Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why I Said Joel Osteen Advocates Witchcraft

The other day Joel Osteen -- or whoever runs his Twitter account -- tweeted this: "The more you say what God says, the more you'll experience His best. Remember to speak life over your situation today!"

I re-tweeted this statement, adding this comment: "This is witchcraft."

A few people asked me what was up with that. What he said might be a little "out there" or "un-helpful" (as one guy put it), but witchcraft? Really?


Defenders of the Word of Faith-type preachers and "prophets" often point to verses like Proverbs 18:21:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Aside from the hermeneutical shakiness involved in building an entire theology out of a proverb, Word of Faith'ers misunderstand this verse. It is not saying your tongue holds supernatural power to speak matter or circumstances into existence. It is saying that it's possible to talk yourself into trouble. In the context of what other things the book of Proverbs says about the tongue, what this guideline means is that we ought to be careful what we say, sometimes be silent, and remember that we will be held to account for our words.

There are three biblical ways words can bring life:

1. We can generally agree that the tongue is a powerful force. Just read James 3. But you don't have to be a charismaniac to realize that words can hurt or comfort. Encouragement edifies; nagging and criticism do not. Many of us still carry wounds from words said to us in our past.

2. Also, those of us of the Reformed persuasion are quick to affirm the supernatural power available in the written Word of God spoken. The gospel is power. When God speaks, things happen. And the Holy Spirit uses the foolishness of preaching to stir dead men's souls and waken sleeping men's senses.

3. Those of us of the continuationist persuasion can agree that God sometimes heals people through humbly administered gifts of healing and the laying on of hands, and nearly all Christians can agree that God sometimes heals people through the effectual prayers of the saints. In both cases things change when words are spoken, but in neither case is the speaker's tongue the source of creative power. God is.

In all three of those senses, speaking words is powerful and life-giving. But in no biblical sense is merely speaking words God's way of creating material or medical prosperity. In no sense is this formulaic as Osteen and other Word of Faith'ers continue to maintain. In other words, it does not follow that if someone is experiencing major setbacks it is because they aren't "speaking words of prosperity over" their lives. Likewise, it does not follow that everyone who does speak such words will reap circumstantial goodness.

In the Word of Faith'ers awful trading of treasures in heaven for treasures susceptible to rust and moths, they interpret "life" as money, possessions, and never getting sick.

The gospel doesn't traffic in circumstantial goodness. Most of the New Testament, in fact, presupposes circumstantial badness.

The Word of Faith view of the power of the tongue is owed more to the world of The Secret or genies in rubbed lamps.

So, what do we call the idea that by speaking certain words you can create realities? That's called incantation. That's called sorcery. It's called witchcraft. And that is a damnable offense.


Anonymous said...

I've always thought it was ironic that some of the same people who castigate other Christians for reading Harry Potter or other stories involving make-believe, fairy tale magic have no such convictions about real-life practices that seem to be much closer to what the Bible calls sorcery. In addition to the word-faith practices about "speaking life," and avoiding any phrases that would "speak death," I've heard "the blood of Jesus" prayed as a sort of incantation in charismatic circles. Some Christians don't even see anything questionable about burying St. Joseph statues to help them sell their house.

Anonymous said...

Jared - thanks for calling this stuff on the carpet - you consistently do it, even though you get some push back.

I struggle a lot with friends at church who resonate with Osteen and his ilk. Can they also resonate with the real gospel? I'm beginning to think they can't and that I need to speak up actively and boldly against the counterfeits when I hear/see them.

Agree with the comment above me about the irony of crying "sorcery" about Harry Potter, and then practicing it openly as you've described.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Good stuff. The older I get and the more I reflect on the proverbs the more apparent it becomes that the wise way to benefit from proverbs is to prayerfully consider and reflect upon when proverbs apply. The stupid way to employ proverbs is as immutable karmic laws that state that if you do X then Y must follow or that a proverb has universal application. Death and life may be in the power of the tongue but it is, as you say Jared, the power to get you killed or saved depending on what you say and when you say it.

I have been convinced for years that not only is Word/Faith teaching nothing more than sympathetic magic that even those of us who are evangelicals need to be exceptionally cautious in how we appropriate wisdom literature. Proverbs was obviously considered so dangerous and easily misused a book that Job and Ecclesiastes were added as different kinds of correctives to its misuse. Ecclesiastes shows Qoholeth weighing one proverb against another to discover the limits of the wisdom tradition; while Job reveals that the "right" theodicy applied at the wrong time to the wrong person for the wrong reason is lying about God.

I think the craziest thing I saw in any way associated with this sort of word/faith stuff was annointing teddy bears so that people would be healed when they were put in contact with the teddy bears. I don't really have to cite the chapter and verse they used for that one, do I? :(

zach hoag said...

I have been similarly swift to criticize the WoFers, but as I've walked with a close friend recently through terminal cancer, it's made me think. Despite terrible hermeneutical flaws, do these guys have something of the heart of relentless faith in the goodness of God that others of us need? I've been confronted with my lack of faith recently and my qe sera attitude regarding sickness...But what if we *should* believe that his kingdom will break in and that his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven? What if, even when it doesn't happen, we should still believe that it will, the next time around? What if we are supposed to have that relentless kind of faith in the goodness of God?

Just a thought.

Brian said...

But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. (Philippians 1:18 NLT).

My opinion: no one's theology is perfect. I believe you have flaws in yours too. No one's motive is 100% pure all the time. But God still uses us. He even spoke through an ass...

