The “Prosperity Gospel” makes news

This article was published in the St.Catharines Standard.

For decades the “prosperity gospel” has been a hot topic of debate within the evangelical movement. Lately it has caught the attention of the secular media, including the Guardian in the UK and ABC News. As far back as 2006 Time magazine featured the, so called, Prosperity Movement in a piece entitled “Does God want you to be rich?” Lately it is the indictment on fraud charges by Brazilian prosecutors against prosperity preacher Bishop Edir Macedor has caught the attention of the news media.

In United States some writers, including Republican Andrew Sullivan, have tried to put it within a bigger picture, suggesting that the prosperity gospel, which he calls “idiotic”, has influenced the Tea Party. In a Time poll, 17% of American Christians claimed that they consider themselves to be a part of prosperity gospel movement, while 61% acknowledged they believe that God wants people to prosper. 31% agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. Like it or not, this movement has spread way beyond America, and it is influencing millions in South-America, Africa, Asia, and also in Canada.

The often quoted evangelical theologian John Piper claims, “This is another gospel, not the Christian one”. He goes as far as stating that having riches is a curse, though in the same breath he acknowledges that in heaven we will have super-abundant riches. This triggers the question: Isn’t heaven a place, where evil is absent? How could a “curse” in this life become a “blessing” in the hereafter?

It is hard to find a balanced approach when the prosperity gospel is discussed. As much as Piper’s statement, glorifying poverty in this life, causes my stomach to cringe, prosperity preachers who propagate wealth with a selfish motive of hoarding luxury goods and luxury properties, while followers remain in poverty, is equally distasteful.

I am frequently asked if I am a prosperity preacher, and what my opinion is. Here are some thoughts:

The idea that poverty is a “blessing” is not from the Bible, but is rooted in religious traditions from the Middle Ages. When monks and priests take a vow of poverty, it indicates that poverty is a sign of extra devotion towards the Lord. This is in stark contrast to the narrative about the patriarchs and even the apostles. The Biblical heroes, whether Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David or Paul, were all rich, or had at least access to substantial amounts of money.

The Christian view is stewardship, not ownership. We are stewards, handlers, of the resources God has put on earth, and specifically the ones in our hand.

Christian prosperity is for a purpose. We can’t give money to help the poor, as the Bible mandates, if we are poor ourselves.  To allow the excessive, self-centered lifestyle of a few, to poison it for everyone else, isn’t helpful, least of all those, who really need our help. For those who view Christ’s Gospel as a “get rich quick” scheme, riches are indeed a “curse”, but for those, who use money for God’s purposes on earth, including helping the poor, money is a blessing.

Jesus exemplifies both poverty and wealth; He received gold, frankincense and myrrh already when He was a baby. Not a bad start. Later on He received money from wealthy donors as recorded in the gospel of Luke. Then we see Jesus in abject poverty, “naked and in want of all things”, on the cross. The Apostle Paul fits it all together, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9).

What’s my take on the prosperity gospel? I say “yes” to a good life and prosperity for the many people I know, who sincerely care about the needs of others, but “no” to an opulent, self-centered lifestyle.

Poverty is not a blessing, as Mr. Piper insists. The only person who could honestly make such a statement, is one, who has never been poor him or herself. Money is a good thing when used properly; it is the “love of money” that is “a root of all kinds of evil”.

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