Jesus spoke a lot about money, and He didnt’ usually have flattering things to say about it.either. I led a discussion tonight about the Prosperity ‘Gospel’ in one of my classes at Union-PSCE.
Several of the other students made some very good points. One person brought up that the prosperity teaching is very me-focused whereas Jesus spoke a lot about community and loving others. Another student mentioned that the prosperity message acts as if only wealthy people are truly happy. She recounted experiences abroad where she had met many happy people who had very little.
Another person seconded this idea and pointed to wealthy people he knew that were miserable.
I was asked how I felt this message impacted American perceptions of the true Christian Gospel. I said that I believe it reflects national sins as well as problems within the church where many people are selfish and not aware of apostate teaching. This is because many Christians in America know very little about Scripture and just believe what the guy on the TV says is true. People are not taught to be discerning. Many so-called Christians in America are lazy. I don’t know if I can lay the blame for all of this at the feet of prosperity preachers. I believe it shows deep inner problems within our society and culture where the American Church is so easily enticed to idolatry. Maybe these voices merely bring out what is deep within us?
Professor Adams suggested that he can’t so easily give a pass to prosperity preachers regarding their culpability, especially for those in Third World countries that have fallen prey to their message. I guess I can see his point because my time in Kenya showed me that we have exported some of the worst parts of American Christianity to others parts of the world.
A female student defended Osteen saying that her grandparents love to listen to him. Her grandfather used to be an addict who is inspired by his positive message.
I recognized the contribution of the positive and hopeful message preached by the prosperity preachers. They do encourage people to hope and strive to take practical steps to better their life. They have inspired people to change. But at the same time I asked, “What makes this different than listening to Oprah?” Where is Jesus in this gospel?
I did agree that the prosperity megachurches attract a diverse group of people. Many of them would never go to a mainline denomination church. They use media well and help people come to realize that God is not angry with them. One student pointed out that this mass appeal should not be used as a measuring stick if these ministers abandon the crux of the true Gospel in the process. It is true that just because something is popular that fact alone doesn’t make it right.
One of the biggest problems is how people consume the prosperity message. They hear the hope part but aren’t willing to live the life of faith required to realize God’s best. They want to see miracles without spending lot of time on their knees. They want a quick fix instead of a deep life of discipleship. But that is not necessarily how it works. Faith is birthed in the midst of trial, lament and suffering.
Our greatest freedom and blessing came through Jesus’ death on the cross. That was far from easy. Jesus had to endure incredible hardship for the joy that was set before Him. Why should it be any different for His followers? The fact that I don’t struggle every day to find food makes me wonder how strong my faith really is. I don’t want to glamorize poverity. But it is true that sometimes we experience God the most in times of material want not abundance.
Osteen pointed to Job in his book. In the end, Job received twice what he had lost. But he still had to go through almost 40 chapters of pain, questioning, petition, lament, weeping and suffering before receiving restoration and blessing.
While my class didn’t reach any firm conclusions, we did realize that the prosperity ‘gospel’ does have a few legitimate points to make to mainline churches. At the same time, it lacks a sense of perspective overlooking many contrary passage of Scripture. It is far from complete and can’t be treated as a formula that works every time. A lack of discernment has led many to be duped or abuse these teachings.
I think we should dialogue more on the topic and honestly discuss the merits and errors of the teaching based on Scripture, common sense thought and faith.