The Prosperity Gospel and the Megachurches

In her article Did Christianity Cause the Crash? – The Atlantic (December 2009), Hanna Rosin points to the connection between the “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that God will make you rich if you only have enough faith–by which is meant positive thinking–and America’s megachurches:

Among mainstream, nondenominational megachurches, where much of American religious life takes place, “prosperity is proliferating” rapidly, says Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University and an expert in the gospel. Few, if any, of these churches have prosperity in their title or mission statement, but Bowler has analyzed their sermons and teachings. Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful. It’s an upbeat theology, argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Bright-Sided, that has much in common with the kind of “positive thinking” that has come to dominate America’s boardrooms and, indeed, its entire culture.

It seems clear to me that, unless I am missing something, the prosperity gospel is a different gospel than that taught in Scripture–namely, Christ crucified for sinners–and that it constitutes a new religion, and not Christianity at all. (Am I wrong? I’d be glad to hear otherwise.)

This seems to be largely a phenomenon among African-Americans, Hispanics, and poor people in general who get caught up in big dreams sold to them by their preachers. Does anyone know if it has penetrated to the white suburban megachurches? (Rick Warren, for one, condemns the teaching.) Does it show up (I shudder to think) in any Lutheran churches?


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