Those Christians caused the economy to crash!

Throughout history, societies facing a crisis have blamed unpopular minority groups, turning them into scapegoats. Jews were the frequent victims. Now, The Atlantic Magazine publishes an article entitled Did Christianity Cause the Crash?.

The thesis is that all of the believers in the “prosperity gospel” were encouraged by their megachurches to take big risks that brought the economy down. The author cites lots of poor people who testified about how God gave them a house, even though they had no money and bad credit.

There may be a point here about the churches in poor communities. But the prosperity gospel is so alien to any kind of orthodox Christianity that to say “Christianity caused the crash” is surely guilt by association, scapegoating a religion by citing people who really don’t follow it.

Still, the article is an interesting window into the prosperity gospel phenomenon. I’ll blog more on that tomorrow.

HT: Jackie

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    I really don’t see this article as scapegoating Christians. It’s careful to point out, repeatedly, that it’s talking about a strange new branch of Christianity. Not the historic, theologically-orthodox Christian faith.

  • Tom Hering

    I really don’t see this article as scapegoating Christians. It’s careful to point out, repeatedly, that it’s talking about a strange new branch of Christianity. Not the historic, theologically-orthodox Christian faith.

  • Kirk

    NAME IT AND CLAIM IT!

  • Kirk

    NAME IT AND CLAIM IT!

  • Ruthie

    I encourage you, and all blog readers to write a letter to the editor explaining how prosperity gospel is foreign to orthodox christianity. Just as being pro-abortion, like Obama’s church is not what the Bible teaches.

  • Ruthie

    I encourage you, and all blog readers to write a letter to the editor explaining how prosperity gospel is foreign to orthodox christianity. Just as being pro-abortion, like Obama’s church is not what the Bible teaches.

  • Garry

    I’m not sure the ‘prosperity’ gospel is all that foreign. For centuries, particularly in America, poverty has been considered a moral failing, indicative of God’s punishment or abandonment. Riches, or at least a comfortable living, on the other hand, has been as a sign of His blessing. Financial properity = blessings from God. Poverty = cursing from God.

    Certainly in my former Lutheran church the attitude was that the poor could be helped (not by the gov’t, of course, but by throwing a few nickels their way) only if they showed themselves worthy of help, i.e., promised not to use charity to buy anything that could entertain them. But the fact that the poor were looked down on, while the rich were looked up to, shows that the ‘prosperity’ gospel was believed even in churches that would rightly cringe at the more crass ‘name it and claim it’ brand Kirk refers to.

  • Garry

    I’m not sure the ‘prosperity’ gospel is all that foreign. For centuries, particularly in America, poverty has been considered a moral failing, indicative of God’s punishment or abandonment. Riches, or at least a comfortable living, on the other hand, has been as a sign of His blessing. Financial properity = blessings from God. Poverty = cursing from God.

    Certainly in my former Lutheran church the attitude was that the poor could be helped (not by the gov’t, of course, but by throwing a few nickels their way) only if they showed themselves worthy of help, i.e., promised not to use charity to buy anything that could entertain them. But the fact that the poor were looked down on, while the rich were looked up to, shows that the ‘prosperity’ gospel was believed even in churches that would rightly cringe at the more crass ‘name it and claim it’ brand Kirk refers to.

  • Joe

    Gerry wrote:

    “only if they showed themselves worthy of help, i.e., promised not to use charity to buy anything that could entertain them.”

    I obviously have no idea what your experience was, but in general the attempt to limit the charity to needs is not aimed at proving the poor guy is worthy, it is an attempt by the church to be good stewards of its resources. If I have only X dollars to give I can help more people if the people receiving the help restrict the use of the money to necessities. It is not about the poor guy being worthy it is about the giver’s obligation to be a good steward of the things that God has given to him.

  • Joe

    Gerry wrote:

    “only if they showed themselves worthy of help, i.e., promised not to use charity to buy anything that could entertain them.”

