October 18, 2017

Open Mic: What Is the Prosperity Gospel?

By Chaplain Mike

This post might also be called: “Ask Chaplain Mike: Eagle’s Questions, part 2.”

But I would like to take a different approach this time. Instead of me simply answering our friend’s question, I’d like the iMonk community to take part. In fact, Eagle himself asks for this when he writes:

What exactly is the prosperity gospel? How would you define it? What is the difference between being blessed versus believing in the prosperity gospel? Could the iMonastery have a basic discussion on what the prosperity gospel means, vs. what is being blessed by God? I’d like to know where a person draws the line.

Thanks, Eagle. I am looking forward to the discussion.

To prime the pump, here is a web reading list that will give you some good material and commentary to consider—

For Further Reading:

Comments

  1. Radagast says:

    My first awareness of the prosperity gospel came with the Prayer of Jebez fad that swept through a few years ago (yes – it swept through Catholic circles too). My initial understanding was that God showed favor by increasing the land and wealth of those in the old testament worthy of it. Since there was no focus on afterlife in early Jewish thought then you had to have something to look forward to – right?

    My second encounter happened when I was flipping through the channels and saw Joel Olsteen. Now there was a guy with shiny white teeth. On reflection though it bought back memories of other tele-evangelists that I used to imitate when I was in my teens – especially the one that would close his eyes, put his hands up and channel that someone out there just had their prayers answered for a new Cadillac…. now that was comedic entertainment…

    • “(T)he one that would close his eyes, put his hands up and channel that someone out there just had their prayers answered for a new Cadillac”

      Aha! Time for a new version of a Jesuit joke I’ve told on here before!

      A man goes to a Dominican and asks “Brother, can I say a novena for a Maserati?” “Well, that depends,” the friar says. “What’s a Maserati?” The man explains, and the friar says “No, I’m sorry, that’s not the purpose of a novena.”

      So he goes to a Franciscan, asks the same question, gets the same answer.

      Finally he meets a Jesuit and asks him the same question. “Explain one thing for me,” says the Jesuit. “What’s a novena?”

      😉

    • In all the excitement of the Jabez mania nobody pointed out that Jabez came and went in the bible (1 Chronicles 4) with zero context. He shows up in verses 9 and 10 in the middle of a long stream of tedious genealogies, with the text saying finally “And God granted him that which he requested.” And then the genealogies resumed as if Jabez had never existed.

      What was that all about? Is this a lesson in irony? Was the biblical author telling us that Jabez was a hack? Was God pouring burning coals on the head of Jabez? Why is Jabez never mentioned again in scripture? Is this meant to teach us to pray for that Cadillac? Or to pray for Martha’s Maserati?

      What’s a Martha? 🙂

      The Jabez phenomenon captured too many good people, including some in my church. The author Bruce Wilkinson tried to turn it around to make Jabez look like a godly, altruistic evangelist, “enlarging his borders” in the manner of evangelism opportunity; but the text says that Jabez wanted it all, wanted it now, and that God in his ironic bit of grace humored him and then didn’t strike him dead with a lightning bolt.

      And then it says nothing further about Jabez. Whoever he was. He’s not mentioned in those genealogies.

      • the Prayer of Jabez phenom, was the Evangelical non-charismatic lite presentation of the prosperity gospel skillfully marketed by Wilkinson to promote a sense of expectation & stretching of one’s ‘faith’ as it pertains to our concept of who this God is we serve…

        it was an extension of the often abused scripture Malachi 3:10 pertaining to tithes & the resultant opening of the floodgates of heaven with an overwhelming blessing…

        here is one thing i can agree with: our concept of God is warped. regardless of one’s theological conclusions, we do have a skewed viewpoint of God & His motivations towards His saints…

        now, it could be the poverty mentality, sheriff-in-the-sky, can’t-make-Him-happy perception just as warped as the divine ATM-in-the-sky picture some have. but both extremes are based on our performance regardless of the God concept claimed. funny how all our issues are really internal, not externally dependent upon a God that is working hard at correcting all misconstrued perceptions of His character+motivations…

        the Jabez experiment was tried at the independent Evangelical church i was attending back then. i made fun of it in the men’s group i was attending because i had come from a charismatic background & could smell a contrived methodology intended to get the Big Guy to comply. all based upon the meek faith of those that would be willing to ‘test’ God by doing the 40-day prayer effort. sure, all your life you have just been getting by, but now, in only 40 days, God will enlarge your tent & whatever it was that could be extrapolated from the brief scriptural reference…

        Lord have mercy… 🙁

      • Okay, us Catholics can’t laugh and point the finger at anyone else, because instead of the Prayer of Jabez, we have a well-established tradition of “Say this prayer for three days, promise publication, and your favour will be granted.”

        The back pages of local newspapers (and my own are no exception) are full of little notices of that kind. Usually it’s the Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (trumpeted as “Never known to fail”) but there are also prayers to the Sacred Heart and St. Clare of Assisi, and they’re veering on (if not actually) pure superstition.

        “Ask St. Clare for 3 favours, one business, two impossible and say 9 Hail Marys for 9 days with lighted candle. Pray whether you believe or not. Publish on ninth day. Powerful Novena.”

        The Church does not preach this stuff, the Church does not encourage such stuff, it’s folk religion pure and simple – but you can’t go around threatening people not to say a prayer that’s perfectly orthodox, along the lines of “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored, glorified and loved today and everyday throughout the world forever, Amen”, though I sometimes wish that a couple of fire and brimstone sermons would be launched about it.

        It’s not the prayer that’s at fault, it’s the accretions. God will grant your request if you ask – fine. Then we drift off into requests not so much for material necessities and spiritual benefits for ourselves and others, but into ‘give me a bigger house/a better-paying job/a beautiful wife’ and there you go – our very own prosperity Gospel trap!

  2. Taking that “Time” cover question:

    Does God want you to be rich?

    No. Next stupid question, please!

    Okay, not so helpful. What did Jesus say? Something about it is easier for a camel to do something or other than for a rich man to do something else. And there was some story about barns, too.

    Is it wrong to be rich? No, but that’s not the point. God wants us with Him, and being rich (or being poor, or being a man, or being a woman, or being white, or being from the Third World) is not a guarantee or sign or seal of approval over another person.

    If there is one poisonous fruit of old-style Calvinist election, it’s this: how do you know you’re one of the elect? Visible signs of God’s favour. What kinds of visible signs? Material prosperity, for one. And since material prosperity is way easier to see than spiritual advancement, that segues into the ‘prosperity gospel’ style of nonsense.

    • Miss Martha, your humor this morning is what’s rich!

      I sadly have to agree that Reformation thinking, revivalist preaching, and the rise of Pentecostalism contributed to prosperity theology. Who came up with the idea that all good things come from God, and all bad things come from the devil? And how can we as humans, with our small and skewed perspective, really know what’s good and what’s bad?

      Once there was a country farmer whose dream it was to fly in an airplane. The farmer was walking down the street one day, and met a friend. They exchanged greetings, and the farmer asked, “You know how I’ve always wanted to fly in a plane, right? Well, a buddy of mine at the airport called a while back, and said he knew someone who would volunteer to take me on a flight. Man, I rushed as fast as I could to get to the airport!”

      The friend said, “That’s good.”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s bad. I got there, and the pilot didn’t show up.”

      The friend replied, “Oh, that’s bad.”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s good! The airport had lined up another pilot for me, a guy who flew one of those old-timey bi-planes! He took me for a flight! We took off and he flew me over the whole county! He was doing all sorts of loop-de-loops and stuff, too!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s good!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s bad. He flew that plane upside down one time, and I fell right out of the plane!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s bad!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s good! I had on a parachute! I was free-falling through the air! It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s good!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s bad! I went to pull the ripcord, and the chute didn’t work!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s bad!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s good! I looked down, and I was headed right toward a huge haystack!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s good!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s bad! Right in the middle of the haystack was a pitchfork, pointed up at me, and I was headed straight toward it!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s bad!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s good! I missed the pitchfork when I landed!”

      The friend said, “Oh, that’s good!”

      The farmer said, “No, that’s bad…I missed the haystack, too…”

      Okay, it’s a completely corny old preacher joke, but it rings true in a lot of ways. If you look at the story of Joseph, it appears to be tragic at so many points in his life…rejected by family, thrown in a well, sold into slavery, thrown in jail…but God used it all for good. He wound up with the opportunity to lead a nation, and save his family from famine.

      Does this mean that everyone going through what we define as “bad” will have a storybook ending in this life? Nope. But we live and we learn, one day to the next. It’s difficult to think infinitely with our finite minds, but the things we endure…divorce, loss of income, loss of job, foreclosure, death, illness…all of those things work to mature us and refine us into what God desires us to be. Some will be kings, and some will be lepers begging in the streets.

      What an interesting God we serve.

