Victoria Osteen was Right

Theology / Biblical Studies

Social media has been ablaze lately with Christians tearing strips off Victoria Osteen for saying that when we worship God and when we do good, we’re not really doing anything for God, but we’re doing it for ourselves. My take is this: Osteen is actually right, and people are taking a certain glee in misunderstanding her because, well, she’s Victoria Osteen.
Here’s the (very short) clip in question:


A number of comical parodies have ensued, with the clip ending with anything from Bill Cosby telling her that this is the dumbest thing he has ever heard to Mrs Osteen being killed by Daleks. You’re all wrong. Victoria Osteen is right. Here’s the truth, as I see it: We can’t add anything to God’s glory, to his satisfaction, to his self-sufficiency, and we can’t provide God with anything that God needs. Here are another couple of truths: Our happiness is a good thing, and we actually flourish as human beings when we are worshipping God and doing good.

Mrs Osteen granted that “one way of looking at it” is that we worship God and do good for God. And of course in an obvious sense we do. Worshiping and serving God by their nature are acts of subservience and obedience. So yes, we do them for God. But Osteen was getting at something else. As she said, God delights in our flourishing (actually she said that our happiness makes God happy, but I think I’m hearing her rightly), and worshiping God and doing good is good for us. We’re not improving God when we do these things, we’re improving ourselves. These things literally are what is in our best interest.

John Piper has been saying this stuff for a long time, under the banner of “Christian hedonism.” God takes our happiness seriously and delights in it. Worshipping God is a matter of flourishing. This is what’s really good for us. I don’t think Osteen communicated as clearly as she might have, but I certainly think people have been too eager to jump on the dog pile just because of how unpopular the “prosperity Gospel” of Joel and Victoria Osteen is among Evangelicals (as I think it should be).

So, here I am saying that Victoria Osteen was right and her critics are just too eager to pounce.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Reed September 7, 2014, 10:58 am

    Good call. I watched this video a few days ago but couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about.

  • Christian Flannagan September 7, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Great post!

    The purpose of worshipping God is to bring us closer to him, not to gain his favour or make him happy (as is common in many polytheistic religions). He doesn’t need us to tell him how great he is, because he is all knowing. He doesn’t need us to lift him up, because he is all powerful.

    I’ve known at least a few people who were struggling with their faith because they perceive God as egotistical and self-centered. This stems from his apparent desire that everyone worship him lest ye BURN IN HELL!!! They forget that worship benefits us, not God. In my own experience, worshipping God helps me live up to my own moral standards far better than I can otherwise.

    Unfortunately, however right Victoria Osteen might have been, the tone in her voice seemed partially satiric and made the video almost cringe inducing to watch. I’m sure she meant every word, it just sounds really bad out of context.

  • Andrew September 7, 2014, 9:59 pm

    “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
    As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1611) Galatians 1:8-9

    If you wish to join the false teacher Joel Osteen and his Harlot (Revelation 17:5, KJV) wife Victoria in their false so-called “prosperity” Gospel which is NO GOSPEL AT ALL, then so be it. You are anathema too.

    “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611) Exodus 32:26–28

    When the day comes, “Dr” Glenn Andrew Peoples, your titles and worldly education will not save you.

  • dale September 7, 2014, 10:40 pm

    …because it’s the KJV, bro.

  • Nathan September 8, 2014, 12:10 am

    Andrew, perhaps try reading the post before pouring from your jug of scorn. There’s no love for the prosperity lies going on here.

  • John Quin September 8, 2014, 12:14 pm

    I’m calling Andrew on trolling. No one could every really be THAT two dimensional.

  • Glenn September 8, 2014, 1:06 pm

    I would call trolling just on the basis of the link back to the ugliest website in the world. But you can never really tell…

  • John Quin September 8, 2014, 1:31 pm

    It’s not pretty is it. LOL

  • Matthew Flannagan September 8, 2014, 1:37 pm

    There is a well known distinction here between, the reasons that justify a practice or rule, and the reasons that should motivate us to follow a rule.

    Take an example used by Michael Smith and Derek Parfit. A case where performing action is desirable because that action contributes to ones own long term self interest. Smith and Parfit argue that, in cases like this, it doesn’t follow that its desirable that one desire or be motivated by ones self interest in performing the action. Its possible a persons long term self interest is best served if one seeks certain things like friendships and for their own sake.

    The same point occurs in discussions of ultitarianism, utilitarians often argue that particular actions or rules are justified because they promote happiness. However, they also often argue that utility is not served if you follow these rules or do these actions for the sake of impartial happiness. The impartial happiness is better served if people care for spouses and children for their sake and follow certain rules because they are considered sacred and so on. Adam Smith made the same point when he argued that the common good is best served in certain contexts when people don’t seek the common good but seek their own private good.

    Apply the distinction here, God’s reasons for commands us to do certain things is our own happiness. If we obey God and worship him we flourish and that’s why God wants us to do that. It doesn’t follow from this however that we should obey Gods commands for the sake of our own flourishing or that our motive for worshipping him should be that it makes me happy.

    It seems that what people object to in Olsten is this latter point, that we should be motivated to serve God, not out of love for and respect for God but rather by the fact it makes us happy. This is entirely compatible with the observation that obedience and worship is good for us and God delights in our happiness. The issue is rather whether we should be motivated solely by our own happiness in doing these things. That’s a different question.

