Pastor Philip Wagner Was Surprised to Learn that Many See Joel Osteen as ‘Controversial’

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, conducts a service at his church as the city starts the process of rebuilding after severe flooding due to Harvey. (JOE RAEDLE)
Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, conducts a service at his church as the city starts the process of rebuilding after severe flooding due to Harvey. (JOE RAEDLE)

by Philip Wagner

Last year Joel Osteen was conducting an evangelistic crusade at Dodger Stadium. Since the Dodgers are in our home city, Los Angeles – I wanted to support the effort.  I mentioned to our congregation about the upcoming crusade and helping out so we could be a part of reaching thousands of people who would make decisions to follow Christ.

A few days later someone said to me, “We’re supporting Joel Osteen? He is pretty controversial you know.”

I was surprised.

I thought to myself, “Joel Osteen, controversial? How could that be? He preaches the most clear and simple gospel message a person could hear.”

I had not been keeping up with what people and other leaders were saying on the Internet.

One local pastor said to me later, “I hear you are supporting the Joel Osteen Crusade.”

I said, “Yes I am.  He reaches thousands of people for Jesus Christ, he’s in our city, I want to be a part of it.”

The pastor responded, “I’m not going to, I can’t go for all that ‘positive gospel stuff’.”

I don’t know what that means!??!

Are we supposed to be preaching the ‘negative gospel?’

What is the positive gospel?

1. Our sins are forgiven?

2. God loves us – just like we are?

3. God has something special for each of us to do?

Just sounds like the ‘regular-amazing-outstanding-full of mercy- gospel’ to me!

You know… ‘Amazing Grace’ and all that.

So in the last year I’ve discovered there are many outspoken Christians and leaders who don’t like Joel Osteen.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion – even if it is ill informed.

The disappointing thing to me is that Christian leaders speak out publically against Joel and thereby encouraging other Christians not to respect him or to doubt his authenticity. They feel the liberty to publically attack those whom they don’t really understand or know. It’s embarrassing.

As a Christian, I’m discouraged by the behavior of leaders who criticize, attack or diminish the significance of other Christian ministers. 

This behavior and attitude is why many people do not want to be a part of Christianity or go to church because they feel that when they go to church they will be criticized the way our leaders do to each other.