The Pernicious Lie of the Prosperity/Success Gospel

As I get ready for work in the morning, I often see a Joel Osteen commercial in which he says, when you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, in due time, he will exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). Joel Osteen is known for preaching the “prosperity gospel” and for that reason alone, I steer clear of him. But while staying in a hotel, I watched a few minutes of his Sunday service and saw how easily Osteen misleads people with what is also known as the “gospel of success.”

In a Huffington Post article, Pastor Rick Henderson called out Osteen and Joyce Meyer for The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God. Essentially, use God to get things from God.

Pastor Rick Henderson

Henderson’s article includes a link to a ten-minute video of Pastor John Piper explaining why the prosperity gospel is abominable. To explain why this false teaching is spiritually dangerous, Piper repeats Jesus’s warning about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Jesus also said that you cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13).

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:24-25

The Apostle Paul wrote about how destructive it is to chase after wealth because the love of money often leads to temptation. We should be content if our basic needs are met.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

Piper says that those who believe in the prosperity gospel are confused about the timing of the blessings promised in scripture. The truth is, Christians face trials, persecution, pain, suffering, failure, and poverty in this life. Heaven is our eternal reward for a righteous life.

In the few minutes that I watched Joel Osteen’s sermon, he said that while there is nothing wrong with being a cheerleader for other people, you should be your own cheerleader because you have God-given talents. This sounds innocuous; I credit God for my abilities. But cheerleading the self is not consistent with the real gospel. And it is clear to me that Osteen has a self-serving and not a God-serving reason for pushing the success gospel. In his book, “You Can, You Will,” he offers to teach you how to reach your potential.

There is a winner in you. You were created to be successful, to accomplish your goals, to leave your mark on this generation. You have greatness in you. The key is to get it out.

Joel Osteen, promoting his book “You Can, You Will” on Facebook

The Truth Project’s lesson guide on anthropology says that some Christians “may have difficulty accepting the idea that ‘self-fulfillment’ and the call to ‘follow your heart’ are inconsistent with a Christian worldview.” Dr. Del Tackett says that “self-actualization” is a “pernicious lie.” He criticized Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs because self-actualization is depicted as the highest human need.

I say that the prosperity/success gospel is a pernicious lie. I think that Pastor Hariton Deligiannides would agree. In writing about Osteen’s cult-like influence, Diligiannides said that Osteen feeds his audience’s egos, scratches their itching ears (telling them what they want to hear), and covers up the true condition of the human heart.

Adam Blosser also calls out Joel Osteen as a false teacher because Jesus made it clear that his followers would be persecuted for their faith. Jesus said, you will be persecuted but you will be rewarded in heaven.

Osteen’s message is built on the power of positive thinking. If we will remove any semblance of negativity from our lives and focus only on things that are positive, then we can live lives that are victorious and successful. The clear problem with this message is that it ignores the reality of Christian persecution and suffering around the world.

Adam Blosser, in Why I call Joel Osteen a false teacher

Peter said that when you humble yourself, in due time, you will be exalted. I don’t know what Osteen has in mind when he quotes Peter’s verse about humility but I do know that my study Bible says Peter wrote to offer encouragement to suffering Christians. When I read about humbling yourself, I have in mind Christ’s humility (Philippians 2:5-11).

Even though Jesus was in his very nature God, while he walked on the Earth as a Son of Man, he did not exalt himself above us. Instead, he made himself nothing. He took on the nature of a servant, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, washing dirty feet. He was obedient to God, even to death on the cross! And after he lived a life of service and humility, God exalted him to the highest place – at His right hand – and gave him a name above all names.

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Photo of man kneeling by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

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