  3. Thanks Chaplin Mike…

    Let me state for the record that I’ve never followed Joel Olsteen, nor have I watched TBN (I don’t even have cable in my apartment in DC!!) and that when I thought of the prosperity gospel I always thought of the promise of extravegant cars, and luxery homes. In my mind at the time when I was a Christian I never thought that I followed the prosperity gospel. The churches I was involved with were two Bible churches i.e Manasas Bible Church (ficticious…) with one Bible based church which was part of the Third Wave movement, an Assembly of God which cloaked itself in non-denominational guise and an Evangelical Free. And of course there was Campus Crusade. From 1999 until 2009 that was where I camped out and lived in my faith. The experiences I came across form some of the stories I have told here at I Monk.

    So I never thought of myself as having bought into the prosperity gospel. However as life started to become more difficult, and one bad situation happened after another it forced me to ask questions. As I worked my way through some difficult work situations I was overwhelmed with questions. It was during this time that a light switch stated to go off in my head that made me realize how deeply embedded the prosperity gospel is in mainstream American evangeliclaism. Though my former Christian friends, people I did a mission trip with, etc.. would deny it…I would suggest that many have bought into the prosperity gospel and look at their life, and career, and family thorugh the lens of a prosperity gospel.

    1. My mission team leader told me a story about how God got him into a job and how he beat out all these other applicants. His life was one of “after I found God” l was blessed. With that came job promotions, marriage, etc…
    2. I had another situation with an accountability partner. All I tended to hear was good positive stuff. He and his wife were missionaries in Africa for a year and while they did occasionally share some difficult stories, most of what I heard was glowing and positive. This evening I saw her Facebook update about how God abundently provides. Though my freind will deny it I wonder if they have bought into the prosperity gospel.
    3. Since most of my freinds were all from the Christian/fundgelical camp I began to look at their Facebook updates in a new light. All of a sudden I began to notice updates that talked about God’s blessings, how God is good, announcing engagements, child born, etc.. I began to realize that it was largely all happy go lucky, no problems, God is good type of thinking.

    It was very subtle. And as I was starving for answers the church really didn’t have one.

    I had lunch with a guy I respect who is a Christian, one of the few in DC that I talk to and over lunch we discussed the prosperity gospel. After talking with him I began to wonder if I subconsciously bought into the prosperity gospel without fully realizing it.

    I do think it was a part of the reason why I lost my faith. Much of what I heard was a strong emphesis on the here and now. Like many situations in modern evangeliclaism God was reduced to a formula where one can control and pop out an intended result. In this case it was carrer success, marriage, healthy children, etc..

    But I think the prosperity gospel is also believed by many fundgelical mega churches as well. When churches like McLean Bible talk about how many attend, the number of campuses they have, it reeks of success. The same type of success that any businessmen would use to gauge how their busienss is doing. This began to dawn upon me when I was in a friend’s wedding in Connecticut. I was at one of the tables and I heard everyone talking about how successful this particular church is. And as a former individual who did sales and marketing I realized that they were measuring the success of the church based upon the number of Bible studies that exist, how many people attend, etc… It was similar to what I did in marketing when I examined ROI “Return on Investment” and RR “Response Rate”. Success as I saw it was a strong part of the evangelical culture. It was hard to avoid. Forgive me for being cynical but I saw the prosperity gospel quite often in many different places where I looked.

    I’ve wondered if this subtle prosperity gospel has also fueled agnostics like myself. And if many people outside the chruch can see through the smoke and mirrors and call a spade a spade. Given how success is linked to the prosperity gospel and to how some evangelicals define success through children they have, marriage, engagement, etc.. I’ve wondered if this is part of the reason why those struggling with homosexuality, being single, being in a job that doesn’t easily allow for marriage or children (ie military, etc..) results in many of these those people leaving the chruch. They get it and see through the prosperity gospel facade. Of course after reading some of the attached articles from the original I Monk maybe a divorce, job loss, a visit to the doctor which will challenge their belief. I’m wondering if that’s part of the story of what happened to me.

    Thanks Chaplin Mike!! 🙂

    Does this make sense?

    • Damaris says:

      This makes a lot of sense, Eagle.

    • Suzanne says:

      I know I’ve said this before, but most Christians in this country worship free-market capitalism and success, not God.The “market” weeds out the lost and condemned sinners so the churches can be the shining beacon of white toothed, smiling successful people that everyone will want to be like. People with unresolved problems mess up the marketing plan (Let’s face it, do you ever see an ad for fast food featuring a fat, slovenly looking teen? No, because it wouldn’t sell the product as well as a happy, healthy, smiling adolescent)
      I think you are absolutely right, Eagle. You were one of the “messy” people that the church market left behind.

      • Cunnudda says:

        Care to back up that vicious generalization with some evidence?

        • I just look around…the evidence is abundant.

          • Suzanne, your comment makes sense to me.
            It also seems to me that there are many who, while they may denounce the individualized version of the prosperity gospel, firmly believe it collectively for “America.” Not “I if give my paycheck to televangelist Billy Bob, God will give me a Lexus,” but “If we all vote Republican, reject whatever the French do, privatize everything, and work to ‘get my country back’ to some sort of 1950s myth, God will be forced to turn us into the richest, most-envied and most powerful Chrsitian nation that ever bestrode the planet.”

        • One more Mike says:

          @ cunnudda: I’m evidence that Suzanne is right and her “vicious generalization” is spot on dead solid perfect. When I lost my job and couldn’t find another all the evangelical (Megachurch, wannabees, SBC) so-called friends of ours all turned their backs on me and my wife. I heard from the pulpit and from members of my own family that I hadn’t prayed enough, tithed enough, I had obviously not been a good enough christian or I wouldn’t be in the condition I was in. Vicious generalization? I was the victim of vicious specification from “good church people” spouting prosperity gospel, although they’d deny it, and my wife and I did mess up their marketing plan.

          Has anyone else noticed that church food pantry’s are open on days during the week, not on Sunday? Can’t have all those unfortunate people cluttering up the radical awesomeness of energetic worship!!!!!!

        • I’ll meet Suzanne’s “vicious generalization” and raise the ante.

          Not only do “most Christians in this country worship free-market capitalism and success, not God,” but they (we) unconsciously endorse social Darwinism in doing so.

          And this Darwinism gets called Christianity while insisting on a 6015-year-old universe, created in 6 literal 24-hour days.

          Flat earth optional.

      • Suaznne I agree…I was “too messy” for Christianity. That’s part of why I left. I came to understand that I didn’t have it all together like so many others I saw. It also presented me with another challenge which was very disturbing. In order to fit into this “evangelical facade” I could shut up, proclaim praises and tell people what they want to hear. But doing that would mean living a deceptive life and lying. I chose not to do that and was open and honest about my difficulties, how faith wasn’t working out, etc.. And that created problems. For me it also comes down to integrity, but I’d rathor walk into hell boldly with my head up high and be honest then continue to dedicate myself to evangelicalsim and being dishonest with myself. At the end of the day I’m the one who stares at myself in the mirror.

        • Headless Uncorn Guy says:

          Eagle, I’m reminded of something attributed to “Bill”, the guy who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Quote came from his early days, when he was first doing what later became AA:

          “If you don’t want to call it God, call it Truth.”

    • It makes a tremendous amount of sense. I also think that you are right that while the “prosperity gospel” is generally identified with a certain evangelical/Pentecostal subset, the pattern of thinking it feeds upon is embedded in evangelicalism more widely.

      I also agree that it causes some in the fold to become agnostic or skeptic, because it asks a fairly shallow question and gets back an equally bland answer. The individualism and promise of an improved life inherent in a lot of evangelical messages are “relevant” and not entirely bad (after all, we all do expect that religious faith ought, in some manner, to make one a wholler or better person). But it can easily foster a smug, self-centered, or overly triumphalist view of life that fits very conveniently with middle-class ideals and veers toward pat answers. (It reminds me a bit of how people experience God speaking to them–largely to tell them to go ahead and buy a certain house. Or to cancel their missions trip to a certain country, at the very moment that the State Dept. puts out a travel advisory.) This rings false to some people, with justification.

      More devastating, it has little to say to someone who is really suffering, other than to promise them it’ll get better and subtly blame them if it doesn’t. Its like a highly spiritualized version of, “Poor people wouldn’t be poor if they worked harder and got a job!” This is even worse when it gets awkwardly applied to illness. It sounds so nice to say, “God rewarded so-and-so by curing his child’s cancer!” This sounds like an uplifting story, unless you consider what this implies about everyone whose child wasn’t just cured of stage 4 cancer.

      • My wife and I have infertility issues. Back in 2009 we got pregnant (which we had been told was impossible, my wife has POF). Of course the excitement that we had was huge, and I can’t tell you how many people told us that “God was blessing us because we had been faithful.” When things started getting a bit rocky, we had multiple people tell us that God was going to save this child and that everything God starts, he finishes, etc. etc. etc.

        When we lost the baby, none of those people came back and offered any explanation or help, I guess because the assumption was that we had been unfaithful, therefore God took this baby from us. At least that is the logical conclusion.

        We did, however, have others who came to us and said that God was going to give us another baby and/or that God was blessing us by taking this baby because it would have had a disability or something.

