The terms “prosperity theology” or “health-and-wealth gospel” refer to a system of teaching made famous by a number of television preachers. Also known as the Word-Faith movement, its basic idea is that it is God’s will for all Christians to experience earthly prosperity. If one has adequate faith, so the argument goes, then the Lord will bless that person with good health and plenty of money. Specifically, if in faith one “sows” a financial gift to a Christian ministry, then that person is guaranteed to “reap” a hefty financial return for himself. If on the other hand one is suffering sickness or poverty, it is due to a failure of faith on that person’s part. Not surprisingly, this unbiblical teaching has some Christians excitedly giving their money to ministries and others angrily up in arms, because it has to do with the very meaning of the gospel. It is a subject of great confusion in the church today.
Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 15
David Powlison. Excerpts from Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture. Resources for Changing Lives. P & R Publishing: 2003. Justin Taylor. Posted on blog, April 02, 2007.
“God does not anesthetize us; he redirects our desire,” says David Powlison, editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling, in answer to the last question in a series of 15 on the lusts of the flesh. This question asks, “Can you change what you want?” Powlison answers that as Christians we are commanded and enabled to change our desires from destructive lusts of the flesh into godly desires. Powlison takes issue with much current Christian self-help, which baptizes our natural selfish desires and “felt needs” with Christian terminology. They say that our desires to be loved and to feel good about ourselves (self-esteem) must be fulfilled or we are “doomed to a life of sin and misery.” This is little more than “the psychological equivalent of the ‘Health and Wealth’ theology, which similarly selects certain common desires and accepts them as givens that God is obligated to fulfill.” Rather than “using” God to fulfill our “felt needs” and self-centered priorities, our hearts’ deepest desires must be reoriented toward God’s priority of displaying his glory and spreading his fame.
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Understanding the ‘Prosperity Gospel’
Richard Mouw. Mouw’s Musings, July 18, 2007.
In this short blog entry, Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw points out one strength in the prosperity gospel: It is filling a void that most Christian doctrine fails to address. While it is easy to criticize the “health and wealth” gospel, Mouw suggests that the movement does much good in giving hope to the people of Africa. Its practical nature allows the prosperity gospel to address the vast “excluded middle” that much Christian doctrine avoids: troubles in life, economic threats, family crises and other issues that are a part of daily experience. He concludes that until the Christians who object to the prosperity gospel develop some way to address the “excluded middle,” we should be cautious about criticizing the movement.
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The Prosperity Gospel in Africa
Paul Gifford. The Christian Century, July 10, 2007.
The gospel is spreading rapidly in Africa, especially among “prosperity Pentecostal” churches. This group holds that since Jesus Christ suffered everything for us, we are able to live lives of absolute ease and prosperity. This focus on success is characteristic of churches across Africa. In this article Gifford analyzes this presentation of the gospel and its effects on churchgoers. He points out the rather high status that this view gives to pastors: Challenging a pastor’s prophetic utterances is tantamount to challenging God. These pastors prosper from the tithes and offerings given by their congregations, much like corrupt African politicians and rulers prosper from the wealth gained from their constituents. Despite its many downsides and flaws, the African prosperity gospel also promises hope to people in hard circumstances, which explains its popularity. Gifford is unenthusiastic about the spread of the “health and wealth” message, but he does admit that the prosperity Pentecostals in Africa have developed a “winning formula” for the expansion of the church.
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Prosperity Gospel Bringing in the Cash
Martin C. Evans. Newsday, November 11, 2006.
There is a large following for the prosperity gospel movement among African American churches. Through the teachings of Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes and others, the “health and wealth gospel” has captured the imaginations of people across the nation. But is this belief biblical? Or is this a twisting of the church’s traditions of helping communities and challenging leaders to do the same? This article looks at the popularity of the prosperity gospel in the black community and encourages readers to think about the social implications of this widely preached message.
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Prosperity Gospel Promises Material Blessings to Faithful
Ken Camp. Baptist Standard, October 13, 2006.
The roots of the “health and wealth” gospel may lie deeper in the Protestant tradition than many critics care to admit. Baptist Standard’s managing editor, Ken Camp, presents several prominent voices in the Baptist camp regarding “health and wealth” theology. The standard Baptist view finds the prosperity gospel to be largely unbiblical; however, this is not the whole story. Camp also examines how the Baptist tradition has enabled the prosperity gospel to develop. As church historian Bill Leonard argues, tithing testimonies and revivalism from the early part of the twentieth century encouraged converts to believe that prosperity was their right because of their religion. Furthermore, Oral Roberts, who coined the prosperity gospel phrase “faith seed,” came from the Baptist tradition. Before condemning the prosperity gospel too harshly, we should examine how our own traditions may have aided in the rise of its teachings. Camp warns that if people accept the prosperity gospel, they face inevitable disappointment.
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Be Happy: The Health and Wealth Gospel
Jason Byassee. The Christian Century, July 12, 2005.
Does God want you to have a “best life now” that involves freedom from all hardship and financial worries? This is the message delivered by many speakers today—that a positive attitude will bring “health and wealth.” In this essay Jason Byassee reviews one of the more recent contributions to the gospel of health and wealth: Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now. Byassee outlines Osteen’s argument that the Christian life is the best possible and that God will bless us if we only think the right thoughts and have the correct attitude. Despite the book’s flaws, Byassee admits that Osteen makes several good points. Osteen suggests, for instance, that the best way to get on the path to happiness is through giving. However, Byassee goes on to show several weaknesses in Osteen’s view. Byassee points out that God, in this conception, seems unnecessary for the development of the ideal Christian life, since the solution lies in our own attitudes and not in God’s will. Moreover, such teaching seems based on our works and is therefore not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though Osteen is correct in suggesting that the Christian life is the best life, he incorrectly interprets what the “best life now” might look like.
