Osteen’s folly

on April 10 | in Devotional, Theology | by | with 9 Comments

Popular pastor and motivational speaker Joel Osteen undergoes his fair share of criticism. If you check his Twitter account there are a few folks who regularly challenge his pronouncements. At least one is a friend of mine.

In the past Osteen has admitted to not being a theologian. That is well and good. There are many fine Bible teachers who have never had formal theological training. My formative years were under the instruction of a number of these. Not being a theologian is not the problem.

Yesterday sometime this quote was posted to the Facebook page of Joel Osteen Ministries:

When we come to the end of this life, we’re not going to stand before any person and give our account. We’re going to stand before Almighty God. He is going to ask, ‘Did you become who I created you to be? Did you stay true to what I put in your heart?’

Joel Osteen quote

Source: Facebook.com


The problem with the quote attributed to Osteen is it–literally–has no basis in Scripture. I do not mean to say it is an odd interpretation of an obscure verse in 2 Chronicles. I mean to say there is no verse in the Bible that is remotely close to what Osteen said.

The Bible makes clear that humanity is separated from God because of sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23), that we cannot earn God’s favor by our works (Romans 4:4, 5), that Jesus died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21) and that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

That God is redeeming His creation is clear in scripture, but the point of God’s grace is not for me to “be all I can be.” God offers eternal salvation not a stint in the U.S. Army.

Osteen seems to have confused scriptures with Shakespeare. Someone needs to let him know “To thine own self be true” is not in the Bible. It is in Hamlet. Though, admittedly, Osteen does not seem to be the only one confused as this suggested search reveals:

Shakespeare, not Scripture

Shakespeare, not Scripture


The bottom line is this: if the Bible be true all of humanity will face a future judgment. We simply are not told what God will ask, much less whether He intends to run a deified, self-help, positive thinking clinic from His throne. What little we are told should make us run headlong to Jesus.

We are told it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). We are told some will be separated from God (Revelation 20:15). We are told there will be everlasting joy for some, but weeping and gnashing of teeth for others (Matthew 25:31-46).

The problem with Osteen’s statement is not that it is laughable. The problem is not that it is innocuous. The problem is it dangerously gives the false hope of self-salvation. If the essence of salvation rests in our fully developed potential, then Christ is dead in vain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phil.wages.7 Phil Wages

    Marty, thanks for standing for truth. Too many today think the greatest heresy is to identify heresy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650802417 Bob Cleveland

    Something tells me he never quoted Philippians 2:12. Or maybe never read it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrickwatts Patrick Watts

    Marty, If you’ll acknowledge God in all of your ways, He will crown your efforts with success.

  • Timothy Agee

    Marty…very well worded response. Thank you for your commitment to the scriptures.

    • martyduren

      Thx, Tim. As always great to hear from you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelT1015 Mike Taylor

    Marty, thx for excellent articles on abuse. Great work. Disagree with you here – 2 Corinthians 5:10, addressed to believers, specifically says we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, not unto salvation or not, but to render account of our lives BECAUSE we are saved; further delineated in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), but rendering an account as stewards. Your thoughts? Agree in that Osteen is off the map theologically.

    • martyduren

      Thx, Mike. I do agree totally with your view on the bema and did not mean to obfuscate the two judgments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=113900069 Sam Loveall

    Marty, given what I know of what Joel Osteen teaches, when I read these words, I have an immediate negative reaction to them. Perhaps that’s as it should be. But suppose these words were not attributed to Osteen. Suppose that they were instead attributed to, oh, MacArthur, Piper, Swindoll, or someone like that. My first reaction, I would think, would be to say, “Oh, he’s making a reference to the ideas in Ephesians 2:8-10.”

    Whaddya think?

    • martyduren

      Hey Sam-
      Thx for your comment. It made me think.

      One of the benefits of not being tribal is having tunnel vision associated with tribe. I have, for instance, written publicly against some of Piper’s assertions most notably his comments about the Minnesota tornados. (Not on this blog.)

      That said, a person does own their theological position and that contextualizes their comments. Osteen is known, as one reader noted on Facebook, for “fortune cookie” type sayings. From that context I doubt he was referencing any scripture at all since it was not required. Wording reflective of pop-psychology would not be a lexical entry for Swindoll, Piper, et al, I don’t think.

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