Joel Osteen vs Brian McLaren: Which is the Greater Distortion of the Gospel?

Thursday is for Discipleship

1 Joel Osteen1 Brian MclarenI’m not completely comfortable with even starting this post. But I think it is important to the health of the Church for the next generation. Part of my discomfort is that I am a friend of Brian McLaren.

We went to the University of Maryland together; we took three classes together in college; I preached in his first church some thirty years ago; when I planted New Song Church in Bolingbrook, IL, we sang a number of Brian’s compositions in our worship services; when I wrote my book Experience the Passion of Christ, (The Sojouring Press, 2004), I phoned Brian and asked for some help on a piece of art; and when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ and the International School of Theology, Brian and his wife Grace were one of my financial supporters. And at one point, I think around 1984-85, Brian contacted me and asked me to consider giving leadership to his recently started Seed Fellowship.

I love Brian and I have been terribly disappointed in the bend and drift of his thinking for the last 15 years or so.

Nevertheless, here’s the question:

Which is a greater corruption / distortion of the gospel, Joel Osteen‘s or Brian McLaren’s?



14 thoughts on “Joel Osteen vs Brian McLaren: Which is the Greater Distortion of the Gospel?

  1. Marty, your compassion for your old friend is evident…and I applaud you for that. I can feel your angst in the question. Here are some succinct thoughts I would proffer to your question.

    Both are distortions…tragic distortions. I find it hard to measure the types of distortions against each other in terms of greater or lesser. (When you get below the surface of their language, some of what they say is the same, or at least points down the same road bordering on universalism.) So, for me, and it may be just me, the question goes to which distortion is the greatest danger?

    My take is that would be Osteen…hands down. Mclaren makes statements which give clear distinction between the historic faith and his emergent brand of heresy. Osteen, on the other hand, mixes his version with accepted psycho-babble and pleasantries which charms a gullible audience with “Christian sounding god words” from the Bible. While both distort the gospel, Osteen fits the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ with sickening clarity. Maybe this is too simple of a response, but those are my brief thoughts. Hope others chime in….


  2. Joel Osteen always seems too new agey for me,it feels false. I have read interviews of his and the ones I have read say that he loves Jesus, but I don’t recall ever reading that Jesus is his Saviour.
    Beware the false prophets.


  3. Marty,
    I know your friendship is important. It’s got to be hard. However, both men have strayed far from the gospel and border on universalism and at best neo-orthodoxy. It’s tragic. I will continue to pray for both men. Thanks for your courage


  4. Your post has encouraged me to do a few google searches since I don’t know in detail how to answer your question. But here is what I found out about Joel and Brian.

    Joel says, “People define Christianity differently. I think a large portion of our population are Christians, they’re not all growing in their faith, they’re not all active, but I believe that a lot of people believe in Jesus and believe that he is their Lord and Savior.” and also, “Well, at the end of every service I give people an altar call, or a chance to make a profession of their faith. I was reading in the Bible a couple of days ago and one translation says that Jesus said that if you publicly will acknowledge me before people, I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven. So that is a big part of these meetings (Night of Hope), giving people an opportunity to publicly say, “Jesus, I believe you are the messiah, you’re Christ, you’re my Lord.” And so, that is the way I would carry out that scripture. And letting people know that I believe Jesus is the only way. If you don’t believe that, that’s fine, but this is what I believe and this is what I would encourage in my faith.”


    And Brian says in answer to “What is the gospel?” “R: Here’s how I’d say it in a sentence (after the jump):

    The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God – God’s reconciling community, God’s new way of living, God’s dream for creation, God’s mission in this world, God’s healing of all creation, God’s will being done on earth as in heaven, Creation 2.0
    At hand – within reach, available to everyone, truly here and at work, present, inviting our participation, calling us to rethink everything and reorient our lives

    This is the good news Jesus proclaimed both before (Mark 1:14) and after (Acts 1:3) the resurrection. It’s also the good news Paul proclaimed (Acts 28:23, 31). It’s the one I hope more and more of us rediscover, embody, celebrate, and proclaim as well. source:

    They both seem to have a unique and different way of preaching the gospel. Kind of like an invitation, salvation is available through Jesus and the kingdom of God is at hand, take or leave it. Joel puts a lot of emphasis on being blessed if you follow Jesus. Brian seems to imply in what I have read that salvation is available to all and possibly that all will be saved. Maybe you could clarify in what areas these two preachers are missing the mark.


  5. I would submit that a distorted Gospel is a false Gospel and a false Gospel is powerless to save sinners. There are many religions that acknowledge Jesus that are false. The Roman Catholic Church, Mormons to name two.


    1. If someone was trying to determine what the true gospel is, how would he go about doing that? Many claim that their gospel is the true gospel and often base that determination on their interpretation of scripture. How can someone know without a doubt who has the true interpretation? If someone seeks with a sincere heart to know God and seeks to receive God’s saving grace through faith that results in being saved, but through no fault of his own somehow believes what others interpret as a false gospel, can he be saved? Is it possible that God in knowing the sincerity of a person’s heart in seeking to be saved by grace through faith, doesn’t care if the person is Mormon, Protestant, Catholic, or whatever. Can a preacher who follows the dictates of his conscience with a sincere heart and preaches a gospel he interprets as true but others interpret as false be saved?

      How do you interpret this passage from Roman 10:5-13?
      5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ”b (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ”c (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”d that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”


  6. Reading comments with interest – I’m not sure you can put the two false teachers on a scale. They influence people in very different ways. Osteen is much more broadly known and has an impact on a broad spectrum of the community. McLaren has a very strong impact on a narrow band of the Christian community, which then has a good deal of grass-roots community involvement.


  7. Simply stated – false is NOT true and therefore without merit in regards to true trust and belief and faith. Any false claim or “gospel” is of equal value – NONE – no power to save. Does the degree of distortion matter? As the Church we need to point to the truth in all cases to fight the untruth. There is no degree of truth – only one truth so there is only one degree of falsehood = untruth. The Church needs to be diligent students of the truth (God’s Word) and so be better able to identify a counterfeit and counteract falsehood. Preach the truth, without comprise, in love, with heat and light!


    1. That’s the point. Is there enough in either man’s presentation of the gospel for a person to be saved from the wrath to come? to be brought into the Kingdom of God? to be made into a child of God?


      1. The word of God if it is heard is powerful enough to break through false teaching and save sinners, Martin Luther is an example,but belief in falsehood can not save. God is not a God of confusion and the Gospel is clear. There are many things that are hard to understand in scripture but the Gospel is not one of them.


      2. Marty, you are asking another question here and not addressing the first. The first question deals with a matter of degree of validity, “Which is the greater distortion of the gospel?”, whereas your new question deals with a matter of degree of veracity – is there enough truth for one to find their way to Christ. The answer to your second question “….is it possible…” The answer is all things are possible with God – yes.


  8. An important thing to remember with Brian, is that, to my knowledge Brian has never received any advanced education in theology or Bible. He has not been to seminary. He is trained in English literature. He does have some knowledge of Greek.


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