Theological Reflections from Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now

Book cover

I had a few minutes of time to kill today at a local bookstore and wanted to pick up a book that I could read that I would not be tempted to buy.  I ended up selecting Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.  I was able in the few minutes I had to get through his first of seven steps for achieving the best life you could imagine.  Step number one is entitled: Enlarge Your Vision. 

I know that this book was not intended to be a theological work but when someone constantly refers to “God” there is clearly some ideas about the characteristics of this being that will in turn be communicated.  The “God” that Osteen describes I am assuming is intended to be the God of the Holy Bible considering the authors position as a pastor of a large Christian church.  I was not entirely sure that this was true, however, since Osteen found it convenient to not cite the chapter and verse of scripture when he quoted “God’s words.”  This is scary because the Bible could be used to justify many things when context is not an issue or concern. 

The picture of God that was gathered in the first step for achieving Your Best Life Now is a picture of God that is very different than the picture that the Bible presents when taken in context.  God was presented as someone who is waiting to bless you in whatever your dream is.  God is an ally that we can claim for success financially, physically, or emotionally.  Joel went on to recount stories of his personal experiences of being in a packed parking lot at a mall and claiming that God would provide him a parking spot on the front row and seeing it come to pass.  He went on to describe many other blessings and benefits that he has received due to having “the favor of God.”  Osteen’s God is not just a genie through which all blessings flow at the whim and imagination of one who holds His favor, but He is also a just God.  This justice is not justice that is presented in a biblical theology where God has a right to judge actions and motives based on His standards of right and wrong.  Osteen’s God’s justice is more like a big brother God who will watch the back of the favored ones and judge those who hurt them or get in their way.  This God should not be a God with a capital G like the God of the Bible, but rather should be a god with a little g since this is a deity created by the desires of man rather than coming from the revelation of the scripture of who God is and what He is like.  

Osteen goes on to address the topic of faith.  Faith in the first step to a better life is defined as faith in oneself and your ability to improve or succeed.  Faith is based not in the work of Jesus Christ, who somehow does not get noted at all for the first 50 pages of the pastor’s book, in His death, burial, and resurrection but rather in the work of imagining the possibilities of your future potential.  This faith is not a faith of scripture.  It is a faith of positive thoughts in positive dreams of a life empowered by a genie god who exists for your personal fulfillment.

The most scary thing to me about this theology that comes out not only in Osteen’s bestselling books but also in his frequent television broadcasts is that people are being sold a lie.  They are being convinced that God exists for them and them alone.  The God of scripture is a glorious and incomprehensible God who has the power to create, judge, and to do as He pleases.  All of creation is subject to Him not the other way around as prosperity preachers like Osteen would lead you to believe.  God is the one who is to be worshiped, glorified, and made much of.  It is not the other way around.  Let us not buy into smooth talk, perfect smiles, and bestselling books who present a god made in the image of and to fulfill the delights of men.