What the prosperity gospel — sometimes called “name and claim it” or the “health-and-wealth gospel” — relies on is a pragmatic spirituality that correlates circumstantial blessings or curses with human strength, achievement, or even faith. Here are 4 ways ordinary evangelicals like you and me sometimes fall prey to a kind of prosperity gospel in our thinking.
You believe the prosperity gospel.
We all do, actually. Or, at least, we all believe some version of it at various points in our lives. Oh, I know you aren’t cheerleading the charlatans on religious television or sending “seed money” for Creflo’s private jet. But the essential theology of the prosperity gospel lies close at heart in each of us.
What the prosperity gospel — sometimes called “name and claim it” or the “health-and-wealth gospel” — relies on is a pragmatic spirituality that correlates circumstantial blessings or curses with human strength, achievement, or even faith. Here are 4 ways ordinary evangelicals like you and me sometimes fall prey to a kind of prosperity gospel in our thinking:
1. We equate struggles with weak faith.
This thinking is a hallmark of the worst kinds of prosperity gospel teaching, in which people are told that their healing is contingent on the size of their faith. We obviously reject that mentality as it pertains to that world, but in our world we very often tell people who struggle to “have faith,” as if it is some kind of force field from trouble. As if Christians who “act right” and believe strongly achieve some kind of higher level of existence less entangled from struggles or suffering. We affirm this kind of prosperity thinking whenever we repeat the trite dictum “let go and let God,” for instance.
The problem with this, biblically speaking, is that we have numerous examples both in our own lives and in the pages of Scripture of dear saints who were afflicted despite and in their faith. We see in fact that faith is made precisely for the experience of living in a fallen world, where if everything went smoothly and we never hurt, we wouldn’t need reliance on Jesus as much, would we? So when we tell others to trust God in the midst of their suffering, we do well. He is sovereign and he can be trusted to work all things together for our good. But when we tell others to trust God to avoid their struggles, we promise something God himself does not promsise.
We do this, for instance, every time we engage in pragmatic teaching that divorces the imperatives of Scripture from the indicatives, every time we suggest that if Christians just follow steps 1, 2, and 3, they can achieve victory or unlock blessings or become improved or successful in certain areas of life.
But life is much more messy than that. And faith is much less formulaic. “In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus said. And we contradict him when we imply or outright say that people wouldn’t face struggles if they just had stronger faith.
2. We equate circumstantial blessings with spiritual maturity.
There are numerous biblical exhortations to wisdom, prudence, and hard work that speak to material or other circumstantial blessings that result — wealth, for instance, or even physical comfort. And yet when we formulize these exhortations — “Rich people do rich people things,” as one religious spokesperson has recently claimed — we suck the nuance out of biblical wisdom and the texts out of their larger context.
For example, this happens whenever we make blanket statements about the poor, urging hard work as the alleviation for poverty. While it is certainly true that in many places and for many people, hard work earns material blessings, it is not true that it always does. Many poor persons work very hard, but for various reasons beyond their control, their circumstances do not much change. We tend to “flatten out” our considerations of wealth and poverty or success and failure, and when we do so, we must take care that we are not claiming a kind of personal superiority for ourselves that is evidenced by our material blessings. The claim is subtle, not often believed explicitly, but it’s a danger nonetheless.