Victoria Osteen, Christian Hedonism, and Worship

There’s been a wave of controversy surrounding a video that’s been circulating on the internet of Victoria Osteen making this statement:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that, when we obey God—we’re not doing it for God, I mean that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning. So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church and when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really; you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.” (Watch it here)

On the surface, this seems exactly like something we would expect coming out of Lakewood Church. Osteen has practically become the poster boy for the “prosperity gospel,” and certainly no one is shocked to hear this coming from his wife, Victoria. However, before we raise our torches and grab our pitchforks, let’s take a closer look at the statement that Victoria is actually making.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that, when we obey God—we’re not doing it for God, I mean that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.”

The impetus of John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is in this phrase: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Piper calls this “Christian Hedonism” because it’s centered on the pleasure of the Christian. The concept is very simple: God is our ultimate joy and happiness. We receive pleasure by being in a close relationship with him, and because of this, he receives pleasure and glory from us. Like any love relationship, you are the happiest when the object of your affection is the happiest in you. Simple.

Victoria is right when she says that “God takes pleasure when we’re happy.” This is true when our happiness is in him. That’s the key. She also says that “when we obey God, we’re doing it for ourselves.” Again, answer is yes and no. We obey God because we want to please him, and because the benefits are incredible. What are the benefits? The benefit is God himself. The greatest reward or benefit we could have is more of God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.”

We should always do good because it is good to do good. However, we should also do good because Christ is good, and our desire is to be more like him. I don’t think Victoria is saying “do good for yourself,” because that would imply solipsism, and rule out altruism. I hardly think the Osteens would agree with this. The line of thinking goes like this: “Do good because you benefit from doing good.” However, going back to Christian hedonism, we do good most importantly because it pleases our Father. And when he is pleased, we are pleased as well. Christianity is always other oriented, which is why the two greatest commandments are to 1) Love God, 2) Love people. But the personal benefits from this are tremendous. This is why Christ says that “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) because we are happier when we are less consumed with ourselves. And we are happiest when we are pleasing God.

“When you come to church and when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really; you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”

This is the one statement that I believe is the most difficult. Piper says that “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.” Another definition of worship by William Temple says that “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” So first and foremost, all worship is an expression of the joy and beauty of God through the outlet of praise. Of course, the worshiper benefits from the worship—but they are merely a conduit of praise to the one worthy of being praised. The worship is not about them, it’s about God. But the idea being Christian hedonism is that we are so pleased by God, that worship naturally ensues. And when worship naturally ensues, God is pleased by us, which is followed by us being pleased in God, and so on.

I think on the surface, it’s very easy to dismantle Victoria’s statement and label it bad theology. But my first reaction to the video was that not all of what she’s saying is totally wrong. It’s poorly stated, yes. In fact, the most important pieces of the equation are left out. Thousands of people are going to walk away thinking that God wants them to be happy in material things, or that worship is first about them. These are both dangerous conclusions. We should be happy that God has blessed us with material things, while remembering that these material blessings are meant to point us back to God. We should enjoy worshiping God, while not forgetting that the very nature of worship is centered on the joy of who God is.

The fact of the matter is this: If we all were diligent in our theological studies, there would be no Lakewood Church (the way it is now). But before we pat ourselves on the back, remember that most of us are still participating in the prosperity gospel, because we use God as a means to an end all the time. We think that by serving him in church, or by tithing, that God is going to bless us materially. This is the prosperity gospel. Service to the church and giving tithes is a form of worship. It is not a way to receive material blessings. It is a way of reflecting the beauty and glory of God’s worth back to him. The fact of the matter is that God says that he will provide for us what we need (Matthew 6:25-26). Nothing more and nothing less is promised. And what we need is him. His kingdom is not of this world, and ours shouldn’t be either.

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9 thoughts on “Victoria Osteen, Christian Hedonism, and Worship

  1. Hi Zach,
    Good provoking post, thanks. I thought about these same things when I saw Victoria’s statement. However, the crucial difference between Piper and Mrs. Osteen here is the focal point. Piper wants us to seek our own joy and satisfaction because he knows that these can only be found in the glory of God. We are finding our pleasure in God. Osteen’s version is God finding His pleasure in us. The truth is that God is completely satisfied and does not know “need.” From your post I sense that you get that I just felt compelled to engage in the conversation. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Brian! Thanks for contributing to the discussion. I’m in complete agreement with your distinction between Osteen’s view and Piper’s. It could be said that both of these viewpoints represent a kind of “Christian hedonism” but only one of them has any Biblical credibility (Piper’s), as you’ve stated.

      It’s interesting because my wife and I watched that Youtube clip at the same time, and our initial thoughts were, “I wonder if she’s read any of Piper’s work and is simply having a hard time communicating the concept?” Given the Osteen’s track record, it could easily be assumed that she’s simply saying these things because it makes people feel good and it’s a popular thing to say. Some people make Osteen out to be intensionally misleading in his work, but I almost have to think that his intensions are good, they just aren’t grounded in Biblical truth. I can’t help but wonder if Victoria is trying to communicate a concept she doesn’t fully understand. But we may never know.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a sucker for a strong conclusion and you delivered. “His kingdom is not of this world, and ours shouldn’t be either.” That’s an incredible reminder to be kingdom oriented in all we say, think and do. So thank you for that.
    In regard to Victoria v. Piper: ultimately worship enables us to align our hearts with God and create further intimacy with him. As a result, we are satisfied in him and he delights in us. Like Brian said ^^^ God does not need anything from us but he does deserve glory, and our worship most assuredly brings him that.
    One of my favourite definitions of poetry states that it is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings that take their origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. After reading your post, I think worship for me is just that – the spontaneous overflow of my heart as I recollect in tranquility all that God has done for me. How can we ask anything more of him than the opportunity to praise him for such love?

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    • Hey Amy! Thanks for joining in on the conversation. I think what you’ve said is important when you talk about the “spontaneous overflow of [the] heart.” Man, being created in the image of God, longs for love and affection from others in different contexts. God isn’t much different. He wants that exact overflow of joy and love from us towards him that you mentioned. I agree with you completely. I remember that being a revolutionary realization for me.

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  3. Gods word says if you love me you will keep my commandment and that’s why we do good. Of course we do benefit from living a christain life our Joy comes from the Lord his words says. God states thru trails we are purifed not happiness. Victoria did state all this very poorly. I hope when she looks back she can see that. I still believe her heart is in the right place and I will show her the same grace God has shown me many times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Julie, thank you for posting your thoughts. I agree that it doesn’t seem like Victoria isn’t trying to intentionally mislead. My hope is that over time, she’ll come around to a better understanding of these concepts. Thank you for your input.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for a very thoughtful and balanced post. You are right. There is no “i” in team, but there is an “i” in worship. God does bless me through worship. I go to worship to be strengthened, guided, corrected and encouraged, BUT … worship isn’t really about me. It is first and foremost about God and what he has done for me. I go to worship to give glory to him and encourage others. The great thing is that God blesses me through it as well. I wrote an article a few months ago about why we worship: http://364daysofthanksgiving.com/isnt/
    If you have a chance, check it out. I would love to hear what you think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Andy, thanks for joining the conversation.
      As I was reading through your post, a quote kept popping into my head by Piper that says, “The really wonderful moments of joy in the world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.” I tend think of worship in this way. While worship isn’t really about us–anymore than visiting the Grand Canyon is about us–but we reap the benefits of beholding the beauty of God through worship. I enjoyed your post!

      Liked by 1 person

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