        Sure people are well-meaning, but it all stems from the prosperity gospel–if you’re a good little boy, God will bless you with a great job, lots of kids, etc. etc.

        In the midst of all this, very few people were able to mourn with us. Very few people were willing to say, “I don’t know why this happened, but we are here for you.” Just a bunch of rose-colored, prosperity stuff.

        • I think folks want so badly for everything to end up in joy & happiness that they fail to see how deeply one is hurting. To say “I don’t know why this happened, but we are here for you” is exactly what you & your wife needed to hear…not “spiritual platitudes”. False hope can ship-wreck faith thinking God just must not love me enough…which is NOT the case.

      • brian the lurker says:

        Amen Danielle and Brandon. As a dad of a child who lost a 4yr old during a biopsy for a brain tumor, I struggled with similar feelings and sentiments. We’re not in a particularly ‘evangelical’ denomination (yes, there’s many layers to that phrase;-) ); we’re LCMS Lutherans located in the belly of the Deep South, so we’re surrounded by it, and see and feel the ‘Name it and Claim it’ mentality at times. When she died, we were surrounded by our church and our friends outside of our congregation, many of whom took the wise path of just sitting quietly with us like Job’s friends did at the beginning. But afterwards, many others didnt know how to treat us or act arounds us. I think it had a lot to do with the subtle and pervasive effects (or side effects) of the prosperity gospel. There were people who avoided my wife. Completely dodged her. What evil had we done? What were we being punished for? Were you not faithful enough to believe hard enough to pray her to health? I thought all those things, maybe I was reading too much into it, but the flavor is/was still there. Sorry for the rant, but living through such a loss with an intact faith gives me a distaste for happy clappy, sanitized, leave-it-to-beaver spirituality.

        • Headless Uncorn Guy says:

          There were people who avoided my wife. Completely dodged her. What evil had we done?

          Maybe her misfortune would magically rub off on them like spiritual cooties if they associated with her? (As in “Jinx” or “Bad Omen” or “You have a Demon”?) Or they figured God HAD to be punishing you and they didn’t want to get caught in the blast radius?

          Wasn’t one of the beefs the Romans had with Christians was that they weren’t superstitious enough to be a real religion?

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” God was reduced to a formula where one can control and pop out an intended result.”

      But sometimes the pump needs to be primed just a little or nothing will pop out. Send some to this ministry…or that television preacher’s sales pitch.

      By the way Eagle, I very much appreciate your comments here. You speak with honesty and deep feeling. And always leave something to think about.

      • Headless Uncorn Guy says:

        ” God was reduced to a formula where one can control and pop out an intended result.”

        Isn’t that called Magick? Grabbing the supernatural by the short hairs and MAKING it pop out the result YOU want?

        But sometimes the pump needs to be primed just a little or nothing will pop out. Send some to this ministry…or that television preacher’s sales pitch.

        Well, 3000 years ago in the ANE, it was sacrifice your child on the altar of Baal-Moloch. Human sacrifice was guaranteed to get the god’s attention and get results.

    • Radagast says:

      Also Eagle – remember that people in groups tend to wear masks to fit in. I see it in my faith expression, only more subtly, but where I really notice it is in the non-denom camp, especially those churches that narrowly define things and have ulra-literal interpretations of scripture. I tend to be an observer, and also enjoy knowing about different theologies, but if i was a psychology guy I could have a field day. I wonder at times what is it that drives a person from normal speak to following every paragraph up with a “God is Great” statement – I mean he is but does it need to be said every five minutes? The other thing is the plastic smile but that’s a story for another day… In my faith expression we embrace suffering and that can bring a whole different cunnundra of behaviors and masks…

      Part of it also is the whole calvinistic hard working thing…. which is tied ever so deeply with our American/independence/individualistic/drive-for-success thing. I think it is built deeply into the American evangelical model, so as a subtle core pillar it is not always seen for what it is. I guess we need to separate out hard working – which is good, with expecting material rewards which is not so good (read the Christian Mystics – John of the Cross, Cassion, Theresa of Avila, Cloud of Unknowing, etc to get a better perspective here).

      Just remember, if it looks like Jim Jones, if they’re telling you that they are your new family, if they’re tellin ya everybody’s going to hell except them – run away as fast as you can…

      • I was just thinking this. Even a cursory amateur psychological evaluation of this trend is a bit scary.

      • Radagast…but I love Kool-aide!!!! :p

      • Headless Uncorn Guy says:

        I wonder at times what is it that drives a person from normal speak to following every paragraph up with a “God is Great” statement – I mean he is but does it need to be said every five minutes?

        “God Is Great!” — in Arabic, “AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”

        And every five minutes? Just like a courtier of Baba Saddam, trying to stay alive by out-flattering all the other courtiers.

    • Eagle’s points are on target. It is pretty easy to shoot holes thru the message of Mr. Blinky from Houston. It is harder to look and see the “prosperity gospel lite” that is gaining much traction in more “orthodox” or conservative circles. The parallel tracks of business and church-as-business are sad and quite telling. We luvs our ROI and call it blessing.

      We need a lot more pastoral care of the few, and fewer “mighty explosive works of GOD” as I see it.

      GregR

    • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

      I never realized how much I had bought into the prosperity gospel until the year I was out of work and basically became homless. I ended up back at home with my parents, but at the same time I was working nights at a Salvation Army Shelter. It was a truly life changing experience. I think we Americans buy into it a lot more than most of us realize, and I think it is the most vile evil heresty floating around out there.

      • @MelissaTheRagamuffin,

        I agree. Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for the rich to get to heaven. I couldn’t reconcile that those words for me (I was not rich!)–that is, until I travelled outside of the US. And now, I see this as a more silent vile heresy (prosperity gospel) holding first-world Christians captive. We buy into it way more than people want to believe.

        TRUE story: A large Sunday School class in my church has been posting an invite in the church bulletin for weeks–it is an invite to all to join their class for a Caribbean Cruise later this year. No sin there. But when a Haitian friend in our Kreyol Sunday School class got a bulletin in the mail, he brought it to us excited that he was invited. The church has twice paid his rent this year; as a migrant apple picker, he struggles to find work in winter. How disheartening it was to tell him that it was $900 per person, not including airfare. He said, “maybe the church will help.” No, not for that. Because that’s a rich Christian’s blessing…that many in a huge class of people can make happen but you cannot. I didn’t say it like that, of course. But I did say that I wish this class had not used the church bulletin to welcome others, and I did say that I wished the class would pool that money and give it to help others in need.

        • I remember when I listened to KLove and they would be advertising a Christian Cruise. It was something like this, “Take a cruise in the Caribbean with Mercy Me, Chris Tomlin, Thousand Foot Krutch, etc… and enjoy the praise and worship and Biblical lessons and Bible study led by KLove’s very own….etc…” For some reason it didn’t bother me at the time.

          Yup for many Christianity is a club.

      • Radagast says:

        Melissa,

        So you gained a lot of wisdom in a short amount of time… was there in the eighties when my job paid only for my rent and speggetti and butter – which was all I could afford to eat. I grew a lot through that experience (lost a lot of weight too – though I definitely didn’t ned to) and it was during that time that I began to talk with God again – even though I still was in rejection mode. You will find that experience for you, when you reflect years from now, was proably a very important one in your future formation.

        But… don’t be too hard on what we all get caught up in – it is all around us. As for me the experience caused me not to be materialistic, not to worry about others opinions and keeping up with the Jones’s and how looking people in the eye and asking how there day is really can bring a spark to that person.

    • Eagle

      You may be right about the strong influence of the prosperity gospel. I would say it is just our culture expressed in religious terms.

      Do you think it is possible that in some cases people are simply thankful for what has happened in their lives? So when we read something they have written about God’s blessing it is simply an act of thanks?

      There are many times I thank God for the good things in life, my wife, children, friends, inlaws. A lot of it is for relationships, but I also live in a particularly beautiful area of the world. Now I don’t post it all on Facebook, but I suppose some people do.

  4. Melanie says:

    I have a friend who a few years ago asked me to financially support her, her husband and three small children as they became missionaries in a third world, asian country. I had no doubt that she was called by God to do this and I did consider helping her even though my finances are not good at all. My decision not to however came as I realised that she was asking for prayer support to help her family find good tenants for their house.

    I wondered to myself at the significance of laying everything down and following Christ. I realise that missionaries also retire and have financial needs. I also realise an believe that God provides.

    When I asked her about it she told me God didn’t expect her to give up her security. I found this a bit odd. God is her security. When single she was also involved in mission work and God clearly showed her his faithfulness. Somehow this didn’t apply any more and she was more reliant on the faithfulness of supporters and paying tenants.

    I am still kicking this around in my head and heart. I still feel uneasy about it. I still suspect that ‘stuff’ is just that. It is not real, rewarding or eternal and I am concerned that Christian can ask for financial support in excess of a faith acted out. Certainly non-Christians notice this even before they notice the good ‘acts’ of Christians.

