self-interest, Self-gratification, Self-fulfillment, Self-realization, Self-actualization, with a little bit of sanitized obligatory righteous buzz words thrown in to make it appear evangelically kosher for the uninitiated.
What took place at Osteenâ€™s erstwhile crusade in my city can only be described as the next step in Post Modern Pentecostalism. It is the health and wealth gospel for healthy and wealthy people. If the Christian religion is medicine for souls that are poor and needy than Osteen is a bottle of vitamins in an operating room.
Mel Duncan’s blog can be found at http://riverandrhett.blogspot.com/