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Salvation with a Smile

Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity

Phillip Luke Sinitiere
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Salvation with a Smile
    Book Description:

    Joel Osteen, the smiling preacher, has quickly emerged as one of the most recognizable Protestant leaders in the country. His megachurch, the Houston based Lakewood Church, hosts an average of over 40,000 worshipers each week. Osteen is the best-selling author of numerous books, and his sermons and inspirational talks appear regularly on mainstream cable and satellite radio.

    How did Joel Osteen becomeJoel Osteen? How did Lakewood become the largest megachurch in the U. S.?

    Salvation with a Smile, the first book devoted to Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, offers a critical history of the congregation by linking its origins to post-World War II neopentecostalism, and connecting it to the exceptionally popular prosperity gospel movement and the enduring attraction of televangelism. In this richly documented book, historian Phillip Luke Sinitiere carefully excavates the life and times of Lakewood's founder, John Osteen, to explain how his son Joel expanded his legacy and fashioned the congregation into America's largest megachurch.

    As a popular preacher, Joel Osteen's ministry has been a source of existential strength for many, but also the routine target of religious critics who vociferously contend that his teachings are theologically suspect and spiritually shallow. Sinitiere's keen analysis shows how Osteen's rebuttals have expressed a piety of resistance that demonstrates evangelicalism's fractured, but persistent presence.

    Salvation with a Smilesituates Lakewood Church in the context of American religious history and illuminates how Osteen has parlayed an understanding of American religious and political culture into vast popularity and success.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2420-0
    Subjects: Religion, Psychology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-18)

    I am in the upscale business complex of Greenway Plaza, near downtown Houston. After parking my car, I follow the signs directing me to Lakewood Church. Emerging from the dimly lit confines of a parking garage, I join hundreds of people surging to the church’s entrance. In an energetic multiethnic mix, I walk alongside individuals, some of whom are black, others white, still others Latino/a or Asian. Some are talking with one another, while others are silent. Some walk with heads down as if in prayer. I see men wearing their Sunday best, along with women adorned in stunning white...

  6. 1 John Osteen’s Pentecost: The Origins of Lakewood Church (pp. 19-36)

    The year was 1939. John Osteen, a seventeen-year-old theater employee and frequent nightclub patron, found an anchor for his wandering heart in Fort Worth, Texas. “I surrendered all to the Lord Jesus and passed from death into life,” Osteen explained. “I became a new creature in Christ Jesus…. I called my friend, who had been witnessing to me through the years, and told him about this. He was glad and invited me to go to church with him.” That friend, Sam Martin, had long encouraged John to follow Jesus. In his 2001 autobiography,How I Led One and One Led...

  7. 2 John Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel: Faith and Divine Healing at the Oasis of Love (pp. 37-59)

    In 1972, John Osteen first referred to Lakewood Church as an “Oasis of Love in a Troubled World.” For Christians accustomed to Houston’s sweltering heat, the image of an oasis proved inviting. But it also depicted Lakewood as a place to find spiritual nourishment. “People are saved in every service,” Osteen proclaimed. “Many are filled with the Holy Ghost and enter in through that doorway to the supernatural. People with hungry hearts come … from far and near to find the true power of God that will meet their needs.” After traversing the globe as an independent evangelist during the...

  8. 3 Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel, Part I: “We Believe in New Beginnings” (pp. 60-77)

    Change was on the horizon at Lakewood Church in 1999. The year started with health problems for John Osteen. The kidneys in his seventy-seven-year-old body were not functioning as they should, and heart trouble had slowed down the seemingly indefatigable preacher. In the midst of these illnesses—and as it turned out one week before he died—John asked his son Joel to preach. John’s daughter Lisa and son-in-law Gary Simons had been preaching regularly, but this time John tapped his youngest son. As he had done many times before, Joel refused. Yet, as Joel recalled in his 2004 book...

