Conversation #4 for 2009: The Prosperity Gospel is Lost

Whatever you think from a theological point of view, it’s time to put prosperity teaching to bed.  I doubt if a single doctrine has caused so much confusion or created so many stumbling blocks to the non-believing culture.  Understand that I love prosperity.  I’d love to be writing this from a mansion on the beach in Malibu.  I own a business, so I know the value of money.  But the truth is there’s no Biblical conflict about being rich or poor, if your motives are right and your priorities are straight.  Get over it.  Just follow Christ.  Is there anything wrong with being rich?  Not if your head and heart are in the right place.  Is there any shame in being poor?  Absolutely not.  Some of the
greatest men and women of God were poor and it had no impact on their right relationship with God.  So rich or poor, we can all serve God and make an impact.

The problem is that prosperity teaching changes the focus of our giving from helping others to helping ourselves.  We “plant a seed to help our need.”  It’s raised a lot of money for sure, but at the same time has created a selfish generation of Christians.  That’s why teaching the prosperity gospel is such an effective fundraising technique.  Tie it into planting a financial seed for your own benefit and you get a much better response.  So as long as some churches and ministries are focused more on fundraising than function, I’m afraid it will continue to hang around as a stumbling block to non-believers.

The truth is, when compared to real Christianity, prosperity teaching focuses us on a  trivial, shallow, consumer-based faith.  But the radical message of the Christian faith isn’t about having a new car, a house, or more money.  Consider the words of C.S. Lewis:

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

OK – I opened the box.  Now you weigh in…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Yes, Phil. You're right on. Let's put the prosperity teaching to bed but let's wake up the farmer in all of us.

    "If we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly. If we sow generously we will reap generously."  (2 Cor 9:6).

    Isn't that prosperity teaching?

    So does God care what I do with my fields and my seed? Or is it more a question of ownership and stewardship? Seems that if I recognize that He owns the seeds and the field and me (the sharecropper) and He causes the growth, then God won't mind if I find some enjoyment in –or personal benefit from –walking, head held high through a bumper crop.

    Of course, pride in hard work is quite different than the self-aggrandizement so popular in other vocations. BTW, do you know any farmers who wear bling?

    http://mobilecause.blogspot.com

  • Good thoughts Phil.

    Honestly, I am not expert on prosperity teaching, but I have to agree with you.

    It has become a distraction from our calling as the church to reach the broken and hurting with the love and truth of salvation through Jesus and then disciplining them.

    I'm putting my stock in the greater calling that God gave us to serve others and through that receive any blessing He may give me spiritually, mentally or physically.

     

  • Amen. Thanks for this.

  • The question isn't whether or not God has great things for us…he does. Does God give prosperity…absolutely. I believe he has great things in store of his children.

    The problem is what some have turned this into. It started spot on, and even many of those who originally got the ball rolling would tell you that in man's hands it got out of control. It is no longer used to show God's love, provision, etc…it is, as Phil pointed out, used as a fundraiser.

    It's all about focus. The same can be said about many things we do…how about salvation is the goals a lot of hands raised or lives changed? Is it so that we don't go to hell or that we make Christ lord?

    It's natural for us to take everything we read in the bible and make it about us, and it is for you and I…but it can not stop there it must also be about others.

     

  • Great Post Phil,

    For four years I have worked on the doctrinal problems and solutions avoided by the Prosperity Preachers (greed based) as well as the Rapture Preachers (fear based) and the new Third Wave Prophetic Preachers (emotion based) manias.  After understanding the problems with these off-center doxies, the solution appears to be flexible holiness with the quick (and surprising) indwelling of Jesus manifesting in our lives — but only available to the humble and quick-minded flexible.

     The problem venturing into this new realm was stated in a beautifully veiled message in the epic Loneseome Dove series from 1986.  The motto of the ranch in that series was "Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit," which loosely (or comically) translated means a grape changes colors (i.e. matures) when it sees other grapes".

    Broadcast ministry is notorious for at once being both copy-cat driven and fearful of trying something new.  Thus, the immature grapes of broadcast ministry leadership cannot change until it sees others change.  This is its problem.

    Meanwhile, the immature grapes congratulate themselves on how they can enshrine crumbs of manna, missing huge pieces of of manna available from industrial-sized  manna-factories if only they had spiritual eyes to see!  The drought has gone on too long, while just over the hills of jealousyand pride is a wonderful green valley of pines and waterfalls — available to the humble yet persistent seeker.

  • Thank you Phil for having the courage to be honest! I pray more people of influence will follow so maybe we’ll see some real change. (call me a dreamer)

    I’ve tried “magic jesus”, I’ve even pitched it. There was a time when I even believed in it, but I was not seeing life as it really is. Yes, I wish more than anything “magic jesus” worked because right after I buy a new BMW I “might” help a few homeless.

