Joel Osteen versus Saint Augustine

If you ever wanted to see Joel Osteen and St. Augustine in a cage match (especially after yesterday’s post), we here at 7A4K1F can arrange it.

First Joel Osteen comes out swinging, from the promo copy for his new book:

Take your dreams and the promises God has put in your heart, and every day declare that they will come to pass. Just say something like, “Father, I want to thank you that my payday is coming. You said no good thing will You withhold because I walk uprightly. And I believe even right now you’re arranging things in my favor.”

And also:

Instead, your declarations should be: I am closer than I think. I can raise this child. I can overcome this sickness. I can make this business work. I know I can find a new job.

(I’ll just note that Paul — that guy from the Bible — says it’s not “I” who do all these things, but Christ who strengthens us. I’m just saying.”

Saint Augustine, one of the fathers of the Church, philosopher and theologian, one of the most important men in the development of Christian thought, had this to say instead, from his Sermon 46, 10-11, on preparing Christians for hardships in the world:

Such a believer will then not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if he has been taught to hope for worldly gain, he will be corrupted by prosperity.

Oops. Well, maybe Augustine didn’t really mean that…?

Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. He who is weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him.”

Oh, I guess he did. Augustine continues:

But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.

(That’s not exactly the copy you want on your ad campaign, is it? “Come Be Christian! Suffer and die!” But precisely for that reason, it sounds more honest. The difference is, God promises that because of Christ’s sacrifice, our sufferings in this world have eternal value.)

Jesus did say that we should lay up treasure for ourselves in Heaven. That where our treasure was, that’s where our hearts would be. He also encouraged us to take up our cross and follow him. I think we know where Jesus would have sided.

Looking at these two, what do you think?  Because my money is on Augustine.


  1. capt_cardor

    I think the bottom line for this kind of philosophy is simply, what will get me the largest following… and ergo the most contributions? Tell people what they want to hear and they will give. Shallow, but historically most effective.

    John Calvin believed that since God lived out of time that God knew from the beginning of time the fate of all things: every decision that was ever made by man. This was called Predestination. The wealthy merchant class of Geneva turned this around to mean that if you were wealthy you must be predestined to be favored by God: in other words a member of the Elect. God would reward us with worldly success for all to see. Calvin must have rolled over in his grave.

    The Catholic Church for much of its history condoned aristocracy. Aristocratic members controlled all the wealth in society and all the positions of authority in the Church and they justified it by saying God chose them to rule by their birth into aristocratic families. The only members of the Church who came from the common people were the Monks, whom the Church itself considered a nuisance.

    Didn’t Jesus speak of the Pharisee who said, thank God I am not like him? How can you read the New Testament and not understand that Jesus found wealth and the need for more and more worldly things to be offensive?

    There is a very human weakness that needs to use religion to justify material or social superiority. All religions seem to be susceptible to it. Perhaps, Mr. Osteen is just more offensive because he uses modern means of communication to constantly get in our faces with a message of greed and worldliness.

    1. philangelus

      And actually, maybe I need to guard against “Thank God I’m not like Joel Osteen,” myself.

      I just find it so irritating that this person is hiding behind Jesus as a means of condoning large-scale societal greed. May God have mercy on us for creating a culture where such a thing could thrive. 🙁

  2. capt_cardor

    I don’t think you need to apologize for your indignation. Even Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple.

  3. Deb

    I am a member of a Christian denomination that does not have paid clergy. I have always been suspicious of people who use religion to accumulate wealth. Osteen always seemed too successful, somehow, and now I see why.

    What an attractive idea! But it completely negates the idea of growth through struggle. It really does hearken back to the contemporaries of Job who thought lack of money, poor health, or misfortune mean God didn’t “favor” you.

    And, again recalling Job, he never “claimed” anything. He humbly thanked God for his fortune. I wonder if Mr. Osteen ever read that story.

  4. Scott

    Now, what do you have to do to get this link to pop up as the first choice on google if some looks up his name? 🙂

    1. philangelus

      You mean a google bomb? What you do is have everyone who has a blog or a website link his name to this page, so that after a while, Google believes this is the most often cited page on Joel Osteen and credits it with the most authority.

      We don’t have enough people here to make a good google bomb.

  5. Lane in PA

    I’m with St. Augustine.

    When I turn on my shower, my sink faucet, flush the toilet, I give thanks for indoor plumbing. In that regard, we live like the ancient royalty, only far better.

    We can have ice cream without having slaves run up to the frozen mountain tops to return with ice. We have refrigerators. We have freezers.

    We have electricity so we can illuminate our evenings and read books, play musical instruments, create art.

    To the ancients, this generation that we are part of, is living in heaven, a true paradise. Clean water, good food on a consistent basis, medicines, education, long distance communications, movies, photography…okay, I’ll stop. You all get the picture. We are blessed.

    Why this isn’t enough for the Joel Osteens in the world is perplexing, to say the least. Just how much does one have to have to feel happy? How many vacation homes does it take to find Bliss?

  6. Promise

    I don’t understand this “Prosperity Gospel” idea at all. I guess the people who find that appealing don’t feel weighed down by possessions the way I do. Most days I’d like to chuck 90% of the things I own, including my lovely house, and go sit in a cave somewhere (but not in the desert, because it’s too hot there).