I’ve mentioned the “Prosperity Gospel” in some presentations recently, and I’ve had some questions about what I mean when I use the term. I’m going to outline some very basic responses- and have a little to say about them- so that I can refer others to them as a more complete answer than I can give in a cafeteria line.
I believe it is critical that every pastor take this subject on directly, and that we speak clearly about it. The prosperity message is not the Biblical gospel and is a distorted, spiritually dangerous muddle at the very least, and a damning spiritual cyanide at the worst. This is an error that is consuming millions of evangelicals around the world as it is propagated by way of TBN and so forth. Clarity and Biblical faithfulness are important at this moment.
What is the Prosperity Gospel?
The Prosperity Gospel…
1) is NOT God’s promise to meet the needs of his people as an expression of his Fatherly kindness within his sovereign will.
2) is NOT God’s old covenant physical blessings to Israel and its kings.
3) is NOT the Bible’s teaching of blessing by the will of God expressed through the consequences of wise choices or the consequences of obedience.
4) is NOT the reasonable implication of Biblical stories of miraculous provision.
The Bible teaches us that if “we seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness, all these things will be added..” This is not, however, an appeal to materialism or the desire for wealth. It is dependence on God- and on the freedom of God- to provide in whatever situation we find ourselves. God’s provision is not a promise to enrich, but to provide as needed for our lives as we live out his Kingdom’s purposes.
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.
Why does the Prosperity Gospel appeal to American Christians?
a) American Christians are focused on money as a symbol of the “good life.”
b) American Christians tend to focus on God as a problem solver above any other role.
c) American Christians have a strong preference for legalism and transactionalism.
d) The Prosperity Gospel (or elements of the message) appeals to particular churches:
-Suburban churches stressing the teaching of “life principles.”
-Church growth churches interested in drawing crowds.
-Word-Faith and TBN influenced churches.
-Churches led by faddish pastors.
-Churches that emphasize miracles.
e) American Christians generally fail to distinguish between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The best example of this is the emphasis on tithing that persists in many churches though it is not a New Covenant teaching. (I agree that tithing may be a useful spiritual discipline, but I do not believe there are New Covenant blessings attached to the practice.)
f) American Christians are unable to distinguish between law and Gospel.
g) American Christians prefer manipulation and transactionalism as ways of dealing with God to confessing dependence on his sovereignty.
h) Cultural factors cause some groups of the historically poor and economically disenfranchised to be very open the the Prosperity message.
i) The Prosperity Gospel seems to “prove” that God exists and that faith “pays off.”
j) Many American Christians do not know the Biblical Gospel and, therefore, cannot spot a counterfeit.
k) Christian publishers have published books like “The Prayer of Jabez” in order to enrich themselves.
l) False teachers and greedy ministries abound in America.
m) The teaching of Jesus on material possessions, money and discipleship are generally ignored or reinterpreted in American Christianity.