    • Radagast says:

      Ugh – Ok I have a very biased, subjective perspective here so please all – feel free to disagree with me, I won’t be offended.

      It would be so much fun if I could go on a missionary trip. I love to talk scripture, teach, swing a hammer and make a difference. But I have this other thing – its called responsibility – a wife, seven kids, a mortgage, 2 of my kids going off to college, one just entering kindergarten. Wait – i could realize my dream if I could get all of you to send money and support me while I go off for a while – God has called me to do it. And I have decided to bring my young kids too – Oh wait – you say that it is a bit unstable over there? Well, God will protect my kids because i am doing his work….

      The above scenario, from my perspective, is all about ME… what I want, what will make ME happy – to the detrement and hardship of others around me. I have seen this go down this very way through a family member and I was/am not supportive at all. I am watching their parents slowly go broke supporting their “ministry”.

      My thoughts…

      • The Singular Observer says:

        Radagast – SPOT ON!

      • When I was a long-term missionary, Radagast, I had a short-term team come to “serve.” The team was led by a married man; on this trip he was accompanied by his wife and four children. The other participants were young adults who had signed up for this mission specifically. When several of the young people complained that their time in a foreign country was being eaten up by looking after the leader’s kids, his wife retorted, “Well, I didn’t come all this way just to babysit!” (By which she meant raise her own children.) People can put themselves in the middle of anything, even missions.

        • Radagast says:

          Damaris,

          I find missionary work to be important – as long as it doesn’t endanger the family and/or burden others financially – again I have limited knowledge and can only go by what I have observed. I know some who have taken their families on short (year or less) well planned out trips and the experience has been wonderful.

          But in this particular situation there were too many stories of dangerous situations that, as a Dad I just shake my head.

          Wondering if your missionary experience in Kyrg was with YWAM – boy would that be a coincidence…

          And as for the babysitting thing… I hear of that enough here in the states from the parents of adult children as in “My son Billy had to babysit his kids for four hours because his wife was (fill in the blank).” To which I reply “its not babysitting – its called parenting). OK – off my soapbox…

          • Damaris says:

            Yes, the short-term team was with YWAM, although we weren’t. In almost all ways we had a good relationship with the teams that came. The young people were hard-working and well prepared. So, are you saying? . . .

          • Parents do not EVER “baby-sit” their own offspirng! Real peeve of mine as well. Back to our scheduled discussion..

          • Radagast says:

            Damaris,

            ….that the six degrees of separation may only be one at this point ; )

            One more piece of the puzzle – these folks started as YWAM, then formed their own…. could be just a coincidence though, although there were four kids…. healing… rec center…

            hmmmm…..

            Oh… and congratulations on your interview in Pittsburgh (my hometown).

      • I think a lot of Christians do missionary work for the attention. My views on missionary work have really changed as my views on Christianity have changed. First you have to think of what is being exported to Africa, Asia, South America, etc.. which is quite sad. Second many people like the attention and craving that comes from doing the work. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in the audience of a fundegelical church and heard people proclaim of what they were going to do in India, Philippines, Mexico, etc.. It felt like they were basking in the glow of the situation. According to what Jesus taught they got their reward right then.

        I asked someone once why Christians will go to the largest slum in Africa, Kiberia and show a person suffering with HIV love, and mercy and then come home to the Washington, D.C. are and ignore the gay middle aged man dying of AIDS in a hospice in NE D.C.

        I can’t figure out the logic anymore to Christian missionary work. For me it seems like it is viewed by many as a vacation. And after being burned by faith, and Christianity one of my questions is …”Why do we want to tell people this “good news?” I’m haunted by one mission expereince I did. I was scheduled to go to Kenya for a second, I raised the money for it (meaning I pestered and begged people I knew….) but it was when my faith was collapsing. I was pissed at God, and I couldn’t control the doubt. So I said screw it, dropped off the team and gave back the $2300.00 I raised. I would have wasted my time had I gone, and as my faith was following apart what was I going to say?

        • Eagle–in regards to your second paragraph above, I have this to comment: I think loving neighbors around the corner is too close to home for many Christians. It doesn’t allow you (as easily) to stop in for a week and then disappear. I struggle with the reality that my “town” has homeless and low-income (as in, not eating daily) people struggling it out while we’re also known for having so many churches in the borough. Church is a club if not loving neighbors–those not in the club. And then Jesus said he won’t recognize those that don’t feed, clothe and house the least of these. I don’t see that as a mandate, warning, legalistic motivation. I just find it becoming a passion within me as I read red letters and love Jesus more than religion, the church club, the rules, the laws, and human expectations.
          Peace.

  5. Michael said:

    The Prosperity Gospel….
    A) is the presumption that God wants us to be rich.
    B) is the assumption that the blessings of the Gospel are a guarantee of material and financial blessings now. (The mediation of Jesus makes all blessing possible, but it does not guarantee wealth or health, etc.)
    C) is a denial and replacement of the true meaning of “give us this day our daily bread.”
    D) is the replacement of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the New Testament with a method that causes God to bestow material and financial blessings on anyone who uses the method.

    We all recognize the Joel Osteens, TBNs and Rod Parsleys of the evangelical world as part of the health & wealth gospel and condemn them with abandon. The question is, do we apply the same criteria above to ministries like Focus on the Family, Larry Burkett, Crown Financial Services, or Jay Sekulow? Some would say, “We don’t teach God wants you to be RICH, just successful.” But ask them if one can be in poverty and be successful. Like Melanie’s missionary above, it is the lack of humble daily dependence on God for the most mundane of needs that marks the socially acceptable version of the health and wealth gospel.

    Good discussion starter.

  6. The obvious answer is that the prosperity gospel is one that God wants us to be rich and successful. I don’t worry about that one as much. Most people see and recognize the extreme examples as false. The more troublesome is the prosperity gospel that crept into my mine own heart. In this gospel, if I stayed out of drugs, saved sex for marriage, stayed away from the ‘wrong people’, then my life would go fairly well. I may still have short periods of job losses, or I may experience a sickness, but in the end things would all work out for the good.

    I did all those things diligently. I never used drugs, never had sex outside of marriage, went to church several times a week, didn’t watch certain movies, didn’t listen to certain kinds of music , and read my bible daily. But, in spite of all that, my life collapsed. My life became so convoluted and complex that I cannot even begin to talk about it in a public forum.

    But, in the complicated mess of my life, I began to see God in a way that I never did when I did all the right things. It is in the complexities and harshness of life that I began to see God.

    • Allen, there is a strand of Wisdom teaching in the Bible that does teach this. We should admit this. However, one of the other characteristics of Wisdom teaching is that it critiques itself as being insufficient to explain every aspect of “the complicated mess of my life.” For example, Proverbs does teach that there are wise ways of life that generally lead to “prosperity.” Job’s friends learned these well and based their outlook on life upon such teachings. However, no one could hope to explain what ended up happening to Job. It broke the bounds of “wisdom’s” ability to explain how life works.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        A major problem with the way that a lot of Christians approach Proverbs is that they look to it as a book of promises rather than general principles. Proverbs tells us the way that live usually and generally works, but there’s tons and tons of room for life not working that way for specific situations and for specific people.

    • Yes, this attitude that if you get in good enough with God, then your life will go reasonably well is what I see as an extremely widespread (and often subtle) “prosperity-lite”. The exact methods and characteristics of “getting in good with God” vary from Christian group to Christian group, so it can sometimes be difficult to identify. It can also be difficult to identify because often the methods and attitudes that are promoted aren’t bad in and of themselves, but it is the linkage (usually not explicitly stated) to “then your life will go reasonably well” that is the poisonous part.

      Along with this attitude I also see a very widespread “mental health and emotional wealth gospel,” which is the attitude that if your life doesn’t go very well or you suffer physical pain, it won’t really matter because the Christian won’t suffer emotional pain or mental distress in the same way that someone who is not a Christian will.

      I have some sympathy with local church pastors in all of this. Even when I’ve been in churches where the local pastor diligently resists this prosperity-lite, with all the Christian media now available, people seem to pick it up, not question it, and assume there is something wrong with anyone who questions it. Once it gets enough hold in the group, peer pressure seems to make it almost impossible to uproot.

      Comparing this social phenomenon to some of the stories I’ve heard missionaries tell about supposedly backwards cultures engaging in traditional religions where pleasing the god(s) brings good things and displeasing the god(s) causes bad things, I find myself wondering more and more whether the “Christian West” is really as advanced as it like to compliment itself. It seems more and more to me that there may be a basic human “traditional religion” dressing itself up in Christian terminology and importing itself widely into churches. (For example, google “onesimus online” “O Great Vending Machine – the holy spirit in African pentecostalism” and see if you think – once some economic and political-instability disparities are stripped away – if it really sounds all that different than what is going on in a wide variety of U.S. churches (not just pentecostals) at the level of the average church member.)

      • “Along with this attitude I also see a very widespread “mental health and emotional wealth gospel,” which is the attitude that if your life doesn’t go very well or you suffer physical pain, it won’t really matter because the Christian won’t suffer emotional pain or mental distress in the same way that someone who is not a Christian will.”

