Joel Osteen's megachurch in Houston has been under attack -- unfairly, it seems -- because it supposedly closed its doors to flood victims. The church has vehemently denied the story, explaining that there are many practical reasons why it is not an ideal location for a hurricane shelter, but that it would welcome anyone who comes asking for help.
It appears very likely that the accusation is off base. Though their explanation was delayed and confusing, I'm inclined to believe it. And anyway, I'm more eager to know why the good pastor hasn't opened his 10 million dollar, 17,000 square foot mansion to the public. Actually I'd like to know how he justifies ever having bought it in the first place. Well, I know how he justifies it. He and his wife "positioned themselves for a blessing," as they like to say. Those of us who don't live in opulent estates just haven't put ourselves in the right place to receive such rewards.
This is the essence of the Prosperity Gospel preached by Osteen and his ilk. It's insidious and heretical, but crowd pleasing. A Gospel that tells us to embrace suffering and poverty will not pack a 17,000 seat arena. It won't sell books. It cannot be monetized. It won't buy you mansions and private planes. It won't make you famous. People don't want to hear it. They want to hear something else. They want to hear that fortune and luxury are just around the corner -- God wants us to have these things, as Osteen constantly insists -- and all we need to do is be a little more positive and probably buy one or two more Joel Osteen books.
This is the Gospel of the World. The Gospel of Osteen. A Gospel specifically tailored to challenge no one, offend no one, and make everyone happy. And it fails miserably on every count.
Consider this: after Osteen has spent his televangelist career tickling ears and professing this watered down, materialist, luxurious faith, still the world hates him. It really hates him. I'm actually struck by the passion and virulence of the hatred, coming as it is from people who don't accept the Gospel Osteen has bastardized and don't care about the heresy he professes. Osteen has tried very hard not to be hated by these people, but they end up hating him even more than they hate Christians who actually believe in the Bible. That is the great and tragic irony. Osteen has perverted the Gospel in order to befriend and impress the very people who now slander him. He has given the world what it wants: empty hope, vague optimism, a religion stripped of all that is difficult and painful, yet they still throw their stones.
If you preach the true Gospel, the world will label you a neanderthal and a bigot. But if you come up with a new Gospel in the hopes of avoiding these insults, you will be labeled a fraud and a hypocrite. The only difference is that the insults in your case will be true and well deserved. Out of your fear of false attacks, you have opened yourself up to accurate ones. And even the unfair attacks will still be largely your own fault. They are the fruits of your lies and your heresy. You will be like a wolf in sheep's clothing who gets devoured by other wolves.
This is the lesson we learn from prosperity preachers, though it is certainly not the lesson they're trying to teach: Our adulterous affair with the world will always result in heartbreak. Traitors are betrayed. Cheaters are cheated on. The man who leaves his wife for his mistress is then left by his mistress. It always ends the same way. Whatever we were looking for, we don't find. Whatever validation we hoped to earn, we don't receive. Whatever fulfillment we thought we'd achieve, we are left emptier than we were before. We flee into the arms of the world, but the world ultimately rejects us. We are left alone and homeless in our million dollar homes.
Prosperity preachers would take exception to this characterization. They wouldn't call it an affair. They'd consider it more of spiritual polygamy. They tell us that we can be married to the world and to Christ at the same time. We can have the best of both. We can focus on ourselves and worship God "for our own sake," as the congregants at Lakewood were explicitly told in a sermon a little while ago. As Victoria Osteen put it: "When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
"Amen," shouts the Devil.
Christ, of course, has something quite different to say: "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." Osteen has chosen his master and has spent his life encouraging his flock to do the same. But that master -- the world -- is fickle and abusive. It will never be satisfied with what you give it. And it will be ready at any moment to cast you out and ostracize you, no matter how hard you try to blend in with it.
What's the point, then? Osteen has cultivated popularity -- his "brand" -- and forfeited the full truth of the Gospel so that he could profit off of it. And for what? Has he succeeded in becoming that mythical creature that Christ promised could never exist -- the Popular Christian? No, he's a Punchline Christian. A joke. A fool in God's sight and in the world's. Ironically, he wanted the Church and the World to come together in its admiration for him, but instead it agrees only that he is a fraud.
He did succeed in having it both ways, I guess. But I doubt this is what he had in mind.
Let it be a lesson to us all. It does not profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul. Especially because, in the end, he will discover that even the world he did not gain. It was all lost. And for nothing.
To see more from Matt Walsh, visit his channel on TheBlaze.