    Giving hearts cannot grow when we are focused on receiving.

    I’d like to add another thought. I believe we have the word “prosper” all messed up. When we say, “God wants us to prosper” most of the time we are referring to financial increase so we can live an easy life without suffering. Ahhh, the American Dream! Wouldn’t it be nice?

    The three times in my life that I have been blessed the most have been situations accompanied by great pain. Two of them involved extreme poverty! In all of them I “prospered” because I became a better person. Not one provided a Rolex!

  • "Do not store up for yourselves treasures where rust and dust corrupt."

     Seems to me that when a person becomes a Christian that his/her perception of what is a thing of value dramatically changes. Thus 'prosperity' is completely redefined.

  • Kevin, right on!

    Such a simple concept but it cuts to the very heart of the matter. The believer should seek what is valuable in God's economy and Christ will equip us with the means to accomplish His will. If you're blessed with money, you'd better believe it's to help the poor and oppressed, not to build up and to make your life comfortable and safe. I can't help but think that it hurts the Father's heart that His children seek the gifts above the Giver. 

    I live and minister in New Orleans, a difficult place to do both of those things, and it makes authentic Christianity that much harder to bring forth with a city filled with churches that preach health and wealth prosperity.  It sounds good, but I tell you from experience that having your itching ears scratched leaves you standing on a foundation that will crumble like a levee.

    Love God. Love People.

    -Travis

  • Jeanette Tostenson

    I think Phil is referring to the motives and attitude of the heart, more than just the message. In which I would have to agree.

  • bygracenotmerit

    FINALLY, someone said it and said it well! Phew!

    Remaining Steadfast,
    Dominique
    http://anunlikelyperspective2.squarespace.com

  • Beautiful bank robbers,            They stole from you and me,Beautiful bank robbers,            With mansions by the sea. Beautiful bank robber couples,            So fabulously in love,We admire their plastic features,            And how their doctors dug. Beautiful bank robbers,            Say, You can be like me,And have other people admire,            Your mansion by the sea. Beautiful bank robbers,            Each must have his jet,They have their lovely ways,            Of getting what they get. Nothing is too good,            For bank robbers by the sea,Better than good is perfect,            To sell greed lustily.

  • Cobi

    You are in the ditch on this one, Phil. Throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  • Bill Dennington

    Phil, I am in partial agreement with you on this one. I have been in the ministry at this point for almost thirty years. I have been mentored by both the father of the faith movement and the father of the prosperity message. What is so upsetting to me is that too many preachers took both messages and morphed it into a perverted, self-centered, and greed inspired mess that frankly is, at times, embarrassing.

    My understanding of prosperity has always been that it is far more than about money. 3 John 2 actually is saying that no one will prosper beyond the level that their soul is prospering, which is to have your mind renewed to who we are in Christ, what we have in Christ, and what He has anointed us to do in and through Him. True prosperity is to be empowered by Christ to meet any man's need; be it spiritual, mental, physcial, social, material, or financial, and to do so through the power of God's anointing, faith, and love. This is only possible by having a very close and intimate relationship with the Lord through His Word and by His Spirit, both which require one to be concerned for interests that are much greater than how much money you have in the bank.

    That is not to say that the financial side of things is not important, it is. That realm can be the source of a lot of pressure and concern that can end up testing ones faith in God to a very high degree. However, much of the pressure and problems that people face are products of their own making. Living beyond their means through borrowed money, buying things they really don't need just for self-gratification, making decisions as to where they are to live, work, go to school or church, what they are to drive or wear, all based solely on the financial aspects of the decision puts people in positions and places many times that God never intended them to be in. Our decisions need to be acts of obedience to Him, not just what is most economically beneficial to us at the time.

    The entire prosperity message helps one to live in that life of obedience and enables them to be in the right places and the right time, doing the right thing with the right people. This could be something far more meaningful than just culminating a great buiness deal; it could be something as awesome as going to the less privileged side of town and ministering to the needs of those who really need a touch from God through someone who knows how to love. Obedience to do that type of thing will, many times allow God to open the doors to the material and financial side of things that you can't believe or confess your way into in a million years.

    There really is nothing wrong with the real message of prosperity, for Jesus Himself came to preach the good news to the poor which could not possibly have been that they would have to stay poor. No, there is a way out of poverty and lack, and Jesus is that way. The problem has been some, not all, but some of the messengers have had too much self-interest and self-gratification as their motivation for preaching prosperity. In fact, no preacher should ever "use" any aspect of the gospel specifically and solely for the purpose of "fund-raising". That is not why anybody should preach, just to get money! There needs to be a revelation come to alot of pastors and preachers today that the very faith in God they tell everyone else to live by will work for them too. A preacher can get too dependent on the offering bucket and start looking to the people as his source rather than looking to God as his source and living by faith in the very Word he preaches. That doesn't mean he should quit receiving offerings for there is a Biblical mandate to receive offerings. But, the motivation will be entirely different if you are not counting on what comes into the offering to make it.

