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Cultivating Our Inner Osteen

Our Southern Baptist seminaries do a fine job of teaching students how to prepare and deliver expository sermons. The same could be said about any number of evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges. Still, I never cease to be amazed at the number of Southern Baptist pastors who refuse to explain and apply a given text of Scripture, let alone preach consecutively through a lengthy section or book of the Bible. This is true even in some of our most conservative churches. The reasons are no doubt legion, but one reason is that at least some pastors are buying into a kinder, gentler model of preaching that makes people feel good about themselves but clouds or changes the gospel of Jesus Christ. In short, some pastors are cultivating their inner Osteen.

A few weeks back Leah and I found ourselves in a hotel room in another city. It was Sunday morning, about 8:00 or 8:30, and I was preparing to preach at a Baptist church in the area. As we were getting dressed, we were channel-surfing, hunting for a television preacher we could listen to. We found Joel Osteen, whose warm smile and saccharine preaching always provides us with a warm, fuzzy and spiritually vacuous feeling. After about five minutes of Mr. Osteen, we found a Southern Baptist pastor on another channel. We were excited to find a "real preacher" to listen to instead of Mr. Osteen's Texas-fried rehashing of Harry Emerson Fosdick or Norman Vincent Peale.

The Southern Baptist pastor we listened to is well-known in SBC circles. He pastors a large church in a metropolitan area. I have watched his television ministry on a number of occasions and have heard him preach in person several times. He is a good preacher. But on this particular morning, something just didn't sound right. After five or ten minutes, Leah looked over at me and remarked, "he doesn't sound much different than Osteen, does he?" Unfortunately, I had to agree. There is no doubt in my mind that the pastor in question was simply having a bad day in the pulpit, as all preachers do sometimes. But I have heard many other Southern Baptist pastors, sometimes in large and influential churches, who consistently preach homiletical tripe that is both shallow in its content and ambiguous (or worse) in its theology.

Just recently I was in a large SBC church where I heard a sermon that was textbook Osteen. The pastor smiled. He talked a lot about hope, joy, victory and happiness. He pulled half-texts from all over the Bible to try and prove his point. It was the best internet sermon that money could buy, but it was totally devoid of the gospel. Like too many other sermons, this sermon fell into the trap (which I have written about elsewhere) of offering an invitation to respond to the gospel without actually explaining the gospel. The pastor invited people to "come to Christ," but he never explained what it means to come to Christ, what one must do to come to Christ or why one ought to come to Christ. And somewhere Mr. Osteen was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

I'm afraid this scenario is being played out weekly in many Southern Baptist pulpits. Pastors do not make the gospel clear, and they sound more like Joel Osteen or Robert Schuller than R. G. Lee or Jerry Vines. These men believe the Bible is inerrant. These men believe in evangelism and missions. These men believe that the Christian faith has implications for the wider culture. But sometimes you would never know this by their preaching.

In our therapeutic culture where even many Christians prefer Precious Moments to the Lion of Judah it is imperative that every Southern Baptist pastor resist the urge to succumb to their inner Osteen. Mr. Osteen and his ilk will always be popular–something about scratching the ears of the spiritually-itchy. But those who buy into the power of positive thinking, the prosperity gospel, culturally-driven pragmatism or even numbers-driven revivalism will always obscure, redefine or totally ignore the gospel, no matter how big their churches may be. It is not worth losing the gospel to gain a following, even if you can do it with a Texas-sized grin on your face.

So if you are reading this post and you are a regular pastor or teacher of God's Word, don't sell out the gospel in your efforts to reach more people. Don't warm their hearts with homespun tales and topical hooey. Don't give in to your inner Osteen (or any other gospel-deficient model). Preach the whole counsel of God's Word, make the gospel of Jesus Christ clear and call upon all men to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.