There is a church in my city that is known for its stance in favor of the so-called Prosperity Gospel (oh, how horribly misnamed it is; for what it proclaims is decidedly not “good news”!). People who have visited there informed me of several of their beliefs. Here are a few:
Abraham was a wealthy man, and so too was Jesus. It only follows, so they say, that God wants you to be equally rich.
They believe in what they call the “transference” of wealth: God’s design is to take wealth from non-believers and give it to Christians. In this church they explicitly pray each Sunday that this will come to pass.
It is not uncommon for there to be two sermons each Sunday: an initial 30-minute message on tithing, followed by a regular sermon.
The pastor has publicly declared, in the presence of his congregation: “The Bible says lay up your treasures in heaven; but I won’t need the treasure when I get to heaven. I NEED IT NOW! I WANT THE MONEY NOW!!” When a member of the church was asked about this, he confirmed that this message is preached on a regular basis.
Each Sunday the congregation reads aloud a long statement of faith, what they call a “decree” which asserts: “I am blessed to prosper in material wealth, in houses, in businesses, etc.”
This “church” is fully devoted to a Health and Wealth message. For example:
They regularly insist that you are already healed and it is just a matter of bringing yourself to believe it.
If you are feeling sick, they encourage you never to say so. People who acknowledge their illness are rebuked and told to “Speak life! Speak life!” Say, “I am healed!” To speak honestly about one’s physical condition is to “speak death” and is harshly condemned.
I was recently told that the pastor has utilized a lawyer who, on occasion, writes legal documents that he submits to God in the “courtroom of heaven” demanding that God restore to him and others what the enemy has stolen. He called it a “writ of assistance”.
If you are wondering whether or not advocates of this “theology” actually live in accordance with its principles, I give you the example of T. D. Jakes. In a recent article in World magazine (May 3, 2014), J. C. Derrick reports on the financial struggles inside Teen Mania Ministries. As one example of the reckless spending by that ministry, he points to the way in which Ron Luce induced Jakes to speak at a New York City BattleCry event on February 8, 2008. In order to transport Jakes to NYC a private jet was chartered, costing $21,000. More than $4,000 was spent on a two-night stay at the Ritz Carlton for Jakes. Another $10,000 was devoted to buy “imported flowers, chocolates, rare bread, candy, iPods, and other gifts for the Jakes family to find in their hotel suite, green room, and two Cadillac Escalade limousines” (48). The total cost for getting Jakes to speak for 50 minutes, including his honorarium, was approximately $100,000.
Nothing in the article suggests that Ron Luce has embraced a prosperity gospel, but he evidently had a sense for what it would take to persuade T. D. Jakes to participate in this ministry event. My question is this: What is it about Jakes’ theology that would lead him to believe that it was permissible, indeed appropriate, dare I say necessary, that he accept the invitation on such extravagant terms?
Sadly, this horrible distortion of the Christian faith and its gospel is present everywhere. I’m often asked to recommend books that explain the “prosperity gospel” and where it has gone wrong biblically. Equally sad is the fact that there aren’t that many helpful resources. But there are a few. Here are the ones I recommend.
(1) The best is Faith, Health, & Prosperity, edited by Andrew Perriman, published by Paternoster Press (Waynesboro, GA, 2003), 316pp.
(2) Another helpful analysis is the book by Bruce Barron, The Health and Wealth Gospel: What’s Going on Today in a Movement that has shaped the Faith of Millions? (InterVarsity Press, 1987, 204pp.). It’s a bit dated, as there have been considerable developments since 1987, but it’s still a worthwhile read.
(3) A more recent analysis is Health, Wealth, & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? by David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge (Kregel, 2011, 201pp.).
(4) Although it is more a historical and sociological than a theological analysis, I found extremely helpful the recent book by Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 337 pp.
If you would like to explore the Word of Faith movement, something of a theological cousin to the prosperity gospel, check out A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement, by D. R. McConnell (Hendrickson Publishers; Peabody, 1988, 195pp.) and From the Pinnacle of the Temple by Charles Farah, published by Logos International (Plainfield New Jersey, no date, 243 pages).