  9. 4 Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel, Part II: The Mind, Mouth, and Body Becoming Better (pp. 78-106)

    By 2001, Joel Osteen had started to solidify the core themes of his overall message: positive confession and positive thinking. At the same time, he had identified the trajectory of his teaching and preaching repertoire: encouragement and improvement, optimism and expectancy, all articulated in aspirational language tied broadly to Christian concepts of redemption and restoration. Since 1999, Joel had regularly acknowledged the ways that his father’s teaching had informed his own. Moreover, as the previous chapter documented, to establish his ministerial footing in the opening months of his role as Lakewood’s new pastor, Joel used the teachings of John Maxwell...

  10. 5 Joel Osteen’s Tel-e-vangelism: The Message and Its Media (pp. 107-136)

    Throughout several of hisNew York Timesbestselling books, Joel Osteen has unveiled selected snapshots of his own engagement with religious television. InYour Best Life Now, he admitted that before discovering his ability to preach he felt less than hopeful about Lakewood’s broadcasting future when he first became the church’s minister. Despite his integral involvement in the creation of Lakewood’s media ministry, Joel questioned whether he could garner the viewership that his father maintained, so he canceled the church’s national television program. He knew what it took to make it on national television, and he doubted he could compete....

  11. 6 Lakewood’s Charismatic Core: Healing Hurts, Extending Hope (pp. 137-162)

    In 2009, Lakewood Church celebrated its half-century mark. The commemorative service, punctuated by prayers, praise music, and preaching, simultaneously tracked the church’s history and speculated about the next fifty years of the congregation’s life. During the festivities, longtime members offered appreciative reflections on what the church meant to them, including former drug addict–turned–motorcycle minister Ben Priest, who attributed to Lakewood both his survival and his salvation.¹

    Dodie Osteen, Joel’s mother; Lisa Osteen Comes, his sister; and Joel headlined the event as the evening’s main speakers. Joel’s sermon, “It’s Your Year of Jubilee,” underscored the inevitability of divine blessing...

  12. 7 The Redemptive Self: Finding and Forging Faith at Lakewood Church (pp. 163-182)

    In January 2012,Salonwriter Alexis Grant provocatively claimed, “I fell in love with a megachurch.” In the article, she described a tragic betrayal by someone she loved. To her surprise, Grant found love in the last place she expected to encounter it. She attended Lakewood, where “emotion pulsed through the crowd. People sang loudly, with both hands outstretched, palms toward their God as if to receive whatever he offered. I put my hand out too…. As they waved their arms in the air, I hoped their strength would rub off on me.” By contrast, she recalled attending Mass as...

  13. 8 Joel Osteen’s Piety of Resistance: New Calvinism and Evangelicalism’s Crisis of Authority (pp. 183-210)

    The summer of 2005 was characteristically warm in Houston. Humid mornings gave way to sweltering afternoons, which in turn made evenings in the nation’s fourth-largest city suffocatingly hot. But solar energy was not the only cause of Houston’s heat. Joel Osteen was surging. He had published his firstNew York Timesbestseller the year before—Your Best Life Now—and in July 2005 moved his congregation into the Compaq Center, a Houston landmark. Sensitive to the historical moment and conscious of his place in Houston’s religious culture, Osteen narrated the auspicious occasion: “For nearly thirty years they’ve crowned champions in...

  14. Conclusion (pp. 211-214)

    This book has argued that Joel Osteen is America’s most notable twenty-first-century Christian minister. While Osteen and Lakewood do not represent the wide array of practices associated with evangelical Christianity in the U.S., let alone American Christianity as a whole, their histories illuminate key developments within American religious culture. With a television broadcast that beams into millions of homes, an Internet presence that engages at least as many fans and followers, and a radio program on SiriusXM heard by countless others, not to mention a steady stream ofNew York Timesbestselling books and his role at pastor of the...

  16. APPENDIX B: JOEL OSTEEN, “VISION SUNDAY” (1999) (pp. 229-234)
  17. NOTES (pp. 235-276)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 277-300)
  19. INDEX (pp. 301-304)
  20. ABOUT THE AUTHOR (pp. 305-305)