Prosperity Gospel is not Good News

In the various RSS feeds I track there were two related posts this morning, both of which touch on the issue of the prosperity gospel. Those who know the language will recognize the bit of irony in saying that a “gospel” is not “good news,” since gospel (at the least the Greek word which it translates) means good news. Unfortunately, the prosperity gospel tends to be very bad news for many people, and it is distinctly bad theology as well.

Dave Warnock, on his blog 42, wrote about bad theology, and included the prosperity gospel as an example of such–rightfully so. I’m aware that, as one of his commenters noted, this is debated. But just because there is debate doesn’t mean that such debate is justifiable. I don’t mind those who believe God will bless. Where I think there is an unequivocal problem is where preachers and teachers assure people that if they just give, even if they can’t afford it, God will bless them multiply. That is not God’s plan for supporting ministry.

From a somewhat different perspective, Ed Brayton wrote on prosperity theology, and provided excellent examples of just why this is wrong. He brings up the issue of just where we can begin to call this fraud from a legal point of view. Since many religious claims are viewed as fraud by other religious people, the religious liberty issue is difficult. But as an individual, I have no such problems. The extreme claims of prosperity theology prey on vulnerable people.

I also believe that they are contrary to the way in which God has asked the church to work. The tithing system is exceptionally fair, in that it is based on increase, which I think matches today’s profit quite closely. I wrote something about this here. God calls for giving that is willing and proportional; not for bleeding those who cannot give for more and more.

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  1. A comment to add to your last paragraph: I’ve heard an interesting interpretation of Luke 21:2-4 (cf. Mk. 12:41-44) which supposes that Christ’s comments to the apostles about the widow giving her two small coins was not to praise her great sacrifice (although that is a perfectly valid reading) but to condemn the oppressive temple practices which demanded that the woman give despite the great impact it would have on her limited income. I think that in many ways churches that espouse the prosperity gospel are guilty of the same sin, among others.

    The whole fascination with being blessed monetarily strikes me as a bit odd but yet still understandable. It’s strange because it flies in the face of everything I have ever read in Scripture about doing good and building the type of character and virtue necessary to say that God is obliged to bless us in any way here on this earth, but I understand why people want to believe it anyway – life sucks, and we want some relief. My wife’s aunt loves Joel Osteen, and I fear it’s because of the same thing because she has had a lot of hardship in her life. (Plus, she’s insanely naive, something to which all of her family can attest.) I think that underlying desire for the promise of tangible improvement in one’s quality of life – whether it be health, wealth, or otherwise – is all the more reason to keep people accountable for soliciting money from viewers.

  2. Christian Cynic,

    I too have heard that interpretation. I saw it first on Dylan’s lectionary blog.

    That interpretation does fit with the context (in both gospels) rather better. The preceding context is Jesus warning against the teachers of the law who “devour widow’s houses”. Then we have the story of the widow giving all she had into the temple fund which was supposed to be used to care for widows and orphans (and the implication [especially with the text that follows] is that it was not being used for that purpose). This is followed by a warning about the destruction of the temple to which the money was given (implying that the widow wasted her money in supporting a temple that Christ said was going to be destroyed).

    1. Thanks for the link, Dave; the additional detail is especially helpful. In my defense, I recall seeing it in a footnote in Craig Blomberg’s essay in Jesus Under Fire, so there was not a great amount of information behind the different interpretation.

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