    As I said, I have been in the ministry for almost thirty years and have seen a lot. I have seen God provide the needs of my church, family, and personally in a way that had nothing to do with taking an offering. He is always faithful to those who put their trust in Him! But, He can only show Himself strong to those whose hearts are perfect towards Him and are truly looking to Him as their source for all things. This means that I as a preacher must do the very same things that I preach to others to do in order to be obedient to God. I must tithe, give, and sow. I have to expect my giving to produce a harvest for me, and to give in a manner that is in obedience to God's leading by the Holy Spirit and consistent with all the other aspects of godly character. Not for show, not to impress, not to draw attention, but simply to obey. Whether anyone ever finds out about it or not, just obey God and be a blessing. Jesus said that what you do in that regard in secret will positiion you for an open reward from the Father. That will not happen when you are trying to promote yourself.

    No, the prosperity message doesn't need to go away. We need more of it, at least the real prosperity message, the one from the Bible. The entire Americanized version of the gospel needs to pass from the scene and God's true Kingdom message of faith that works by love birthed in men's heart through a living union with a living and resurrected Christ needs to be heralded around this globe at a very high volume!

    Bless you Phil, keep up the wonderful work!

  • breaklight

    Excellent point that you have made and really great way to see it from another perspective.

  • AmeriKan

    Bill….You sound just like the pastors I had when my family was in WOF circles.  "Sound like," in that you presented the true Biblical perspective of prosperity.  Just because a few distorted the message, doesn't make the message wrong.  We simply must receive the full  Gospel message which includes prosperity.  As for me, I have accomplished much more for the kingdom of God in my prospersous years, than when I was in lack.  Doesn't mean that when I was in lack that I did not learn a few things from the Lord.   When there wasn't enough to pay the bills, generous souls showed up at our doorstep.  I learned humility but I also learned to reciprocate…over and over…the greater lesson and blessing was, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  In lack I am limited.  The more abundant Christian life is all encompassing and starts with a contrite heart from the day of salvation.

    I also agree these things must be taught in our churches and must be taught correctly.  We do ourselves a disservice by going around and around the mountain of error that a few have fallen into.  We must get our eyes off these men because there are many like yourself who are doing it accurately and Biblically.

  • LizG

    How can we put the prosperity teaching away just because you don't like to hear it??  How in the world did we learn about forgiveness until it was taught? How did we learn that we get Favor, or Grace or the Blessings – until they were taught?

      Granted, some preachers have taken it to an extreme, like everything else, and to a selfish conclusion, but we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Gospel is Free, but the means of getting it out COSTS!!  We need alot of Christians who care to accumulate alot of money to fuel the spread of the Gospel around the world, and bring this thing to an end! God is waiting on us to cover the Earth!

    FYI – there are more scriptures in the Bible on finances than ANYTHING else.

    loveya,
    LizG

  • Bart Breen

    3 John 2 is not a message from God to us today.  It is a salutation from John to the people he is writing a letter to, and it is nothing more in that context that us writing in a letter to someone, that we hope they are doing well and in good health.

    The grasping of this type of shoddy exegesis has made a mockery of the Bible, the Church and the message of Christ and it's about time it were buried in the ash-heap of past heresies.

    I wish I could hold to the optimism you have Phil that it is dying out.  I agree with your point that 2nd generation leadership is in general less prone to it than others.  I also think you may be correct in that the general pendulum of the US culture is seeing it more and more for what it is and beginning to embrace more and more the realization of sacrificial love.  I see the rise of ministries such as Sojourners and I also see the disconnect between the Republican Party and evangelicalism which arose in the 70's beginning to happen and a swing back to more incorporation of a social and ecological gospel that sadly Christians as a whole appear to have lost.  Rick Warren's recent issues are illustrative of the new voices arising to varying degrees in this area, and I'm glad to see it.

    Realistically however, the basis of the prosperity gospel in its excessive forms is simply human greed and unfortunately, I don't believe that is going away.  I think we'll see it arise more in more in the so called 3rd world as they economically grow in the years ahead and the prosperity message takes root there as it did here under similar circumstances.

    Regardless of what form it takes in what locations, heretical teaching and teachers and unbalanced teaching and teachers are always going to be with us.  In many ways, the most effective enemies of the historical church hasn't been persecution and hard times, it's been prosperity and power and their political entwinements in the culture.

  • Will

    So Phil…

    I agree with what you say, however I'm curious to know what your position is now about helping some of these organizations polish their media image, and present their message evermore seductively? How does your business decide who to work with and who not?

     

  • I like what Matthew 5:15-20 says,

    "Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned."

    It's the motive that counts.

