I have been preaching for 20 years. Yesterday I did something that I have never done before in a sermon. I publicly called out false teachers and named them by name. I said:
If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you. It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.
(You can watch my sermon here.)
I used to think that their error was so blatantly obvious that they could just be ignored. I was wrong. They are massively growing in popularity in the evangelical world and are seen as credible and helpful. Before I’m inundated with questioning emails I want to share why I distrust these two and think you should as well. So, don’t shoot me — at least not yet.
When I was a kid I could tell the difference between neighborhood kids who wanted to be my friend from the neighborhood kids who were my friends so that they could play with my toys. Joel and Joyce are the latter. They both teach a twisted form of Christianity that teaches obedience, giving and faith as a way to get things from God. They are both products of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel and The Word of Faith Movement, or the Seed Faith Movement.
John Piper does a great job of defining what the Prosperity Gospel is and why it is so sinister. Please take a few minutes to watch this before moving on to the critiques of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen:
.. But Biblically and historically, true prophets spoke out about injustice and exploitation. They spoke on God’s behalf when his people went astray and forgot the poor.
They punched up. Not down.
They spoke truth to power, not condemnation to the downtrodden and marginalized.
(As a fun exercise – have a read through the book of Amos and see how much these words resonate, or not, with the words of the so-called “prophets” of ultra-right wing Charisma News).
There are a whole lot of people who call themselves “prophets” today. But most of them barely ackowledge poverty, expoitation, or injustice. Jesus knew this, and that’s why he warned that there will always be a bunch of false prophets and false teachers running their mouths off who will “deceive many people” (Mt. 24:11).
You will know them by their fruit, because they only have one key message – God is going to “enlarge your tent” and “expand your influence”, he’s going to “give you great favor” and “bless you mightily”.
Of course God blesses. Of course God gives people favor, and even gives them influence sometimes. But these were not the main priorities of the Biblical prophets. This did not form the core of their message.
In Biblical times, there were two types of prophets.
- Firstly, there were those who feasted at the King’s table because they had been co-opted to speak well of evil leaders (1 Kings 18:19). They were always bringing these smarmy words of favor and influence and prosperity to the king. And the king lapped it up. Like a sucka.
- Secondly, there were those who were exiled to the caves, or beheaded (like John the Baptist) because they spoke out about the injustice or immorality of their leaders (1 Kings 18:4). The king didn’t like them very much. He tried to have them knee-capped.
I would suggest to you that, the leaders of the religious right in America, Charisma News, and so-called “prophetic leaders” of the charismatic and evangelical church (like James Dobson and Franklin Graham), have become the false prophets of this generation.
Case in point, their support of Donald Trump – possibly the most corrupt, immoral and unjust man to run for leadership in the Western World in recent years.
This man and his evangelical groupies have led a majority of white American evangelical Christians astray. (A Pew survey showed that 78% of white evangelicals support Trump).
These false prophets claim he is “God’s Trumpet” who will restore the power they long for – power over Supreme Court appointments. They hope to feast at his table when he comes into power and are willing to turn a blind eye to things they have been talking about for decades, including adultery, sexual assault, racism, misogyny, violence, etc.
They are the very definition of false prophets. And to my mind this calls into question every aspect of their ministry and teaching. They clearly DON’T have a hotline to God, because I know that God is particularly concerned about orphans and widows and foreigners. The very people that Trump bulldozes to build his next casino.
I urge you to consider what a true prophet sounds like. Listen to people who echo the prophets of the Bible, speaking truth to power and grace and love to the downtrodden.
Here is a sampling of Biblical prophets just to remind you what they sound like:
“Hear this, you who trample the needy and destroy the poor of the land!”
Amos the prophet (Amos 8:4)
“Seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 1:17)
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice”
Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 22:13)
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Ezekiel the prophet (16:49)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah the prophet (Micah 6:8)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts… do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the immigrant, or the poor…”
Zechariah the prophet (Zechariah 7:9-10)
Got it? It’s pretty clear to anyone who has immersed themselves in these scriptures.
The teachings of many modern day evangelical church leaders just do not resonate with God’s heart for justice, the way the Biblical prophets did.
