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Preaching Prosperity?

December 14, 2009

So I read this article that is nagging me. I can tell because I used a quote from it in a sermon. Then a week later I used a quote from it in another talk. I have had to restrain myself from quoting it all the time, just in conversation, which is a good sign that I probably need to write about it and get it out of my system. It was published by Atlantic Monthly, and you can find it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/rosin-prosperity-gospel. The purpose of the article was to try to link “prosperity preaching” to the financial meltdown. Although that is an interesting connection, I am not nearly as concerned with that as with some of the things the prosperity preachers featured in that piece said.   

One said, “God will not let you be without a house.” Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a house. Kathryn I have been renting a place here in Russellville and after the new year we will be getting serious about finding a house to buy. They are good investments (well, usually – past few years excluded). Will we pray for wisdom? Absolutely. When we get one, will it be a blessing from God that we should use for him? Definitely. So – just to verify –  no problem with owning a house, and I think it is a wise financial move.

But what if we couldn’t get one – would that be proof that we were not faithful to God? Is that the message we want to give to everyone struggling in this economy? I mean, when Jesus tells His apostles in John 16:2 that there would be people who would kill them and think they were serving God, I have yet to find the part where He says, “But don’t worry, because every one of you will have a nice house here on earth.” And here is the thing, this preacher was not just refering to a functional house, but a nice house. He said that God wants them to have “the best finances.” He gave the impression that everyone who truly has faith in God can drive a BMW. (He also said that we would have two more years of prosperity before a seven year famine, based loosely on the story of Joseph, I think, so much of the thology does not seem well-thought out).

They also refer to a passage from Joel Osteen’s book (Here’s the part where Joel Osteen fans get upset – sorry). He refers to a man on vacation in Hawaii, who although he has a good house and good job, is still living a “defeated” life, because he looks at a nice house and thinks he can’t afford it.   “Defeated” – that’s what Osteen says the gospel calls that kind of life. (This is the part where I would cue Seth Myers and Amy Poehler to do a quick “Really?!” segment). Defeated – really? Because anytime we can’t have something we would like, that means we are defeated. Anytime we don’t get something really nice that is completely temporary, we have been defeated. Anytime we have enough money to enjoy a nice trip to a fun place but don’t have enough additional money to get nicer stuff than what we have (which we should be enjoying as blessings from God), then we are defeated. And I won’t even comment on the youtube clip embedded in the article. That is a whole other post.   

I wonder how Christians in an African village with homes that aren’t nearly as nice but lives that are full of joy and faith would react to that kind of definition of the gospel. I wonder how the family of that Somalian young man who was killed last month by an extremist group for simply trying to share the gospel with someone would think about this theory. I wonder how people all over the world who have been imprisoned by governments unfriendly to Chrisianity would react to Osteen’s book. I wonder if that is one of the reasons why Christianity is spreading so rapidly in other places.

Just some thoughts – I would like to think we know better than to equate wealth with faithfulness (while there are many people who are wealthy and faithful to God, we know wealth is not a necessary ingredient of faith). It just bothers me to hear that message preached in so many places. After all, God does want us to have a “house” – He is just more concerned with us occupying one of the many “dwelling places” in His Father’s House than a house on earth.

Whew. There. You might not feel better, but I do.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2009 5:05 pm

    Amen! I’ve seen people made to feel guilty for not owning more by just such preaching. Flies in the face of everything the New Testament says. What do you suppose they think “Blessed are you poor” means?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    • andrewdphillips permalink
      December 15, 2009 5:55 pm

      Tim, that’s a good point – probably one of the reasons we are more familiar with Matthew’s beattitudes than when Luke records the Sermon on the Plain. Somehow, it is easier for us to think about being poor in spirit than being physically poor.

  2. December 15, 2009 12:31 pm

    Very true, bro.

    There are so many things about the prosperity attitude that are broken. Unfortunately, it’s easy for any of us to develop in small ways–not “God wants me to live in a mansion,” but “God wants me to be healed”/”God wants my house to be bigger than 1100 square feet”/etc.

    It’s not the kind of thing we like to talk about, but I think sometimes God wants us to get cancer or wants our house to burn down. That’s a tough thing to admit, but I don’t see any other option if we’re going to read the whole Bible.

    • andrewdphillips permalink
      December 15, 2009 6:01 pm

      Justin –
      I was actually thinking last night about the post and asking myself what my version of the “prosperity gospel” would be – the things I subconsciously believe will come to me as a Christian because God “wants me to have them.” It would be interesting to compare a list of things in scripture God tells us He wants us to have with the things we usually put on that list.
      I watched that Matt Chandler video the other day, and I was struck with what he said after he described his dreams for life, and then said, “None of those things is better than Him.” Reminds me of Paul’s discussion of how much better it would be for him to go on and leave the earth – pretty challenging attitude to maintain when it is so easy to get sidetracked.

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