A little over a week ago, recent Christian convert Kanye West took his "Sunday Service" to the Texas church of controversial mega-pastor Joel Osteen. It was a concerning move in the eyes of Bible believers, given that Scripture stresses the need for new converts to surround themselves with wise counsel and mature Christians who can disciple them. Neither of those two qualities were likely to be present at Lakewood Church.
When he took the stage, Kanye went to bat for Osteen:
"There's a lot of people in the Christian community that try to give Joel a hard time, because when you turn on the radio he keeps on showing you how good God is."
In fairness to Kanye, it's unlikely he's ever really read or sought to actually understand the criticism Osteen gets in orthodox, traditional Christian circles. Suffice it to say, it has nothing to do with the mega-pastor "showing how good God is." In fact, it is Osteen's propensity to not declare the full counsel (goodness) of God that I find objectionable.
For instance, consider this galling excerpt from a recent service at Lakewood that has been making the social media rounds:
In a nutshell, we could call that clip the "anti-Gospel."
It's mind-boggling to think that a person who is even peripherally familiar with the Jesus of Scripture could say something so backwards.
When I watched that video, I found myself wondering if there was anyone at Lakewood that morning who was wearing old shoes, and the message that was being portrayed to them at that precise moment. Stop and think about that for a second. Someone actually being led to believe that God might not be smiling at them if they had holes in their shoes.
Think who is left behind by such a haughty doctrine. Forget impoverished Americans who might have stumbled that morning, lost and hurting, into Joel's Houston palace just in time to hear that. Osteen's gospel manages to condemn as "less than" every African villager, every homeless refugee, every destitute widow in the third world – the precise people that Jesus, time and time again, embraces and exalts in His ministry.
Remember that in Matthew 11, Christ described His own work as proclaiming "good news to the poor." Later, when attending what would have been a very Osteen-approved social function at a prominent religious leader's home in Luke 14, rather than compliment the well-heeled, Jesus encouraged them to invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to their functions in order to be blessed.
And this is reflected over and over in the ministry of Jesus on earth. In His parable of the Great Banquet, He reinforces the truth that it is the poor, indigent, deprived, and penniless who are invited into the Kingdom of God. In His recounting of the rich man and Lazarus, it is the helpless beggar with open sores who receives the eternal favor of God while the rich man is sent to everlasting punishment for his earthly misdeeds.
That's why Kanye's defense rings hollow as a short-sighted mischaracterization of the mega-pastor and the criticism he justly receives. If raggedy clothes are the best you've got, you are still welcome in God's Kingdom. He rewards us for our faithfulness, not our fashion.