Why Seminary? Exhibit A: Joel Osteen

Instead of making my case by argument, I’d like to simply present some evidence and then let you, the reader, come to your own verdict.

Bestselling author Joel Osteen is the preaching pastor of one of the biggest churches in America. There are regularly over 40,000 attendees who pitch up to hear his sermons. This is quite a responsibility. Especially considering Hebrews 13:17, which warns that pastors will give an account for each soul in their flock and the injunction in James 3:1 that Bible teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

 

The question of whether seminary is necessary is one that perennially resurfaces among those who sense the urgency of the need to preach and feel compelled to dive right in, but also understand the benefit of thorough training, and want guidance about the balance.

Some noteworthy articles I’ve read recently include, Is Seminary Really Necessary?and People Are Going to Hell. Do I Really Need Seminary Training? and a podcast discussion between Mark Dever and CJ Mahaney on the topic.

A few years ago I posted a three-part miniseries comparing the training and competence of three preachers with varying degrees of seminary degrees, namely Joel Osteen, Charles Spurgeon, and John MacArthur. I’d like to re-run the series in my Monday slot here on the CGate to hopefully provoke more thought and discussion around this important question. Instead of making my case by argument, I’d like to simply present some evidence and then let you, the reader, come to your own verdict.

Let’s start with Exhibit A: Joel Osteen

Any pastor who regularly addresses even a handful of souls from God’s word knows the burden of wanting to be faithful to communicating accurately what God has said to his people. Every preacher feels the weight of Paul’s injunction,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

This is why seminaries offer four year degrees that cover Greek and Hebrew, Theology and Counseling, Preaching and Pastoral Care. The more training preachers get the better.

Now, I agree that formal theological training at seminary level is not a biblical prerequisite for being a preacher of God’s word. The Apostle Peter, for instance, had no MDiv degree hanging on his office wall. But I’m sure we all agree that his 24/7 intensive, three year internship with Jesus was, um …adequate preparation. But if an excellent theological education is available to you, there is wisdom in being a good steward of that opportunity.

Should you eschew a formal course of training, and rely instead on your gift of the gab, you may end up being outed as a theological neophyte on global TV, like Joel Osteen.

Bestselling author Joel Osteen is the preaching pastor of one of the biggest churches in America. There are regularly over 40,000 attendees who pitch up to hear his sermons. This is quite a responsibility. Especially considering Hebrews 13:17which warns that pastors will give an account for each soul in their flock and the injunction in James 3:1 that Bible teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

And I’m not even referring to the 20 million who plug into the televised programming in over 100 countries each month, nor the touring success of sold-out stadiums that hold 60,000 fans (at $10 a ticket).

But when he was interviewed on the Larry King Live show, the result of being ill-prepared for ministry was painfully obvious. I feel for him as Larry grills him on this sensitive topic.

KING: Where were you ordained?

OSTEEN: I was ordained from the church there, Lakewood, under my dad’s ministry.

KING: So you didn’t go to seminary?

OSTEEN: No, sir, I didn’t.

KING: They can just make you a minister?

OSTEEN: You can, you can.

KING: That’s kind of an easy way in.

… [then Larry turned up the heat; I italicized the repeated phrase that makes my point] …

KING: …we’ve had ministers on who said, your record don’t count. You either believe in Christ or you don’t. If you believe in Christ, you are, you are going to heaven. And if you don’t no matter what you’ve done in your life, you ain’t.

OSTEEN: Yeah, I don’t know. There’s probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you’re a believer in God, you’re going to have some good works. I think it’s a cop-out to say I’m a Christian but I don’t ever do anything …

KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

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