Prosperity and the Gospel

Oh, those wacky Osteens. Everybody’s seen Joel Osteen’s wife Victoria talking about the best way to make God happy, right? Just in case, here it is again:

Naturally,this has generated a lot of eye rolls from people inclined to comment on it. In fact, among my peers, I never hear anyone talk about the Osteens without an eye roll. The only time I ever hear anyone talk about Joel Osteen’s books, it’s with the intent of buying one as a gag gift. And yet, there’s a giant auditorium in Houston that is weekly filled with people that take the Osteens very seriously. And if the only reason their books are ever bought is for gags, well, that’s a lot of gags.

Even so, I was surprised to see an article in response to the clip above that was titled, “In defense of the prosperity gospel.” I was more surprised that the content of the article wasn’t really all that crazy. A sample:

The case for Christian suffering, of course, is easy to make. For evidence, one need look no further than the book of Job or the cross or to the fact that Jesus’ closest apostles died painful deaths as martyrs. Through that prism, you might think the prosperity gospel is absurd.

But what about God’s intent that Adam and Eve have dominion over the Earth? Or the Abrahamic covenant in which God promises to make Abraham “the father of many nations,” promising to “bless those that bless [him]” and curse those who curse him? Heck, the Bible says we should pay tithes “and see if [God] will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Still dismissing the prosperity gospel? Then read Joshua 1:8, which, were it not found in the Bible, you might assume came from Dale Carnegie: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

And what is prosperity in the Christian sense? Much of it boils down to semantics. I heard one preacher put it this way: “Prosperity is having enough of God’s provisions to complete his mission for your life.” Assuming this is true, then it doesn’t mean one necessarily needs a mansion or a fancy car. Having food, health, and a home is prosperity. Or prosperity could mean affluence in the 21st-century American sense of the word.

The other big question is one of motive. Do you believe that prosperity will be a natural byproduct of a deep abiding faith (based on the promises of the aforementioned Scripture) — or do you “worship” God just to get the stuff? The former is perfectly defensible, while the latter is a sin to be avoided.

Okay, I’m still going to roll my eyes when I talk about Joel Osteen, not least because that dude is just flat out creepy looking. Would you buy a used car from that guy? But maybe our approach to the prosperity gospel should be different.

What this article makes me want to do is not defend the prosperity gospel, or even attack it less. Rather, it makes me want to better define the alternative to it.

When I ridicule the prosperity gospel, does that mean that I think that Christians should never be prosperous? Well, no, of course not. So, what does it mean? If I’m not promoting a prosperity gospel, then what am I promoting? (If you just shouted “Jesus!” at the computer, thanks for being that guy who brings every Sunday School discussion to a screeching halt.)

Prosperity gospel is obviously pretty popular. If we think that it’s wrong or that it’s leading people astray, we need to counter it with something more substantive than eye rolls. Maybe we should look at the parts of the Bible that give the prosperity gospel its philosophical foundation and come up with a better way to explain how those parts fit in the non-prosperity gospel. And we should probably get the marketing department to come up with a more appealing name than “non-prosperity gospel.”


1 thought on “Prosperity and the Gospel”

  1. Yeah, I see the point, but the thing is that the gospel (those four books about Jesus’ actual words) don’t really reflect the author’s point. Each of the reference are to examples under the old covenant, while the term “gospel” is typically used specifically to refer to Christ’s revelation of Himself. So while he has a point, there’s plenty of room for criticism of the term “prosperity gospel”—particularly in light of Christ’s admonitions to take up our cross and follow.


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