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Gospel Riches: Africa’s Rapid Embrace of Prosperity Pentecostalism Provokes Concern—and Hope
Isaac Phiri and Joe Maxwell. Christianity Today, August 7, 2007.
The “health and wealth” gospel is growing rapidly in Africa, led by charismatic preachers who easily captivate the imaginations of the masses with promises of prosperity. Coupled with the influence of America’s prosperity pastors, Africa’s prosperity Pentecostalism is leading many African believers to connect Christianity with wealth and comfort. Despite its serious flaws, however, this gospel of prosperity undoubtedly has been used to do good, giving poor Africans hope and encouraging them to combat their nations’ poverty. Additionally, not all churches are focused on strictly material rewards, with some even trying to de-emphasize money and instead view prosperity as spiritual blessings. The authors conclude by urging American Christians to be slow to judge the church in Africa. The church there is still young and trying to feel out the balance between seeking hope and idolizing comfort.
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Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study
Michael S. Horton. Written in follow-up to his interview on “60 Minutes,” October 14, 2007.
In this collection of essays, Michael Horton explores the health and wealth gospel as presented by mega-church preacher and best-selling author Joel Osteen, arguing that it isn’t the gospel at all. Horton argues that behind the positive rhetoric of “your best life now” is a disturbing and pagan humanism that uses ideas and principles from Christianity to achieve personal goals. This “gospel” provides no answers for suffering, and no need for the cross. To the struggling sinner, the health-and-wealth gospel says, “Do more.” Horton condemns the heresies of the health-and-wealth gospel with powerful and insightful criticisms, as well as frequent expositions of the true good news of Jesus Christ as our only hope and Redeemer. Installments include: (1) Joel Osteen and the Glory Story, (2) What Ever Happened to Sin? (3) Are You in God’s Story? (4) Suffering and a Theology of Glory and (5) Doesn’t God Want Us to Be Happy?
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Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly
John Piper. Taste & See, February 14, 2007.
“Prosperity gospel” preaching, which lures people to Christ with the promise of riches, is both deceitful and deadly. It is deceitful because it is not the message of the gospel, and it is deadly because, according to 1 Timothy 6:9, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Piper’s plea to ministers to avoid a prosperity gospel is built on Scripture and packed with passion. He implores them: (1) Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes it harder for people to get into heaven. (2) Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that kindles suicidal desires in people. (3) Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that encourages vulnerability to moth and rust. (4) Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes hard work a means of amassing wealth. (5) Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that promotes less faith in the promises of God to be for us what money can’t be. (6) Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that contributes to your people being choked to death. (7) Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that takes the seasoning out of the salt and puts the light under a basket.
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Does God Want You to Be Rich? A Growing Number of Protestant Evangelists Raise a Joyful Yes! But the Idea Is Poison to Other, More Mainstream Pastors
David Van Biema and Jeff Chu. Time, September 18, 2006.
This report calls attention to a growing movement among Pentecostalism referred to here as Prosperity Lite. In contrast to the “generations of churchgoers who have understood that being a Christian, on some level, means being ready to sacrifice—money, autonomy, or even their lives,” there is a growing number of Christians who ask, “Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?” Joel Osteen, TV preacher and pastor of the 14,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston, is a leading spokesman for this developing way of thinking, which “soft-pedals the consequences of Adam’s fall—sin, pain and death—and their New Testament antidote: Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the importance of repentance.” “What remains is a materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism,” referring to the popular TV motivational speaker. Contrary to this “emphasis on worldly gain,” many evangelical leaders, including The Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, regard this way of thinking as “simplistic, possibly heretical and certainly embarrassing” to the cause of Christ. While the article correctly points out that evangelicalism “has never had a robust theology of money,” it wrongly supposes that “Scripture is not definitive when it comes to faith and income.” The article makes a common mistake on this point, equating the lack of solid teaching in the church to a lack of coherency in the Bible. Nevertheless, overall this article offers an unbiased and thorough account of the prevailing beliefs about prosperity in some Protestant circles, particularly among Pentecostals.
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A Critical Look at the ‘Word of Faith’ Ministries
Michael Barrick, Rusty Leonard and Rod Pitzer. MinistryWatch Reflections, October 2003.
Donor advocacy group Wall Watchers issued this newsletter on Word of Faith ministries in October 2003. It comprises two basic criticisms. “Wall Watchers calls on donors to so-called Word of Faith ministries to closely examine their giving to these ministries. Why? First, Word of Faith ministries often teach controversial and unorthodox theology. ... Second, these ministries refuse to make consolidated audited financial statements easily available to anyone, including donor advocates like Wall Watchers.”
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A Leap of Faith: Word of Faith Ministries Deserve Close Look Before Earning Support
Wall Watchers, October 14, 2003.
“Ongoing analysis by Wall Watchers, an advocate for donors to Christian ministries, reveals that evangelist Benny Hinn and other ‘Word of Faith’ ministries likely rake in over $500 million dollars every year without ever giving a proper account of how that donated money is spent. Consequently, Wall Watchers is calling on donors to these ministries to stop giving to them… and recommending that the IRS investigate whether these organizations are providing substantial benefit to private, rather than public, interests.”
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International Convention of Faith Ministries
The International Convention of Faith Ministries is the official association of the Word of Faith movement. Its stated purpose is to bring leaders of “like precious faith” together. Its stated vision is to propagate, hold forth, and contend for the Word of Faith worldwide by providing fellowship, inspiration and training. Its trustees have included such influential Word of Faith figures as Kenneth Hagin, Jerry Savelle, Kenneth Copeland and Fred Price. Anyone interested in learning about this movement from its proponents should consult ICFM and its publications.
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