    I obviously have no idea what your experience was, but in general the attempt to limit the charity to needs is not aimed at proving the poor guy is worthy, it is an attempt by the church to be good stewards of its resources. If I have only X dollars to give I can help more people if the people receiving the help restrict the use of the money to necessities. It is not about the poor guy being worthy it is about the giver’s obligation to be a good steward of the things that God has given to him.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Garry,
    I thought providing for the poor man’s entertainment was the reason we have a legal drinking age at 21! That way teenagers can pay for the poor man’s entertainment, by giving him extra for a 40 when he buys a pint for the young man and his friends.
    I do think Joe is a bit more in line with the reasoning. Well I hope he is. I thin we can often be a bit more charitable to the church.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Garry,
    I thought providing for the poor man’s entertainment was the reason we have a legal drinking age at 21! That way teenagers can pay for the poor man’s entertainment, by giving him extra for a 40 when he buys a pint for the young man and his friends.
    I do think Joe is a bit more in line with the reasoning. Well I hope he is. I thin we can often be a bit more charitable to the church.

  • DonS

    The premise of the article is hogwash. It is completely anecdotal, and to assert that it was the desires of a few congregations of lower income folks to raise themselves economically that caused the crash is absurd. Our federal government has a $12 trillion debt, and some $60 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Joel Osteen’s congregation didn’t cause that problem. If I want to buy a home that I can’t afford on my income, I cannot buy it unless a lender approves my loan application. Lenders don’t approve loan applications based on the faith of the applicants. The reason why so many lenders approved bad loans is because the government guaranteed them and created a secondary market for them.

    Of course, Hannah Rosin, the author of this article, also wrote “God’s Harvard”, about Patrick Henry College. Her anti-Christian bias is clear. This is not to say that I am a fan of the prosperity gospel movement. I hate it, as it is completely unbiblical. Many pastors in the movement appear to be hucksters, playing to an economically disadvantaged congregation struggling to get ahead. But prosperity gospel principles go back to New Testament times. How many followers of Christ were disappointed to learn that He was not then coming to triumphantly rule on earth? That His kingdom was to come in a future Age? They so wanted to be immediately free of the oppression of the Roman empire.

  • DonS

    The premise of the article is hogwash. It is completely anecdotal, and to assert that it was the desires of a few congregations of lower income folks to raise themselves economically that caused the crash is absurd. Our federal government has a $12 trillion debt, and some $60 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Joel Osteen’s congregation didn’t cause that problem. If I want to buy a home that I can’t afford on my income, I cannot buy it unless a lender approves my loan application. Lenders don’t approve loan applications based on the faith of the applicants. The reason why so many lenders approved bad loans is because the government guaranteed them and created a secondary market for them.

    Of course, Hannah Rosin, the author of this article, also wrote “God’s Harvard”, about Patrick Henry College. Her anti-Christian bias is clear. This is not to say that I am a fan of the prosperity gospel movement. I hate it, as it is completely unbiblical. Many pastors in the movement appear to be hucksters, playing to an economically disadvantaged congregation struggling to get ahead. But prosperity gospel principles go back to New Testament times. How many followers of Christ were disappointed to learn that He was not then coming to triumphantly rule on earth? That His kingdom was to come in a future Age? They so wanted to be immediately free of the oppression of the Roman empire.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’ll see this as a contributor–along with a lot of government programs building an entitlement mentality.

    And regarding worth tests for helping the poor; having done some ministry in poor areas (Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Sunago Covenant in Compton CA, homeless shelter in Boulder, crisis pregnancy centers in Boulder and Minneapolis), I can attest to the fact that there are few crueler things to the poor than to give them “help” without insisting on some standards of behavior.

    Some of the poor are poor through no fault of their own, but too many are poor because of choices they’ve made–having kids without getting married, failing to graduate from high school, failing to develop the skills needed to hold a basic job, and substance abuse are four big areas where a little bit of “external discipline” can really help the poor far more than any amount of misguided charity without that guidance.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’ll see this as a contributor–along with a lot of government programs building an entitlement mentality.

    And regarding worth tests for helping the poor; having done some ministry in poor areas (Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Sunago Covenant in Compton CA, homeless shelter in Boulder, crisis pregnancy centers in Boulder and Minneapolis), I can attest to the fact that there are few crueler things to the poor than to give them “help” without insisting on some standards of behavior.

