Culture

Joel Osteen and the False Gospel of Nice 

T.S. Weidler

Last Sunday there was a shooting at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. A celebrity prosperity preacher, Osteen boasts forty to fifty thousand attendees each weekend and is among the world’s most well-known pastors. 

Joel Osteen is not a good pastor. Only God knows if he is truly a Christian, but he is certainly famous. He is best known for his book Your Best Life Now and for his extremely diluted prosperity gospel messages. He doesn’t teach the Bible in context. He doesn’t preach about repentance, the blood of Christ, the cross, or the wages of sin. In other words, he doesn’t preach the gospel.

Instead, he preaches about being nice and about the nice things that can happen to you, primarily related to money, relationships, and health.

Evil and Tragedy

On Sunday, February 12, an armed woman entered Lakewood Church and began to open fire before being killed by church security staff. The shooter was a woman who used the name “Jeffrey” and is believed to have been “transgender” to some degree. MSN called her a transgender Palestine supporter. The shooting’s sole fatality is currently the shooter herself, though she brought her seven-year-old son along who was struck by a bullet and is in critical condition at the time of this writing. 

Joel Osteen made a brief statement about the matter: “There are forces of evil, but the forces of God are stronger than that.” This is possibly the first time Osteen has used the word “Evil” in a pastoral capacity. He is very conscientious about avoiding the word “sin” as well. A number of years ago he famously described homosexuality as “Not God’s best,” atoning for offense to the homosexual community by praying at the inauguration of Houston’s first lesbian mayor in 2010. Everyone smiled at the ceremony, while she continued down her road to perdition, and Osteen helped make sure it was wide and smooth, and “sanctified” by prayer. 

The Nice Gospel 

Osteen is the poster child of the problematic “gospel of nice,” a gospel that he perfectly exemplifies. He is always smiling, always has something amusing to say, and always has a winsome and pleasant reply. He never complains, never points fingers, and never identifies sin. If his goal is to be inoffensive and agreeable, and he’s doing his job immeasurably well.

But this is not the goal of the pastor – rather, the goal is meant to be bringing glory to God. If Osteen (or any “nice guy evangelist”) wins a convert by being nice, who gets the glory? The nice guy who smiled at them and made them feel welcome, or the Son of God? If Osteen fails to win a convert, what lessons are learned? “Be nicer” next time?

In addition to robbing God of his gospel glory, the “nice gospel” does not work. It has no explanation for human depravity. It does not call sinners to repentance and consequently does not see sinners gain victory over sin. People who are entrapped by their sin will fall farther down the road to destruction (as Romans 1 details). These hopelessly blind sinners will continue to commit more extreme evils. Eventually, the only righteous response to the threat of completely out-of-control depravity is a well-trained church safety team that knows the limits of being “nice.”

Lakewood’s armed safety team was up for the task. They did not engage the shooter on a relational level and empathize with her. They shot back, and they did so righteously.  

However, a deeper issue remains. A world full of positivity-gospel-preachers has more need for armed security to do the hard work than a world full of salty, hard gospel preachers who lead sinners to Christ. To build a “nicer” world, God’s ministers will need to be as well-trained, alert, and strong-minded with their gospel swords as their security teams are with their firearms.

Lessons From Eden

All these lessons point back to Eden, where evil first introduced itself as “nice.” It would have been better if Adam had confronted the serpent in the garden when it first appeared. But he did not. He was nice. He tolerantly stood by while his wife was deceived by a smooth-talking serpent and nice-looking fruit. This was very “nice” of Adam and it did not offend anyone. When she very nicely offered him a bite, he politely accepted it. Everyone was being nice.

Then God came on the scene and cursed the serpent down to the dust and declared that he would kill him by stomping his head underfoot. God was righteous when he said this. It would be sinful to deal “nicely” with the serpent. It is good that there will be an accounting for sin. God is not “nice.” His judgment and righteous wrath are good things, for which Christians ought to give thanks.

Mean and Nice

Those who teach the nice gospel will usually maintain that the gospel is good news but that they don’t want to be mean. This is false thinking. The opposite of the nice gospel is not a mean gospel, it is the true gospel. The true gospel is not mean, nor is it nice. It is the righteousness of God, the judgment of sin, the eternal hope of Christ, and the salvation of the world.

It is mean, not nice, to pray at a lesbian inauguration and give the false impression that God has sanctified it because a pastor prayed there. It is nice, not mean, to warn sinners that the “wages of sin is death.” It’s nice to tell sinners that their sins can be forgiven, and they can be transformed by God’s grace. It’s mean to tell them that God wants them to be happy and prosperous while they remain in their sins.

The true gospel is the solution to the nice gospel. The true gospel is the solution to transgenderism, mass shootings, drug abuse, divorce, abortion, corruption, and every other problem our culture faces. Christ told his people to be “salt and light” because “lukewarm” blandness would be thrown out and “trampled underfoot.”

Those who see this trampling taking place must resist the temptations toward bitterness and anger, but must also resist the temptation for compromise and “niceness.” God’s people belong to God and have a higher allegiance and a higher goal. The gates of Hell cannot defeat the church that Christ is building, so there is no need to compromise his gospel.

The nicest thing the church can do is to stand boldly on the true gospel until the powers of Hell are vanquished. This will happen one day, which Paul described as “soon.” “The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20) God will not crush Satan under the feet of those who are standing around smiling and being nice to him. This promise to crush Satan is built on the assumption that the church is upright and marching. God does the crushing, but he uses the feet of those who carry his gospel. The work of the missionary church is the stomping of Satan’s head.

The gospel is good news not because it is nice, but because it is true.

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