On June 20 Joel Osteen, bestselling author and pastor of America's largest church, appeared on Larry King Live. To put it generously, the interview was a mess. Osteen came off sounding unclear about basic elements of biblical theology. At one point he calls himself a coach and a motivator in the pulpit. He says he is an "encourager at heart" whose "message is a message of hope, that's God's for you." Does believe in hell? Yes he does but that does not have much emphasis in his ministry. "I know there is condemnation but I don't feel that's my place."
When asked why he doesn't quote Scripture more in his book, he offers a simple answer:
My message, I wanted to reach the mainstream. We've reached the church audience. So I just try to, what I do is just try to teach practical principles. I may not bring the scripture in until the end of my sermon and i might feel bad about that. Here's the thought. I talked yesterday about living to give. That's what a life should be about. I brought in at the end about some of the scriptures that talk about that. But same principal in the book.
He has been roundly criticized for the following exchange:
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
That's a terrible answer. Just awful. And I say that as one who has been somewhat sympathetic to Joel Osteen. But that's just not a good answer at all. It appears to waffle on the crucial point of salvation through Christ alone. To his credit, Pastor Osteen has posted an open letter on his website about this particular answer. He acknowledges the criticism and then adds this clarification:
It was never my desire or intention to leave any doubt as to what I believe and Whom I serve. I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life. I regret and sincerely apologize that I was unclear on the very thing in which I have dedicated my life.
Jesus declared in John 14; I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the only way to salvation. However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realize I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven. It’s about the individual’s choice to follow Him.
He goes on to say that he wants to use this interview as a learning experience. Since I have done hundreds of media interviews myself, I know how easy it is to get tripped up when you are trying to answer a tough question. I commend Joel Osteen for publicly addressing the issue, admitting that his answer was inadequate, and clarifying his true convictions. Would that all our leaders were as open and forthright about their own mistakes. I'm sure Larry King will interview him again, and I'll bet Joel Osteen will be much clearer about what he really believes the next time around. None of our leaders are perfect, and it's a good sign that one of them is willing to learn from his mistakes.
(On July 1, Harvest House released my newest book, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.)
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