Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Declare by Joel Osteen

I’m not sure what to make of Joel Osteen.  You may have seen him on TV preaching from the pulpit of the megachurch he pastors in Houston.  I recently finished his book I Declare.

I Declare is 31 declarations intended for the reader to speak aloud.  Each is followed by a couple of pages of related comments or illustrative stories.  Osteen’s notion is, as he puts it in the introduction, “Whenever we say something, either good or bad, we are giving life to what we are saying.”

It is an attractive message.  Osteen even says some things I agree with.

For instance, he speaks and writes a lot about the goodness, benevolence and love of God.  God loves us.  Christ on the cross is the great evidence of this, and it is far from the only evidence.

I even agree that what we say is important.  The things we say should bless God and encourage others.  Our speech should be full of gratitude and hope.  I think that our thoughts and emotions, and through them our actions, are affected by the things we say and hear.  We are helped and harmed by words.  For our part, we should strive to say what is helpful.

The leap Osteen makes is that “Our words have creative power.”  He means actual power to directly affect things in the world.  He says we should speak aloud to our problems because the world listens and obeys.  Osteen alludes to Bible verses that support his view.  I think he has selected verses and emphasized them over the rest of the Bible.  There are instances of God, prophets, and apostles performing miracles through spoken words.  They also prayed, smeared mud on eyes, built model cities in the dirt, cast shadows, held up staffs, or were simply touched.  In the Bible we can see that God is active in His creation, especially for the salvation of man, even when His actions are apparent to us, even in Biblical books in which He is barely mentioned.

I think this muddies the water on faith, too.  Is faith fundamentally trusting God, knowing that He is loving us and caring for us even in very difficult circumstances?  Is faith a power in itself, made effective by our words?  Maybe these definitions aren’t mutually exclusive, but they lead to very different expectations.

Though it has some Biblical dressing, it seems to me that I Declare is little different than what you might find in self-help books that come from other perspectives.  Sometimes I thought the premise is little different from that of The Secret.  I think The Secret was a great way packaging a message (and separating people from their money), but it is not great way to improve a person’s life.

I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself.  Get help from knowledgeable people and good resources, but wrestle with God’s Word directly and prayerfully.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Osteen, Joel.  I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life.  New York: Faith Words, 2012.