    Some of the poor are poor through no fault of their own, but too many are poor because of choices they’ve made–having kids without getting married, failing to graduate from high school, failing to develop the skills needed to hold a basic job, and substance abuse are four big areas where a little bit of “external discipline” can really help the poor far more than any amount of misguided charity without that guidance.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “Some of the poor are poor through no fault of their own, but too many are poor because of choices they’ve made–having kids without getting married, failing to graduate from high school, failing to develop the skills needed to hold a basic job, and substance abuse are four big areas where a little bit of “external discipline” can really help the poor far more than any amount of misguided charity without that guidance.”

    bike quite frankly I think this is just the sort of self righteousness that Garry was talking about. We have all made some very poor choices in life. I know I have. Kids’ our of wedlock? Really, you know how many rich people I know with kids out of wedlock? And i would much rather them have the kids, then abort them. Bible tends to see them as the ultimate in riches.
    Failing to graduate High School? Are you serious? The best thing I ever did was quit high school. In fact, graduating from a public high school probably has more to do with holding a person back than anything else. Putting up with that liberal propaganda takes quite a bit of gullibility these days. And when people who can’t read at a third grade level graduate, it is hard for me to believe that not having that diploma is the reason for being poor, or not finding a job.
    Basic job skills are helpful in life, but again there are plenty of rich and middle class these days that wouldn’t be able to hold a job if their dad didn’t own the company.
    Substance abuse? Quite prominent among middle class and the rich, and often doesn’t hold them back at all.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “Some of the poor are poor through no fault of their own, but too many are poor because of choices they’ve made–having kids without getting married, failing to graduate from high school, failing to develop the skills needed to hold a basic job, and substance abuse are four big areas where a little bit of “external discipline” can really help the poor far more than any amount of misguided charity without that guidance.”

    bike quite frankly I think this is just the sort of self righteousness that Garry was talking about. We have all made some very poor choices in life. I know I have. Kids’ our of wedlock? Really, you know how many rich people I know with kids out of wedlock? And i would much rather them have the kids, then abort them. Bible tends to see them as the ultimate in riches.
    Failing to graduate High School? Are you serious? The best thing I ever did was quit high school. In fact, graduating from a public high school probably has more to do with holding a person back than anything else. Putting up with that liberal propaganda takes quite a bit of gullibility these days. And when people who can’t read at a third grade level graduate, it is hard for me to believe that not having that diploma is the reason for being poor, or not finding a job.
    Basic job skills are helpful in life, but again there are plenty of rich and middle class these days that wouldn’t be able to hold a job if their dad didn’t own the company.
    Substance abuse? Quite prominent among middle class and the rich, and often doesn’t hold them back at all.

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    I actually thought that Rosin did a fair job of delineating between the prosperity gospel and the scriptural gospel, especially through the first few paragraphs. She makes it clear that while prosperity is held by many Christians, that mainline Evangelicals and most non-pentecostal churches hold it to be false. True, she doesn’t share the real gospel, but I wouldn’t really expect that.

    To be fair, though, what she said is anecdotal speculation. My take away from the article wasn’t that prosperity types caused the crash, but that their teaching was fueled by the circumstances that allowed the recession to occur. I think the most you can say, really, is that prosperity types contributed to the larger group of the irresponsible middle class that fell head over heals for sub-prime mortgages and predatory loans. Was the prosperity gospel the cause? Not in an of itself. But the general mindset that it perpetuated did contribute to the general irresponsibility surrounding the housing market.

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    I actually thought that Rosin did a fair job of delineating between the prosperity gospel and the scriptural gospel, especially through the first few paragraphs. She makes it clear that while prosperity is held by many Christians, that mainline Evangelicals and most non-pentecostal churches hold it to be false. True, she doesn’t share the real gospel, but I wouldn’t really expect that.

    To be fair, though, what she said is anecdotal speculation. My take away from the article wasn’t that prosperity types caused the crash, but that their teaching was fueled by the circumstances that allowed the recession to occur. I think the most you can say, really, is that prosperity types contributed to the larger group of the irresponsible middle class that fell head over heals for sub-prime mortgages and predatory loans. Was the prosperity gospel the cause? Not in an of itself. But the general mindset that it perpetuated did contribute to the general irresponsibility surrounding the housing market.

  • Peter Leavitt

    This recession was caused by a combination of easy credit standards forced by government policy, Fed easy money policy. and a failure of Wall Street to properly manage risk. The clueless Atlantic writer, Hanna Rosin, is a garden variety cultured despiser of the Christian religion.

