The Prosperity “Gospel” v. the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Have you ever prayed with someone who “claimed” or declared that God would heal you or work some miracle or provide some material benefit?
Have you ever expressed discouragement or sadness only to be shushed up by a well-meaning believer worried that your negative words might interfere with God’s blessing?
Have you ever been told that sickness, poverty, or pain is “never” of God?
Has someone ever suggested that your negative circumstances are the result of your “lack of faith”?
If so - and I’m guessing you’ve answered “yes” to at least one or two of the of the above questions - you’ve had a taste of the “prosperity gospel”.
The prosperity gospel is a serious distortion of the real gospel but it can be difficult to spot because many prosperity gospel claims and propositions are subtly couched in biblical language and supported with biblical texts.
Because the prosperity message has so much in common with “positive-thinking” spirituality and self-motivational techniques which appeal to basic human longings for success and happiness, promoters of the prosperity gospel like Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Benny Hinn, and the Trinity Broadcasting Network enjoy great prominence and popularity in Christian circles and beyond. And because of its pervasive contemporary influence many Christians - including no doubt many Anglicans - have innocently and unknowingly adopted some prosperity gospel thought patterns and prayer habits.
I’ve done my best to lay out the major distinctions between between the real gospel and the counterfeit prosperity gospel below. The first section outlines the prosperity gospel in 7 points. The second section contrasts the prosperity gospel with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Prosperity Gospel:
1. God wants you to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and emotionally happy all the time and he has empowered you to be so.
2. You can have health, wealth, and happiness by using the power by which God himself calls all things into being and that power is “faith”.
3. “Belief” or “faith” is a positive energy force that you can direct by the sheer power of your will in order to claim and receive what God wants you to have (see #1).
4. Through “faith-filled prayer” you lay claim to your faith dreams. Pray for health, wealth and/or happiness and then “believe” (see #3) you’ve already received what you’ve prayed for.
5. If you have enough “faith”, then “prayer” (see # 4) will be successful and you will get whatever you asked for because “the prayer of the faithful man availeth much” (James 5:16) and Jesus promised that “whatever you ask for” in his name he will give to you (John 14:13).
6. An essential characteristic of true “belief” is “living victoriously”. The one who lives victoriously will give far more money to the church than he can afford because he has “faith” that God will return his investment tenfold. For the same reason, he will purchase things he cannot afford “on faith” that God will “provide the increase”. And he will promise to do things he physically cannot do because, of course, God will heal all his infirmities.
7. If you’re not healthy, wealthy, and emotionally happy it’s because your “faith” is too weak. You have not laid claim to your inheritance. You must work harder at #‘s 3,4, and, especially, 6.
Here are some of the many conflicts between the prosperity gospel and the Gospel of Jesus Christ
1. The prosperity gospel presents Jesus as merely the means to the greater ends of material health, wealth, and happiness. Jesus claims that he is our health, wealth and happiness. He is the ultimate end and satisfaction for all our desires and longings (Matt 6:19-21; 13:44-46; John 6:35; 14:6). True health, wealth, and happiness cannot be found in this world.
2. The prosperity gospel claims that suffering is never God’s will. But Jesus himself suffered and calls his disciples to take up the cross, forsake the world, and be prepared to suffer as he suffered (Matt 16:24-28; John 15:18-20). Moreover, the Apostolic writers tell us that God often ordains suffering as the means by which he sanctifies his people (2 Cor 1:3-10; 1 Peter 4:12).
3. The prosperity gospel teaches that faith is a positive force. The New Testament teaches that faith is trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. It is his power and promise upon which we lean not the power of our faith (Romans 3:26-28, Ephesians 2:1-8).
4. The prosperity gospel teaches that praying in “the name of Jesus” assures that you will get what you ask for - as if using the literal name of Jesus mechanistically forces God’s hand. But the New Testament teaches that praying in “Jesus’ name” means praying for things that accord with his revealed will and purposes (1 John 5:14). Since the prosperity gospel replaces God’s revealed will with worldly prosperity the prosperity system does not produce prayer in Jesus’ name.
5. The prosperity gospel encourages adherents to give in order to get. The New Testament presents generosity as a gift in and of itself - an outpouring of the love of Christ. Disciples do not give to get they give because they have already “gotten” the greatest treasure of all (2 Cor 8:1-7).
6. The prosperity gospel teaches that God’s miraculous work is necessarily tied to the strength of human belief. The Gospels show this to be a lie. While Jesus at times requires that people trust in his power to heal before healing, at other times he simply decides to heal regardless. Dead people, for example, do not have the power to name nor claim anything, and yet Jesus raises them (Luke 7:11-17). And he decides to heal people who neither ask for it nor believe it can happen (John 5:1-9). God’s power to heal and deliver does not depend on human faith.
The comparison above is not and cannot be exhaustive. Nailing down the prosperity gospel is notoriously difficult, like nailing jello to the wall, because there are so many flavors and strands and there’s no comprehensive confessional or doctrinal material. But the thrust of the prosperity message - God wants you to have your best life now - is easy to spot once you understand it’s basic outline. It’s important to spot since prosperity thinking trades on false hope, luring people toward the mirage of material health and happiness and obscuring the pathway toward the only One in whom true life and hope is found.
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