    I think a person who helps the poor or loves his wife or worships God, not because he cares about the poor or loves his wife or loves God, but because he believes its in his interests is lacking an important component of the moral life and lack of it will prevent him or her actually flourishing in the way God wants.

  • Glenn September 8, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Yes, that distinction is one that people often trip over – especially when it comes to divine command ethics. The question here, Matt, is what Victoria meant when she said that “you’re not doing it for God – really,” even though “that’s one way to look at it.”

    My reading of her, which I think is both charitable and plausible, is that she means that sure, one way to look at it is that we’re serving God by doing these things because God wants us to do them, but really in terms of who benefits from these actions, we’re doing what’s good for us, not what’s good for God.

    I think we’d be giving her a pretty raw deal to say that she meant to deny that God is worthy of our worship and obedience and that his will doesn’t matter except as a means to our enjoyment. I took her to be drawing attention to something that may be overlooked within the context of obedience, and as per her response to critics, she just didn’t express it very well.

    Plus – Every now and then I go out of my way to defend somebody that people wouldn’t expect me to defend. It’s easy to give our friends the benefit of the doubt, but being what we are, that can be a stumbling block. It’s motivated partly in the same way, I think, as my comments condemning those who use vigilante violence against people we all love to hate, like child abusers. We need to be more on guard than ever when we’re tempted to gang up on those on whom it’s easy to gang up. And I like to provoke people.

  • Blair September 9, 2014, 6:29 pm

    I think she is absolutely, ridiculously wrong. God is Love, and His Divine Eros is constantly seeking communion with us. He created us out of love, to love. Our worship is an act of love that He, the lover of mankind, seeks with raging passion, and with solid action in Christ. John 3:16 and all that.

    Now, there is a sense that God is complete in and of Himself, that He is fulfilled in Trinity on one level, that to ascribe the word “need” to God beyond the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is misleading, and in that sense, yes, Olsteen is correct. But it would be a very charitable person who would read that into what she said. She was basically giving her standard theological viewpoint – the one that has made her a ton of money – which is that Christianity is all about us and fulfilling our needs. Not about union with the Energies of God, nor about being crucified with Christ.

    Is worship “for us”? Of course it is. Worship, especially involving the Eucharist, can transform us into the image of Christ through our participation. But it is not just “for us” – God is not indifferent to it – He calls out for it in love and humility, through Christ, that in return we would love Him and humble ourselves, communing with Him and putting to death the life of the flesh. Worship is dying to oneself and uniting with Christ, for the benefit of Christ and for our salvation, not out of His need but out of His Eros. Worship is a colabour. It is synergy. If it really was just about us, then ultimately we are engaging in a form of pietism that ensures it matters not who is worshipped, just that it is done.

  • Glenn September 9, 2014, 8:44 pm

    “and in that sense, yes, Olsteen is correct”

    Indeed. And in her response to critics, she states that in fact this is what she means: That we are the one who is benefited from worship and obedience. That sense is correct.

    “But it would be a very charitable person who would read that into what she said.”

    I try to be a charitable person. After all, “the greatest of these is love.” Besides, I don’t consider it reading in, and she has confirmed that this is what she was saying.

    There’s no need to assume that Osteen denies all those other things. Indeed, that would be uncharitable. She said that on way to look at worship is that we do it for God. But she was drawing attention to something else. Let’s take the charitable approach to those we might be tempted to dislike.

  • Blair September 10, 2014, 3:42 am

    Sure, if you take what she said about us in isolation, she speaks truth. But her first statement, about God, is absolute garbage. It’s not “either or”, but “both and”. It’s an important distinction, and, as I said, her statement is designed to fit into a self-centred view of faith that is the hallmark of their preaching.

    I don’t dislike the Olsteens at all. But I have heard them speak, and with the exception of the Roman Catholic mass I once attended, their preaching is the most content and gospel-deprived I have ever encountered. There’s no real difference between what they do and what Tony Robbins does. And like Robbins, they charge admission for their events! (I only heard them because I was working at the arena at the time).

    It’s not so much what the Olsteens do say as what they leave unsaid. There is absolutely a place for an evangelism that deals with people’s self-absorption and meets them where they are. But you have to take them somewhere with it. I have a Facebook friend who regularly intersperses Victoria Olsteen quotes on her page with pro abortion memes. She sees no incompatibility between the two things, largely because the Olsteens say nothing of any great weight to their customers (which is what they are).

  • J.Redding September 10, 2014, 5:41 am

    A friend sent me to your post. Here is my friendly warning about Piper’s emphasis on joy/feelings from almost a decade ago.
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2YFUI0DNOYWX/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00IYOXEW0

    You’re right when you note that few people have had any issue with Piper’s Christian Hedonism. Of course, at least Piper is emphasizing God’s glory and our faith. I don’t hear that in the Osteens. I just hear self-obsessed happiness.

  • James September 21, 2014, 8:49 am

    I will sing to the Lord all my life;
    I will sing to my God as long as I exist;
    May my words be pleasing to Him,
    And I shall be glad in the Lord.
    -Psalm 103(104): 33-34

    It would be dishonest to say that your happiness is of no importance, but imagine if a marriage counselor told you to think about your relations with your spouse being all about you and not about your partner.

  • Glenn September 21, 2014, 9:45 am

    “your relations with your spouse being all about you”

    Of course that would be wrong – Just as wrong as attributing that view of our relationship with God to the Osteens.

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