    As to Prosperity Gospel, it makes an idol of economic success that has nothing to do with orthodox Christian Gospel and Law.

    I agree with Bike that much of the poverty in America comes from poor choices. It is well known that if one graduates from high school, stays married, and sober away from alcohol and drugs, the odds are strong to escape poverty. Should one become a serious Christian, the odds become even stronger, though this is no argument for the delusion of the Prosperity Gospel.

  • Peter Leavitt

    This recession was caused by a combination of easy credit standards forced by government policy, Fed easy money policy. and a failure of Wall Street to properly manage risk. The clueless Atlantic writer, Hanna Rosin, is a garden variety cultured despiser of the Christian religion.

    As to Prosperity Gospel, it makes an idol of economic success that has nothing to do with orthodox Christian Gospel and Law.

    I agree with Bike that much of the poverty in America comes from poor choices. It is well known that if one graduates from high school, stays married, and sober away from alcohol and drugs, the odds are strong to escape poverty. Should one become a serious Christian, the odds become even stronger, though this is no argument for the delusion of the Prosperity Gospel.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter,
    Hmm, by all accounts except possibly the one about being Christian, though that was no choice of my own, I should be the poorest man in the U.S. according to your logic.
    God knows I haven’t kept sober. Divorced, and a high school drop out. But I make a fare living.
    I dare say that if most of the middle and upper classes weren’t born there, they would never get there. A person can pull themselves up, not saying they can’t. But most haven’t.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter,
    Hmm, by all accounts except possibly the one about being Christian, though that was no choice of my own, I should be the poorest man in the U.S. according to your logic.
    God knows I haven’t kept sober. Divorced, and a high school drop out. But I make a fare living.
    I dare say that if most of the middle and upper classes weren’t born there, they would never get there. A person can pull themselves up, not saying they can’t. But most haven’t.

  • DonS

    Kirk @ 10: But, the title of the article is “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?”. That’s the headline. And I can’t find in the article where Ms. Rosin answered that question with a resounding “no”. Even though she provided no non-anecdotal evidence, whatsoever, to justify even asking the question posed in the title.

  • DonS

    Kirk @ 10: But, the title of the article is “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?”. That’s the headline. And I can’t find in the article where Ms. Rosin answered that question with a resounding “no”. Even though she provided no non-anecdotal evidence, whatsoever, to justify even asking the question posed in the title.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Bror, you’re one of the exceptions that proves the rule. I do appreciate your candor.

    Actually, quite a few people from working-class families manage to avoid poverty; not a few of them become highly successful

  • Peter Leavitt

    Bror, you’re one of the exceptions that proves the rule. I do appreciate your candor.

    Actually, quite a few people from working-class families manage to avoid poverty; not a few of them become highly successful

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    That is true, and it is a shame that she wasn’t a bit more genuine. On the other hand “Did certain Pentacostal, prosperity gospel beleiving Christians potentially contribute to the crash?” wouldn’t have sold as well as the actual title, even if it is more in line with the content of the article. Even so, the premise and the title are definitely flawed,

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    That is true, and it is a shame that she wasn’t a bit more genuine. On the other hand “Did certain Pentacostal, prosperity gospel beleiving Christians potentially contribute to the crash?” wouldn’t have sold as well as the actual title, even if it is more in line with the content of the article. Even so, the premise and the title are definitely flawed,

  • DonS

    LOL. OK, Kirk, I think we are getting close. How about “Did certain Pentacostal, prosperity gospel believing Christians potentially contribute to the crash, along with the other 300 Million Americans who thought we could live on credit forever?”

  • DonS

    LOL. OK, Kirk, I think we are getting close. How about “Did certain Pentacostal, prosperity gospel believing Christians potentially contribute to the crash, along with the other 300 Million Americans who thought we could live on credit forever?”

  • http://www.thinkingchristian.net Tom Gilson

    But the evangelicals also curbed the housing bubble per the New York Times!

  • http://www.thinkingchristian.net Tom Gilson

    But the evangelicals also curbed the housing bubble per the New York Times!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, here’s my source:

    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams051105.asp

    Statistically speaking, nothing correlates to poverty like having babies out of wedlock, dropping out of high school, intoxication, and laziness.

