“Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?” by David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge
46% of self-identifying Christians believe God will make them rich if they have enough faith.
This sobering statistic makes me sad, and sometimes angry, but rarely does it make me compassionate. After reading this book, I’m hopeful that this will become my default reaction to what is commonly known as the prosperity gospel.
As the authors state in the book’s conclusion, “The prosperity gospel is not a harmless movement that is slightly off; rather it is a dangerous movement that has eternal consequences.” Millions of people — including many within Southern Baptist churches — have been deceived by this pervasive system of false teaching, but I have never felt equipped (nor inclined) to do anything more than criticize. While critique is indeed necessary, what is needed more is for Christians to lovingly instruct those influenced (often unknowingly) by prosperity teachings and to bring them into an understanding of the true gospel. That is the purpose of this much needed book.
Jones and Woodbridge — both professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — have compiled a significant amount of scholarly research, combined it with wise pastoral counsel, and packaged it all into a very short little book that manages to be thorough without being overwhelming. They begin by investigating the history of prosperity theology, then address specific errors in the teaching of some of its most prominent proponents, and end by providing a sound, Biblical theology of suffering and giving.
Having never actually looked very deeply into the teachings of the prosperity gospel before — I tried to read Your Best Life Now once to try to understand the appeal, but I couldn’t bear to continue after a few agonizing chapters — I was interested to read about its origins in an intellectual movement called “New Thought”, which had its beginnings in the early 18th century. It was no great shock to see that the foundational doctrines of the “Word-Faith Movement” are simply a recycled godless philosophy with a quasi-Christian veneer slapped on.
What surprised me, though, was how the authors managed to help me see these heretical doctrines through the eyes of those who are deceived by them. Where perhaps I expected to find ammunition for future theological debates, I found something totally unexpected: sympathy. “Think about how devastating this philosophy can be to someone who has cancer,” readers are exhorted. If all that is required to experience healing is enough faith (and maybe a little “seed money” sent to your favorite televangelist), “You are the reason you have cancer. You are at fault.” How tragic!
As I read on through the section that broke down the specific teachings of prosperity preachers from E.W. Kenyon and Kenneth Hagin to Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland, I began to see how hurting people might be drawn to their “ministries”. This is particularly true when it comes to “prosperity lite” teachers such as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen (to whom is devoted an entire lengthy section). Their sermons and writings are often saturated with Scripture, which lends the appearance of wisdom, but they habitually rip verses from their biblical context. When combined with a genuinely likable personality and great marketing, this is a recipe for a large following.
The question that began nagging me about halfway through the book was, “How can I help people who have been caught up in this teaching see that it is a counterfeit gospel?” The answer, of course, is the same way the Secret Service identifies counterfeit currency. If you want to know how to recognize a fake, you’ve got to become intimately familiar with the real thing.
For this reason, the final third of the book is devoted to presenting sound theological principles in place of the distortions of the prosperity gospel. In particular, the authors focus on the Bible’s teachings about suffering, wealth & poverty, and giving. The chapter on suffering is worth the price of the book all by itself!
Of course, there are also practical suggestions for lovingly ministering to those who embrace prosperity theology. These include everything from questions to ask as part of a spiritual self-diagnosis, to ways to start a dialogue about prosperity teachings, to exhortations to pray and preach the gospel. All served as reminders that millions of people are in bondage to false teaching, but Jesus came to set captives free!
Whether or not you know anyone who has been taken in by the “prosperity” message, it is important to be aware of it and able to clearly articulate the genuine the Truth in love. This book will help you do that. Buy it here.