For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.How do you suppose the Apostle Paul, if he could’ve been given such a forum, such a world stage as “The Larry King Show,” would have handled these questions? Do you think he would have answered Mr. King differently?
KING: Is it hard to lead a Christian life?
OSTEEN: I don't think it's that hard. To me it's fun. We have joy and happiness. Our family--I don't feel like that at all. I'm not trying to follow a set of rules and stuff. I'm just living my life.
KING: But you have rules, don't you?
OSTEEN: We do have rules. But the main rule to me is to honor God with your life. To live a life of integrity. Not be selfish. You know, help others. But that's really the essence of the Christian faith.
KING: That we live in deeds?
OSTEEN: I don't know. What do you mean by that?
KING: Because we've had ministers on who said, your record don't count. You either believe in Christ or you don't. If you believe in Christ, you are, you are going to heaven. And if you don't no matter what you've done in your life, you ain't.
OSTEEN: Yeah, I don't know. There's probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you're a believer in God, you're going to have some good works. I think it's a cop-out to say I'm a Christian but I don't ever do anything ...
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
Where to begin? Let’s start with a major mistake in categories. I am thinking of those all-important categories of “Law” and “Gospel.” Mr. Osteen confuses or conflates the two. Biblically, the Law is what God requires of us and the Gospel is what God accomplishes for us in the Person and work of His Son.
Mr. Osteen knows no such distinction. Rather, he says the “essence of the Christian faith” is to “not be selfish” and to “help others.” Loved one, this is not anywhere near to being the essence of the Christian faith. The essence of the Christian faith is the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who He was and is and what He did on our behalf.
“Do not be selfish. Help others.” This is the non-gospel message of Mr. Osteen. This is the non-gospel of justification by niceness. [“Justification” is a theological word never used by Osteen.] “Be good!” is not the Gospel. For that matter, it’s not even the Law. It’s what Michael Horton dubs: Law-lite.
Mr. Osteen’s non-gospel message epitomizes Richard Niebuhr’s description of the “gospel” according to theological liberalism: “God without wrath brought men without sin, into a world without judgment, through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
No, Mr. Osteen is not a liberal theologian. (In fact, he is a theologian only in the loosest sense of the word.) But his non-gospel message, in the final analysis, brings us to precisely the same point as the liberalism of old--Christless “Christianity.” How sad, how absurd, that a Christ denying talk show host, Larry King, seems to grasp the reality of the situation better than the mega church pastor and religious author, Joel Osteen.
Which brings us to our next and last observation: Point blank, Mr. King queries Mr. Osteen concerning the eternal destiny of those who “don't accept Christ at all.” Rather than lovingly and unflinchingly preach Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men, Mr. Osteen feebly responds: “I don’t know.”
Mr. King presses further: “They're wrong, aren't they?” Rather than make the most of this second opportunity, Mr. Osteen yet again squeamishly utters: “I don’t know.” In this short transcript I count Mr. Osteen say “I don’t know” seven times. The ignorance or pretended ignorance is astounding. Do you know what’s even more astounding? The fact that millions of believers in Jesus look to such teachers for spiritual guidance. What does this say of the condition of the Church in the West?
Where is the certainty born of the conviction that the Bible is God’s sure, eternal, and everlasting Word? We need servants of Christ who know and know that they know. I’m not talking about the certainty born of ignorance; but the certainty which comes from knowing and understanding God’s word.
We need servants of the Lord who recognize that the source of spiritual authority and truth does not reside in the individual or person but in the scripture. We desperately need men and women cut from the same cloth as the Apostles, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon. May God grant that you and I be that kind of person with that quality of passion and conviction--that type of person rightly labeled long ago: Christian.