Rejoice because the Gospel is being preached, even when you disagree with the brand or theology or motives.

I think you're being an ass about Joel Osteen... but God uses asses, right?

We are much more useful when we're preaching for (Jesus, Gospel, grace...) than when we're preaching against (other preachers, churches...).

Stephen Newell said...

Jared, I think something's missing. You say: "there are 3 biblical ways words can bring life:" and then blah. Did you forget to put that in or am I just dense? Or both? ;-)

Jared said...

But, Brad, Christ isn't being preached by Osteen, at least, not Christ's gospel. Just Christ as pixie dust.

Read the book of Galatians. It is an inspired rebuttal to the point of your comment.

Unless you think Paul should've laid off the Judaizers too . . .

Jared said...

Stephen, I'll edit to add numbers to them. :-)

Brian said...

Thanks Jared. I have read Galatians. Paul was an apostle—in a leadership role over that church. You?

Jared said...

First of all, Brian, sorry I called you Brad in first comment.

Second, Paul was not in ecclesial authority over the Judaizers. They were outsiders who infiltrated the church in Galatia he had planted.

Secondly, God through Paul says if anyone preaches a different gospel, let them be accursed. He doesn't say "But only believe this or say this if you're in ecclesial authority over them." In fact, he's telling the Galatians, the ones in submission, to believe this and therefore reject the Judaizer heresy.

So when a false teacher like Osteen turns God's Word into a Bartlett's Quotable Sourcebook for Magic and says things like Mormons are Christians too, it is the duty of gospel-believing people to call a spade a spade.

But you don't really believe what you posted in your previous comment yourself, or you wouldn't be calling me an ass on my blog. It's not like you're an authority over me, right? ;-)

Brian said...

Jared, no worries at all for calling me Brad. At least you didn't call me an ass!

I'm in way over my head here, I know my intellect doesn't measure up. I don't even know how to properly use the word ecclesial... I certainly couldn't hang with you in a theological debate. That's OK though. I don't really enjoy winning arguments.

I'm sorry for my comment about you being an ass regarding Joel Osteen. I reasoned/justified that it would be better to write on your blog—on your turf, than to write about you on my blog. But I do realize it's stupid either way.

What I should have said in the first place is: when you write about Joel Osteen, I feel like you are excited to call him out; that you want him to go to hell; that you don't want grace extended to him. That's the sense/feeling that I get, right or wrong.

That being said, I'm a hypocrite. I'd probably get all happy if you wrote something critical of Steven Anderson or Fred Phelps.

I enjoy nearly all the stuff you write about. I recently purchased your book, Your Jesus is Too Safe. I'm not trying to be a hater... just expressing how the Joel Osteen stuff comes off to me.

Jared said...

Brian, I appreciate that. Thanks, brother.

Adam said...

I wonder sometimes...do you think the prosperity ilk actually *knows* they're perverting the gospel for capital gain? Do they understand it's a scheme? I know we can't know for sure, but I can't help but wonder...more specifically, I can't imagine how they would NOT know it.

Jared said...

My hypothesis on Osteen? He's a very nice, well-meaning, sincere dullard. I don't think he has the theological categories or doctrinal awareness to know his errors, and so when people criticize him on this level, he writes it off as meanness, gracelessness, or what-have-you. So he doesn't have to really consider it. But if he did, I don't know if he could understand it.

Via insiders I am friends with, I know a few things about the inner workings of his church/ministry that would confirm this, but it is largely just my guess based on perception.

L said...


I very much agree with you here. Underlying the "word of faith" movement is a pride - that we somehow have some God-like power. Kudos to you for systematically breakdown a defense of your comment in regards to this issue.


Beanster said...

If i may comment, i spent 19 years in word of faith under the "authority" and "covering" of an "apostle." I embraced it, lived it, prooved it and yes, I preached it too... then The Holy Spirit started to call me back to the "pet scriptures" they used. "Look again" I felt sure the LORD was trying to show me more than i had understood up till then. When the blinkers finally started to come off it was horrendous! I came out flattened at the terrible realisation that id been hooked up to witchcraft, idolotry, heresy and all sorts.
In answer to a question above... No the congregations do not think they are practicing anything other than getting closer to God... The shock of such terrible discovery is awful, the trauma too... 18 months out and still i go into panic when Mal 3 gets quoted - there were so many controls and manipulations... word of faith is a cult, a subtle one, but a very distrubing and ultimately a very damaging one - and that is just in this life! I am sure the perpetuators of it are not aware of the damage they cause but my personal opinion for what it is worth is that satan has done a very good job and those of us who are arogant enough to think we are all that when it comes to doctrine, are in real danger of being part of the very elect who may be deceived.
i have always loved God... always sought to serve him and live according to his word. i never thought i would hear myself say the words "I fell into a cult movement". That term was reserved for moonies and whackos... im neither, i was just desperate to be right with GOD and i spent 19 years trying to measure up to word of faith teaching and demands instead of just accepting that I was made complete in HIM.
I thank God there are people like you out there who have the courage to speak out... you may never know what an encouragement you are to those of us left picking up pieces and trying to make sense of almost 2 decades of a life bowed down to this heresy. It IS another gospel and it is another Jesus they preach... You cant talk word of faithers out of this, the mind control is too deep, they will just reject you as a tool of the enemy and walk in the other direction. I know i've been there too.

Bless you.