        You ain’t just whistling Dixie. (My apologies if this offends any friends of Southern persuasion.) I have had Major Depressive Disorder since my early teens. My former big box church really couldn’t deal with this and I had to explain it many times. It didn’t fit with the paradigm that “Christians should be the happiest people on earth” that was in the minds of many (not all) of the church pastors.

        • Nadine, I am sorry that no one chose to listen to your very real pain.

          Part of it seems to be some fear of contagion…if SHE is a good Chrisitan and has this problem, then *gasp* it might happen to ME, too! No way, that can’t be right..

          Soooo…she must not be a good Christian after all.

          Whew…I am safe now!!

    • that is my exact story and the stifling moralism that made me oh so prideful, dillusional in my thinking on how perfect my life would be finally collapsed around me when I finally did something “immoral.” I use quotations because I could not see all of the other sin in my life because I was refraining from what you mentioned above. And I thought that those things were the big ones that really really counted most. But, the great break down that I had (which was not prosperity and happiness) was the only way for me to die and rise in newness of life. It is true that Jesus comes to us in suffering.

  7. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

    In Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend, when writing the Sermon on the Mount, Josh (i.e. Jesus) is considering including “blessed are the dumbf***s.” Biff objects saying “Come on, Josh, why can’t we have any powerful guys on our team? Why do we have to have he meek, and the poor, the oppressed, and the pissed on? Why can’t we, for once, have blessed are the big powerful rich guys with swords?”

    Josh’s answer: “Because they don’t need us.”

  8. from Scot McKnight’s article; excuse the long quote, I couldn’t say this any better:

    The paradigm of who we are as humans in the Bible is not the Happiness Machine. The paradigm of the human is the Cross. Jesus told his followers to take up the cross every day and that meant to be ready to suffer

    (Luke 9:23). Jesus was crucified for us and we are called to die with him (Romans 6). The deepest paradigm for the human in the Bible is the human who has died with Christ, died to self, died to everything we want, died to the world, and died to the flesh. We are called not to seek our own happiness but to seek the glory of God by giving ourselves to God and for others. The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it focuses on “getting our wants.” The cross gospel focuses on “giving our selves.” Love of God means to live for God; love of self means to die to self so we can love God and others; love of others means dying to self so we can serve others. We are not Happiness Machines but Loving Machines. Seeing ourselves as Happiness Machines is the prosperity gospel; seeing ourselves as Loving Machines is the cross gospel.

    Great questions, Eagle
    GregR

  9. I was hurt by the prosperity gospel. I believed God wants to bless me, and so when hardship came I would cry to God, “why?” When my husband and I waited three long years for our kids to come home from Haiti (adoption), I doubted God’s goodness even though He’d provided a miracle of an anonymous donor who had paid our fees in full (unheard of).

    The prosperity gospel taught me that I would be taken care of. But then is God not God to the homeless around the corner? So it also taught me that I had to be more faithful–and when others suffered, perhaps they need to get on their knees. It took away grace.

    I suffered a deep personal crisis at the hands of a loved one last year. The prosperity-gospel faith I’d lived did nothing for me. In fact, I wrote on my blog today about how I’d have walked away completely if God had not helped me when I cried out to Him, had Jesus not died for me to give me that privilege, had it not all been very real to me. Jesus didn’t ever promise to prosper me in wealth or in ways that *I* want. He calls me to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked. He calls me to love God and love people. He challenges me to surrender everything (safety, our new home that we’re trying to sell, comfort, everything *I* want); He challenges me to mean it when I pray “your will, not mine.”

    I’d like to just end this comment with this: I have prospered since meeting the real Jesus–in spirit and in truth. I’m still blessed beyond measure with more than I need. But I no longer look at those blessings as mine — nor as gifts for my faithfulness. I deserve nothing. I’m a poor sinner clinging to the hem of my Savior’s robe. I’m blessed to bless others. I’m loved to love others. My prosperity gospel is now this: give me more Jesus, less me. That is prosperity–spirit–truth.

    Peace out.

    • Yes, exactly. If prosperity is defined as being in relationship with Jesus, I’m all for it! Any other definition is useless.

    • I’m hoping that by asking these question and hanging around here that maybe I can figure out what I believe and where to go. I’m in my mid 30’s and I’ve been through 3 faith systems in my life. That’s part of the reason why I backed off from faith and consider myself to be more agnositc. But I learned that grace doesn’t exist in the church, and I’m still trying to comprehend what grace is. But after reading a lot of articles combined with a lunch discussion I had with a friend, I think I may have believed some form of the prosperity gospel. It’s hard to admit that, and I have a hard time saying that to myself. When I walked away from Mormonism and decided not to pursue it I was determiend to never allow myself to be deceived. Now I wonder how I went from that to where I am today. At what point do I take responsibility for the subtle prosperity gospel that I learned is pervasive in modern evangelicalsim. Of should I just state that it’s a part of modern Christian culture and accept it. I have had a couple of Christians tell me that there is a lot taught in church that is not true. In return I asked one person, “Then why go? Why believe if its’ false?”

      • Eagle–that’s a question I ask today, too. Religion will always fail us. I had a crises and cried to God. When I knew he was answering (big forgiveness when I could not forgive), I began reading the words of Jesus over and over. I still go to church, but I listen for anything that doesn’t match those red-letter words. I hear it, too. Also, if the first church was a community and lifestyle, why do we put pastors on stages and get entertained? Wouldn’t Jesus be in the shadow of the steeple loving on the homeless and hurting? Anyway, I am no longer religious. I am a follower of Jesus and despite years of Christian upbringing, I found him on my own with a bible that highlights his words in red letters. Don’t believe anyone–just read those red letters and see if Jesus speaks to you. I hope that wasn’t preachy. It’s just my personal experience.

  10. As far as I’m concerned, anything that says that we can do something to control outcomes in our lives, to guarantee good things and to avoid bad things, is a form of the “prosperity gospel.” It doesn’t matter whether that’s “when praises go up, blessings come down” or “ten Biblical ways to make sure your marriage succeeds”; the moment we form a transactional model of God, we’re in trouble.

    The other option is to accept that there’s nothing we can do to make life be fair, and that God alone, not any gift God can give us, is our reward. That is, that instead of coming down and fixing everything like we wanted, God came and walked among us, broke bread with us, died for us, and lifted our humanity up to join the dance of the Trinity. And that communion with God is greater than other blessing we could have asked for.

  11. I don’t know anything about the prosperity gospel, I have a hard time buying into too many things. Maybe I’m cynical, maybe I’m biased, maybe I’m bitter…….I’ll tell you one thing though, I’ve been on the other side, living with the unbelievers and hearing their stories, this followed me into my return Home. I refuse…….REFUSE to be that person who tells you, “I’ll pray for you. God will reward you for your faithfullness. Because He is so good, etc.” blah blah blah. It gives people the idea that if we “do” than He “gives” and it’s all good.

    My mother, was a good and faithful Christian woman. She married a preacher. He cheated on her. Then he left her.

    The good in that? She found her way out of the fundamental, legalistic mindset. At one point in her life just within the last 15 years she said to God, “I’m done! This Christian life doesn’t work the way I’ve been taught!” And therein began a nearly 12 month sabbatical if you will, she didn’t read her Bible, pray, attend church…..MY MOTHER…..if you only knew, you’d be like, “WHAT?” God didn’t strike her down, she didn’t become this backslidden person, it was part of her journey and God knew it. Out of nowhere……cuz that’s how He works, she hears this man on the radio saying things about God that my mom had NEVER heard before. And the change in her has been a constant ever since. If my mom was the same woman who raised me, she and I wouldn’t be in a relationship today.

    And furthermore……upon my return Home, I had crap happen to me, material things taken from me, consequences up the ying yang……..and guess what? It pushed me into His Arms…..which is exactly where He wanted me the whole time! If I don’t learn who He is, fer real yo, it’s all surface b.s. and nowhere near helpful when life comes at you full force! Whether that be life in your own person or life when those close to you have crap happen to them.

    I’m a firm believer in the blessing comes through the darkness. And the blessing is Him. You can take all my nice, shiny things……you can take my car, my stuff, my job, my 401K, my whatever and if it’s replaced with Him…..I WIN!!! He has brought, through all the stuff the “prosperity” and fundamental people would say is unconfessed sin, restoration, renewal and redemption! I have less than I used to, by some standards, yet I have so much more.

    • Amen!

      Your last paragraph made me think “and you can kill me and I’ll still have Jesus.” What else matters when you trust, know and love him that much? What we once valued…not so valuable.

      Matt. 10:28: Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

    • +1 !!!

  12. There is a ton of support in scripture for the idea that God wants to bless us. He wants to heal us. He wants to fill us. He wants us to sample his abundance. He wants to prosper us.

