Joel Osteen’s strange science, strange theology

Guest Columnist

Joel Osteen’s strange science, strange theology

July 4, 2006

Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church and best-selling author of Your Best Life Now, continues to influence many Americans through his writing and broadcast ministry. Yet, what is the message he is proclaiming to America? In Your Best Life Now, Osteen promotes a user-friendly version of the “Prosperity Gospel.” In a recent message, Osteen moved from weak doctrine into the realm of strange science.

On the May 25, 2006 broadcast from Lakewood Church, Osteen preached a message titled, “The Generational Blessing.” In the message, he summarizes a purported study from the United States military in 1993. According to Osteen, the study was designed to see if anything beyond physical traits is passed down from one generation to the next. I will quote Osteen at length:

“Well, they took white blood cells from a volunteer and they carefully placed them in a test tube and they put a probe from a lie detector test down in that test tube. And of course, the probe measures a person’s emotional response. And they had this same volunteer go a couple of doors down and watch some very violent scenes on television. . . . And when this man watched the scenes, even though the blood that was being tested was in another room – when he got all up tight and tense, that lie detector test shot off the page. It was detecting his emotional response even though the blood was no longer in his body … . Their final conclusion was: The blood cells seem to remember where they came from. And I was thinking about if sickness and addiction and wrong mindsets can be passed down, how much more can God’s blessing and favor and good habits be passed down through our blood?”

Osteen then makes a case that one can pass down a “generational blessing” to the next generation by making decisions that change one’s DNA. He says, “In your blood, being formed in your DNA, is that fortitude, that strength, that excellent spirit and it’s going to be passed down from generation to generation.” Furthermore, negativity is “junk that can get into your blood and be passed down.”

This entire line of thinking would be laughable if it were not for the fact that the person making these statements is not some obscure preacher, but the pastor of the church with the largest average weekly attendance in the United States. The “study” that Osteen cites sounds more like an urban legend than legitimate science. I know of no reputable scientist who argues that material removed from a live human body is affected by that human’s choices after its removal. Using Osteen’s logic, if I donate my blood in a blood transfusion, does that mean my choices affect the recipient of my blood? If Osteen is correct, we can end the scourge of drugs and poverty by simply transfusing blood from successful people into those who are struggling.

More troubling than Osteen’s venture into the realm of strange science is the strange theology he advocates. Though it is hard to pinpoint the origin of Osteen’s fixation on changing our DNA by making positive choices, he does align himself with the theological oddities of the “Prosperity Gospel,” including the ideas that our words have power and an overemphasis on financial prosperity. It is strange theology indeed that emphasizes changing one’s DNA as opposed to the change brought by the New Birth (John 3:3). 

The Bible does not emphasize in any passage of Scripture human ability to change one’s DNA. Instead, the Bible emphasizes the change wrought in the human heart by Jesus Christ who “loves us and loosed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). While I have no idea where Osteen found the “study” to which he referred, I am quite certain Paul says the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day (I Cor. 15:3-4). I hope Osteen’s future messages will focus on the blood of Jesus and not our own blood. (Dr. Alan Branch is vice president for student development and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.)