Megapastor Joel Osteen has denied accusations that he believes in the prosperity gospel; a doctrine that teaches God offers financial blessing in return for large tithing and sure faith.
Osteen leads Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas; the largest Protestant church in the US with an average weekly congregation of over 43,000. The pastor is also a bestselling author and televangelist, known to many as 'The Smiling Preacher'.
He has faced criticism for his large personal wealth in the past and has been forced to defend his teaching several times. Celebrity Networth estimates that he is worth a staggering $40 million, which includes a $10.5 million mansion in the luxury River Oaks area of Houston.
In an interview with CNN in 2011, Osteen told Piers Morgan that he often gets "categorised" as a preacher of the prosperity gospel, but "I don't even believe in that".
"I mean, that's not the focus," he continued. "The main thing I'm talking about is how you can excel."
Osteen also told Morgan that he doesn't feel "guilty" about his personal fortune, noting his belief that it signifies "God's blessings on my life. And for me to apologise for God's – how God has blessed you, it's almost an insult to our God".
He reaffirmed this belief in a live interview with the Huffington Post published yesterday, telling Marc Lamont Hill "I don't like that term [prosperity preacher]" and "I specifically stay away [from the topic of money] because people are already sceptical".
"But prosperity to me means good relationships, it's having health, it's accomplishing your dreams, it's having money to pay your bills, it's being blessed you so you can be a blessing.
"I think there's a group that says, 'Well, to be a Christian, to be a real believer, you've got to be poor, you've got to be humble.' I don't see that. I think we should be leaders in our community; we should be able to bless others," Osteen said.
"Victoria [his wife] and I never dreamed that we would be able to support orphanages and kids and things in the way that God has blessed us, but it's to turn it around and be a blessing to others."
Responding to Hill's question, "Does God want us to be rich, though?" Osteen replied, "I think he wants you to be rich in spirit".
"I mean with money," Hill pushed. "Well I don't think there's anything wrong with that," Osteen continued.
"You look at the Old Testament; Christianity was started with Abraham and it says he was the wealthiest man there. So I don't think there's anything wrong with that – I think God wants you to succeed and excel, but I don't think you can say 'Money is my goal, if I'm a Christian well God's going to make me rich,' I think that's the wrong thing.
"You're wealthy when you have your health; you're wealthy when you have people to love. That's real wealth."
Osteen's church was embroiled in a scandal in March after around $600,000 dollars in collection money was stolen from a safe after a Sunday service. Osteen confirmed yesterday that this was a "normal amount" of money to come from weekend tithing, but that all together Lakewood brings in around $80 million a year through various ministry channels.
Of the money, which is yet to be recovered, Osteen commented, "God's going to fight our battles, he's going to restore what should be ours and he'll get us to where we're supposed to be".