     

  • breaklight

    Please Kyle which Matthew 5:15-20 are you quoting from? This is the one that I think is in the Bible:

    No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

    “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
    “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (New Living Translation)

  • ilovegod2
    There is no particular virtue in poverty nor should there be any particular condemnation of wealth.  There is no conflict, from my way of thinking, with ministers preaching prosperity, except that they also need to preach about the responsibility and right motives of receiving that prosperity.  There is nothing wrong in wanting to be blessed to get out of poverty, but if individuals think solely about all the "stuff" money can get, rather than about how they can also use that increase to fund the Gospel around the world and help those who are less fortunate, then there is a problem.
    We do need to make certain that wealthier believers are not given greater precedence than poor believers and that the Church is taught the true reason for giving is out of love for God and for others. 
    I personally recall a situation when my husband and I were in a very bad financial crisis, to the point that we had to ask assistance from our church at the time.  One woman at the church helped us with food, but repeatedly stated things like, "When I bless you, I'm going to get blessed!" and "I'm doing this so I can get my blessing!" 
    Not that we weren't appreciative, but her motive seemed not to be based so much upon the fact that she cared about us, but on the idea that she would reap a personal benefit from it. We felt as though we were simply a means to an end.
    I also recall going to a seminar at the same church, where a Christian who was a billionaire came to speak on how believers should start new businesses.  Wonderful, except that his way of "helping" was to hawk a $1,000 book and CD package, saying that if we were "really serious", we would be willing to pay this price.  Needless to say, we could not afford this. He also made broad generalizations about poor people, which we felt very uncomfortable with.
    Certainly, there are abuses, regarding the prosperity message.  However, I am not against rich Christians nor do I feel bad about asking the Lord for increase.  I do agree that we all need to examine our real motives about giving and see beyond just our own needs.
    Being blessed financially, however, is not a sin. Greed is.
  • This is from the Message translation.

  • OOPS! My bad. The reference was supposed to be:

    Matthew 7:15-20 (Message)

  • breaklight

    Got it. Now I understand:-)Thanks for providing the right verse.

  • judy

    i think that God wants us to prosper and that poverty has no redeeming qualities..but we should not seek extravagant material wealth…why does my pastor need to drive a rolls royce? am an african and TBN is a huge TV station here and the effects of the “prosperity gospel” has been devastating to say the least! in a continent of such immense poverty this gospel is so seductive that we join the church because we want God to grant us material possessions! we revere TD jakes, ken copeland, joyce meyer et al because they say what out hearts and stomachs wish to hear? is that the gospel of Jesus?

    think before you preach this gospel! many at home have lost homes, children’s fees, the next meal because they have brainwashed into thinking that giving and giving to the chucrch is the only way they can rise above the poverty!there is more to the bible than money and extravagance!let us go back to the original purpose of christianity which is to spread the gospel and to help those in need!

    if we give lets give under the direction of the Holy Spirit and in joy and love and thanksgiving and not because we expect something from God he is not an ATM machine! am from kenya by the way…

  • judy

    i believe that God does want his people to prosper there are no redeeming qualities about poverty…

    that being said am a kenyan from africa adn TBN has a really big influence here so that whatever new preaching trends appear they are followed whole heartedly without any spiritual discernment. the prospertiy gospel is seductive to us because we are a poor continent and if just have faith and give and give then God is bound to give us health and wealth in return right? people give up the little they have because they are guilted and hood winked into believing what i think is a false message…when we offer a sacrifice to God we should do it out of obedience to the Holy Spirit and out love, joy and thanksgiving not in order to get somehting out of God!

    here people sacrifice their homes, their kids school fees, anything they have in belief of this “gospel” is that right? is it godly? why should my pastor drive a rolls royce yet i have nothing? why should he go home to a great meal yet i leave church hungry after giving him all mu worldy possessions? all in the name of receiving blesseings? should he not bless me as he has been blessed?

    your megachurches have influence in poor countries so be careful with what preach from your pulpits they have far more reaching effects! let us get back to the work of the early apostles which is to encourage one another, preach the gospel to all mankind and live for Jesus alone…let us not forget the poor and the down tordden of this world it is our duty as christians to use our blessings to help them!

  • Angie
    I believe that there is a responsibility attached to any wealth or prosperity we are given.  It isn't simply for us to go out and buy everything in sight, simply because we are able to.  There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting things like your own home or a decent car, etc.  I have no problem with the prosperity message, if it is properly balanced and we are also taught that some of the financial blessings God has provided for us should be used to fund the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world and to help the poor.  I have been poor before and it was very painful.  It means a lot when other believers love you enough to reach out and help in your time of need.  Because God has begun to prosper me and my household since that time, we have never forgotten where He brought us from and give regularly. In that respect, the financial increase we have received allows us to bless God and others more.