    So, I have no problem, praying for his blessing and even asking for God’s help with my finances, or my job. We can ask, and it doesn’t mean that God will say yes, or yes in the way we want, but it never hurts to ask. God might surprise me. I like the idea of praying for something, and wondering, “what if God says yes?” How will I steward God’s blessing? As a parent, my kids ask me for all kinds of stuff, and a good portion of the time, I say no. But I like for them to ask me anyway, because sometimes, I will surprise them, because as their father I want to bless them.

    What I don’t believe:

    1) I don’t believe God sends us pain or suffering “to bless us” or to build our character. This is a demented idea of God. However, can God bless us even in the midst of our suffering? Yes. Can God turn for good, what Satan would use to harm us? Absolutely.

    2) I don’t believe that prosperity necessarily means having a nice car, a six figure job, or bunch of money in my bank account.

    When Jesus said that it was going to be better for us, with him gone, he didn’t mean that it would be better for us, because now we could “cash in our chips,” but it would be better for us, because he was sending us the Holy Spirit, a different kind of abundance altogether.

    • “I don’t believe God sends us pain or suffering ‘to bless us’ or to build our character. This is a demented idea of God.”

      Maybe my coffee just hasn’t kicked in yet, but I’m not getting this at all. What Scripture do you base your opinions on? What do you do with Job, who suffered because God put him into Satan’s hands? What do you do with the blind man of whom Jesus said that his blindness was a deliberate act of God in order to display His power? What do you do with the nation of Israel, upon whom God deliberately and repeatedly inflicted punishments for their sins? A little clarity, please.

      • It’s gets into some rather complex issues, but I pretty much agree with what DB said. God doesn’t send us calamity or trials. They don’t come from Him directly, but the universe is created in such a way that bad things happen. They can be from the result of our wills, the wills of others, or I actually do believe, the wills of other supernatural beings. It’s probably an impossibility to correct discern all of the potential causes a lot of the time, but sometimes we can.

        As far as Israel’s calamities, I’d say the OT writers make a point of saying that her punishment was the result of her willful disobedience to God. Someone undergoing punishment isn’t the same as someone experiencing suffering for no observable cause.

        As far as the blind man, this is an instance of translators inserting a little phrase into the text that can change its meaning quite a bit. The phrase “so that” doesn’t have to be there. That verse can also be read something like, “This man was born blind – let the works of God be displayed in Him!” And with that declaration, Jesus heals Him. Jesus is actually refuting the worldview that sees a distinct divine cause and effect relationship to everything that happens.

        • Nice pickup Phil.

          I agree with Phil that it is a weighty issue. I mean the whole problem of pain and suffering topic is enough for another string or discussion.

          I wouldn’t say that the story of Job contradicts anything I said. There is nothing in the Job story that would indicate that Job’s problems were in any way caused by God wanting to “bless him” or “build his character.”

          If anything the story of Job illustrates, that in this fallen world, that Satan was given a measure of power. Satan is not all powerful, by any means, but he has influence and the ability to cause us pain. He goes around like a roaring lion looking for people to devour.

          In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 we see Paul refer to his thorn in the flesh as a messenger from Satan. As much as Paul saw that this thorn in the flesh as something that could none the less bring him blessing through the solace of God’s grace, but he never confused the thorn as something that was given by God.

          More than anything, my point here was that we should not confuse the curses of this world as blessings from God that we should stoicly accept as God’s counsel or “blessing” in our lives. It seems perverse for us as Christians to say that God sends us disease, or heartache, as a means of blessing or character building. What kind of God is that, and is that a God that I would want to follow or tell others to follow. These are the things that Jesus came to save us from. Jesus never told a sick person to “buck up” God’s trying to teach you something, instead he healed them.

          Yes, Hebrews does say that

          • Sorry, for the bad editing.

          • Thanks for the clarification, DB.

          • DB,

            I hear what you’re trying to get at, but I have trouble with differentiating between “God allowed Satan to do it” and “God did it.” Ultimately, I personally don’t see a difference here other than to polish our notion of God’s intentions in order to make ourselves feel good. The fact is that an all-powerful God watches as humans are “imprisoned under sin” and therefore are suffering. Even if you’re able to parse out a difference between God doing something and merely allowing it, it still happened on his omnipotent watch.

            I had some difficulty with a text in the OT awhile back that said something to the effect of “God sent an evil spirit upon Saul.” Wha?? And there are several little land mines like this throughout that made me shake my head.

            Even more importantly, I think of Genesis 3 when God threw Man out of Eden SO THAT he would die, and posted a guardian angel at the gates so he couldn’t get back in. Now, obviously, the key is that there’s a greater plan at work, and we who are lucky enough to be born after the time of Christ have a unique blessing in that we see the specifics unfolding. So are we still to say God didn’t send death to Man, and by extension, the suffering that spreads through a world under the sway of death?

            I agree with you on the point about God wanting us to sample his blessing, and experience it, to know how good he is through it. And on your point #2, I would say that most of us aren’t well equipped to judge something to be strictly “a blessing.” Most of us would make a lot of bad calls if we were given the power to gain anything we thought was a blessing.

            And, “a different kind of abundance.” Amen to that. Specifically, I think that refers to knowing and abiding in Christ, and all that that entails. Which, I happen to think, kind of annuls the human need to attribute good things to God and bad things to Satan, or to assume God did it all and trying to find reason God makes us suffer, as you’re warning about. The reason I think so is this: Either way, Christ Crucified is victorious over it and deserves our supreme attention for that.

          • DB, you got a lot going on here, this is in response to Nate…….

            I heard very recently that God removed Adam and Eve from the garden because if He had not, they would have lived eternally in the state they were in, seperated from Him. Now, I am NOWHERE near a theologian…..and I’ve got A LOT to learn about the Bible, but He has redeemed us fully in Christ Jesus.

            I’m not sure I understand your comment of “The fact is that an all-powerful God watches as humans are “imprisoned under sin” and therefore are suffering.” There is a MUCH larger fact to that sentence……Those who are in Christ Jesus are no longer imprisoned and those who are not have the offer on the table. Coupled with the fact that the salvation, freedom, redemption and forgiveness we are allowed is ONLY available because God’s Son died a horrific death in our place. Which God watched as well.

            I suppose I stand on the verse that His thoughts and ways are above ours. I mean, what do we really know anyway?

            Lastly, I heard a speaker discussing the question, “What about God’s justice, when evil and wrong are done in this world, where is His justice?” The answer……in a humble truth Nate is this: If He showed His justice, we’d all be goners! Back to the dust from whence we came.

            I’m most assureadly over my head talking this way…..but it’s my 2 cents and I get to share that here. ha ha!

          • Rebekah, you’re absolutely spot on! I wasn’t trying to draw attention away from the fact that we’re not prisoners of sin anymore, just that, well, we are victims of the suffering wrought by sin, and God allows this. And the many who ARE still imprisoned, God allowed the fallen state of the world to go on, for a certain purpose. In other words, can we really say God doesn’t send suffering?

            You’re second paragraph is perfectly true. He removed them from the Garden so they wouldn’t live forever in a sinful state. So my point is, this is the God we are dealing with: not one who doesn’t want anything bad to happen to us, but who actually could be said to inflict death upon us in order to raise us from the dead. That seems like it’s at odds with DB’s original statement that God doesn’t send suffering. If

            But yeah, my purpose was merely to question the assumption that God only does the good things, and the rest is Satan. Not to say that in his Justice he’s sending suffering to the bad people or anything like that.

          • DB one of my other question to Chaplin Mike dealt with pain and suffering and why a loving God allows evil. That has also choked me.

            • Eagle, you’ve given us material that will last for months here. I hope the discussion is as encouraging to you as it is to me and others.

          • Not to keep taking up the space here, but Eagle, that statement highlights the issue I was trying to get at, only much more concisely. You’re not alone! This is an dilemma we all have to deal with at some point, and it’s not solved by concluding that God simply allows suffering rather than directly causes it.

          • Lots of thoughtful good stuff.

            In the end, I realize that we can agree to disagree.

            In my mind, there is a world of difference between me saying that God caused something and God allowed it to happen. I give my children a measure of freedom in this world. They can use their free will for good or ill and they can bear the consequences. Did I cause them to bear those circumstances? Not at all. Did I allow them to bear those consequences. Clearly.

            Moreover, Satan has dominion in this world. Jesus temptation in the wilderness is one example of this. Other scriptures such as Ephesians 6:12 speak to this as well. This is not to say that Satan causes all evil, because I think human beings do a pretty good job of pitching in on this regard. But, we live in a fallen world.

            In my opinion, we as Christians do a tremendous disservice to God, when we ascribe either the consequences of our own sin to him, or ascribe the work of Satan to him. Using the Job example, his so called comforters kept trying to get him to repent to God and to bear the consequencs of what they saw as God’s punishment, but they were plainly wrong.

