Pastor Joel Osteen is, in the words of (fake) fashion icon Mugatu (played by Will Ferrell in Zoolander), “so hot right now.” The 46-year-old pastor heads America’s largest church, the Houston-based Lakewood Church, with 43,000 people in attendance per week. His 2004 book, Your Best Life Now, was a New York Times bestseller, as was his 2007 Become a Better You. He is hugely popular and hugely influential. Many people at the church where I work read his books, watch his shows, and listen to his sermons. He’s a really likable guy.

Steven Waldman, the founder and editor of, the Internet’s “largest faith and spirituality website,” recently interviewed the always-perfectly-coiffed Osteen, providing the good people of Mockingbird a lot of food for thought. (The article appeared in The Wall Street Journal.)

Here are two noteworthy statements by Osteen:

“I believe that when you think of the negative, and you get up discouraged — there’s nothing good in my future — I really believe it almost ties the hands of God. God works where there’s an attitude of faith. I believe faith is all about hope.”

“I believe God’s keeping the records, and I believe you will be rewarded even in this life. Somehow, some way, God will make it up to you. It may be He protected you from an accident you never knew. You can’t give God something without God giving you more in return, whether it’s peace or joy or satisfaction.”

How should we respond? I’ll keep it short and simple. Osteen’s articulation of Christianity is conditional: Think good thoughts, and good things will happen to you. Think bad thoughts, and bad things will happen to you. You pull the lever, God gives the prize.

The problem with this is twofold. First, this conditional relationship implies that the level of your faith determines God’s ability to act in your life. The idea that my mental state could, as Osteen says, “tie God’s hands” is alarming. I don’t want that much power.

Second, this brand of conditional Christianity gives people an impossible task. Just stay positive? What about the very real bondage many people are in? The human condition, described in the Bible, is that “no one seeks God”—rather, we are bound to seek our selves, our own good. To tell bound people, people enslaved to compulsive self-destructive behavior, to just change their thinking is dead-on-arrival.

In the Bible, God is seen as a Savior—someone who rescues people when they are at their worst, not when they are thinking positive thoughts. St. Paul met Jesus while he was still “breathing out murderous threats” against Christians. In Acts 27:20, St. Paul and St. Luke “abandoned all hope of being saved” in a storm at sea, before Paul comes to his senses and affirms God’s presence with him. In Matthew 26, Peter denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus went to the cross to save him (and everyone else). In the Old Testament, God chooses Israel not because of their greatness and strength, but because of their smallness and weakness.

So if you have control of your mental outlook, and if you are able to always do the right thing, Osteen’s views may suffice. However, if you are frustrated, tired, unable to do the thing you ought to do, I suggest you look to Jesus.