So who will you listen to? I’d love to know, who you see as prophetic in this day and age? Share in the comments.
Now I’m no longer comfortable with the label of “evangelical” because I have become slack-jawed with disgust at friends who will defend Trump harder that they defend the gospel.
.. We cringe when pastors and church members have no qualms about praying for law enforcement and hear deafening silence when it comes to victims of police brutality — or pointed accusations that it was the victims’ fault.
.. It wasn’t “fair” policy criticism, and people — black people in particular — understood what he meant: Donald Trump was saying that a person of African origin was incapable of being president of the United States.
And for eight years Trump ran with that flag. He waved it around and beaned people over the head with it. He tweeted he had detectives in Hawaii combing through birth records and leaving no stone unturned. In his hands, the birther movement took life and grew.
.. I noticed the obvious token smatterings of black faces in the crowd.
.. I saw him talk at people who looked like me as opposed to talking with us. And most disturbingly, I saw bigots line up behind Trump. People who felt Obama was “other,” people who swallowed the birther foolishness, people who felt that it was the victim’s fault when they were shot by police, individuals who felt their skin color made them superior and somehow “oppressed” by social justice.
.. What we are now seeing is a break in the fragile alliance between black and white evangelical Christians, which was always fraught with historical baggage.
.. It has been observed that black men go into jails as “Christian” (i.e., raised in a Christian home and often identifying as Christian) but come out Muslim. In this transformation to Islam, they find a sense of self-worth and inner value. They develop a love for their communities, pride, and militancy for upliftment: factors the Christian church tends to miss, with its focus on the hereafter while the oppressors enjoyed a heaven here on earth.
These churches were on almost every corner in a community infested with squalor. Pastors were well dressed, decorated in jewelry, and escorted around in luxurious cars. But their parishioners were impoverished, fleeting lives surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and vice.
.. I came into my faith by way of the white evangelical church. The initial shock of seeing a pastor not dressed well, but in jeans and a T-shirt, gave way to a sense of peace. I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, started leading Bible study, and worshipped next to people of all shades and hues. God helped me toward a broader definition of “brothers and sisters.”
.. church has two diametrically opposite meanings within black and white societies. For the black community in America, since the early 19th century, church came to personify a refuge, a place of spiritual sustenance and succor. It was a foundation of perseverance that allowed black men and women to face their days dealing with bigotry, discrimination, hatred, and injustice. The black church also cultivated a robust demand for social change, which even in my days of being an angry, young rebel, I could not deny.
.. For white America, church is seen differently. It is a place to celebrate the success of life. Church is a joyous reveling for the fortunate in what God has done for them. It seemed eager to embrace glib political jargon and to conflate the doctrines of Christianity with a vague Americanism.
.. Church isn’t about injustice, because the people raising their hands to thank God for Donald Trump probably never had to face it.
.. The white evangelical church today now seems to me like a cruise ship with a mad captain at the helm. The passengers are dancing and partying as the band plays, totally oblivious to an oncoming catastrophe
.. But they don’t see the holes in the ship. They miss the small ones naturally, but even the bigger holes strangely elicit no cause for concern.
.. The evangelicals who voted for Trump effectively discarded the chapters of the Bible that extolled patience, love, forgiveness, peace, care for the poor and suffering, and replaced them with pamphlets for guided tours of the Wall, white nationalist jargon, and juvenile vitriol. They have gained the uncanny ability to campaign against “snowflakes,” following up a heartless bigoted statement with a profession of faith or a selective Biblical verse.
.. Despite my absence and feelings of brokenheartedness, white evangelical churches across this country are gleeful with self-congratulated accomplishment as they thank God for Donald Trump
.. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Why Donald Trump’s biggest Christian champions love him so much.
Observers have characterized evangelical support for President Trump as reluctant yet highly durable. But this depiction ignores Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians who, from the beginning, have been largely enthusiastic Trump supporters.