    And I fail to see what is “self-righteous” about teaching 1 Cor. 6:18, Proverbs 24:30-34, Proverbs 23:20-1, and Proverbs 1:20-33. There are Biblical consequences to fornication, laziness, drunkenness, and foolishness, and the person who will not mix this instruction with his ministry to the poor hates them.

    Reality here is that yes, prosperity Gospel believers DID contribute to our economic troubles, and yes, anyone who would minister to the poor owes them the Bible’s lesson, put into modern terms by Dr. Williams.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, here’s my source:

    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams051105.asp

    Statistically speaking, nothing correlates to poverty like having babies out of wedlock, dropping out of high school, intoxication, and laziness.

    And I fail to see what is “self-righteous” about teaching 1 Cor. 6:18, Proverbs 24:30-34, Proverbs 23:20-1, and Proverbs 1:20-33. There are Biblical consequences to fornication, laziness, drunkenness, and foolishness, and the person who will not mix this instruction with his ministry to the poor hates them.

    Reality here is that yes, prosperity Gospel believers DID contribute to our economic troubles, and yes, anyone who would minister to the poor owes them the Bible’s lesson, put into modern terms by Dr. Williams.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Bike Bubba,
    I don’t doubt that there is a correlation there, but is there a cause and effect? I dare say you would probably find a correlation to these things and prosperity too! If you only looked.

    now not seeing anything in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that has to do with you enjoying prosperity or poverty, I’ll conceded the verses in proverbs. I have already said one can pull himself up. But if you want to geve the people a bible lesson, I suggest you find something that talks about Christ and the forgiveness of sins. What is self righteous is you think you are so blessed because you actually accomplished avoiding these sins. and I very much doubt you have or that is the reason you are where you are.
    Perhaps the rest of us need a Bible lesson concerning the oppression of the poor, not paying fair wages, thrusting aside the sojourner, etc. The law cuts in every which way, the poor and the rich.

  • http://www.utah-luthern.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Bike Bubba,
    I don’t doubt that there is a correlation there, but is there a cause and effect? I dare say you would probably find a correlation to these things and prosperity too! If you only looked.

    now not seeing anything in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that has to do with you enjoying prosperity or poverty, I’ll conceded the verses in proverbs. I have already said one can pull himself up. But if you want to geve the people a bible lesson, I suggest you find something that talks about Christ and the forgiveness of sins. What is self righteous is you think you are so blessed because you actually accomplished avoiding these sins. and I very much doubt you have or that is the reason you are where you are.
    Perhaps the rest of us need a Bible lesson concerning the oppression of the poor, not paying fair wages, thrusting aside the sojourner, etc. The law cuts in every which way, the poor and the rich.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, are you going to seriously debate that work, sobriety, marriage, and education are causal factors leading to prosperity? One would figure that a quick look at a “paycheck” would disabuse any thinking person of that notion.

    And no, it is not self-righteousness to point out the temporal benefits of obeying God’s Word. If it were, we’d have to castigate Moses for Exodus 20:12, and Solomon for the entire text of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Self-righteousness is to see one as worthy before God due to works, not simply to mention the temporal benefits of obedience to God’s Word. Unfortunately, those like Sojourners have hopelessly confused the issue and nomenclature.

    But if I really wanted be absolutely cruel to a man, I would follow their advice and tell a man who’s never held a steady job in his life that his problem is not his unwillingness to get and keep a job, but rather that he’s somehow undercompensated.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, are you going to seriously debate that work, sobriety, marriage, and education are causal factors leading to prosperity? One would figure that a quick look at a “paycheck” would disabuse any thinking person of that notion.

    And no, it is not self-righteousness to point out the temporal benefits of obeying God’s Word. If it were, we’d have to castigate Moses for Exodus 20:12, and Solomon for the entire text of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Self-righteousness is to see one as worthy before God due to works, not simply to mention the temporal benefits of obedience to God’s Word. Unfortunately, those like Sojourners have hopelessly confused the issue and nomenclature.

    But if I really wanted be absolutely cruel to a man, I would follow their advice and tell a man who’s never held a steady job in his life that his problem is not his unwillingness to get and keep a job, but rather that he’s somehow undercompensated.

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