It’s Your Time Book Review: Dump this book, Discard much of what you learn, Desist reading
Inspired by this post from Matthew Paul Turner, basically making fun of Pastor Joel Osteen’s (NOT OLsteen, maybe LOLsteen) new book, It’s Your Time and a one-star review on Amazon in which the “reviewer” essentially wrote that Osteen was a fraud, he hadn’t read the book, and never intended to read the book (the review’s since been taken down), I felt prompted to go where most Biblical evangelical Christians choose not to go.
I am a little sensitive to Joel Osteen and his ministry and likely not as hard as I should be. Thank my mother. I believe that God used Pastor Osteen’s ministry to bring my mother to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. She was hesitant for many, many years but after watching Pastor Osteen regularly, softened up, accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and now regularly attends a local Bible-believing church. I have seen Osteen’s telecast and at the end, he does give an invitation (though many Biblical evangelicals would consider it a weak one) to accept Jesus. Although the criticism is that Jesus is secondary to his preaching of the “health and wealth” gospel,” which we’ll get to later on in the review. (Click on the photo on the left to enlarge it and essentially read the “invitation” Joel Osteen provides.)
What were the issues then that led me to give this book a rating comparable to “poor”? Quite a bit. Sit back and have a nice cup of coffee or tea as you review this list with sometimes lengthy explanations.
1. Too long. From start to finish, It’s Your Time runs a little over 300 pages. The book has 23 chapters and is broken up into five different sections that include 4-5 chapters each:
- It’s Time to Believe
- It’s Time for Favor
- It’s Time for Restoration
- It’s Time to Trust
- It’s Time to Stretch
- Expect God’s favor and you get “every” thing. (quotes mine) From the very beginning of the book:
“God promises your payday is on its way. If you’ll learn to be a prisoner of hope and get up every day expecting God’s favor, you’ll see God do amazing things. You’ll overcome every obstacle. You’ll defeat every enemy. And I believe and declare you’ll see every dream, every promise God has put in your heart, come to pass.” —Joel Osteen, It’s Your Time, p. 16 (emphasis mine)
- If you’re not in the right place at the right time, you could miss a God-given opportunity. I don’t buy this one bit. God will not allow you to miss out on anything you’re not supposed to miss out on. If it didn’t happen, it was because God didn’t want it to (for whatever reason).
- If you are good to God and tell Him how you’ve been good to Him, He will be good to you. Osteen uses the story of King Hezekiah who was struck with a fatal disease and after pleading with God and telling Him all the ways he’d served Him, was miraculously healed and his life was extended. Osteen essentially uses this example to say that it’s okay to “bargain” (quotes mine) with God in an effort to get Him to bless you. While we can talk to God and ask Him to heal us, bless us, or whatever, we shouldn’t use the things we do for God as bargaining chips. God is not a gambler.
- “God can turn back time.” You will be healthier, stronger, and younger as you get older. Just speak that over your life. I don’t even know where to begin in debunking this. He uses the example of Hezekiah asking God to turn back time as an example that God can do it. Yeah, God can do anything, Pastor Osteen. But he’s not going to stop time for us and basically what you call “turning back the clock” is really making up for lost time. Call it what it is.
- “All Things Work Together for Our Good.” I simply have to take issue with the title of chapter 16 because it gives the impression that all things work together for what *we* think is good, which in fact, is far from the case. Here’s the part of Romans 8:28 Osteen cites:
“And we know that all things work together for good”
- All things work together ultimately for our SPIRITUAL good. The word “spiritual” isn’t in the verse so where do I get that idea? The prepositional phrase “to those who love God” means that “all things work[ing] together for good” is directed to those who are seeking God, a spiritual being. Spiritual good does not necessarily mean physical good or material good. What God considers good doesn’t necessarily mean that as earthly beings, we’d consider it good as well. Trials and tribulations help us spiritually but I’m not sure that anyone would willingly call that good. But that’s part of what that verse means.
- Also, things work together for good to those who God is using for His purposes. Same general meaning as well–what God, a spiritual being, considers good, we, as earthly beings, won’t necessarily see things the same way.
4. Too much emphasis on the temporal–the here and now–rather than the eternal. This kind of piggybacks point three. Evangelical Christians familiar with Osteen are probably shaking their heads going, “What did you expect from the author of Your Best Life NOW?” Yes, I expected this but since I’m trying to be as thorough as I can in reviewing THIS book, it needed to be said.
5. Too little Jesus. For the first 116 pages, I began to wonder whether Joel Osteen was still a Christian or whether he had become a spiritual generalist–simply referring to God as a higher power. Then Osteen speaks favor over the reader’s life and declares it “in the name of Jesus.” For another 116 pages, Osteen references Bible passages in generalizations and the context of overcoming adversity and moving toward greater success before speaking favor over the reader’s life again and declaring it “in the name of Jesus.” In Chapter 14 (“Living a Resurrected Life”) and Chapter 15 (“Your Sunday is Coming), the core Gospel message–Jesus was betrayed, crucified, died, buried, and resurrected so that mankind could be rescued from their sins and eternal damnation–is reduced to simply yet another success story–a man who encountered great difficulty but triumphed in the end. I was incredibly horrified to read those two chapters as it reduced the man who Christians revere as Lord, King, Savior, and Friend to a level of Tyler Perry or Marie Callender–just another someone who persevered through incredible adversity. If a non-Christian had done this, I wouldn’t have been as bothered. However, Pastor Osteen claims Christianity and declares favor in Jesus’ name. It should have dawned on Pastor Osteen, of all people, that the Gospel message should be included in here somewhere. But unfortunately, Jesus is a mere afterthought. Pastor Osteen doesn’t present the Gospel in an Introduction, a Foreword, a Prologue, Chapter 1, or even an Epilogue or the Conclusion. It is presented on the last page with text at the very end of the book, on a page titled, “We Care About You.” Here it is:
“I believe there is a void in every person that only a relationship with God can fill. I’m not talking about finding religion or joining a particular church. I’m talking about developing a relationship with your Heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. I believe that knowing Him is the source of true peace and fulfillment in life.”
