Saturday, August 9, 2008

Osteen-esque Entitlement and Knowing Your Place

Just in case you missed the news, Victoria Osteen, wife of Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen, has been taken to court by a flight attendant who claims Mrs. Osteen assaulted her during a dispute over a dirty airplane seat. For what it's worth, I think that even if the defendant did and said what the plaintiff is accusing her of, the requested damages are ridiculous. (10% of her net worth? For some harsh words and an elbow to the boobie? Come on.) And I have no idea if she's guilty or innocent -- let's presume innocence, like we're supposed to -- but the prosecutor is illuminating some things that are far more interesting to me than the accusations. Some samples:
Victoria Osteen said when she first told a flight attendant about the spill, she was handed some napkins. She said she responded, "'It's not my job.' I didn't say it in an ugly tone of voice."

Catch that? Given the opportunity to clean the mess, Victoria Osteen's response was "It's not my job." It doesn't matter if she said it sweetly or not; it doesn't even matter that she was technically right. If you're a follower of Jesus, wiping up people's crap is your job.
And c'mon, we're talking about a spill here. A normal person would have just wiped it up with the napkins handed to them. But the Osteens do not believe they are normal people. They believe they are special, and peddling the glory of our own specialness is of course how they've come to afford first class tickets in the first place.
Reginald McKamie, Brown's attorney, asked Joel Osteen why he said in one of his religious messages that if it wasn't for him, his wife would be in prison.

Osteen said he meant it to be a comical statement about the differences between him and his wife, that he likes routine and considers himself boring while his wife is outgoing and likes to go to new restaurants and new places.

"You don't go to jail because you like different restaurants, do you?" McKamie asked, as the packed courtroom laughed.

"No sir," Joel Osteen said.

I don't have a point in sharing that excerpt. I just think it's hilarious.

Here's another important one, though
McKamie also asked Osteen whether his family was used to getting special treatment, making reference to an anecdote in one of the pastor's books in which he wrote about being allowed to take an expensive television camera onboard a flight to India even though it was against the rules.

"You feel that you're entitled to the favor of God ... to do things other people can't do," McKamie said.

"All of God's children are," Osteen said.

And that's the money quote. That's how Osteen and his variety of prosperity gospelism position Christian identity -- to be better, higher, more favored by the world than anybody else. It is a position of entitlement.

And it is the antithesis of grace. Because they believe they deserve special treatment. The camera incident cited there comes from an anecdote in Your Best Life Now, where Osteen describes being told by a clerk that he would have to check a camera with luggage, that it couldn't be carried on. He basically argued with her, got nowhere, and then the pilot, who overheard, tried to placate Osteen by offering to stow it in the cockpit. Osteen writes (p.36):
The woman behind the counter glared at me and shook her head, clearly aggravated. I just smiled and said, "Sorry, ma'am; it's the favor of God."

No sir. It's being an ass.
And I imagine after that incident, that clerk didn't come away thinking, "Wow, God is awesome to favor a believer that way." She was likely thinking, "Wow, what a jerk your followers are, God."

Osteen and his devotees believe they know their place. As children of God, they are entitled to money, health, good jobs, special treatment.

They know nothing of the cross. And it makes me wonder if they've actually read any Jesus in the Gospels.

We are not entitled to anything. We have graciously been made co-heirs with Jesus, and our response, out of gratitude and joy and love for God, should be humility and servanthood and sacrifice.
Certainly we can wipe up a spill every now and then. As lovers of God and neighbor, it is our job.


Jared said...

The Thinklings quote for today happens to be something very related from our friend Rob Harrison (aka The Ancient Mariner):

"For one thing, I'd challenge the idea of a 'scriptural right.' In the Scriptures, 'right' is an adjective."

Nate said...

"We are not entitled to anything. We have graciously been made co-heirs with Jesus, and our response, out of gratitude and joy and love for God, should be humility and servanthood and sacrifice."

You are so painfully, painfully right.

Anonymous said...

This trial may once and for all prove to be the big shut up for all the people who think Osteen is an evangelical Christian. This is what the prosperity Gospel produces: entitlement.

isaiah543 said...

Thanks for a great post, Jared.

Eric Guel said...

If you're a follower of Jesus, wiping up people's crap is your job.

Man that is as hilarious as it is true. :-) I laughed out loud when I read that. Hard.

Anonymous said...

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'

Luke 17 v. 10 (ESV)

Mr Osteen tells us 'You're not victims, you're victors'. The Lord Jesus says 'Your a servant'. I know who I'm going to believe!