Sixty-one percent of Pentecostal pastors surveyed in 2016 planned to vote for Trump, and they are a force on Trump’s “evangelical advisory board.” And notably, the Pentecostal-Charismatic media consistently gives the president favorable coverage. Unlike the evangelicals who see Trump as a necessary, but distasteful, conduit for their policy preferences, sincere theological conviction drives many Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians to see the president as a prophetically foretold leader.
.. he uncannily demonstrates deep affinities with certain Pentecostal-Charismatic subcultures. Here are five historic subcultures and theologies that explain why some Pentecostal-Charismatics proudly support Trump.
1. Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrity culture
Trump has cultivated support among Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrities such as Jim Bakker, Paula White and Mark Burns, who, like the president, are media moguls with scandalous histories. These televangelists attain authority as Pentecostal-Charismatic leaders through celebrity culture over (and in some cases, against) traditional qualifications for the ministry, such as ordination or seminary education.
.. the general public historically viewed tongue-speaking, emotive Pentecostals — who burst onto the 20th century American religious scene with a black leader (William J. Seymour), interracial services and female preachers — as delusional or even dangerous.
.. as the movement grew, presidents seemingly warmed up to Pentecostal-Charismatics — even the televangelists. Televangelist Oral Roberts met with Kennedy, Nixon and Carter; in 1985, Ronald Reagan gave a very friendly interview to Charismatic Baptist media mogul Pat Robertson.
.. Trump’s invitation to Charismatic televangelist Paula White to deliver an inaugural prayer alongside evangelical legacy Franklin Graham — a role traditionally performed by respectable religious leaders from mainstream and mainline religious organizations — reflects the changing terms of politics and religion in the U.S. It is a cultural coup to promote White, seen in more traditional evangelical quarters as a “heretic” and “charlatan,” into these honorable ranks.
.. 2. Prosperity
Engaging with devotees of the “prosperity gospel” — whose believers celebrate overt displays of wealth as clear signs of God’s favor (see: the cast of Preachers of LA) — makes sense for the wealthy, celebrity-friendly Trump. His prosperity theology, coupled with his unabashed embodiment of conspicuous consumption, resonates with Pentecostal-Charismatics, who are leading creators and purveyorsof this much-maligned theology.
.. 3. Lowbrow know-how
Pentecostal-Charismatics hail from a long line of anti-institutionalists.
.. Some present-day Pentecostals perpetuate this anti-authoritarian stance, preferring (by wide margins) common sense to intellectual know-how, and viewing cultural elites with deep suspicion and antipathy. Trump’s repeated rejection of scientific consensus regarding climate change and his rowdy approach to foreign policy resonate with Pentecostal-Charismatics. In their view, educated elites don’t faithfully describe the world as Pentecostal-Charismatics know it, and those elites sure don’t know how to fix it.
Like many evangelicals, especially those who identify as fundamentalist, Pentecostal-Charismatics have been steadfast, passionate supporters of Israel, an integral part of their beliefs about “the end times.”
.. Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, therefore, is not just fulfilling a campaign promise; to many Pentecostal-Charismatics, it’s fulfilling God’s plan for the end of days. The value of this move can’t be overstated, because it confirms and gives physical reality to Pentecostals’ mystical perceptions of Trump as more potentate than president — a ruler in the order of the biblical kings of Israel.
.. 5. Monarchy
.. For Pentecostals, how America’s democratic government works in tandem with God’s monarchy isn’t always clear. But for most, “the people” don’t ultimately decide the fate of the United States or the world. God decides the future and “brings it to pass” through his own means.
.. When he disregards conventional wisdom, they see someone who, like themselves, goes against a coercive mainstream intellectual grain. When he supports Israel, they see a king, however flawed, and an instrument for the purposes of God. When he moves his embassy to Jerusalem, they see verification of their sacred narrative.
.. When Pentecostal-Charismatic advisers to Trump talk about their role in this divine drama, it is as godly intercessors on the president’s behalf.
From this vantage point, it hardly matters whether Trump behaves morally, won the popular vote or even colluded with Russia. Trump is not just a leader selected by the people: he is an intervention — God’s anointed, divinely elevated ruler. Actually, the sheer unlikeliness of Trump’s win fits the Pentecostal-Charismatic imagination for miraculous intervention, and moves Trump far above the reach of critique.