The Lunar New Year was celebrated Sunday. China’s Zodiac represents this year with a rabbit (specifically a water rabbit). You likely don’t follow this system of astrology.
You probably also don’t closely follow the Greek Zodiac signs and their accompanying horoscopes, which are more popular in America. New Age thinking, like the TikTok trend called “Lucky Girl Syndrome,” might also slip by unnoticed to many.
A similar kind of superstitious, “affirmation” thinking can infiltrate the church.
What is “affirmation,” “manifesting,” and how does it relate to Zodiac signs?
Why should Christians be careful about these messages?
And what does Joel Osteen’s preaching have in common with these New Age ideals?
What is “Lucky Girl Syndrome”? What are Zodiac signs?
Basically, astrology is the idea that the movement of the heavens is intertwined with our day-to-day lives. People look to astrology for horoscopes, which purport to tell us our fortunes for the day or year. They also look to Zodiac “signs,” i.e., your birthday, to determine your personality. Chinese astrology focuses on people’s birth year, as opposed to their birthday.
Nearly 40 percent of US adults under thirty say they believe in astrology.
Astrology is a pagan system without a scientific or biblical basis. In other words, it’s superstition.
People who believe in astrology fall prey to the “Barnum Effect.” If you use vague enough personality descriptions, you can make anyone identify with them. And for anything that doesn’t match up, they ignore it. That’s called confirmation bias: we remember events that confirm our theory and forget contradicting experiences. The same principles work for mediums, psychics, and other con artists (or worse) who play on superstition using psychological tricks.
People who don’t literally believe in astrology might still use them like “positive affirmations,” good fortunes to put empty hope in. Positive affirmations refer to repeating self-affirming statements like “I am good enough” or “I am beautiful” meant to put a person in a positive mindset. “Manifesting” parallels this sentiment. This New Age idea says that if we only believe something positive will occur in the future, it will happen.
An odd combination of these two ideas forms a new TikTok trend: “Lucky Girl Syndrome.” By focusing on the positive things in life and delusionally believing they’re lucky, they actually become luckier.
Positivity or negativity, and optimism or pessimism, can lead to unhealthy self-obsession.
I propose two biblical replacements: trust in God and humility.
But first, let’s discuss when the church falls into this trap.
“Christian” affirmative preaching
Many self-help authors who believe in manifesting, like Oprah, loosely associate with Christianity. Others, like Houston-based mega-church pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen, claim to teach the Bible. While many of his sermons point to good, we must watch out for the “prosperity gospel.”
Osteen often preaches a Christian twist on “manifesting,” sometimes called “name-it-claim-it” theology. He writes in The Power of I Am: “By faith, I have to say, ‘I am blessed. I am successful. I am surrounded by God’s favor.’” Sometimes in sermons, he calls for his congregants to “name” the thing they want, like a car, and, by “faith,” believe that they will receive it.
While it’s true that negative self-talk is genuinely harmful, and a non-toxic optimism can help advance our careers and correlates to health benefits, shallow preaching fails to reach the depths of the Bible. God’s word does not shy away from the darkest “valley of the shadow of death,” and it certainly doesn’t answer those dark valleys with pithy false promises.
Presenting a shallow version of the Bible does far more harm than good because, at its core, it’s deceit.
Why Joel Osteen is a false teacher
Osteen’s teaching casts a vision from Scripture, a beautiful, true one: that God molds us in our mother’s womb, cares for us, loves us, and creates us as images of himself. But this snapshot leaves out sin, darkness, theological depth, self-sacrifice, and complex suffering.
To preach this falsely positive message, he often misuses Scripture. For example, in The Power of I Am, he egregiously misquotes Romans 4:17, ripping it from its clear and obvious context.
He writes that “Romans 4 says to ‘call the things that are not as though they were.’” He doesn’t include the verse number. Here’s Osteen’s twisted interpretation of this strange translation: “That simply means that you shouldn’t talk about the way you are. Talk about the way you want to be.”
I guarantee Paul did not mean to communicate that in this text.
Let’s examine a clearer translation: “[God] gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17, emphasis added).
In context, Paul is comparing our trust (faith, or belief) in Jesus for salvation to Abraham’s trust in God’s plan for him to have a son. God specifically promised Abraham a son and, in the case of Paul’s point, God specifically offers us rescue from our own sins.
Indeed, Romans 4:17 says God calls things into existence—not us!
It would be difficult to find a more egregious abuse of a Bible passage.
God undoubtedly still draws people to himself through Osteen despite his often misleading teachings. Osteen seems genuinely kind-hearted, and, as of this writing, no large-scale scandals have rocked his Lakewood Church.
If the Holy Spirit can work through David, an adulterer and murderer, he can work through prosperity-gospel preachers—and through those like me, sinful and fallible as I am.
But this does not excuse false teaching.
Does God care about our welfare?
Does God care about our welfare? Yes. Did God craft us in his image? Yes. Should we find our identity in his love, not our failures? Yes. Does God still miraculously heal today? Yes.
Does God bow to our whims if only we manifest it—believe it—strongly enough?
It is we who bow to his good and perfect will.
If we only follow him for the results we want, we’re not really following him. Jesus promised hardship and persecution for his followers, not private jets and new cars (Matthew 5:10; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12–14).
Let’s not allow the extremes to carry us away. “Hellfire and brimstone” teaching misses important points of the Bible’s story, like God’s grace, Jesus’ compassion, and our hope in the cross.
But all versions of the “prosperity gospel” miss one of the main elements of following Jesus: radical self-denial (Luke 9:23). Read Paul’s letter to Timothy, especially chapter 6, which deals specifically with the value of character and godliness over money.
Biblical wisdom and the true “good news”
God reveals the practical wisdom we need to live through the Bible. If you’re looking for particularly practical wisdom, read Proverbs. Don’t forget to read Ecclesiastes, the more “cynical” book of wisdom, and then read Job as well. Those three books make up the wisdom literature of the Bible, but, of course, every corner of the Bible offers us wisdom for living well.
The Bible’s main thesis is that fearing the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and our God Yahweh is a God of truth. The issue of deep-seated self-doubt plagued by negative thinking, and other legitimate concerns, should be taken to the Bible (and possibly to professional therapy).
For example, take a negative, intrusive feeling: “I’m not enough.”
Once we follow Jesus, we can say to our negative thoughts, “Yes, that’s right, I’m not enough, I still fall short, but Christ loved me in spite of my failures. I’m a new creation—a child of God.” We can’t skip over sin or the reality that this world is not our home.
Obsessively negative thoughts, alongside obsessively narcissistic thoughts, are two sides of one coin: pride. We make ourselves the center of the universe in both cases. As Rick Warren noted, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
In God’s wisdom, we will realize Jesus’ presence is available to us all, whether in despair and doubt or in wealth and faith.
Rather than seeking human wisdom or following signs from the stars that God hung across the universe, fear the Lord.