Salvation with a Smile

Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity

336 pages

11 halftones, 2 tables

November, 2015

ISBN: 9780814723883



Add to Cart Available: 3/10/2016

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Phillip Luke Sinitiere is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Sam Houston State University (TX).

All books by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Joel Osteen, the smiling preacher, has quickly emerged as one of the most recognizable Protestant leaders in the country. His megachurch, the Houston based Lakewood Church, hosts an average of over 40,000 worshipers each week. Osteen is the best-selling author of numerous books, and his sermons and inspirational talks appear regularly on mainstream cable and satellite radio. 
How did Joel Osteen become Joel Osteen? How did Lakewood become the largest megachurch in the U. S.?
Salvation with a Smile, the first book devoted to Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, offers a critical history of the congregation by linking its origins to post-World War II neopentecostalism, and connecting it to the exceptionally popular prosperity gospel movement and the enduring attraction of televangelism. In this richly documented book, historian Phillip Luke Sinitiere carefully excavates the life and times of Lakewood’s founder, John Osteen, to explain how his son Joel expanded his legacy and fashioned the congregation into America’s largest megachurch. 
As a popular preacher, Joel Osteen’s ministry has been a source of existential strength for many, but also the routine target of religious critics who vociferously contend that his teachings are theologically suspect and spiritually shallow. Sinitiere’s keen analysis shows how Osteen’s rebuttals have expressed a piety of resistance that demonstrates evangelicalism’s fractured, but persistent presence. 
Salvation with a Smile situates Lakewood Church in the context of American religious history and illuminates how Osteen has parlayed an understanding of American religious and political culture into vast popularity and success.


  • "Combining historical research, documentary investigation, and the observations of participants, Sinitiere situates the stirring success of Lakewood Church (the U.S.'s largest megachurch) and Joel Osteen Ministries within the broader American evangelical and neo-Pentecostal context." 

    STARRED Publishers Weekly

  • "Sinitiere has written a remarkable and trenchant study of Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston...Osteen’s sunny message has attracted much controversy, not least from other conservative Christians, but his megasuccess, Sinitiere brilliantly shows, says a great deal about the state of religion in America. A fascinating, illuminating, and at times disturbing account from a shrewd observer."

    STARRED Library Journal

  • “Well written and very readable, this thoughtful book places Osteen in his intellectual, political, and theological contexts, shedding light on the forces that make him one of the most prominent pastors in US Christianity. Students of Christianity in the US will find it an indispensable read.”


  • "Sinitiere takes Osteen seriously, painstakingly explaining how he became 'America's most notable evangelical preacher.'"

    Texas Monthly

  • “[Sinitiere] provides an enjoyable read and invaluable work for anyone interested in the intersection of prosperity theology, televangelism, the megachurch movement, and American Christianity.”


  • “Sinitiere presents us with an intriguing mediation on what religious authority is in the twenty-first century, especially in evangelicalism.”

    Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "Salvation with a Smile is necessary reading for all who want to understand contemporary American evangelicalism, and the two Joel Osteen sermon transcripts included in the appendices are useful resources for the classroom."

    Sociology of Religion

  • "Charismatic Christianity is increasingly the face of American evangelicalism, and a smiling one at that. Joel Osteen is a major reason why. In this deeply researched and richly contextualized study, Phillip Luke Sinitiere nominates Osteen as America’s new pastor. No fair-minded reader will come away doubting Osteen’s significance and genius. Anyone interested in the nation’s protean religious landscape will benefit from this scholarly labor of love."

    —Steven P. Miller, author of The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years

  • "Sinitiere's outstanding book on Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church combines the best of historical narrative, ethnographic observation and analysis, and an empathetic but critically acute scholarly understanding. The result is a work that explains and interprets one of America's foremost religious celebrities, the `charismatic core’ of his church, and the combination of positive thinking and positive confession which form his message."

    —Paul Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

  • "The best possible book on Joel Osteen and his place in American religious history. Well researched and well written, it uses Osteen’s own words to portray the man who can now rightfully be called 'America’s Pastor' as Billy Graham passes from the scene. . . . What emerges is a positive yet objective picture of the popular preacher with the big smile who has built the largest congregation in the history of the American church."

    —Vinson Synan, Dean Emeritus, Regent University School of Divinity