Last week we received the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. The book is divided up into seven sections: “Theological Topics,” “Theological Education,” “Theological Method,” “Apologetics,” “Ethics,” “The Church,” and “Personal.” Under the “Ethics” section there is a chapter entitled “Two Levels of Blessings, and a Few Words about Joel Osteen.” I wondered if Frame would blast Osteen with a spanking from a Reformed theological stand point. As I should have known from reading Frame he is much more gracious and circumspect in his evaluation of the famed pastor. Frame begins his essay by pointing to two levels of divine blessing: initial grace (or God’s initial saving grace) and subsequent blessing. He notes that Luther and Calvin were much more balanced than many of their followers. Luther, he says, “lived somewhat more in the realm of initial grace, and Calvin lived somewhat more in the area of subsequent blessing.” Frame says the evaluation of Osteen is “more complicated” than what his normal critics usually state. First, Osteen’s “preaching of blessing is presented in a salvation context–to people who are committed to Christ as Lord and Savior.” (p. 321) This means it “is a preaching of what I have called subsequent blessing, not a preaching of salvation based on works.” (p. 321) Frame says that while he disagrees with some of Osteen’s applications of Scripture he thinks that “for the most part they are true expositions of the passages he cites.” (p. 321) Is Osteen part of the “pray for a bigger house” kind of materialism? Frame urges caution here. “Although he does urge his audience to pray for earthly advancement and prosperity, he always puts that in a context of godly motivations.” (p. 321) Frame says he has been moved by one of Osteen’s sermons and that he has “found many of [his] sermons to be personally beneficial.” (p. 321) Does Frame have any criticism for Osteen? Yes.
“My only criticism is this: he preaches on only one topic. that topic of course, is subsequent blessing. That is a genuinely biblical theme, and perhaps it deserves more stress in today’s church. But there is so much more in God’s Word! If one joins Osteen’s church and trusts Osteen as his main teacher of God’s Word, he will not hear much about creation, fall, sin, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, or glorification. He will not hear much , either, about the tragedies brought into human life by sin and by God’s curse on the ground. That would be a severe loss. Of course, Osteen’s own emphasis, on subsequent blessing, intersects with all these doctrines and gives his congregation a perspective on all of them. But he doesn’t teach these doctrines with any level of directness, and that is a mistake.” (p. 322)
Frame says he won’t “reject Osteen as a heretic or a preacher of ‘another gospel.’ His message is the gospel of Jesus as Lord and Savior, who leads his people in a path of blessing.” This final paragraph I thought was especially good and typical of the wisdom displayed so often by Frame.
“Still, there are many people who have been spiritually hurt–who have been troubled by the image of God as an angry tyrant, who wants to take away every happiness. For such people, I think Osteen’s preaching may be a healing balm.” (p. 322)
John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings is from P&R Publishing. It is a paperback with 384 pages and sells for $16.99. You can see a sample chapter here.
John M. Frame (AB, Princeton University; BD, Westminster Theological Seminary; MA and MPhil, Yale University; DD, Belhaven College) holds the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and is the author of many books, including the four-volume Theology of Lordship series.