This seems like a pretty important statement to me. So why is it at the very END of the book? Basically, it’s almost a bait-and-switch: God will give you the right opportunities and the right breaks so you have a nice house and the job promotion you’ve always wanted! Oh, and true peace and fulfillment only comes from a relationship in Jesus Christ. I feel like there’s a mixed message here.
6. Too much in the title. I am going to cut Osteen a little bit of slack here because I’ve since learned that authors have little to no say over two things in their book: the cover art and the title. It’s Your Time is the obvious choice for the title of the book (it’s the main theme Osteen reiterates throughout 300 pages) However, that’s not the full title. The full title is:
However, the full title is something I do take issue with. Why? Because it’s totally misleading. Props to the editors for picking some great action verbs that really get the mind engaged but from a Christian point of view, they are awful.
A. Activate Your Faith. This gives me the impression that my faith is a massive computer and I’ve got to input the right power sequence to activate it. I suppose this part isn’t off the mark when it comes to the book though: Part Two: It’s Time For Favor includes the following chapters:
7. Thriving, Not Just Surviving
8. Choosing Faith over Fear
9. Favor Has Been Released in Your Future
10. Speaking Faith-Filled Words
I suppose “activate” was a pretty good verb to try and sum all that up. However, Christians aren’t called to “activate” their faith. Perhaps it’s me, but it gives the impression that a person’s faith is idling by, laying dormant until it’s “made active” (as Merriam-Webster defines “activate”). Hebrews is a great book to read on how people employed their faith: they had it and put it to meaningful use. People in the “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11) didn’t have to activate diddly-squat. The word “activate” also gives the impression that we’re drawing on power for our selfish purposes; employing faith indicates that we are putting our faith to good use–for the glory of God and to serve others.
B. Achieve Your Dreams. What are your dreams and goals? To live a life free of sickness? To get a job promotion? Perhaps, it’s to simply find a job in this recessed economy? Well, I can save you $25 in purchasing this hardcover book by telling you all you have to do is put Peter Pan theology into practice: “Just think happy thoughts.”
I’m not kidding. (Well, maybe about the Peter Pan theology.) But Osteen’s premise is simply that people often set themselves up for ruin because they think or buy into negative thoughts. Here’s a sample:
“Don’t speak defeat over your life.
“Your words prophesy what you become. Be bold. Dare to say, ‘I look great today. I’m made in the image of Almighty God. I am strong and talented. I’m blessed. I’m creative. I will have a productive day.’
“…Change your words. Change your life. Forget victimhood and despair. Express gratitude and hope.”
In other words, “Just think happy thoughts.” After that, the rest really is up to God who will supernaturally give you the divine breaks, the right opportunities, and he’s lining up the right people to give you favor. But that’s how you achieve your dreams, friends, just continue to think those happy thoughts.
C. Increase in God’s Favor. This is an unbiblical concept. God will never love us more or less than He already does in Christ. Unlike human love, which conditional due to our sin nature, God’s love for His children is unconditional. Parents may have a favorite child because he’s better behaved but God doesn’t work that way. Because God sees us through Christ’s righteousness, our standing in Christ does not change. (Romans 8 in its entirety can help in learning more about God’s love through Jesus Christ.) So there’s no such thing as increasing in God’s favor anymore from a Christian perspective, but rather God chooses to bless whomever He wishes to bless–believer or non-believer. (Matthew 5:45) [Blessing in this context refers to the rain that falls to water crops, providing a yield for everyone in an agricultural economy to make a living.]
To sum up, I was initially going to give this book three stars but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the message of this book does several terrible things:
- Detracts from who Jesus is–the Son of God, the Savior of the world, sent to free humankind from their sins.
- Gives readers a vision that God is a magical genie–if you rub Him the right way, He’ll cave to your demands.
- “It’s Your Time” for everything–materialistically (more money) and relationally (the right spouse)–you’ve ever wanted.
Those views are flawed and extremely faulty. From a Biblical perspective, I believe It’s Your Time can be more dangerous to the non-discerning reader than it can be helpful. I don’t think the book is total trash–there are some Biblical principles that can be found in the book but they are hidden like gold. You must wade through the muck and mire to find them. To the discerning Biblical reader, the book can be more of a bane than a blessing: there is much encouragement to be found but there’s also much discouragement in the way Biblical truths are twisted, verses are quoted out of context, and much of the text is full of trite, pithy sayings and anecdotes that could be found elsewhere.
For Joel Osteen lovers (like my mother), it’s probably nothing they haven’t already heard and it would probably be something they’d appreciate. (I do believe God can use anything.) But if you know someone who is on the fence about God, I wouldn’t let them near this book lest they hear the word and have no root or get choked by the cares and riches of the world and become unfruitful. (Matthew 13:20-22)
In closing, a friend referred to much of what I quoted from this book as full of “cultural narcissism.” I couldn’t agree more. Osteen tries to capitalize off of the opportunity of a sputtering economy by infusing cultural narcissism within a Christian context. And if Christians truly follow Jesus’ example, they will quickly learn there is no place for narcissism in Christianity.