By Clete Hux
Narcissism (the inordinate love of self) is a major feature of contemporary American society, and the church has not been a stranger to its influence. For years Christianity has had its share of self-help therapies and the like. Most people remember when the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) craze was in vogue. That quickly gave birth to the “positive thinking” of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. Now this kind of narcissism is fast becoming the norm in evangelical charismatic and Pentecostal circles. It usually is associated with what is called “positive confession.”
Originating in the early healing movements, positive confession is today a big part of the Word-Faith Movement whose teachers have flooded the Christian airwaves. Two of the more noteable proponents today are Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. We will take a brief look at their teachings on this subject and see how it compares with Scripture. But first, there’s a need to define positive confession.
Sometimes called rhematology or thought actualization, positive confession is the idea that spoken words have inherent, supernatural power to effect things in the world. Adherents of positive confession claim that if a believer speaks “spiritual” or “faith-filled” words, then he can have what he says. Words are thus used to alter or create one’s own reality. So, each person predestines his own future by what he says verbally and how well he uses spiritual laws.
Adherents of positive confession base their word power on spiritual “birthrights” given to them as heirs to the material blessings promised through the Abrahamic Covenant. Such rights are supposedly activated by the “force of faith” that is released through words. The implication is that if one will learn to control the spiritual world with words, then he or she will learn to control the physical world as well.
OSTEEN AND MEYER
Two of the more prominent faith teachers who use positive confession in our day are Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Osteen, known by some as the “Smiling Preacher,” is pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. It is the largest congregation in America, drawing about 35,000 people weekly to the Compaq Center, former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Joel took over the church from his father, John, who passed away in 1999. Like his father, Joel is unashamedly word-faith in his theology, and with only two years of college at Oral Roberts University (in Television Production), he has drawn much of his preaching material from his father.
However, John Osteen did not have the flare and charisma of his son, who looks more like a Hollywood celebrity than a minister. In 2003, Ministries Today listed him in the Top 20 Influencers of the Pentecostal/charismatic community. Last year, Warner Faith and Time Warner Book Group published Joel’s book, Your Best Life Now, which has become a best seller. The book’s subtitle, Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, aptly captures Osteen’s “gospel of self-esteem.”
Reluctant to call people sinners for fear of damaging their self-esteem, Osteen chooses to speak only good things about people. Last year, in an interview with Larry King, when asked if Jews or Muslims who don’t believe in Christ are wrong, Joel’s answer was that he didn’t know if he believed they were wrong. Afterwards, Osteen posted a letter of apology on his website for not clearly communicating his convictions, saying that his lapse was due to his desire not to alienate anyone by telling them they were wrong.
Joyce Meyer is also word-faith and ministers to women across denominational lines. According to a Christianity Today article, Joyce has at least a $95 million-a-year television ministry. Recently, because of criticism, she decided to reduce her salary and take more of the income produced form the sale of her 50 books. She retains royalties on her books through Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, and many other outlets. Her ministry purchased for her and her husband a $2 million private jet. The ministry also bought houses worth another $2 million for Meyer’s children, who also work for the ministry. Also mentioned was $500,000 vacation home and other personal purchases at the ministry’s expense. It is easy to see why Word-faith is typically referred to as the “prosperity gospel.”
Osteen’s Teaching on Positive Confession
Here are some of the statements that Osteen has made on the topic of positive confession:
“I believe one of the main ways that we grow in favor is by declaring it. It’s not enough to just read it; it’s not enough to just believe it. You’ve got to speak it out. Your words have creative power. And one of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words. And there is a divine connection between you declaring God’s favor and your seeing God’s favor manifest in your life. . . .You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out.”
“But the reason that you’re not experiencing as much as you should is because you’re not declaring it. You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out. Your words have creative power. . . .[W]hen you make those declarations of faith you are charging the atmosphere. And your own words can help bring it to pass.”
“Why did God take away his speech? It’s because God knew Zacharias’ negative words would cancel out His plan. . . .See, God knows the power of our words. He knows we prophesy our future. And He knew Zacharias’ own negative words would stop His plan.”
“Do you know you can cancel out God’s best plan with your own negative words? If you go around talking defeat all the time it’s going to stop God from bringing it to pass. Ah, you say, ‘Joel, God is God – if He wants to bless me He will.’ No, God works by law. And He said, ‘Death and life are in the power of your tongue.’ He said, ‘You’re going to have what you say’. . . .Your words are going to give life to exactly what you’re saying. No matter how much God loves you. No matter how many good things He has in store –if you speak those destructive words you can cancel out His best plan!”
“Friends, you got to change the atmosphere with your words…You and I can call in good things. Start calling in victory! Start calling in divine health! Start calling in abundant life! If you do that you will begin to see it come to pass. You can prophesy your future.”
