Book Review: Your Best Life Now, by Joel Osteen
Someone might legitimately raise the question why we are reviewing this book. After all, the pattern here at 9Marks has been that we review Christian books.
I suppose we must be branching out now, because Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now is decidedly not one of those. Open the book to any random page, and you will likely find some mention of God or even a reference to Scripture. Yet that is just window-dressing.
When you wring the book out, what you end up with is nothing more than the soggy old self-help pop-psychology that people have been lapping up for a generation—with the word “God” thrown in every once in a while for good measure.
It was Benjamin Franklin, not Jesus, who said, “God helps those who help themselves.” That is Osteen’s message, too, only it is more like “God helps those who think well of themselves.” Imagine yourself to be a winner, and someday you will be a winner! Visualize yourself in a big house or a Lexus, and one day you will find yourself with both!
As Osteen puts it, “God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life” (35). The key to realizing that big dream is to follow Osteen’s seven steps to living up to your full potential:
1) Enlarge your vision. Believe that God will make you successful—not saved, not redeemed, not forgiven. Just successful. Expect God to do good things for you. “Perhaps you’re searching for a parking spot in a crowded lot,” Osteen sympathizes. “Say, ‘Father, I thank you for leading and guiding me. Your favor will cause me to get a good spot” (41).
Also, expect other people to do good things for you. “I’ve come to expect to be treated differently,” Osteen says. “I’ve learned to expect people to want to help me. My attitude is: I’m a child of the Most High God. My Father created the whole universe. He has crowned me with favor, therefore, I can expect preferential treatment” (39). And don’t think for a second that he’s kidding.
2) Develop a healthy self-image. After all, just like in the case of Gideon, “God sees you as strong and courageous, as a man or woman of great honor and value.” So stop thinking of yourself as a loser with a bad job, a small apartment, and a lemon of a car. Start believing that you can become what God says you can become. Take Sarah, for example. It took a long time for God to fulfill his promise that she would become pregnant. Why so long? “The key to the promise coming to pass was that Sarah had to conceive it in her heart before she was able to conceive it in her physical body” (80).
And we all have promises from God, don’t we? “I wonder how many great things God is trying to do in your life. We’re just like Sarah. We can’t conceive it. We’re not in agreement with God, so we’re missing out on His blessings” (80). So start believing. “God didn’t make you to be average. God created you to excel.” Therefore, “if you will start acting like it, talking like it, seeing yourself as more than a conqueror, you will live a prosperous and victorious life” (82-83).
3) Discover the power of your thoughts and words. If you think negative thoughts all the time, how can you expect God to bless you? But “when you think positive, excellent thoughts, you will be propelled toward greatness, inevitably bound for increase, promotion, and God’s supernatural blessings.” “The Bible tells us that we need to ‘transformed by the renewing of our mind.’ If you will transform your mind, God will transform your life” (108).
4) Let go of the past. You can’t live successfully and with “God’s favor all over you” if you are bitter and disappointed all the time. “You can’t unscramble eggs,” so just “fill your horn with oil,” like Samuel did—which Osteen apparently does not realize was to anoint the king—and be happy (175, 181)!
5) Find strength through adversity. “God wants you to be a winner, not a whiner” (191). So take challenges in your life head-on. Don’t back down from them, because “God has promised that He will turn your challenges into stepping-stones for promotion” (217).
6) Live to give! Be compassionate, empathetic, and kind. God has created you to give, and whatever wealth, possessions, and success he gives you, he intends for you to use for the good of other people. Besides, if you plant seed in other people’s lives, God will cause there to be a great harvest sometime down the road. So when a waiter offers to pay for your breakfast in a fancy hotel—even when the breakfast is included in the price of the room and would be free anyway—don’t tell him! No, no! Better to leave the poor guy in the dark. For, as you whisper sagely to your wife, “We can’t rob him of his blessing. He’s planted a seed by doing something good for us. We don’t want to pull his seed out of the ground and give it back.” So let him spend forty bucks for no reason, because you know “that when he planted that seed in the ground, God was going to multiply it back to him.” (255)
7) Choose to be happy. Happiness is a choice. So smile a lot. God will bless you if you do. Also, become a person of excellence. “God doesn’t bless mediocrity. He blesses excellence.” (282) So do you want a new car? Then wash the one you have. You want a bigger house? “Keep it looking nice. Make sure it looks like a person of excellence lives there.” “If you will start taking care of what God has given you, He’ll be more likely to give you something better.” (283) God has great things in store for you, so start living with some enthusiasm. If you will do all these things—follow these seven steps—then “God will take you places you’ve never dreamed of, and you will be living your best life now!” (306)
What exactly does one say about all this? A few things, actually.
First, even if you take Osteen’s book for what it really is—one more self-help manual focusing on the power of positive thinking—it simply doesn’t work. Thinking highly of yourself is not a pathway to success. Most of the time, it’s a pathway to having your office colleagues talk about you behind your back. You don’t believe me? Then try this: The next time you go into the office, try Osteen’s tactic of demanding “preferential treatment” because you’re a child of God. See how far that gets you.
More importantly, though, it should be noted clearly and widely that there is nothing Christian about this book. Yes, Osteen talks about God throughout, but it is not the God of the Bible he has in mind. Osteen’s God is little more than the mechanism that gives the power to positive thinking. There is no cross. There is no sin. There is no redemption or salvation or eternity. Even Jesus himself is mentioned only two or three times in the book, and one of those is as the punch-line of the story about the little tree who has a bad self-esteem until he figures out he’s being turned into the cross on which Jesus is to be crucified. That story may have Jesus’ name in it, but it’s not a story about Jesus. It, like the rest of the book, is a story about feeling good about yourself.
If Joel Osteen wants to be the Norman Vincent Peale of the twenty-first century, he has every right to give it a shot. But he should stop marketing his message as Christianity, because it is not. You cannot simply make reference to God, quote some Scripture, call what you’re saying “spiritual principles,” and pass it off as Christianity. That’s the kind of thing that will have people “enlarging their vision” and “choosing to be happy” all the way to hell.
The really frightening thing is that 5 million people have bought Your Best Life Now, and a good portion of those have probably walked away thinking they have read the Christian gospel. They think they understand the message of the Bible, and it is me. My success. My self-esteem. My house. My car. My promotion.
If that is what is passing for Christianity today, then the need for true gospel preachers is more than severe. Someone needs to tell these people—even if they are not inclined to hear; even if it’s over the heads of their own “pastors”—that the gospel is not about collaborating with God to make yourself successful. It is not about getting more stuff and being more prosperous. It is about God forgiving people for their sin through the death of his Son, bringing them to life from the spiritual dead, and conforming them to the image of Jesus Christ. Whether Joel Osteen preaches those truths in his church of thirty-thousand, I have no idea. But he certainly has not written about them.