Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Prosperity Gospel (cue the scripture referenced justification hate mail)


Since I've briefly touched on the evangelical movement and the emergent/emerging movement under this big ol' tent of Christianity, I felt it would be not be fair and balanced to omit a post on the "prosperity", aka "name it and claim it", aka "wealth and health" doctrine. And because I strive to be an equal opportunity offender, I wanted to save the beast best for last.

For those of you who might be wondering what this prosperity doctrine is all about, here's a brief summary from the ace staff of researchers over at Wikipedia:

Prosperity theology is the teaching that an authentic religious belief and behavior in a person will result in their material prosperity. That is, the doctrine holds that material prosperity, particularly financial prosperity and success in business and personal life, is to be expected as external evidence of God's favor. This favor may be preordained, or granted in return for efficacious prayer, merit-making and/or appropriate faith.

Other terms have been used interchangeably with prosperity theology such as prosperity doctrine, health and wealth, etc. but it is perhaps most commonly referred to as the Prosperity Gospel.

It cannot easily be argued that the Prosperity Gospel is a part of the evangelical movement. Instead, prominent evangelicals reject the teaching as non-evangelical. Furthermore, it is worthy to note that none of the major Prosperity Gospel proponents belong to well-established evangelical organizations such as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or the National Association of Evangelicals

The Prosperity Gospel gained more prominence in the 1980s through the teaching of the so-called televangelists, but again, this was a movement separate from mainstream Christianity.

Prosperity theology proponents promote the idea that God wants Christians to be "abundantly" successful in every way, with special emphasis on financial prosperity.

Support for the Prosperity Gospel is believed to be found by proponents in specific Bible verses and in its narratives of the lives and lifestyles of biblical characters. Critics counter that all of the verses Prosperity Gospel proponents use are taken by them out of their textual, cultural, historical and/or literary context thus falsely supporting their claims.

Following are some Bible verses used by Prosperity teachers to support their theology:

Deuteronomy 8:18 - "But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (New American Standard Bible)

Malachi 3:10 - "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'" (New American Standard Bible)

John 10:10 - "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (King James Version)

3 John 2-4 - "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers"


As I was doing research for this blog post, (Yes, I actually research stuff before I put it on my blog. Feel free to re-engage your jaw back to its proper alignment at anytime during this post.) Anyway...when I began researching, I'll admit I have a bunch of preconceived notions about what these so called "health and wealth" preachers were all about. And while I was always concerned about the possibility of desperate people falling for some of their outrageous claims, I had made them into caricatures in bad shiny suits, with too much make up and giant hairdos. In that way, I had become what I despise in others: a religious, elitist snob. In order to seek redemption, I sought to provide a fair and balanced piece about their theology. Now here's the snag: the more research I did, the more I was filled with righteous anger at what is going on in my country, and now, it seems, across the globe. Whether the prefix of "self" should be placed before "righteous" is a matter of opinion and ultimately up to God to decide. When I was ignorant enough to think that the prosperity gospel was just an excuse for rich people to feel good about themselves and call themselves "good Christians", I could simply laugh at the constant parade of televangelists splattered across the airwaves and ignore seeing hundreds of little Joel Olsteen's smiling back at me from the cover of his latest book every time I went to Walmart. But the truth is far more sinister. When I first saw the following video by John Piper, I thought it was a little over the top. But he is spot on -- I get it now.

What breaks my heart about this movement is that their target audience is not the rich; it's not even the middle class. No, their target audience are the have-nots. The people who never seem to catch a break. Those who for one reason or another find themselves in want or need of a better life and a better paycheck. I'm not saying those are the only followers they have, but those are the people that have made these charlatans rich. I could go on about how they've misquoted scripture and taken it out of context to fit into their warped interpretations, but I'm not going to. Read your bible; it's pretty clear. If more of us as Christians would read and study our Bibles for ourselves instead of being spoon fed bits and pieces on Sunday morning and relying on what someone else tells us to be the truth, I'm quite confident that the followers of this so-called prosperity gospel would be greatly diminished.
At the bottom of this post are a few links to some articles I found very enlightening. Since I believe that a picture really is worth a thousand words, I'll close with a few...

Trinity Christian City International in Costa Mesa is just one of the network's holdings. TBN owns 11 homes in the adjacent gated development as well as residences in Texas, Tennesse, and Ohio. (Don Kelsen/LAT)

John Wayne Airport: Private jet owned by TBN. (Mark Boster/LAT)

Newport Beach: A TBN-owned mansion, foreground was on the market for $8 million. The network also owns one of the houses in the background. (Don Kelsen/LAT)


Among TBN's faithful followers is Olivia Foster of Westminster, who sends the network $70 a month out of her $820 disability check. (Mark Boster/LAT)

http://www.trinityfi.org/press/latimes04.html
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448,00.html
http://www.theopedia.com/Prosperity_gospel
http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/posit.htm

Matthew 25:31-46 (New International Version)

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' 41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

10 comments:

katdish said...

Okay. I came off sounding a bit angry and self-righteous in that post. I probably should have waited until tomorrow to post it. (Oh, wait - it IS tomorrow.) Now I'm all fired up, I can't get to sleep, and it's 3:24 am. And yet I keep typing....

Helen said...

