Blessed: The Prosperity Gospel in (and Beyond) America

I can’t help but wonder whether history will show that America’s most prominent export in this period of history was not goods or services at all, but a movement most commonly called the prosperity gospel.

“The movement goes by different names,” says Kate Bowler, “ranging from the slightly pejorative (Health and Wealth or Name It and Claim It) to the vaguely descriptive (Faith or Word of Faith) to the blunt shorthand, the prosperity gospel. Though it is hard to describe, it is easy to find.” This movement that began in America—and could only have begun in America—rapidly spread across the world so that today it is the dominant expression of Christianity in nations stretching across the globe. To many of its adherents, it is Christianity. 

 

The United States has a dominant economy and is a powerhouse for exporting goods to other nations. What is America’s most significant export? Answers vary by time and criteria, but most experts point to products related to food or to petroleum. Across all categories, more than $2 trillion in goods and services are sold to foreign businesses each year. But I can’t help but wonder whether history will show that America’s most prominent export in this period of history was not goods or services at all, but a movement most commonly called the prosperity gospel. This movement is the subject of the book Blessed, a fascinating history of America’s prosperity gospel.

“The movement goes by different names,” says Kate Bowler, “ranging from the slightly pejorative (Health and Wealth or Name It and Claim It) to the vaguely descriptive (Faith or Word of Faith) to the blunt shorthand, the prosperity gospel. Though it is hard to describe, it is easy to find.” This movement that began in America—and could only have begun in America—rapidly spread across the world so that today it is the dominant expression of Christianity in nations stretching across the globe. To many of its adherents, it is Christianity. Bowler’s purpose in writing about it is to “show how millions of American Christians came to see money, health, and good fortune as divine.” To do this she follows three lines of argumentation. First, she introduces many of the major figures and features from the movement’s slow but sure development in the twentieth century. Then she shows how the prosperity gospel represents not merely a theological movement but a “transformation of popular religious imagination that has not yet ended.” Finally, she attempts to point out the major themes of the prosperity gospel movement.

It is these themes that receive the bulk of her attention, and she hones in on four of them: faith, wealth, health, and victory.

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