Mark Main said...

Great Points. The Gospel of the easy entitlement will always prove to exhibit rotten fruit.

Rob Harrison said...

Great post. (Interesting synchronization with that quote, too--hadn't caught that.) I had a half-formed reaction to this story along the same lines as yours; you captured the key point here superbly, I think, bringing my own thoughts into focus, for which I thank you.

Unknown said...

It's a civil trial - so there is no guilt or innocence. Also, there are no prosecutors. The flight attendant is the plaintiff and Osteen is the defendant.

Jared said...

Richard, thanks for the correction. 'Preciate it.

Anonymous said...

"peddling the glory of our own specialness"

phrases like this are why I will buy your book!

Jared said...

nhe, sweet!

I'm gonna get to work on some new phrases. :-)

Adam said...

This is tremendously sad, not funny.

All this does is prove to non-believers that Christianity is full of a bunch of hypocrites and gives them yet another reason to disregard true believers. Regardless of what you think of Osteen, all that many people know of him is that he's a pastor of some big church. That means that in a way, the name of Christ is getting drug through the mud.

steve said...

Nice post, Jared. I'm not that familiar with the Osteens, their church or their message. Doesn't look I'm missing much. It saddens me to think of the damage they, and others before them, will do to Christianity as a whole with their arrogance and sheer disregard for others. They are where they are because they appeal to the selfish side of people. What Bible are they using, anyway?

Rob Harrison said...

Adam, I don't think anyone thinks this is funny, except perhaps in the "laugh to keep from crying" kind of way.

Anonymous said...

So Osteen's twinkling eyes and the "but he's so cute and harmless!" expression doesn't work with the court?

When does he start in with the "Touch Not Mine Anointed! Do My Prophet No Harm!"?

P.S. I can only afford to fly coach, and that only twice a year.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jared,
I read your blog as often as I can, but up to now I haven't commented. We are in Peru (just a short time, one month) and after being with the believers here who live incredible lives with so little, the post almost brings me to tears.

kc bob said...

It is just a matter of degree for Osteen. Most professional Christians feel that they are entitled.. just look at their compensation

Caron said...

Bottom Line is he makes merchandise of God's people... Justin Peters deals with this subject with excellence at click on demo... It is well worth it.

Chanda Canup said...

Thanks for once again bringing the deception out there into the light. The thing is, the "prosperity" the Osteens promote and glorify, really, is just rubble that will all be consumed in the end. How sad to invest in such worldly things as believers, and to cause others to stumble in this way. How sad to trade in the real thing for smoke and mirrors.
Really good post.

Chanda Canup said...

....btw, for clarification, the "real thing" I'm talking about is our focus of joy and fulfillment as believers. I would never presume as to the salvation of anyone else. We all fail miserably when we choose to live in the flesh.

kc bob said...

I do wonder about this entitlement issue.. is the offence of "Osteen-esque Entitlement" merely an issue of way too much? Or is it just an issue of professional Christianity taken to its logical conclusion?

I do wonder why no one finds fault with the non-prosperity-gospel professionals who make a lot of money from their ministries/churches and refuse to reveal their salaries to their donors? Maybe this kind of entitlement is just a little too close to home for professional Christians and those who worship at their feet refusing to hold them accountable?

Caron said...

The churches are 501 c3's... you should be able to check them out, their salaries, etc... I am not sure why it is not the same with the prosperity people...

kc bob said...

Most (501c3) churches will not giveout compensation information on their employees. If they do it will be at a summary level but not at an indiviual level.

Rich Hopkins said...

Hmm. Let's jump to judge. Entitlement? Or Appreciation? Deserving the best, or expecting the best?

Ever gone to Wal-Mart and left something in a different aisle at the front of the store because you didn't want to put it where it belonged?

Ever leave your tray at the booth at McDonalds because it 'wasn't your job?'.

Victoria Osteen probably should have cleaned it herself. She makes a human error and gets sued and slurred. We do it and it just becomes a regrettable incident.

As for Osteen's theology, it's only off if you choose to look at it from a selfish perspective. Last I checked, God did want the best for us - but the definition of best is His not ours.

Jared said...

Rich, so it's okay because we all do it?

Last I checked, God does want the best for us, and you're right "best" should be defined in His terms. That's exactly what I'm arguing for: an abandonment of defining "best" by money, privilege, position, power, and "prosperity" and an acceptance of "best" as Jesus.

Rich Hopkins said...

Not 'ok because we all do it'. Forgivable vs. judgeable.