Katdish-
I cried when I saw that video. I, too, get angry about the Prosperity Gospel. It reminds me of the concept of Karma, which is not a Christian idea. We do not get what we deserve. My mom does not deserve to be in a wheelchair. For goodness sake, when she was my age, she used to go grocery shopping and did small chores for the homebound old women in our neighborhood. This was not her job. She did not get paid. She did it from the kindness of her heart, and yes, because she believed God wanted her to do that. If the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel were true, she'd be able to Salsa on Dancing With the Stars, and not Chloris Leachman.
I am remembering how in the Gospel the apostles ask whose fault it was that a man was born blind. He said it was no one's fault, but that so the glory of God could be revealed. Yes, He then healed the man. But how many of my family members are encouraged by my mom's faith, even though she can't walk? How many members allow her to speak to them about God and her faith because of her disability, but react in anger when other family members approach them? I believe that God uses these hardships to glorify himself. I don't allows understand how he is glorified in these things, but I love Him and believe his promise in scripture that all things work out for the good of those who love Him. I don't always understand how it is so, but I believe.
Sorry about the tangent, Katdish. And I am sorry I couldn't think of anything funny to say. When I saw that video, I just ...well, you know...

katdish said...

Helen,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. Your mom, and countless others like her are a better argument against this so called gospel than I could ever put into words. Imagine how many souls would be lost if Mother Teresa had beleived in this crap -- not to mention how many children would had died needlessly in the streets.

And even when you don't make me laugh, you make me smile.

jamie in rose cottage said...

Just read your comment over on my rambling rose blog. Kinda funny timing, but I wholeheartedly agree with what you've written here. I believe the prosperity gospel is blasphemous. Some years ago, many of the influential people in my life professed those beliefs. They didn't attend a church, but watched their chosen televangelists from the comfort of home, and then "named and claimed" all kinds of things. Then I watched as one of these friends had complications in her pregnancy and her husband wouldn't let her tell anyone (she broke the rules & told me) because that would "speak the problem into existence". So instead of being able to ask friends for prayer, or ask for help with her older child since she was orded on bedrest by her OB, she had to just pretend everything was ok. A load of ----. And one of the most Christlike, godly families I know lost their youngest son earlier this year; the health & wealth gospel would say they must have not been praying the right things, or they just didn't have enough faith...

Aaagh! Can you tell this makes me mad, too? But like you said, "If more of us as Christians would read and study our Bibles for ourselves instead of being spoon fed bits and pieces on Sunday morning and relying on what someone else tells us to be the truth, I'm quite confident that the followers of this so-called prosperity gospel would be greatly diminished." Amen, sister.

Woah, I think that's my longest comment ever!

Beth said...

Hmmmm....lots of food for thought here. I haven't gotten through all the articles yet, but I will. I believe God is faithful to take care of us when we step out in faith and give to Him what's really His anyway. But the wealth thing is pretty laughable. "Have you considered my servant Job?" That whole story pretty much blows the prosperity gospel out of the water...but I guess they could argue that Job is again blessed at the end...I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around all this.

On a personal note, we used to be horrible at tithing(to our own church, not TBN!), and our finances were in horrible shape. We've gotten better. Better in attitude, better in just practically doing it. Recently, we went from two incomes to one. I stopped working outside the home because I truly believe that's what God wants for our family right now(I'm not saying that's the right thing for everyone, so don't send me hate mail either!) Anyway, the money side of things doesn't exactly add up, but we still tithe. And we've been able to pay the bills every time and pay for the things we need even though we shouldn't be able to. To me, that's confirmation that I'm in God's will...little miracles here and there that say, "Beth, you sacrificed your wants and put your trust in me, and on your own you can't take care of this, but I can." But on the other hand, my husband could come home today and say he lost his job and we could go into a financial dive and be left with nothing, but God would still be enough for us, even though that's a hard thought to think. I might be contradicting myself here. I don't know. But I give because God commands it, not because I expect to be blessed by giving. Does that make sense? And you're right. I need to study my Bible more on this....:)

JML said...

I am lost somewhere in this. I think that God honors when we give, just as the verse said, "when you do this to the least, you do to me" and so I honestly believe that and am a faithful tither and give offerings as well. I don't do it for the purpose to get extra back though. That said, I trust my pastor, because he's nothing like Joel Olsteen (and for positive reasons as well) My church talks about prosperity with a purpose, which I believe in. I think that you are incredibly right about particular people being targeted, and about the things that are done with this money being wrong, so I understand entirely where you're coming from. I call what you're feeling righteous indignation, not self-righteousness! It has to tick God off, too! It's really interesting, the take we have on things as people sometimes...

JML said...

and when I say lost, I mean that I know that balance has been lost and I want to know where it should be!!! Great post! You got a lot of good responses out of this!

katdish said...

Wow -- great comments! To respond to them all would require another blog post (forthcoming). For now, I think I'll write something stupid and nonsensical to clean my cranial palate.

Peace out homies!

(Jake - don't you just cringe when you hear "old people" say stuff like that?)

Caron said...

Thank you so much for the entire article. It is so truly heart wrenching. You really, really need to see the video on Justin Peters site: http://www.justinpeters.org

Peters gave the seminar in its entirety at my church and comes highly recommended by my pastor, Dr. John MacArthur.

Please let me know what you think!

Mare said...

agh! This is the truth. You know, in Nigeria, prosperity ministry is the large majority of Christianity. I have been to many different churches and denominations here in Nigeria and have yet to experience a service that didn't incorporate the prosperity gospel at least once. I don't get it. I mean, I get that it makes money for the "pastor" because it convinces people to give more. But I don't get why people stick with it. I see so many people who have nothing. Many of them have had nothing...always...and will have nothing forever...so how is it that they can believe "God will give you riches" after years and years of living in poverty and giving money? I don't get it. I hate it.