One of the trendiest things for evangelical Christians to do these days is decry what people call the “Prosperity Gospel.” It’s nearly as hip to rail on proponents of “Prosperity Gospel” as it is to have a bushy beard and wear plaid. I’ve been hearing an awful lot about this topic lately, from the pulpit to social media to news outlets, so I thought I’d offer my two cents.
I guess you already know what I think by my title. My observations are merely my own, and aren’t based on any sort of legitimate research.
What really prompted me to write this was a column I read in a newspaper a few days ago. It was written by a lady who writes on “Religion,” which sounds terribly boring to me, but it had the term “Prosperity Gospel” in the title, so it caught my attention. In particular, it asked the question if a well-known Bible teacher who recently held a conference in our area preached the “Prosperity Gospel.”
The writer was a woman who apparently comes from a more traditional denominational background than the speaker she wrote about. In her column, she told the story of a male friend who said something to the effect of, “[This speaker] is going to be talking about ‘abundant life.’ Sounds like ‘Prosperity Gospel’ to me.” I have to admit, this set me off, and I thought, What a judgmental jerk! He’s obviously never read John 10:10! (In that verse, Jesus said He came to give us abundant life.) Now I’m not saying my reaction was appropriate, but that’s what I was thinking. Apparently the speaker in question was charging a fair amount of money for attending the conference, so that made her suspect in the columnist’s eyes as well.
Anyway, the column continued as the writer told how she attended the conference, and, though it was an “unusual worship style” for her, she had nothing bad to say. She concluded that she doesn’t know if this speaker is into the “Prosperity Gospel,” but admitted that it was an inspirational event. In case anyone is wondering, the speaker is a well-known evangelical Bible teacher who isn’t considered a proponent of the “Prosperity Gospel.”
As near as I can understand, the anti-“Prosperity Gospel” line goes something like this: People who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” have an evil Western [i.e. American] mindset that’s selfish and focused on their own comfort. They teach that if you stay close to God, you’ll never have any problems, and will be healthy and wealthy. They essentially rob poor people of their money by promising earthly riches as a reward for faithful giving.
Interesting. I’ve actually listened to a lot of preachers over the years who’ve been branded with the dreaded “Prosperity Gospel” label, but I’ve never heard anything like that from any of them. I’ve read books by some of them, but haven’t read anything like that, either. I’m not saying there isn’t anyone out there saying stuff like that, but I’ve never actually heard anyone say that.
I have heard repeated admonishments from these types of preachers to spend daily time with God in prayer and reading the Bible. I’ve heard them say that a life of faith is a lot harder than the alternative, but it’s worth it. I have heard them blame the devil for what he does (steal, kill, and destroy—John 10:10), than blaming it on Jesus, who came to give us the aforementioned abundant life (John 10:10 again).
I have heard things such as “God delights in the prosperity of his servant,” (Psalm 35:27). I’ve also heard, “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2), and so on. I once did some research on the topic of prosperity, and filled up a page and a half in my notebook with the scripture references of verses similar to those, so it doesn’t appear to be a case of “cherry picking” scriptures to make it say what you want.
A lot of Christians seem to think it’s bad to be rich, and that it’s more spiritual to be poor. To paraphrase the guy quoted in the article above, that sounds like Buddhism to me. Come to think of it, that whole philosophy sounds a lot like Eastern religions I’ve studied. On the other hand, what reputation do Jews have? I’m thinking wealthy, successful business people.
Personally, I believe godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 1:6). Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). The impression I get is that we should follow God, give as He leads us, and He’ll take care of business for us. I’ve certainly found that to be true in my own life. I’ve heard the same thing from some of the “Prosperity Gospel” teachers.
I do find it interesting that the Christians I know who seem to be the most focused on money aren’t adherents to the “Prosperity Gospel,” but tend to be disciples of people like Dave Ramsey. I observe an obsession with money—some of these people seem to be consumed with worrying over every penny that comes in or goes out. I’m not condemning financial prudence in general or Mr. Ramsey in particular; I’m merely stating what I’ve seen.
This may sound harsh, but pretty much every Christian I’ve heard speaking against the “Prosperity Gospel” is a hypocrite, because they all live in nice houses, have nice cars, own a smart phone, etc. I think that if someone really believes prosperity is bad, they should put their money where their mouth is and live in poverty themselves. Could it be that some people feel guilty for their own prosperity, so they condemn the “Prosperity Gospel” types to make themselves feel better? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to ponder.
My suggestion would be to look into something before flippantly condemning it. I know how frustrating it can be as a Jesus follower to listen to people rip on Christianity without studying it for themselves; let’s not be the same way to each other. Don’t listen to what some flaky blog says (ahem); check out some ministries and find out for yourself what they’re actually teaching. Is what they’re saying Biblical or not? Also, consider the fruit of that ministry; Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16).
I think the devil invented the term “Prosperity Gospel” to drive believers apart and prevent unity in the Body of Christ. I think it’s working very well. As long as there are two or more Christians, there will probably be at least two doctrinal viewpoints, but most of us agree on the big stuff, so let’s stop biting and devouring each other (Galatians 5:15).
It’s God’s will that we be brought to complete unity (John 17:23), so I say let’s examine how each of us can work toward that!
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