Stripping the prosperity gospel

One of my hot button issues, guaranteed to get me up on a soapbox from which I have to be surgically removed, is that of Western Christians and prosperity. I have many writings on the subject just waiting to flow through my fingers, but since we are currently studying the prosperity gospel in my theology course, I figured it was a natural enough place to start.

Please note:  I didn’t have my theologian-extraordinaire father proofread this, so read at your own risk. Baba, please add comments to clean up any areas where I went off track. Ok, let us proceed.

I found an article on Joel Osteen’s website that uses some of the same arguments used on Kenneth Copeland’s website, so I figured I would kill (figuratively speaking) two preachers with one blog. I didn’t take the time to look through every prosperity gospel website ever written, so I don’t know all the arguments out there. But these are taken directly from Joel’s website, written, I believe, by his sister.

Argument One: Galatians 3:9 (I’m using my NLT here) “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.”

I quote from the website, “That means every blessing [Abraham] had, we can have!” Oh dear, Lisa, your very first argument, and I’m eying my soapbox. Keep cool, Lauren. . .essentially, a reading of the chapter, or even the next verse, point out that the blessing we have is to be counted righteous. Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6 and Galatians 3:6), so we can believe in Christ, and have righteousness imputed to us. This has nothing to do with material blessings.

Lisa writes that “God pronounced a seven-fold blessing over Abraham, and these seven things belong to you and me.” Nope–it was given to Abraham, not us (more below). She then goes on to detail each of the seven blessings God gives to Abraham in Genesis 12:

1. I will make you into a great nation.

In Lisa’s mind, this means, “God wants to increase your finances.” I have no idea how this dear woman came to this conclusion, because when I read that sentence, I see. . . “I will make you into a great nation.” As in, “be fruitful and multiply, and you will have many descendants.” And if Lisa would like to claim this promise for herself, she is welcome too, but no great nations are going to be springing from my loins anytime soon. It’s a promise that doesn’t apply to us. Lisa cites many Scriptures in which God tells Abraham that he will be blessed and multiply (she also cites Genesis 18:8, where Abraham roasts some meat for visiting angels. I have no idea what that’s about). They are fine verses, but they are promises to Abraham and only Abraham. One of them even talks about God singling Abraham out to receive this promise (Genesis 18:19). This promise was given to him, and him alone.

2. I will bless you.

And I quote, “God can bless you with things that you don’t even have to work for.” She quotes Deuteronomy 6:11, a promise given to the Israelites on condition of their strict adherence to His laws, as justification for this. First off, we’ve already covered that that promise was not meant for us, today. God was speaking directly to a particular people group. Secondly, it is true that God can and does bless us with things we don’t deserve, but those things are not necessarily material wealth. Each day we wake up is a blessing. Shelter, food, healthy relationships, are blessings. God may choose to give certain people stewardship of great amounts of wealth, but the idea that Christians can just sit around and God will throw money in our lap doesn’t really square with 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Furthermore, it seems that health and wealthers would like to mix and match their covenants. Under the Old Covenant, you do right and are blessed, or you do wrong, and are cursed–and we all know how the Israelites did with that particular covenant. People simply can’t achieve blessing under that law. We’re not good enough.

Under the New Covenant, we are given the free gift of justification for our sins and brought into communion with God–but obedience, that is, taking up our crosses and following Christ, embracing suffering for the sake of Christ, is the way we demonstrate that we are indeed walking with Christ. You can’t mix the gift of grace which covers sins with the law of blessing if you do right. There is no Option C.

3. I will make your name great.

“God will enlarge you. . .” I died, I tell you, just died. Given the current rates of obesity in America and Christians’ affinity for potlucks, this might be one “blessing” that the Church has received.

4. You will be a blessing.

“God wants us to be generous.” Here I could not agree more with Lisa. Yes, yes, yes. We see that over and over again in Scripture, and I fully intend to write about it someday.

Unfortunately, this particular verse cannot be used regarding financial blessings. God was telling Abraham that God would use him, his bloodline, to bring about the salvation of mankind. The blessing that came from the line of Abraham was Christ, not gold. And perhaps I’m just a particularly heinous breed of sinner, but I would much prefer Christ’s justification of me to money. Plus, Abraham wasn’t a really a blessing to others in a material sense.

5. I will bless those who bless you.

Once again, we cannot claim this blessing for our own personal use today. According to that logic, I could go to Luke 1, read “You will conceive and give birth to a son. . .He will be very great and will be called the Son of this Most High,” then call up Good Morning America and tell them that I’m about to give birth to the Christ child, 21st century edition. It’s not a promise given to me. I can’t claim it.

6. I will curse those you curse you.

“God is not going to bless anyone who opposes you.” Well, I guess I’m gonna be dead by morning.

7. All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.

Lisa is an awfully optimistic person if she thinks that I can bless all the peoples of the earth. I’d just like to be able to bless all the people on my Facebook wall.

Here’s what I like about the prosperity gospel preachers: they urge people to tithe more blatantly than I believe most other preachers do. Unfortunately, that tithing is self-serving, from the motive of “if I give, I’ll get more back.”

But here’s my real beef with this gospel, if it can claim such a title. It completely overlooks the fact that Christians, even the poorest, most suffering Christians, are blessed, blessed richly and undeservedly, in our communion with God. Think about that–we have communion, personal relationship, with the living God. God knows our names. How can any other blessings compare to this one!

Who are we to say, “Oh, it’s sweet that you died for me, Jesus–but that’s not all that important.  Now if you gave me a Mercedes, then I’d really be impressed.”?! To claim Christ’s sacrifice to be wanting, or even to make His sacrifice all about us, rather than about His glory. . .they may be subtler lies than an outright denial of Christ, but at the end of the day, they come from the same source.

One thought on “Stripping the prosperity gospel

  1. Yes, you don’t know how many times I’ve come up against this very theology in my parents church in Michigan. The one thing that always gets them are the poor people all over the world who have a much stronger faith than that of even their highest, most honored pastor. And they can never say, “Oh, well these people, they must not have enough faith, or God would bless them.” I then point to Jesus and his words, “Blessed are the poor.” and all the poor people he loved and taught and there is no answer to that.

    Thanks for the article.

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