Fifteen short years after he became Lakewood Church’s senior minister, Joel Osteen had become the embodiment and achieved the fulfillment of his own message—positive thinking, self-encouragement, and belief that God’s consequential blessings inevitably bring progress and advancement—the story of salvation with a smile, according to Phillip Sinitiere in his book Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity.

The book starts with the story of John Osteen’s background, his transition from Southern Baptist into neopentecostalism, and his philosophy of ministry at Lakewood. It then goes on to describe how Joel stepped into the senior pastor position upon his father’s death in 1999, and his own distinctive philosophy of ministry.

Based on analysis of Joel’s sermons, the author says that Joel’s prosperity gospel has four parts: positive thinking, positive confession, positive providence, and the promotion of the Christian body as a site of improvement. It seems to me that there are parts of the Bible which can be used to support each of those themes, but those themes are not an accurate representation of the message of the Bible.

The author did not have access to Joel Osteen or other key people while writing the book, and as a result the book often feels like an academic analysis of writings and sermons rather than a lively personal story. Nonetheless, it does provide some interesting insights into the senior pastor of the largest church in North America.

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