Meyer’s Teaching on Positive Confession
Here are some of the statements that Meyer has made on the topic of positive confession:
“Faith is a force. Jesus pointed out that it is a power invested, or resident, in us that can be released through prayer or the words of your mouth.”
“In my meetings we always have a time of ministry in addition to the preaching. . . .I have learned that I can stand and pray in the Name of Jesus, releasing my faith, and people in the congregation can receive that healing power just as surely as if I prayed with each one of them individually.”
“We need to know that when we speak Jesus’ Name, we are calling forth into our atmosphere everything that He is. His name represents Him. It takes His place. When His name is spoken, He is there.”
“Words are containers for power – they carry creative or destructive power positive or negative power – so we need to be speaking right things over our lives and about our futures if we expect to have good things happen because what you say then is what you probably end up having tomorrow.”
“Pain is a spirit. When it gets on your body, tell it to leave.”
WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY TEACHES
Faith teachers like Osteen and Meyers believe that fear and negative confessions of words give the devil an open door into one’s life, whereas faith and positive confession release the power of God. True, it is possible to help or hurt someone with words of encouragement or condemnation, by telling the truth or misleading, etc. However, to treat words as if they were magical weapons by which reality is manipulated or altered is not biblical, but occultic. I am not saying that Osteen and Meyer are occultists. They may not know or have not thought through the implications of positive confession, and perhaps are unfamiliar with the fact that such word-formulas are a type of occultic magic.
But, the truth is that both Osteen and Meyer, as do all faith teachers, pull out of context certain scriptures to prove their belief of positive confession. I will exam three often abused texts.
The phrase “ensnared by the words of your mouth” here is normally combined by faith teachers with Proverbs 18:21 (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue”) to claim that words will create what you say. We do need to be careful of what we say, not because our words carry the “force of faith,” but because our words can have emotional and practical consequences when we and others believe them to be true. Proverbs 6:2 has to do with someone who has trapped himself foolishly in an undesirable financial contract. There is nothing here about words creating wealth or anything else.
In this verse, Paul says that God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” According to positive confessionists, Christians can imitate God and likewise call into existence things that do not exist such as health and wealth. However, the text teaches that it is only God who can make the nonexistent exist. The text is reminding us that Abraham believed “against all hope” (v. 18) that God was able to keep his promise to make him the father of many nations. The point of the verse would lose all force if Abraham himself was able to positively confess his way to prosperity and blessing.
The “word of faith” in its context here does not mean “words containing faith” or that words are “containers of faith” as positive confessionists contend. Seen in context with verses 9-11, the text has nothing to do with material prosperity. Paul is speaking here of the need to confess with one’s mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in one’s heart that Jesus was resurrected in order to be saved (v. 9). The “word of faith” has to do with a person’s sincere confession of the Lordship of Christ which results in salvation. There is nothing here about words having magical power. The context makes this clear. In verse 10, he speaks of a belief that results in justification, and in verse 11 he speaks of trusting in Christ.
In conclusion, it is common fare for word-faith positive confessionists, including Osteen and Meyer (neither of which have any serious Bible college or seminary training) to use scripture in such a way that “confessing the Word of God” takes precedence over proper rules of biblical interpretation. The result of this is forcing the text to say something the original authors never intended. As believers we are to “rightly divide the word of truth.”
Clete Hux is the Director and counter-cult specialist for the Apologetics Resource Center.
 See my Watchman Expositor Profile (Other Doctrines: 1) Positive Confession) at http://www.watchman.org/wordpro.htm.
 See my “You Say, ‘I Am Rich. . .,’”Areopagus Journal 3:6 (Nov/Dec, 2003): 4-9.
 Jackie Alnor, “Joel Osteen: The Prosperity Gospel’s Coverboy,” The Christian Sentinel (June 2003).
 Interview on Larry King Live (June 20, 2005).
 See http://www.joelosteen.com/site/PageSewer?pagename=LarryKingletter.
 See http://christianitytoday.com/global/printer.html?/ct2004/103/13.0.html.
 See audio segment of Joel Osteen on the Bible Answer-Man broadcast (April 26, 2004).
 Joel Osteen, “Experiencing More of God’s Favor,” Tape #212, Daystar Television (July 10, 2004).
 Joel Osteen, “Speaking Faith Filled Words,” Tape #223, Daystar Television (May 2, 2004).
 Joyce Meyer, Jesus – Name Above All Names (Fenton, MO: Warner Books, XXX), 29.
 Ibid, 55.
 Ibid , 58.
 See http://www.letusreason.org/poptear/7.htm.
 See John Ankerberg, News and Views (June 1988); and my “You Say, ‘I Am Rich. . .,’”p. 6.