            The notion that as Christians we should accept our pain as either punishment, or as character building is simply not consistent with the way Jesus approached pain and suffering. He saw human pain as either the problem of sin, or as the influence of Satan and came to set things aright and to heal the brokenhearted. *Luke 4:18-19

          • Chaplin Miike…it has given me a lot to think about. Thank you!! 🙂

          • “He saw human pain as either the problem of sin, or as the influence of Satan and came to set things aright and to heal the brokenhearted. *Luke 4:18-19”

            Clarification: I was meaning to say that Jesus saw human pain as a result of the human sinful condition.

            Maybe, I will just lay this discussion down now.

            Blessings All.

          • “The notion that as Christians we should accept our pain as either punishment, or as character building is simply not consistent with the way Jesus approached pain and suffering.”

            Just for the record: this is not the paradigm I intended with my comments. Good insights on Jesus’ approach to suffering.

    • Go way back to Genesis 12 We are blessed to be a blessing. Act 20:35 quotes Jesus “it is more blessed to give than receive”

  13. One aspect of what i believe is the prosperity gospel that i run into quite a bit has to do with illness and physical health. The idea is if you get sick (especially really sick) then you have sin in your life and you had better get rid of it so you can feel good again. If you take ill, and are not healed by laying on of hands, then it is your fault, becasue God wants you well. Reading through John, i see the kind of power the Holy Sprint brings to our life, and i truly believe that we can experience the miraculous every day. However, when people hold to the prosperity health gospel, i find that others are afraid to share physical struggles and illness with each other, for fear of the judgment that may follow. Any belief that gets int he way of communication and relationship must be off the mark some where.

    • The belief that one can become physically healthy by cleaning up sin in their lives is hellish.

      No one can clean up sin in their lives, even though they may be able to conquer some sins.

      The 100% mortality rate is a testament to how well these folks are able to conquer their sin.

      We can no more forestall our own sin, than we can forestall our own death.

  14. I haven’t heard a mention of the 700 club yet. They will do anything they can to convice you that if you donate to CBN, God will grant you a full time job, get you out of debt, and heal all your illnesses. I know, cause my mom made me watch it all the time growing up.

  15. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    The gospels compared:

    Prosperity Gospel: The Lord helps those who help themselves.
    Real Gospel: You are blessed to become a blessing to others.

    Prosperty Gospel: Do unto others, so you will get yours in return.
    Real Gospel: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

    Prosperty Gospel: If you are poor, you must be condemned.
    Real Gospel: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

    Prosperty Gospel: A strong faith is richly rewarded… with large bills.
    Real Gospel: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (Augustine)

    Peace

  16. I have somewhat mixed feelings on this whole issue – not so much on the Prosperity Gospel itself, but rather on the correctives put forth to it. The communities that seem to be the most susceptible to the messages of the thieves and liars peddling the lie that God wants you to be rich are those have historically been the poorest and most oppressed. The issue for me is that I do believe God wants to lift these groups out of their poverty and bondage, and I even believe that to some extent, He desires for them to have some measure of economic success. If a young black man comes from a broken family that barely was able to stay afloat (a very common story in that culture), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him thinking that God does desire for him to go to college, get a degree, and get a good job. The problem becomes when this type of thinking becomes perverted into a form of selfishness. If when we are blessed we are able to pass that blessing onto others, I think that honors God.

    I guess when it comes down to it, the Prosperity Gospel is like many other problems in the Church. It starts with something that has a grain of truth to it and takes to an abusive extreme.

    • I hear your sentiment on the story of the young black man, or anyone for that matter who’s trying to escape the bonds of a sin/suffering pattern in their culture. I certainly wouldn’t generalize that as prosperityism. The only question I have is, is there room to say God DOES want that person to stay in poverty? For instance, what if the blessing God wants to be through them would disappear if they tried to go to college and get a good job? I think there’s got to be room for that, and the reason is, I’ve seen many people say no to some “great opportunities” that many would have judged were doors God was opening to bless them. And in retrospect it appears they made the right decision by refusing. The result is often a life which brings, in some way, more difficulty and hardship, but in which God makes himself known in a way he otherwise wouldn’t have.

      • The issue to me isn’t really whether God wants someone to be in poverty or not. I also don’t believe that the blessing of God on our lives is so dependent upon us always making the correct decision. Actually, I’ve known people who have come close to nervous breakdown worrying that they won’t make the correct decision. I simply don’t believe God gave us the powers of deduction and reason simply for us to throw them out the window. Sometimes He definitely does call us to do that, I can’t deny, but I don’t think it’s should be a standard operating procedure, per se.

        What I reject is the thinking is that there is some master plan God has for my life that will be messed up horribly by me deciding to take one job over another at a given moment in time or that sort of thing. I think God walks with me while I’m making a decision, and even if I do make a bad one, He’ll be with me. Even if I do something I know is wrong, I believe God doesn’t abandon me. It’s taken me a while to see this as true, but I believe it fully now. I don’t believe we need to have such anxiety about discerning God’s will in our lives.

        • I agree completely, I wasn’t trying to introduce the need to “figure out God’s will for your life” or anything like that. That stuff gives me hives. I was just musing that God isn’t necessarily putting some ladder of upward mobility in front of us and telling us to climb it, and equating that with Biblical prosperity. That sometimes you can see a counter-intuitive decision work out in favor of the Kingdom of God, and that this is evidence that we shouldn’t just assume a life-track of improving our circumstances is God’s intention for us.

  17. What about the one where when you put God in the center of your life, have your act together, and are good enough, God will send you a husband or wife?

    • Hah! If you want a husband or a wife, you gotta go out and get one. God’s not gonna drop one in your lap. But many people believe he will, cause they heard it at a conference or rally.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I hear the properity gospel nearly every time the subject of tithing is addressed. Malachi is taken out of context and used like a velvet covered club.

    • “a velvet covered club”

      +1

    • Don’t even get me started on tithing. It’s one of the most error-filled “doctrines” of the evangelical church. All it takes is one of those money shows on Christian radio to get me boiling.

    • One more Mike says:

      How about the “Tithing challenge”? Anyone else been exposed to that heresy? Tithe 10%, or ideally more, and in 6 weeks report back all the wonderful things that happened to you. Funny, only the Pastor ever had a glowing report although he had “letters” from people who had written him with accounts of great blessing.

      Honestly, tar and feathering needs to make a comeback.

  19. Phil, that’s a good corrective to overreaction to the Prosperity Gospel. I don’t think it pleases God that millions in the third world live in poverty-stricken squalor.

  20. In regards to suffering, C. Michael Patton and the Credo House crew just did a podcast about Christians and suffering. To sum it up: we should expect suffering.

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/theology-unplugged-reasons-not-to-be-a-christian-god-will-keep-me-from-suffering/

  21. Tokahfang says:

    Eagle, this is a great question!

    I think the simplest differentiation between the prosperity gospel and receiving a blessing from God is what we decide to use it for. It is bessed summed up in 1 Peter 4:10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”.

    God has recently granted me a degree of remission from an incurable condition. Now that remission is impossible, so far as medical science currently understands. That this is a gift, a huge improvement to my quality of life, and something I’m thrilled by is all true. It is a blessing, and nothing I can do can change that. Whether it came via a natural but unknown outlet or was fully miraculous, it is a blessing. If it came in the form of God-created scientists using their intellect and perseverance to find a cure, that would have been a blessing too which I would have been just as grateful.

    What I COULD do, though, is take this gracious blessing and react in a prosperity gospel fashion. I could believe I deserve it for being progressively debilitated for 17 years and praising God anyway. I could claim that God owes it to me for some other reason. I could treat my and the many prayers of other christians on my behalf as a magic spell that fixed me. I could tell other people with my incurable condition that they’re doing something wrong, or as some cruel people told me over the years: you just don’t have enough faith. I could become possesive of this health, act as if it is all mine and throw a tantrum if it goes away.

    But that would be ignoring every biblical understanding of this kind of stuff. Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith people obtained kingdoms and stopped the mouths of lions, but by faith others got sawn in two also. Jesus tells us the guy who decided he should build a second barn was doing it wrong. And in many places the Bible calls us stewards or servants, entrusted with gifts, talents, abilities, opportunities, etc but not the source or owner of them. And obviously, God owes me nothing at all but the consequences of my sin, and he took that himself already.

    So with Hebrews I would say that by faith I have been neurologically debilitated, and by faith I am less debilitated now, but by faith I may also be just as debilitated or more in the future. This health isn’t mine just so I can enjoy it (though I do!!!), I didn’t earn it, and I am not going to try and make up some explanation why I have it. This gift has heavenly purposes. I don’t know what they are, I don’t have some sort of secret line in, but for now I’m shouldering as much of the load of my sister’s pregnancy as possible, taking the kid watching and household upkeep as I can. By faith I am washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking out the garbage. I am taking a trip with my husband to mourn with his family, one I couldn’t have made in a powerchair, hoping to help bear their grief. I’m filling needs as I see them, and like the blind man healed by Jesus sticking with the line that I don’t know how or why I came to see, just that Jesus has worked in my life.

