Joel Osteen was in the Nation’s Capital last night. The popular pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church threw out the first pitch at a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the visiting Houston Astros.
Osteen, who boasts the nation’s largest congregation, running more than 43,000 worshippers through his megachurch every weekend, will return to D.C. at the end of the April when he holds his fourth annual “Night of Hope” at National’s Park.
Not since evangelist Billy Graham has an American pastor so regularly filled arenas and stadia throughout the country.
Osteen finds the ballpark an ideal backdrop for a spirit-filled evening of “hope, worship and encouragement.” After all, he said, “Baseball’s about perseverance and letting go of the night before when it didn’t work out.”
Moreover, he said, America’s Favorite Pastime is “about family and spending time together.”
Of course, Pastor Osteen, blessed with a successful television ministry, highly-favored with several best-selling books, could not have risen to such prominence as a faith leader without attracting his share of haters.
In fact, more than a few of those actually hail from the faith community.
Like Michael Horton, a professor at Westminster SeminaryCalifornia, who accused Osteen of “heresy” on “60 Minutes” because of the way the Christian pastor teaches the Gospel.
Like Robert Liichow, founder of Discernment Ministry International, who disparaged Osteen’s uplifting sermons as “spiritual twinkies” that will “rot (believers) from the inside out.”
When I hear and read criticisms of Osteen by theologian types like Horton and Liichow, I am reminded of the Pharisees whom, the Gospels tell us, were critical of Jesus, who referred to them as a “brood of vipers.”
Osteen, who I met several years ago, did not go to seminary school, did not receive a Ph.D in theology. But he was trained up by his late father, John, who foundedLakewoodChurchback in 1959, who grew it into a congregation of 6,000, who launched its television ministry.
In 1999, John Osteen went to be with the Lord. And son Joel took over the ministry his father had started up 40 years earlier.
Joel Osteen doesn’t preach fire and brimstone, doesn’t preach hell and damnation like his daddy used to. And that’s why detractors, like Horton, like Liichow, think him spiritually soft.
It doesn’t bother Osteen. “I tell people all the time,” he said, “you can’t have faith if you don’t have hope.” Yes, he said, “People sometimes criticize me, (saying) ‘you are too positive.’ But you’ve gotta have hope. Even if it doesn’t happen today, I am one day closer to seeing it happen.”
I am persuaded that Joel Osteen has been anointed by the Lord to preach the Good News in our time. I believe his simple message of hope, worship and encouragement has a power that his detractors cannot fathom.
And I am convinced that the success Pastor Osteen has enjoyed – with his church, his television ministry, his books and his stadium events – are a testament that the Holy Spirit is with him.