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The Health and Wealth Gospel: Whatís Going on Today in a Movement That Has Shaped the Faith of Millions?
Review by Rebekah Forman
Bruce Barron (InterVarsity Press, 1987; 204 pp.)
Word of faith churches ... positive confession movement ... the health and wealth gospel ... faith-prosperity doctrines ... the faith movement ... name it, claim it ...
No matter what one decides to call it, most Americans have encountered this controversial teaching in some form. Religious radio and late-night television regularly broadcast teachers such as Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Fred Price and Kenneth Haginópeople who encourage their audiences to take hold of Godís promises of health and wealth. How should evangelical Christians handle this doctrine? Is it biblical? To what extent should we embrace it?
In his book The Health and Wealth Gospel: Whatís Going on Today in a Movement That Has Shaped the Faith of Millions?, author and researcher Bruce Barron explores this American religious phenomenon. While somewhat outdated, Barronís book nevertheless provides a solid summary and critique of the faith movement by examining the teachings and ministries of todayís prominent faith teachers. In addition, the book explores the history and evolution of the three primary prongs of their teachings: healing, prosperity and positive confession.
For those less than familiar with the faith movement, Barronís treatment is extremely helpful in laying out its breadth and scope. By drawing out the nuances in individual ministries and contrasting them, Barron shows that not all health and prosperity teachers adhere to the same tenets of faith.
Yet perhaps Barronís greatest contribution to the discussion lies in his critique, particularly of the hermeneutical weaknesses found in the faith movement. As the author shows, many faith teachers take scripture out of context in order to provide support for their doctrine and fail to interpret scripture with scripture. In pointing this out, Barron reveals the pivot upon which the health and wealth gospel diverges from mainstream evangelicalism. Essentially, it is a question of hermeneutics.
Although many evangelical Christians are ready to totally discount the faith movement as having any legitimacy, Barron does not. Because the issue is largely one of hermeneutics, Barron calls for cooperation between Christians as we work through these difficult issues. Since no single person or institution has a flawlessly worked out interpretation of Scripture, Christians should learn from one another, continually striving for accurate understanding of Godís word.
Still, Barron is a bit too easy in his censure of the faith movement, refusing to take a firm stand on most issues. While offering critiques, he refrains from providing answers. This tends to weaken the effectiveness of his project, leaving the reader with many questions to answer on his own. In addition, his call to cooperation doesnít provide a way of resolving the tensions between the two camps, though he does point out that not all faith teachers support the extreme doctrines (e.g. condemning medical technology) that are so often associated with this movement. Likewise, in boiling the issue down to hermeneutics, Barron overlooks other potential causes for differences between the faith movement and mainstream evangelicalism.
Nevertheless, The Health and Wealth Gospel is a useful tool to understanding the health and wealth movement. Barronís clear description of the prominent faith teachers provides a more thorough awareness of the various forms of this gospel. In addition, his critiques of the movement, while at times weak, present a thoughtful way of approaching its teachings. Barron addresses the hermeneutical problems while suggesting ways to distinguish between legitimate, though liberal, ministries and those that are potentially false and harmful.
Rebekah Forman is pursuing a dual bachelorís degree in philosophy and history at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga. She has worked as a research intern for Generous Giving in Chattanooga, Tenn.