Interview: Joel Osteen on Life, Tragedy and Why He Shuns 'Prosperity Gospel' Label

CP: Should Christians boycott businesses for any reason, be it as an act of protest against child slavery or same-sex marriage? For instance, the Abolitionists boycotted sugar plantations that used slave labor.

Osteen: You know, my thing would be everybody's got to run their own race. So I wouldn't tell somebody to or not to. Some people feel called to do different things. I try to stay in my lane, and I'm not the authority on whether they should. I would tell them to do what you felt God has told you to do.

CP: What discipleship programs do you provide in your church to build upon Christians' biblical knowledge?

Osteen: I grew up with a lot of doctrine and a lot of theology, and that's all good, and that's all important. But I think one reason why my message has had some favor and success is because, how do you have a good attitude when you get a bad medical report. Or I get asked, "Joel, how do I keep the faith when I see these guys in Boston killing people?" I try to teach people how to forgive and how to have a good attitude.

[At Lakewood Church] we start with a program called new beginnings, it's a six-week course if you're just coming back to the Lord or are new to the faith, it starts with basic foundations. Then after that, there's one called foundations, and it's more in-depth Bible teaching. Then after that, there are classes they can choose from. It's a 50-, 60-year-old church that's rooted in making disciples of all people. So that's really the way we do it, and on Wednesday nights there's more Bible teaching.

I feel like what I'm good at or called to do is to throw that wide net of hope and try to get people interested in the things of God, let them know God's for them, he's got a plan for their life, and that they can overcome. I used to think that I've got to get everybody fixed, but I realize that the Holy Spirit is the one that convicts people, I just can share the Good News. I have no problem doing my part and letting God work on them.

CP: What are your thoughts about the prosperity gospel, and the televangelists who tell people that if they plant a $1,000 seed, all of their debt will be erased and God will bestow triple-favor blessings upon them?

Osteen: I don't like to talk against anybody. When we grew up with Oral Roberts it was seed faith, and I understand the principle. I get grouped into the prosperity gospel and I never think it's fair, but it's just what it is. I think prosperity, and I've said it 1,000 times, it's being healthy, it's having great children, it's having peace of mind. Money is part of it; and yes, I believe God wants us to excel.

[The Night of Hope event] costs $1.5 million, so we've got to have people who believe in it and people that can give. But I don't believe in pressuring people for money. At America's Night of Hope, I'm going to take a donation for World Vision, for other people. But on the flip side, I believe God wants us to excel and be blessed so we can be a bigger blessing to others. I feel very rewarded. I wrote a book and sold millions of copies; and Victoria and I were able to help more people than we ever dreamed of. But when I hear the term prosperity gospel, I think people are sometimes saying, "well, he's just asking for money."

CP: What misconceptions do people have about God?

Osteen: A lot of people grew up thinking that God's mad at them; God's out to get them; God's keeping a record of everything I'm doing wrong; and God's waiting for me to make mistakes. I just have a different view of God. I see God as my heavenly father, like my earthly father, as loving and kind. Yes, he disciplined me, he helped me make good decisions, but I knew my dad was always there for me. If I made a mistake, I wouldn't run from my dad, I'd go to him.

Secondly, people don't think God's relevant to their lives. I get it every day: "Joel, if God's good, how did he let the Boston bombings happen or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas."

God never said that if you have faith you're not going to have problems. He said just the opposite. He said, many are the afflictions of the righteous, it says in the scripture, but God delivers us out of them all. I think that's the misperception. But the truth part of it is that God gives us strength in the bad times. And when bad things happen – they happen to all of us – my mom with cancer… But if you turn to your faith, you think, "man I feel at peace, a grace." I don't know how people make it through life's challenges without the peace of God and the grace of God.

I think that's where they realize that God can be their friend. They can talk to God driving to work. They think they have to go and pray these long, holy thee's and thou's prayers, and that's all fine, but God will be involved in your life as much as you want Him to be.

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