The Osteen factor

Louis Romano hits where it hurts in his profile of Joel Osteen in Sunday's Washington Post by closing on what Osteen would call a negative note:

Indicating his priorities, Osteen's first hire was the music director, Cindy Cruse-Ratcliff. She and songwriter Israel Houghton create all the original music for the service. "I just think we're in a society these days that we're so distracted or busy. . . . It's harder to hold people's attention," Osteen said. "We try to package the whole service -- I hate to use the word production or show."

He knows that some people just come for the music. And that is a good thing, he said. Whatever gets them in the door.

Osteen has been on my mind recently because I recently read through his besteller, Your Best Life Now, for a future review in Christianity Today. Like Norman Vincent Peale before him, Osteen places a heavy emphasis on being "positive" rather than "negative." Here's how Romano describes Osteen's positive mental attitude creed:

Osteen, 41, does not sweat or yell, or cry for sinners to repent. He preaches an energetic, New Age gospel of hope and self-help -- simple Scripture-based motivational messages, notably devoid of politics and hot-button policy issues.

The strongest portion of Romano's 1,900-word story is this description of the tensions between megachurches and sacramental congregations:

"Joel is doing it better than most," said William Martin, a sociology professor and religion expert at Rice University. "He is purposely seeking to lower the barriers that keep people from going to church. They don't know the hymns; they don't have to learn the creed. It's all there for them."

Detractors criticize the style as "Christian-lite" -- all show and platitudes and no theological depth. Osteen's older brother Paul, a surgeon who left his practice to help the church, differs. "There is a disconnect between religion and what people need," he said, calling some sermons in traditional churches impenetrable, "almost goofy."

"What people want is an unchurch," Paul Osteen said. "They don't want pressure. Joel makes faith practical and relevant."

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