    Most importantly, I think, beyond knowing that any gift isn’t just to buff my standard of living but to use in serving others, is knowing that a gift or a blessing is TEMPORARY. Temporary on God’s scale can be really long, but I don’t know that I won’t collapse next week fully paralyzed again. If this just proves to be a vacation, it is an awesome vacation. My trust, praise, and love of the Lord is not connected to my circumstances. I did it when I was incurably ill, I’m doing it while I am inexplicably less ill, and I’ll do it if I become ill again.

  22. What we forget.

    If you own a car you are in the 97th or 98th percentile of the richest people in the world..

    If you own a house and a car it edges closer to the 99th percentile.

    In America our poor are often obese and have cell phones and TVs with DVD players.

    We ARE the rich trying to get through the eye of the needle.

    That being said ,it is easy to lose our focus when we are trying to survive in this culture, and the temptation is great to drink from the wells of the prosperity Gospel, especially in it’s less egregious forms.

    • Jonathan says:

      I beg to differ. Our poor are often just that … poor. Poverty, hunger, malnutrition, rising infant mortality, lack of health care, are very real in the US. These are not the rich Christ was talking about.

    • @Patrick Kyle,

      I beg to differ on that point as well. I am personally loving on several families (dear friends) of people who cannot catch a break. If you can’t get a job because they are few to find (and in my town, because the color of your skin and/or thick accent are rejected), you cannot afford a decent home, and you cannot afford food to eat every meal, and you get your electricity turned off, etc. Until I knew and loved the poor in my town, I didn’t understand the chains that bind poverty-stricken families. Malnutrition, hunger, lack of health care are very real to very real people I know (and intelligent, hard-working, followers of Christ they are, too).

      Respectfully,
      Kris

  23. Eagle,

    Lots of good things have been said so far. I wanted to weigh in specifically on your question about the difference between the prosperity gospel and real blessings….I’ve struggled with this one a bit myself, and still have a hard time discerning what’s at heart when someone talks about the blessings of God.

    I’m a big believer that a major theme of Jesus’ ministry was his teaching on the Kingdom of God. Lots of people have talked about it better than I ever will, but basically, Jesus came to establish a Kingdom, which is the locus of his will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s what Christians should pray for. It’s where we dwell, and it’s what we desire to see. Basically, without engraving in stone what the Kingdom looks like, it’s a realm in which Jesus reigns. His subjects, who are also his brothers/sisters and friends, love him and obey him, and the universe functions as it was intended before sin entered the world. There are bits and moments that we experience in our life with Christ that display this Kingdom for us, and it’s ultimately destined to spread throughout the earth(like a propagating plant) and be his “palette” if you will, with which he paints creation. The Kingdom of God is what Christians experience as blessing.

    But the paradigm for what constitutes those blessings is completely redefined. See the beatitudes. “Blessed are the…” and then a big long list of things we wouldn’t normally consider blessings. Accompanying this in Luke’s version are a bunch of woes pronounced over things we would probably consider blessing. The reason for this redefinition, I believe, is that he’s placing himself at the center of the blessing, rather than our opinion. For instance, now we’re supposed to “count it all joy” when we are persecuted in his name. “In his name” being the key. To know and be like Christ is the greatest blessing of all, and often that entails being treated as he was…poorly, to say the least. Yet this is a now counted a blessing because it displays the Slaughtered Lamb to us more intimately in that moment than would, say, a new Harley.

    A major distinctive of this thinking from prosperity thinking is that these blessings are specifically and directly “flavored” like Him. They testify to him. They reek of his sacrifice, glory, perfection, and love. They’re not just generically “good” or “nice” things that happen. In other words, when someone goes on and on about the “blessings of God” in their life, but they have little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ, and basically exist for them to have an improved life, then we’re drifting towards the prosperity gospel. It’s all about Jesus. The Kingdom comes specifically THROUGH him, and testifes TO him. I realize this will leave many scratching their head and asking “so what does THAT mean?” All I can say is the Gospels are a gold mine for helping us understand what a blessing is, specifically the parables of the Kingdom, and my personal fave is John 14-18 where he’s instructing his disciples on abiding in him. Ultimately, he himself is the blessing that we look for. And not for the sake of our personal improvement or enrichment, but for his glory, because we love him.

    This is all woefully short of what could be said about it, but does this begin to approach the distinction you’re looking for?

    Nate

  24. Believing that God rewards those he loves most with health, wealth, and happiness doen’t get past the gates of Gethesmane, does it?

    As far as I know, God’s own Son was an unattractive guy who never found a wife or set up a decent Jewish household. He was broke, loud, and hung out with losers. He died a criminal’s death by torture while being laughed at for being so pathetic and weak.

    …and most of those fools he hung around with later died miserable deaths themselves.

    “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

  25. what about God’s providence? His heart toward His children? giving them good things?

    God provides the very elements of our existence. every physiological process. since our life is a gift, a blessing if you will, does He not want to provide for the continuance of that existence?

    now if we begin to quantify the standard of living for our existence, doesn’t each individual need to learn to live within a means God does provide?

    But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Tim 6:6

    we can pray for our needs. we can even pray for our wants. however, it must be with the understanding that God is never obligated to fulfill our wishes or that we are somehow ‘deserving’ of a life of ease, prosperity, health, wealth, success…

    God is never fooled by the unctious prayer of the gimme saint. i think the whole prosperity gospel sense of entitlement regarding our particular set of circumstances is firmly set within the default human condition. having troubles promised by Jesus not the thing those seeking comfort find appealing. if one is not drawn to the Lord Himself, this life will always be lived in religious paranoia hoping all the bad things befall the wicked, not the elect. living without fear, trusting God’s gracious provision, praying for His protection, etc. does not guarantee problem-free living. i hope any future challenges i must face will cause me to seek Him more even with my questioning & my lack of understanding.

    thank you Jesus for taking care of me even in my doubt…

  26. My experience with churches that preach the prosperity message is that typically the persons in the congregation are so consumed with themselves that its almost like they kind of worship themselves. Always looking for what they can get, satisfying their own lusts and desires without any type of sacrifice on their own part. Then most get hurt when things don’t go the way the preacher says it should go and they blame God. Everyone else in the congregation blames them for not having enough faith. The only people prospering are typically the preachers who line their pockets with peoples money that they recommend they “sow” into their ministry. Keep sowing and keep sowing because your harvest is going to come. Its nothing but a manipulative message that is self-focused. I don’t even like to call it a Gospel because the only good news is a manipulative lie that is self-focused. I do believe that God will bless us and that God will prosper us, but that is not his sole motivation in the world – to make sure that I am blessed when I don’t sacrifice anything in my life or live my life to share the gospel.

  27. We were part of the very beginning of the prosperity message way back in the mid 1970’s, but, as we grew in the Lord, we became more balanced. The life that Christ promised in John 10:10 has nothing to do with money–it is what we gain when we cleave to God. That life is more abundant than the loss, death, and destruction that the thief (the kingdom of evil) brings. That life comes from abiding in the Secret Place of the Most High and allowing God to consume everything in our lives that are based on deception. The prosperity message and many other “messages” shortchange us from the power of God’s absolute love. Any message that stands in the way of us seeking God with everything we have and asking Him for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom can hinder us, not help us.

  28. There have been a lot of definitions of the prosperity gospel so far, so I won’t add to that list. I do want to give what I feel is a proper definition of propserity.

    In my estimation, prosperity is having sufficient resources to do what God has called you to do.

    Over the past year, I’ve been feeling led to go back to school, specifically seminary, and get a master’s degree to better prepare me as a Bible teacher. I applied to my denomination’s seminary, and was accepted. I start in August.

    Now, how to pay for it.

    I discussed my plans with the pastor of the Hispanic church where I am involved in lay ministry. He said the church wanted to do what they have done for other students who went off to Bible school. The church is going to pay my tuition for one credit hour, and give me the money for books for one course.

    The very next day, I received a phone call from admissions notifiying me that I had been awarded a grant package based on my undergrad academic record (from 20 years ago) and ministry service in the local church. I’ll be starting out part-time (6 credit hours), and the part-time grant basically pays 1.5 credit hours.

    In my IT job, I have to do some purchasing, often using my personal credit card when it’s a one-time purchase from that vendor and accounting doesn’t want to go through opening a net terms account. That personal card is an Amazon rewards car. So far this year I’ve gotten $75 in Amazon gift certificate rewards I can use for textbooks (which are already cheaper at Amazon than at the campus bookstore). I also had some points left on another card, that got me an $87 rewards check.

    I just celebrated 20 years with my current employer. I received a bonus check that, after taxes and tithes, pays for a little over 2 credit hours.

    I closed my sideline photography studio at the end of last year, and have been selling off props and equipment. That has provided some funds for seminary. Right now, I have less than $400 to go to pay my tuition and books for my first semester. I am confident that in the next two months, God will provide that, as well as the travel funds for getting to my three weekend and one week-long class sessions at the campus.

    I would call that prosperity. It’s not that I have a lot of extra money in the bank to do whatever I want, but I am seeking to follow God’s leading, and he is providing the means. I realize this whole enterprise is dependent on Him, and I must rely on Him and not my own resources.