As prosperity preachers go, Osteen is tame. He doesn't promise we'll be rich, privileged, well-positioned, powerful by worldly standards. That's what people hear, but not specifically what he says.

He avoids clarification of this, granted - allows people to take what they hear by their own value system. What he then encourages people to do is to find a bible-based church, and it is there they will find clarification - the rest of the story.

I see Osteen not as a TV preacher creating a worldwide congregation with one view, but as a Johnny Appleseed, spreading the good news, the milk of the message, then directing them to churches to learn to handle the meat.

Too often we as Christians try to shove meat at people with no teeth.

I wish Osteen would preach MORE of the word. I believe he doesn't not to mislead, but to avoid minimizing his audience as he spreads the seed.

If he starts begging for money, claiming God will call him home, healing people - I may not choose to see the glass so half-full.

For now, why not take advantage of the interest he's creating to bring more people to the goodness that Jesus provides?

Jared said...

Forgivable vs. judgeable.

It's not condemnation to call bad behavior bad behavior or sin sin. Not all rebukes are bad judgment. Unless you think Paul sinned every time he called someone out for preaching a false gospel.

That's what people hear, but not specifically what he says.

Sure it is. I've heard him say it.

but as a Johnny Appleseed, spreading the good news

The milk of what message? He admits he doesn't talk about sin. And you can't talk about the gospel without talking about sin.
He doesn't talk about the sufficiency of grace and he doesn't talk about sole satisfaction in Jesus.

why not take advantage of the interest he's creating to bring more people to the goodness that Jesus provides?

I am. I am trying to do what Paul did with false gospelists. Labeling them as accursed.

-- Jared Wilson, coffee drinker, blogger, televangelist watcher

kc bob said...

"I am trying to do what Paul did with false gospelists. Labeling them as accursed."

Paul probably met those folks that he cursed and had more than a helicopter view of them and their teachings.

Jared said...

Bob, so is your stance that we can no longer judge a person's theology by their teaching and preaching and writing but have to know them personally?

It continues to astound me the gymnastics people will require to allow calling a spade a spade.

Meanwhile strangers can call me judgmental, etc., bypassing their own rules in order to suggest reading/hearing something and analyzing it is unfair.
The mind boggles . . .

kc bob said...

My position is that we shouldn't flipantly call a person accursed.

On the other hand, possibly you went too far and simply meant to judge his teaching and not really curse him. If you did then I retract my criticism as I was simply responding to labeling Osteen as accursed.

Jared said...

It's not flippant. Maybe that's the breakdown.
I take this stuff very seriously. I take the gospel very seriously. The very fact that a different gospel holds so many captive and confused frustrates and depresses me.
This is a HUGE thing for me, because I believe it is a HUGE thing for the Church, whom I love very much.

My math goes like this:
Paul said "If anyone preaches a different gospel, let them be accursed" + Osteen preaches a different gospel = ___________

That's how I arrive at my "judgment."

kc bob said...

My understanding of that first chapter of Galatians passage is that Paul was condemning leaders who were telling people that they needed to keep the law to be saved. His condemnation seemed to be involved with the elements of salvation because these folks were adding to what was required to be saved.

Perhaps you can expound on what you see in Osteen's teaching that is heretical with regards to salvation and coming to Christ.

Jared said...

He leaves out sin. If there's nothing to repent of, salvation becomes about getting the stuff what we want and being happy.

This stuff is well documented all over the Internet and in journal articles. Michael Spencer and Michael Horton talk about it most often and most keenly.

Don't have the time to rabbit trail from my work to reiterate stuff already well traveled lots of other places.

If my reluctance to engage further on this matter means you think I'm wrong or dodging or whatever, I'm fine with that.


kc bob said...

No problem Jared.

Your last comment seems to point to the fact that you have little first hand knowledge of Osteen.. sad that you felt the need to curse him based on what others are saying?

Did these other folks also feel a need to curse Osteen?

And feel free to respond when you are not working.. I am in no rush.

Jared said...

One last time:
I was referring to those two because:
a) they write better than I do
b) I assumed deflecting focus on me would take me being judgmental out of coloring the analysis

I have written about Osteen and interacted with his words numerous places on this site and at
The search functions at both places should turn up the posts.

kc bob said...

Thanks for the admomition to check out your writings. About a year ago you said:

"These facts don't mean Joel Osteen is not a Christian."

If that is true then why would anyone curse his brother in Christ?

Again, feel free to respond when you are not at work.. I am in no hurry.