I remember well the night the membership of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church considered my calling to be an elder amongst them. I remember contemplating the qualifications of an elder found in the Pastoral epistles, and, as I believe is proper, trembling at them. I do not believe any elder in his right mind and God-tuned heart can look at those qualifications and not see areas in need of improvement and growth. Thankfully, absolute perfection of sanctification is not the standard of the eldership, and God uses imperfect men in the service of His people.
Yet, He gives standards for a reason. When these standards are ignored, Christ, and His Church, suffer. Not only are the people who are subjected to unqualified elders hurt by the resultant imbalanced or impoverished ministry, but the wider body is hurt when those without the qualifications of eldership pretend to do what they have not been called to do. The world loves to put such men forward, place them in the spotlight, and use them as a means of ridiculing the Christian faith.
Joel Osteen at times seems to me like a deer caught in the headlights. Quiet and purposefully naive, Osteen’s wild popularity is truly a testament to the condition of the superficially religious in America. His motivational speaking tickles the ears of the not-really-convicted-of-sin. He purposefully avoids entire vistas of God’s truth, resulting in a lopsided, sugary-sweet “gospel” that has next to nothing to do with God’s glory or Christ’s atonement, and everything to do with self-improvement. It is not even half a gospel—it is no gospel at all, and that is the reason why thousands flock to feed upon it and millions of others watch it on TV. It has no holy God, no divine wrath, no need for atonement, no repentance, no death to self—it is the polar opposite, as it is all about me, me, and me. Osteen excuses this in numerous ways, saying he doesn’t want to “beat people down” (i.e., he doesn’t want to see their self-righteousness crushed) but wants to lift them up (there is no being lifted up until one has fallen at the feet of the cross). He likewise uses his complete lack of biblical training and knowledge as a shield against the observation that he does not preach the whole counsel of God.
Yet clearly, Osteen is the poster-preacher of post-evangelicalism. You see his face in every airport bookshop, and when the media wishes to get a “Christian” response, the microphone is offered to him. But, because he is not qualified for the position he holds (see Titus 1:9 above for the divine word on the subject), he brings embarrassment to the cause of Christ each time he is given these opportunities. His theological face-plant on the Larry King Show is well known. And yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Osteen once again demonstrated that there is a reason why the Holy Spirit gifts elders so that they are able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict. Here is the exchange:
WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I’ve got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?
OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that’s what I believe, so, you know, I’m not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.
And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me, and I don’t think he would – anything would stop me from voting for him if that’s what I felt like.
WALLACE: So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?
OSTEEN: I probably don’t get hung up in them because I haven’t really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know.
I certainly can’t say that I agree with everything that I’ve heard about it, but from what I’ve heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that’s a common bond.
Just as the Mormon Church showed itself ashamed of its own theology in its half-responses to Fox News last week, so here Osteen shows himself either willfully ignorant of the most basic aspects of the Christian faith and how they are definitional thereof, or, worse, ashamed of those teachings to the point of being unwilling to look into that camera and say, “No, Mormonism is not Christianity.” Of course, that would require him to then give a reason for that statement, and sadly, I have no firm reason for believing he would be capable of doing so, let alone desire to do so. But in any case, the world has once again seen a man praised and lauded in post-evangelicalism appear before their eyes and loudly proclaim, “What we believe doesn’t matter. God hasn’t spoken with clarity. He doesn’t care about His own glory. He just wants you to be happy in your sin!” It truly makes me tremble to think that someday God will judge those who stand before His people and who handle the Word of God. If judgment begins with the house of the Lord….
Yes, once again, theology matters.
I wanted to add a comment on the presentation of Osteen. If you read the transcript, or listen to the interview, you hear “I don’t know if I know exactly” and similiar phraseology often; in fact, he says “I think” forty-two times in this one interview. He does not say “God says” or “Scripture teaches” or “it is written” or any of those “unfriendly” kinds of things. All we get is Osteen’s feelings, Osteen’s opinions. He does not speak as an ambassador of Christ. There is no authority in his words.
Compare this with the words of this man, a convert to Islam, as he describes his investigation of various religions. He discusses Christianity, and note what he says about the Christians with whom he spoke:
Now, of course, I would wish to point out that this man was in a country where he had the freedom to investigate different religions, a freedom the religion he chose denies when it becomes the majority viewpoint. But beyond that, it is truly sad that the “Christians” with whom this man spoke did not direct him to the authoritative Word of God for his answers. He got Osteened—“feelings” and “I think” and “my opinion,” right into…Islam.
—in the defense and confirmation of the gospel