This article explores the link between Protestantism and the spirit of consumerist capitalism by focusing on the prosperity gospel and one of its most prominent contemporary proponents—pastor, televangelist, and New York Times bestselling author Joel Osteen. Through in-depth content analysis of eight of Osteen’s most influential and widely read books, I explore the underlying assumptions of his teachings about faith, prosperity, and consumption. The broader implications of Osteen’s theology of money and consumption for American religion—especially the link between Protestant Christianity, consumerism, and the American Dream—are considered. Findings reveal Osteen’s support for the consumerist belief that happiness and ultimate meaning in life are linked with ever-increasing discretionary consumption. Godliness and nonessential consumption go hand in hand for Osteen, whose Christianized version of the American Dream and prosperity gospel teachings are important components of the spirit of twenty-first-century consumerist capitalism.
Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke SinitiereHoly Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (New York: New York University Press2009); Phillip Luke Sinitiere Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen Lakewood Church & American Christianity (New York: New York University Press 2015); Kate Bowler and Wen Regan “Bigger Better Louder: The Prosperity Gospel’s Impact on Contemporary Christian Worship” Religion and American Culture 24 no. 2 (2014): 186–230; Mara Einstein Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age (New York: Routledge 2008) 92. For Einstein’s discussion of Osteen as a “faith brand” see Chapter 6 “The New Televangelists.” For more on religious branding see Katja Rakow “Religious Branding and the Quest to Meet Consumer Needs: Joel Osteen’s ‘Message of Hope’ ” in Religion and the Marketplace in the United States ed. Jan Stievermann Philip Goff Detlef Junker and Daniel Silliman (New York: Oxford University Press 2015) 215–239.
Kate BowlerBlessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press2013); Sandra Barnes Live Long and Prosper: How Black Megachurches Address HIV/AIDS and Poverty in the Age of Prosperity Theology (New York: Fordham University Press 2013); Simon Coleman The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity: Spreading the Gospel of Prosperity (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press 2000); Milmon F. Harrison Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press 2005); Shayne Lee T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher (New York: New York University Press 2007).
Katherine Attanasi“Introduction: The Plurality of Prosperity Theologies and Pentecostalisms,” in Pentecostalism and Prosperity: The Socio-Economics of the Global Charismatic Movemented. Katherine Attanasi and Amos Yong (New York: Palgrave MacMillan2012) 1.
Joel OsteenYour Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (New York: Warner Faith2004); Joel Osteen Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day (New York: Free Press 2007); Joel Osteen It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith Achieve Your Dreams and Increase in God’s Favor (New York: Free Press 2009); Joel Osteen Every Day a Friday: How to be Happier 7 Days a Week (New York. Faith Works 2011); Joel Osteen Break Out: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life (New York: Faith Works 2013); Joel Osteen You Can You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner (New York: Faith Works 2014); Joel Osteen Fresh Start: The New You Begins Today (New York: Faith Works 2015); Joel Osteen The Power of I Am: Two Words that Will Change Your Life Today (New York: Faith Works 2015).
Robert PutnamOur Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster2015); Jennifer L. Hochschild Facing Up to the American Dream: Race Class and the Soul of the Nation (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 1995); Brian Starks “The New Economy and the American Dream: Examining the Effect of Work Conditions on Beliefs about Economic Opportunity” The Sociological Quarterly 44 no. 2 (2003): 205–225.
Catherine A. Brekus“The Perils of Prosperity: Some Historical Reflections on Christianity, Capitalism, and Consumerism in America,” in American Christianities: A History of Dominance and Diversity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press2011) 280. For more on the history of American Christianity’s ambivalence about consumerism see Stewart Davenport Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism 1815–1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2008).