Today’s world is filled with people who operate from a false ethic of love that both denies true love and a true knowledge of Jesus Christ. A survey of bumper stickers and trendy sayings that find their way through the channels of social media reveals a woefully deficient view of the person and work of Jesus.
Over the last twenty years, Joel Osteen has been called “America’s Pastor” and his church has consistently remained in top 5 largest churches America. In his infamous interview with Larry King back in 2005, Joel Osteen made some extremely troubling statements that have become commonplace with his ministry through the years. When King asked Osteen about specific sins, there was a dodge of the question, but eventually Osteen made a troubling admission.
KING: How about issues that the church has feelings about? Abortion? Same-sex marriages?
OSTEEN: Yeah. You know what, Larry? I don’t go there. I just …
KING: You have thoughts, though.
OSTEEN: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don’t think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.
KING: You don’t call them sinners?
OSTEEN: I don’t.
KING: Is that a word you don’t use?
OSTEEN: I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.1CNN Larry King Live, Interview with Joel Osteen. [Aired June 20, 2005 – 21:00 ET]
Although Joel Osteen issued a public apology for not being clear regarding the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ during his 2005 interview with Larry King, he has remained very consistent through the years in his acceptance of all people into the life of his church and a refusal to warn people regarding the danger of persisting in sin. Osteen has refused to issue calls for sinners to repent.
Jesus’ peaching was quite different than many modern figures within evangelicalism. Jesus preached the gospel and in so doing, he called sinners to repentance. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14). The term repent comes from a Greek term “μετανοέω” which has in mind the idea of turning and changing direction. It’s a compound word that is focused on changing thoughts, perceptions, dispositions, and purposes. Jesus demanded that people turn from their ways of rebellion and submit to God. This description of Jesus’ preaching reveals the fact that Jesus was a confrontational preacher.
After John the Baptist was put to death by Herod, Jesus’ popularity continued to grow and the crowds continued to expand. As Herod heard of Jesus’ fame, he asked his people the same exact question that Jesus once asked his disciples. Herod wanted to know what the general populace thought about the identity of Jesus. The people reported to Herod that some believed Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others believed he was Elijah, and still others held to the opinion that he was a prophet of old. When Herod heard the reports, he responded and said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (Mark 6:16).
This was the same report given by the disciples to Jesus when he asked them the same question (Matt 16:13-20). If people thought Jesus was John the Baptist or perhaps a bold prophet of old raised from the dead, you can imagine what it must have been like to sit under his preaching. Needless to say, Jesus preached with the conviction and power of the prophets.
Israeli Historian David Flusser has argued that Jesus is to be understood as one who “represented a humanistic trend in Judaism that was then developing out of the liberal wing of the School of Hillel.”2David Flusser is cited by Richard N. Ostling, “Religion: Who Was Jesus? The debate among scholars is as heated as the one in Hollywood” Time Magazine, August 15, 1988. [Accessed 2/23/23] Flusser continues his description of Jesus by suggesting he “wanted a feeling of love and understanding and identification with one’s fellow human beings.”3Ibid. Any serious reading of the New Testament contradicts the notion that Jesus was an ecumenical rabbi who roamed around employing a sappy ethic of love. While Jesus did love people, that genuine love is demonstrated in his willingness to call people to repentance.
Jesus did not come to planet earth on a tour, he came on a mission. That mission involved the preaching of good news and the precise confrontation of sin. When Jesus preached, he did not avoid the sin problem. Jesus’ approach to preaching demonstrated his firm commitment to the truth. Jesus’ preaching was not centered on making people feel good about themselves. We see this in how he addressed the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day.
In Matthew 23, we find some of the most severe words that ever proceeded from Jesus’ mouth in his earthly ministry. They were directed at the religious leaders of Israel. The people entrusted with positions of power and influence who should have been pointing people to God and leading the way for the worship of God, yet they were perverse men with polluted hearts. Jesus called them “blind guides” in Matthew 23:16 and “white washed tombs” filled with dead men’s bones in Matthew 23:27. The potency of Jesus’ preaching is demonstrated as he thundered the woes of judgment at the elite religious community. Jesus addressed the Pharisees by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”4Matthew 23:16 [ESV Bible]
This is not light preaching to say the least. Jesus was a judgment preacher who issued woe after woe as God’s faithful herald. In like manner, Jesus called out sinners personally. He did this in the case of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4. Rather than accommodating her and seeking to win her over through kind words, Jesus took a different approach. He was honest with her about her sin. Jesus’ words pierced her heart as he exposed her adultery and divorce practices. However, as a faithful preacher of righteousness, Jesus did not leave her in a place of shame. He pointed her to the living waters of his sovereign grace where she would be totally satisfied and forgiven for her rebellion against God.
Compare Jesus’ preaching to the modern evangelical world or with some of the failed trends of evangelicalism and you begin to see a major contrast. I read an article by John MacArthur some years ago titled, “What’s Wrong with ‘User Friendly’?” In the article, John MacArthur is addressing the “User-Friendly” phenomenon that swept through evangelicalism with the seeker sensitive church growth movement. He provided some popular testimonies from these “User-Friendly” churches that were being used as marketing tools to reach their community. One member described their church by stating:
“The sermons are relevant, upbeat, and best of all, short. You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin and damnation and hell fire. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching. It is sophisticated, urbane, and friendly talk, it breaks all the stereotypes.”5John MacArthur, What’s Wrong with “User Friendly”? [accessed: 3/17/23]
In his earthly ministry, Jesus was never aiming at sophisticated urbane talk. Jesus was God’s Prophet who delivered the message of the gospel faithfully. The church growth movement was an utter disaster and a complete failure. The result of the church growth movement was that it accommodated the culture, watered down the message of the church, hijacked pulpits, and welcomed goats into the membership of the local church. Rather than remaining committed to the truth and preaching the Word of God faithfully, many pulpits caved to the gimmicks of the seeker sensitive ministry philosophy and sadly many of these local churches never recovered.
As today’s pulpit remains under attack from a perverse culture, we must hold our ground and remain committed to the biblical definition of preaching within the life of the local church for the glory of God.
|1||CNN Larry King Live, Interview with Joel Osteen. [Aired June 20, 2005 – 21:00 ET]|
|2||David Flusser is cited by Richard N. Ostling, “Religion: Who Was Jesus? The debate among scholars is as heated as the one in Hollywood” Time Magazine, August 15, 1988. [Accessed 2/23/23]|
|4||Matthew 23:16 [ESV Bible]|
|5||John MacArthur, What’s Wrong with “User Friendly”? [accessed: 3/17/23]|