Joel Osteen and Lakewood, his famous megachurch, represent a modern kind of nondenominational Christianity. Instead of focusing on sin and hellfire, Osteen preaches a popular, positive message. The proliferation of today's "Charismatic Christianity" is due in part to Osteen himself.
In his book, "Salvation With A Smile," Professor Phil Sinitiere explores Osteen's rise in popularity and the modern wave of upbeat Christianity in America. Sinitiere attributes Osteen's success to a background in TV production and religious programming, as well as a chaotic climate. Since World War II, Americans have been searching for less negativity in their lives. Osteen's sermons became a stable, predictable source of positivity in a time of global terror and "political and religious conflict," according to Sinitiere.
While his sermons attract tens of thousands of worshippers in person and on TV, Osteen has also faced tough criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Conservative Christians think that his self-help, sunny sermons don't focus enough on Jesus and the consequences of sin. Liberals are wary of Lakewood's huge budget and Osteen's personal fortune.
Despite the critics, Sinitiere argues that Osteen's popularity reflects something important about the state of America today.
- Phillip Luke Sinitiere, Professor of History at the Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and author of "Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity"