What Is the Prosperity Gospel?

The prosperity gospel error is the idea that faithfulness to God necessarily results in material prosperity

Instead of faith being the rational trust in the proclaimed Word of God in accord with available evidence, the faith of prosperity gospel adherents is positive thinking and expectation of God’s material blessing. Positive thinking, called faith, necessarily results in material blessings if it is sincere. This is the simple law of faith according to the prosperity gospel.

 

One error Christians can make in their understanding of money is to think wealth is inherently sinful, and creating and accruing wealth is contrary to God’s plan. In fact, wealth creation and proper stewardship are consistent with human flourishing.

A twin error to the disparagement of wealth is the idea that faithfulness to God necessarily results in material prosperity. This second error is often called the prosperity gospel, or the health-and-wealth gospel.

In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert note,

At its core, the health-and-wealth gospel teaches that God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of wealth. 

In other words, wealth and holiness are intrinsically and linearly connected: the more holy you are, the richer you will be.

David Wayne Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge explain in their book,  Health, Wealth, and Happiness, how important it is for Christians to have a right understanding of the relationship between faith and prosperity. The direct connection between faith and wealth described by prosperity gospel preachers fails to provide an adequate basis for understanding why faithful Christians sometimes suffer, or why the unrighteous sometimes prosper.

That right understanding between faith and prosperity is what this three-part series seeks to set straight. This first post explains the prosperity gospel. Subsequent posts detail the biblical and economic responses to this teaching.

A Brief History of the Prosperity Gospel

Kate Bowler’s recent book, Blessed, traces the history of the prosperity gospel in America. Bowler explains that the prosperity gospel movement rose out of the New Thought movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. New Thought’s central thesis is that there is hidden power within everyone that is meant to be unlocked through positive thinking.

According to Bowler,

People shaped their own worlds by their thinking, just as God had created the world using thought. Positive thoughts yielded positive circumstances, and negative thoughts yielded negative situations. 

In the years following World War II, the resurgence of prosperity in the United States encouraged some evangelists to seek miraculous healings and supernatural financial blessings. Apparent successes were heralded as evidence of the truth of their version of the gospel. Failures could be blamed on a lack of faith in those seeking the miracles. The key to gaining supernatural health and wealth was consistent positive thought.

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Read Part 2