« Ashley Dupre, Eliot Spitzer, Hookergate, and Trick Turner | Main | Bronx Mowgli? »

Televangelist Joel Osteen and the Prosperity Gospel

What's crackin' friends? Welcome to another bailout Monday, in which a reckless bank gets more money and reckless auto industry bosses get told to sit and spin on Capitol Hill for, um, being reckless.

Some of you may know that I am a student of formal religion, an amateur, but a student nonetheless. What can I tell you? I'm a geek who is always curious about how people worship - if they worship - and who or what they worship. And no, I don't think my father being a minister had anything to do with my dull hobby. Seriously, I don't.

So over the past couple of years I've been hearing more and more about this preacher from Houston, Joel Osteen. I've heard people say he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I've heard people say that he's delusional 'cause his sermons tend to be one-track messages that if you believe that good things will happen for you, they will, because God, on the strength of your faith, will make it so.

Can we say twist on Norman Vincent Peale, anyone?

So I finally managed to catch Osteen on television a few months ago and watched several of his sermons. And sure enough, they were all about what Kanye West might call "The Good Life." Themes to the effect of If you're down, don't be! Be up! Being up is much better! If you're broke, believe you won't be, and soon enough you'll have cash in your pocket! Of course, I'm oversimplifying. Respectfully, the sermons were  more complex and involved Osteen's exhortations to have faith. Then today I read this article in one of my old newspapers about a recent Osteen concert.

And I won't lie. I found the tone of his messages uplifting. But at the same time I was bothered by a missing element of reality in his messages - the element that addresses heartbreak that doesn't come with a quick fix, failure in spite of ambition, persistent tragedy, etc. You know, the kinds of things that Average Joe and Average Jane deal with everyday but you never hear about 'em in the news?

My open-minded side says maybe religious folks need positive-only messages, since they're probably immensely aware of the negative things in life without some guy in an expensive suit reminding them.

But my cynical side says it's easy to subscribe to a philosophy that tells you to use your faith like The Force to think your negativity out of existence, when you preside over a ministry that brings in more than $70 million a year. And it's easy to tell your parishioners and fans that true prosperity is about health and happiness and spiritual and mental wholesomeness - all "free" things, when after you've delivered that message you pass around collection buckets so that they can share with you that other kind of prosperity, the green kind.

But I'm not here to poke fun at anyone. Well, I am, but not in this particular case. Worship how you want, if you want, and if you believe positive thinking alone, or more than anything else will make your life better, then more power to ya. When we meet and compare notes down the line, you can tell me how that worked out for you.

Still, I'll leave you with this food for thought: Keeping in mind that I am a religion junkie, there was something about the nature of Osteen's message that seemed vaguely familiar to me. And then I remembered. It seems to be a modern, more polished incarnation of the messages of the late evangelist A.A. Allen and Dr. Frederick Eikerenkoetter AKA Rev. Ike from back in the day.

If you're my age - 30s - or younger, you probably don't know about either of these men, unless you too are an egghead. But if you're my folks' age - late 50s - or older then I'll bet you've heard of 'em.

In the late 1970s, at the height of his popularity, Rev. Ike preached a prosperity message that, for all intents and purposes, said that if your faith was strong enough all the good things you wanted out of life should happen for you.

Allen, who died in in 1970 of liver failure caused by alcoholism (with a name like A.A.?), also preached a prosperity gospel.

The funny thing is when Rev. Ike and Rev. Allen used to preach prosperity and positive thinking they were called con men by mainstream cultural critics. Osteen gets love and accolades. What has changed about how we view this brand of formal religion? That question isn't rhetorical. If you have a theory, I'd like to hear it.

Anyway, I'm not saying Osteen is a con man. I told you, I found his style of delivery very uplifting. And apparently so do millions of other people...people who, unlike me, give money to his ministry.

But just for fun I'll leave you with this legend about A.A. Allen.

They say that like many preachers Allen used to collect cash offerings after his sermons. But unlike many preachers, either Allen or his ushers would toss the cash in the air, and as it floated he would say "What goes up is the Lord's, and what comes down is mine!"

Given the evidence of gravity on our planet, you can probably guess who hung onto that cash.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Televangelist Joel Osteen and the Prosperity Gospel:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Okie Sister

I thought preachers were only giving the "hell fire and damnation" sermons these days.
That and begging for money to build a bigger building.
A sermon and philosophy on having a postive outlook would certainly be a novelty. It beats feeling like crap when you leave.
Personally, I don't trust any of these tv preachers. They all seem to be in it for the cash.


I'm a Jewish religion junkie. His sermons can be refreshing and his business acuity is awesome.


Thank you, Mr. Burnett. I remember Rev. Ike, and how he would guest on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show late nights on NBC, and he was one of the rare few guests who merited a live audience looking(and listening)on. Seems the message was not Black power or white power, but green power. (Anyone who sends out strands of yarn or lithographed sheets of paper called "prayer rugs," for which the flock sends its $5 each should be rich by now.) I deeply resent, however, how some televangelists are spouting how one will be rich in more ways than just having friends or through repeating tracts from the gospel by just believing. Henry Ford, Horatio Alger, George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, etc., didn't just believe they could succeed, they worked to prove they could become successful. People who clutch their bibles should do so when going to church or pursuing bible study. But, if they want real money, they should be listening to money experts, Suze Orman, Jean Chatzky, Jim Cramer, etc., regardless of their religious persuasion.


awesome comments. i think people want to hear how great they are and how great they can be if they just follow these prosperity preachers, all the while the preachers are making bank!

say it

The message is the same, the mainstream cultural critics have changed and big box churches they attend are in.


I'm glad you called him a preacher and not "pastor." It's great that he's positive and all that, but I think he's unrealistic if that's his idea about God's plan.

My Bible says something about storing your treasure in heaven.


It is hard to find a church or a religion that is not all about christian marketing. If you find one that cares about people and salvation you should embrace it. They are few and far between. There are some though.


Check out the work of Justin Peters. http://www.justinpeters.org

I'm afraid Osteen is into "ear tickling."


From one religion junkie to another: well said.

Wayne B

Good article. As many people have noted in different ways, if you claim the Bible "This is my Bible" then you have to or should take it as a whole. The New Testament clearly states that those who follow Christ can count on suffering. While I do believe God blesses and we need to be encouraged from time to time we have to take a look at the entire picture and realize that sometimes we go through rough patches and just positive thinking alone will not get us out. Sometimes it take getting us on our knees and sometimes it may be that we need it. God did not take away Paul's "thorn in the flesh" and seem to understand that it was OK. It was God's will. Great article that stirs us on to think.
One final thought, stating that prosperity is guaranteed if we just believe is as much a complete picture as those who spout out that religion only causes violence. At opposite ends of the spectrum both theories only take enough facts to support their position and do not look at the entire picture.


Prosperity Gospel? God wants you to be Rich??

Which Bible is he reading? For that matter - what about those Christians who are truly following God, & living in poverty daily, or suffering persecution - like in parts of Africa, South America & China? What are they doing 'wrong' - apart from not being Americans?

Now I know you know this, James, I just got a little het up, as I do when such tripe is peddled in the name of Christ!


Oh come on! Surely the Vatican and the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodists are soon going to adopt Osteen's updated interpretation of the Bible, ie, "God wants you to be thin, rich and good looking!" I mean, it's so much easier to market than "God wants us to serve Him" and then going into that tedious stuff about 1) believing, 2) feeding the hungry, 3) visiting the prisoners, 4) clothing the naked, etc, etc, etc.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About The Miami Herald | Advertise