There has been a lot of talk concerning Joel Osteen’s interview on the Huffington Post. Many have discussed and posted concerns over some of the comments that Osteen made. However, as I watched the video, I was struck by another reality. It did not seem that Osteen was prepared for the big questions asked by the host. The host (Josh Zepps) stated that he was an agnostic. Zepps presented some heavy questions to Osteen such as “why do bad things happen to good people,” “what about times when God doesn’t answer our prayers,” and other questions of like manner. As I reflected on this interview, it struck me that a pastor MUST have a general understanding of apologetics in order to minister and, especially, to evangelize. There are three reasons why apologetics is important for pastors based upon three of Osteen’s responses.
As the host and Osteen were discussing different issues, Zepps notified Osteen that he was an agnostic, but open to the idea of God. Osteen did not offer any suggestions as to why someone SHOULD believe in God. Rather, he said, “I mean this God, if you believe in God…” (Osteen, Huffington Post Live). But, this begs the question; why should one believe or disbelieve in God? Why do you hold the convictions that you do? One of the great problems in the modern church is that some who sit in the pews and, even, some who stand behind the pulpits do not know why they believe what they do. If belief is not internalized, can true faith exist? Faith is a dependency…a trust. How will one have a trust in something that one does not truly accept? Understand that I am not saying that Osteen does not have a true belief in God. I think he does. However, we must stand ready to give a reason for our belief. Peter said as much, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV).
It is not being suggested that one should give a long explanation for the reason that one believes in God. However, the Christian leader should be willing to give an abbreviated reason for one’s acceptance of God’s existence. As mentioned in a previous article, the kalam cosmological argument is a quick and easy way to show the reason why one can rationally believe in God. Unfortunately, Osteen did not seem prepared to give such an argument or a reason for why he believes in the God of whom he writes and sells books.
When posed with some very difficult questions concerning God and the problem of evil, Osteen gave some decent suggestions. However, he then said something that seemed to demolish his arguments, “It all seems so outlandish with your head…” (Osteen, Huffington Post Live). There is inherently wrong in admitting that there are things in which we do not know. As a matter of fact, it is commendable. However, Osteen could have moved on to give a working basis on how some come to solve this dilemma. Nothing much was offered. Nothing much was given. Osteen could have spoken about the problem of sin in more detail. However, Osteen speaks on the problem of sin very little. Osteen could have spoken about moral evils, which he alluded to but did not develop. Osteen could have even spoken about how God brings things to good even if in eternity. Nothing much was offered. Nothing much was given. It seemed as if Osteen was caught off guard by many of these questions.
But this brings another concern to me: what is so outlandish about the Christian message? Is it really outlandish or is it that Osteen has not taken the time to learn about the reasons for belief? I think it is the latter. This is yet another reason why pastors need to have a working knowledge of apologetics.
Zepps asked a great question, “How can we know that the majesty and divinity of God has been captured in these ancient books (i.e. the Bible)” (Zepps, Huffington Post Live)? That was a HUGE question in which Osteen had a perfect opportunity to answer with the issues with issues of the reliability of the Bible, archaeological evidences confirming the Bible, and early documentary resources. Osteen could have mentioned the love and grace of God presented in the Bible. Rather, he said, “It’s about a faith that is in your heart and not in your head. A lot of it too, Josh, is how we were raised. I was raised in a preacher’s home. This is what I was taught and what I teach” (Osteen, Huffington Post Live). I could have pounded my head on my desk when I heard him say those words. What does a person’s raising have anything to do with anything??? Some people were reared believing that the things that happened in the concentration camps in Auschwitz were good. Just because a person is reared a certain way does not make that way correct. At this point in the conversation, it seems that Osteen was overwhelmed with the depth of the questions.
Osteen needed to present the veracity of the Christian message. He needed to show that things can be known to be true or false. He needed Ravi Zacharias by his side. A person’s faith must elevate beyond the scope of one’s rearing. A grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, or sister cannot make one’s faith personal. It must come by the working of God in the person’s life. It was at this point that Osteen fumbled the ball and allowed Zepps to run it in the endzone for a pick six.
I am not claiming that Osteen is not intelligent. I am not saying that Osteen does not truly believe in Christ. I think Osteen is an intelligent believer (even though I have core differences of opinion with him). However, Osteen has admitted that he has never attended seminary. I am not claiming that Osteen should, but I am claiming that Osteen could use a big dose of apologetics in his life. The main point is that this interview shows all pastors why apologetics is necessary in our day and time. This is not a new venture. Jesus, Paul, and Peter used apologetics from time to time. Great Christian apologists like Justin Martyr and Thomas Aquinas have filled libraries with grand books on the reasons for belief. A basic understanding of apologetics would have taken Osteen to new levels in his interview. A basic understanding of apologetics will elevate your ministry, too. The time has come to take Peter’s words seriously in that we are to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Huffington Post Live. (October 2, 2013). http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/joel-osteen-break-out-/5245e21502a760058700022a. Accessed October 10, 2013.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.