Not the Gospel: Prosperity

Many TV preachers, reflecting a common emphasis in modern evangelicalism generally, are settling for “mud pies”  because they “cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.” These preachers appeal to our selfish instincts, which may be momentarily satisfied by promises of success, unfailing happiness, and good times, when all the while our deepest needs, our truest needs – for eternal love and acceptance in a world where performance is usually a prerequisite for acceptance, for certainty in the midst of doubt, and for purpose in a period of despair – go untouched. (The Agony of Deceit, 58-59)

If it’s not the most popular false-gospel promulgated these days it surely ranks up there: the gospel of prosperity is promoted by many as smiling televangelist and author. It’s proffered as the real blessings of Jesus, and the true message of missions around the world. It is, however, a lie and a deadly one at that.

The gospel of prosperity essentially asserts that the good news is as follows: God believes in you and wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If you, then, will believe in and claim the promises that God has made to you regarding such temporal happiness than you can have prosperity here and now. Like all heresy this particular false doctrine comes with a hint of truth. There is indeed some truth to what the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Preachers say. God does make great promises to his people to “prosper them” and to bless them, often even with temporal things. But there is a legitimate question we must ask about how to interpret these things. Are the blessings guaranteed to Israel and the patriarchs word-for-word our blessings? If so are the curses ours too? More than that, how are we to understand all the promises of suffering given to the early church from Jesus’ own lips?

Jesus says:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Persecution is part and parcel of what it means to follow Jesus. If you think you can not only avoid such persecution and hardship, but also get God to give you a brand new car and fat bank account I fear that you may not be actually following Jesus. The legacy of the apostles bears witness to this testimony. Beheading, torture, and exile came to the followers of Jesus in the pages of Scripture. Death and torture come to those who follow Christ, and while we may be far from that generally speaking in the states it is no less real for our friends all over the world.

The gospel is about something so much bigger than your best life now here on earth. It is about pleasures evermore at the Father’s side (Psalm 16:11). It is about a new heaven and a new earth, about a new Kingdom, about an eternal audience with the King. The problem of the gospel of prosperity is that it makes the good news something other than God. If the good news is not ultimately that I get God, then I have a gospel that is ultimately rooted in my selfishness. The best part of the gospel is not temporal blessing, it’s that I a sinful rebel get to be with the God of the universe who loves me. That should be the real delight, not money and cars and homes and jobs and health. God is the gospel! Anything less than this gospel message isn’t just deficient it’s deceitful and will rob you blind of the only true good news you have.

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  1. […] of a “gospel of rule keeping.”  He has continued this series with posts on the prosperity gospel and the appropriate use of the word “love” when talking about the […]

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