Evaluating the Prosperity Movement

01 Feb

You’ve heard of the Prosperity Gospel, haven’t you? Essentially, it is the “good news” that Jesus came to deliver people like you and me from poverty, problems, financial ruin… to “save” us to a life of success, blessing, and prosperity. This is the “gospel” preached by people like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and many (but certainly not all) preachers in more extreme versions of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements.

Theopedia remarks: “Prosperity gospel supporters ‘believe that faith works as a mighty power or force. That it is through their faith that they can obtain anything they want such as health, wealth, or any form of personal success. However, this force is only released through their faith.’[1] Adherents of the Prosperity Gospel, almost always also part of the word of faith movement, usually hold to the tenet that God never grants suffering or poverty, and that both always should be attributed to sin and Satan in every way, and in no way attributed to God. For example, Kenneth Copeland writes,

‘Tradition has taught that God uses sicknesses, trials, and tribulation to teach us. This idea, however, is not based on the Bible. God has never used sickness to discipline His children and keep them in line. Sickness is of Satan, and God doesn’t need Satan to straight us out! “Kenneth, I see Christians that are sick all the time. Why does God allow it?” God allows it because we do. Why? Because He’s given us the right to make our own choices, along with authority over the kingdom of darkness. According to Deuteronomy 30:19, He has put life and death before us. Then He instructed us to choose life. It’s up to us to make that decision. You have the power to live after God’s ways and resist sickness, or not to. You have the choice to let Satan run over you, or use the authority you have been given. Good gifts come from God. No matter what tradition has taught, sickness and disease simply don’t fall into the category of good gifts—ever.’[2]

Sadly, this is the version of Christianity that many third world countries have bought into hook-line-and-sinker. Missionary Seth Meyers of South Africa, on his blog, points out the following errors of this interpretation of the gospel message:

  1. The prosperity gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. The prosperity gospel urges sinners to commit idolatry.
  3. The prosperity gospel denies God’s sovereign purposes for pain as revealed in Scripture.
  4. The prosperity gospel ignores Biblical teaching on wealth.
  5. The prosperity gospel discourages logical thought about the Bible, a work ethic, sickness, economics, and politics.
  6. The prosperity gospel requires other heresies to support it such as deification and positive confession.
  7. The prosperity gospel inoculates people from hearing the truth because they think they already know Gospel.
  8. The prosperity gospel has never been accepted in the Christian church until the 1980’s.
  9. The prosperity gospel contradicts the lives of the many godly but poor believers in the Bible and history.

Theopedia also offers the following points in evaluation of this movement:

God himself is the chief blessing

While it is true that God often shows his goodness by granting health and wealth, we must see these as secondary blessings. The primary blessing is knowing God himself (Psalm 27:4John 17:3), and all secondary blessing is meant to point to him. We will enjoy health and material blessing to a degree unfathomable at the resurrection, but while on this fallen earth, preparing in a spiritual battle for either heaven or hell, we must remember the words of Proverbs:

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9)

Jesus warned of the danger of wealth

Jesus frequently warned against the allure of wealth. In Matthew 19, after Jesus told the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (v. 21), he said:

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24) And in Matthew 6:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) And in Luke 6:

“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25)

Suffering is a blessed means of producing endurance and testing genuineness

When we define (either implicitly or explicitly) blessedness chiefly as having material things and good health, and obligate God to bless us with these things, we ignore scripture which speaks of the sufferings of the followers of Christ as a badge of honor, and a means of producing endurance and testing genuineness. Paul wrote,

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29, emphasis added). “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, emphasis added) Peter wrote,

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, emphasis added) And we have David saying,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71) And lastly, James writes a sober warning to those who have “lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence”:

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” (James 5:1-5)

God’s goodness is not bound by our exacting demands

The theology of the Prosperity Gospel also distrusts God’s higher prerogative and wisdom and sovereignty–God has the final, supreme right to answer our prayers how and when he pleases. His wise goodness is not bound by our exacting demands.

Pastor Micah Colbert at


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