Is There a Recipe for Prosperity?

11/01/2023
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    A Lifeway Research survey shows that the “prosperity gospel” is growing in appeal. (123RF)
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    Some people believe that putting more into the offering plate guarantees a hefty financial return. Yet the Bible doesn’t promise this. (Pixabay)
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    A 1942 poster evokes the American Dream. Some spiritual teachers mix ideals like this one into prosperity theology. (Library of Congress)
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    Oral Roberts preaches in Seoul, South Korea, in 1989. (AP/Yun Jai-Hyoung)
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    Joel Osteen, center, preaches during an event at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, in 2010. (AP/Richard Vogel)
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This season, people make holiday preparations. They buy presents, plan feasts, and share hopes for the year ahead. But beneath this humming industry buzzes a strange discord. It jingles in secular carols piped into stores. It rings in wishes for a prosperous new year. Two “gospels” conflict. One is rooted in the free gift of God’s provision in Jesus. The other focuses on good gifts earned by good deeds.

A Lifeway Research survey finds that Christians in the United States increasingly subscribe to “prosperity theology.” It promotes the idea that God wants to see His people prosper financially. These Christians “name and claim” material possessions and financial security on Earth. According to the survey, two-thirds of U.S. churchgoers between the ages of 18 and 34 believe their church teaches such things. This “doctrine of seed-faith” advises putting more into the offering plate to guarantee a hefty financial return. While the survey could not clarify how many church leaders actually teach this doctrine, it shows that prosperity thinking is on the rise in the church—with effects around the globe.

But where did the “prosperity gospel” originate? In the United States, its roots run deep.

Bedrock to American culture is the “American Dream.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the ideal that every citizen of the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” A 19th-century movement mashed together these secular ideals with a dash of eastern philosophy and a sprinkle of Christianity. Others heavily seasoned that worldview with self-help psychology. Voilà! An occult movement called “New Thought.”

Mid 20th-century preachers and “faith healers” like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin reheated these New Age ideas. They served them up as “health and wealth” theology. This “Word of Faith” movement gained momentum through Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson in the 1980s. More recent figures like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer carry the banner today. They misinterpret passages like “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7), overlooking context and twisting scripture to support their teaching.

A secular version known as “manifestation” has gained recent popularity. Celebrities like Doja Cat, Lady Gaga, Drake, and Ariana Grande promote the idea that the universe collaborates with them to make good things happen. They just have to speak or dream it to make it so. Sound familiar?

“Name it and claim it” promises shine like tinsel under Christmas lights. But not all that glitters is gold. This false gospel shapes a transactional spirituality. It confuses man’s material desires with God’s better design: redemption, the best gift of the Christmas season.

Why? The false gospel of prosperity damages our understanding of the true gospel and our Christian witness in the world.

NewsThink

by Kelsey Reed, GWN news coach

Have you seen this mathematical sentence: “Jesus + nothing = everything”? The simple equation represents the truth. It takes nothing on our part to merit God’s best gift of salvation.

On the other hand, simplified into a mathematical equation, prosperity theology  might look like this: Good deeds + God’s power = financial blessing.

Sounds a bit like Santa Claus, doesn’t it? Be good. Get stuff.

People confuse the character and nature of God with their understanding of Santa. Songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” take attributes that describe only God (all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present) and grant them to Santa. Conversely, these ideas plastered onto our idea of God turn Him into a jolly man in the sky who wants to give you good gifts, if only you will be good enough to deserve them.

But God doesn’t work like Santa Claus. Investing in prosperity teaching comes at risk of losing faith in the goodness of God in the face of suffering. Faithful Christians still encounter hard times.

Both the Santa ideas and “name it and claim it” theology deviate from truth. The true God doesn’t fit into an “if x then y” equation. He has grander plans for us than merely material wealth. He wants to transform humankind from the inside out, to the ends of the Earth. Our Heavenly Father gives generously, with gifts far better than things that will pass away. He offers “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4)

Now that is an idea worthy of investment!

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