One of my favorite moments from the Office is when a flat broke Michael Scott learns about the option of declaring bankruptcy. If he only declares bankruptcy then all of his bills are gone. So he does just that:
We laugh at this because it is ludicrous to think that just because we declare something that it will somehow be spoken into existence. I love when Michael says, “I didn’t say it, I declared it”. It’s silly to think that you can declare something and it will inevitably happen. Right?
According to Joel Osteen, Michael Scott is on to something. His latest book “I Declare” is a collection of the most powerful blessings in Scriptures. According to Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Osteen wants people to speak blessings into their future rather than curses. If you want to know who you’ll be in five years just look at the words you say about yourself today. If you buy this book you can “take charge of your future”. For 31 days you can declare what God says about you instead of those negative words. Your world will be changed.
Where He Is Right
What Osteen is really encouraging people to do is to preach to themselves. And there really is value in preaching to ourselves (provided the content is correct). Furthermore, we really ought to be certain that our identity is founded upon God’s view of us rather than a fallen view of ourselves. The words we say really do matter. They don’t have the same amount of power that Osteen wants them to have—but the Bible is clear that the tongue is a powerful instrument for good and for evil. He gets that much correct. But then…
He Totally Shanks It
While there is benefit in proclaiming the gospel to yourself and there is a benefit in seeing yourself the way that God does, Osteen’s muddy non-gospel taints every single one of these declarations. His theology has no room for a blood-soaked Cross or disciples following the dangerous path of the Suffering Servant. Woodbridge and Jones summarize Osteen’s “non-gospel” well when they state:
Osteen’s gospel, then, is that Jesus died in order to save man from a less than ideal life. Absent from his preaching is a well-defined concept of original sin, as well as a biblical explanation of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Of course, within prosperity theology these omissions make sense, for negative thoughts impact your ability to gain God’s favor; thus, sin and the cross are omitted. (Health, Wealth & Happiness, 77)
Consider Osteen’s version of preaching the prosperity gospel to yourself. Here he encourages us to wake up and proclaim these words to ourselves:
“Good morning, you beautiful thing. Good morning, youhandsome thing. Good morning, you blessed, prosperous, successful, strong, talented, creative, confident, secure, disciplined, focused, highly favored child of the Most High God.” (emphasis mine)
Now let’s see how that gels with the Apostle Paul who declared himself to be the chief of sinners:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
(Ephesians 1:16-23 ESV, emphasis mine)
See the difference? Osteen has us looking within ourselves and calling ourselves amazing. Paul (and I could have pulled in a host of other verses) has us looking outward. Looks within always are met with declarations similar to “I’m the chief of sinners” but quickly followed by a “BUT, in Christ…” And it’s not declarations of “since I’m in Christ I’m now promised prosperity”. No it’s quite often “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”
The last time I checked the only One with the power to speak things into existence is the Almighty. Our faith in Him doesn’t somehow give us the power to then look outside of Him and “change our futures”. No, our faith calls us to look solely to Him and to trust the work of His hands, not conjure up a world of our own making.
Why This Matters
Inevitably somebody will respond that I am being too harsh on Joel. After all isn’t he a nice chap that is just trying to help people? It’s not like he’s telling people to go out and throw kittens in wood-chippers. He’s simply telling people to think more positively about themselves and consider themselves the way that God does. What is so wrong about that?
Quite a bit, actually.