Why Joel Osteen's Teachings Have Been Compared To Atheism

Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen preaches what has come to be known as the "prosperity gospel." The main tenet of the prosperity gospel is to ignore the Bible's specific warnings about how riches and salvation don't mix. Just pray for God's favor and he'll make you a wealthy person. Despite being counted among The Washington Post's worst ideas of the first decade of the 21st century, Osteen's popularity and wealth have only grown ever since he took over as head paster of Houston's Lakewood Church in 1999. According to The Christian Post, attendance at the church has increased five-fold under his leadership, adding up to a whopping 52,000 people each week in 2016 and making it the most mega megachurch in the country.

Osteen's reach online has grown, as well. He preaches to millions over the internet, and as The Wrap reports, he beat a personal best for viewership in March 2020, when he tallied around 4.63 million online churchgoers. While the possibly Ferrari-owning pastor's signature cocktail of Christianity and positive thinking is undoubtedly making an impression on more and more people across the globe, others — particularly certain Christians — aren't so easily wooed. His prosperity has been called fake, heretic, and even been compared to atheism. Let's take a look at the complaints that some Christians have about the man they claim is misusing their faith.

Some Christians believe Joel Osteen teaches a false gospel

Like any modification of a religion that results in a growing movement, Osteen's prosperity gospel has its detractors among others of the same faith. Christian speaker Matt Walsh is one such believer. He raked Osteen over the coals in a vitriolic op-ed for the conservative website The Blaze. Accusing Osteen of preaching a "milquetoast, self-help Christianity," Walsh noted the conspicuous absence of the words "Jesus Christ" in the messages Osteen broadcasts over his far-reaching Christian media empire. He even went so far as to say that the megachurch pastor's Starbucks-style religion is actually worse for people than atheism. "An atheist is easier to save than a heretic," Walsh wrote. "Put another way, it's better for someone to reject Christ than to make up their own version of him."

If Walsh's criticism sounds a little harsh (at least Osteen is teaching some kind of Christianity, right?), he can point to scripture to back up his opinion. The writer of the Bible's fiery, disaster movie ending, the Book of Revelation, wrote, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth." While Walsh does have a point, he ignores the glaring irony of his own situation: just 500 years ago, his particular brand of Christianity was also considered a heretical misinterpretation of God's teachings.

Joel Osteen's blasphemously large net worth

Joel Osteen, seen above thanking the Lord for not having to let flood-stranded Houstonians stay in his church during Hurricane Harvey, has been very successful at convincing people that God wants them and — especially — him to be very rich. In fact, Osteen has used religion to enrich himself so considerably that some have even accused the haircut in a suit of being filthy rich. As Business Insider notes, he's just one of many wealthy people who become the targets of the have-nots. Of course, the one big difference between Osteen and an industry magnate is that Osteen's business charter literally says men shouldn't seek out worldly wealth. But whatever. The guy has found his clever workarounds to scripture like "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15) and that weird one in Matthew about a camel for some reason going through the eye of a needle (probably something lost in translation, as The Guardian points out). 

So just how profitably has God's favor anointed Joel Osteen's earthly existence? According to Celebrity Net Worth, the Christian motivational speaker's prosperity gospel has earned him a whopping $100 million fortune. However, the majority of that estate has come from sales of his books and fees he earns from speaking at non-Lakewood Church events. He hasn't taken a salary from the church since 2005. And what does a filthy rich evangelist pastor do with all his money? He buys a $10.5-million Houston home in addition to his previous $3-million home. You know, what Jesus would do.