Today America swears in a new President and two of the six ministers who pray during Inauguration Day ceremonies, Wayne T. Jackson and Paula White, are advocates of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel.
So what is the Prosperity Gospel and why is it so utterly wrong as to be almost anti-Christian? (Just so we are clear on what I think up front.)
Prosperity Theology began in the late 19th and early 20th century in the US. It is founded on the ideals of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility. Many point to the sermon "Acres of Diamonds" given by Russel Conwell (founder of temple University) in the 1890s as one of the early examples of the movement. In it he says
I say that you ought to get rich, and it is our duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” That is the reason.
Some men say, “Don’t you sympathize with the poor people?” of course I do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I wont give in but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than we help those who are deserving. While we should sympathize with God’s poor-that is, those who cannot help themselves-let us remember that is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of some one else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow.
This idea took root in America and bloomed first in the post-war revivals of the 40s and 50s and then with Televangelism in the 60s and 70s. A 2006 poll by Time reported "17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money."
Notable works include:
Oral Roberts; Montgomery, G. H. (1966). God's Formula for Success and Prosperity.
Gordon Lindsay (1960). God's Master Key to Prosperity. Christ For The Nations.
Bruce Wilkinson; Kopp, David (2000). The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.
Prominent adherents include: E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Mike Murdock, Reverend Ike and Kenneth Hagin.
Prosperity theology teaches that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity.Wealth is interpreted in prosperity theology as a blessing from God, obtained through a spiritual law of positive confession, visualization, and donations. While the movement often funds social work, poverty is viewed as a sin or the results of sin.
The vast majority of Christian theology has labeled Prosperity Theology as deeply flawed if not heretical. While undoubtedly the movement has done some good, it has done so as a secondary effect and not its actual goal. While I do not agree with everything he says, I will let John Piper articulate:
My main objections to Prosperity Theology can be summarized:
- The movement focuses on self aggrandizement contrary to Christ's example.
- Prayer is seen as an almost spell like action that forces God into action on behalf of the believer. Turning God into a wish granting genie, or into a devil with a contract.
- It views people who are suffering as deserving of their suffering. Denying Christ's identification with the poor and downtrodden.
- It equates holiness with wealth. Therefore if someone is rich they are probably holy and if someone is poor then they are obviously sinful. Ever read Job?
None of that is consistent with the Bible. A vast majority of what is contemptible in American culture today is embodied in the Prosperity Gospel,and has its roots in it as well.
If you were wondering how we got here, there you go.