Is the “Prosperity Gospel” Real Liberation (for Oppressed Minorities)?

Is the “Prosperity Gospel” Real Liberation (for Oppressed Minorities)?

            This week I visited a mainline Protestant seminary and sat in on several classes. Teachers should do that from time to time. Being an observer of one’s own profession can be very eye opening. I learned some things to do and not to do. I learned that eighty minutes is a long time when you’re just sitting and listening! I learned that it’s helpful when professors ask if students have questions and then take their questions seriously! I learned that some students have “better” things to do than listen, learn and take notes. I learned that sometimes playing games on one’s Ipad is better than paying attention—especially when the lecture is vapid.

            According to one lecturer, a church historian, the so-called “prosperity gospel” is regarded by many African-American and Hispanic Pentecostals as “true liberation.” The professor didn’t exactly compare it against liberation theology, but the implication was clear. The professor is a Hispanic Pentecostal and seemed to me favorable to the chosen topic and the claim that it is “true liberation.” (But, it’s difficult to tell; the professor may have been playing the devil’s advocate.)

            I’ve blogged here before about the prosperity gospel. But let me be clear about what it is and what it is not. This is important because even some sociologists of religion I know think it’s simply the beneficial effect of a conservative Protestant work ethic on poor people who join Pentecostalism—especially in the Global South. They do tend to prosper—at least more so than before they became Pentecostal. (John Wesley observed the same phenomenon among his Methodist converts and worried that the newly acquired prosperity tended to dampen spiritual enthusiasm.)

            No, the real prosperity “gospel” is not simply the fact that people who convert to Pentecostalism tend to save and invest money and work harder instead of wasting money on alcohol and gambling. It is also not merely that some Pentecostal preachers and evangelists give their followers good advice on financial matters. The real prosperity gospel is what the Hispanic church history professor was describing with many stories drawn from hands on research in African-American and Hispanic Pentecostal congregations. (A recent Time magazine issue featured a cover story on the growth of Hispanic and Latino Pentecostalism in the U.S. but hardly mentioned the emphasis on prosperity gospel in many of them. The professor rightly mentioned it as a feature of many Hispanic [and African-American] Pentecostal churches—especially newer and non-denominational ones.)

            The real prosperity gospel is the teaching that: 1) God wants his people to be financially prosperous—usually beyond merely having “enough,” and 2) financial prosperity, like physical healing, is available through positive faith that is spoken without doubt. These two points well summarize the prosperity gospel as it is taught in many Pentecostal churches. (To the best of my knowledge it has been pretty much kept within Pentecostal circles.)

            First, there’s nothing really that new about this prosperity gospel. It has roots in nineteenth century “New Thought”—especially as taught by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, founders of Unity. They taught that financial prosperity, like physical healing, is every person’s potential blessing available through a spiritual technology called “Affirmations.” Some New Thought adherents call it “prayer,” but it’s really magic. What’s the difference between them? Prayer is supplication to a personal, sovereign God that acknowledging God’s freedom and greater wisdom. Magic is any attempt to create a different reality through manipulation of spiritual forces by means of gestures, words, thoughts, chants, etc. Clearly the Pentecostal prosperity gospel builds on New Thought. The connection is E. W. Kenyon, a New Thought inspired Pentecostal (or proto-Pentecostal) teacher of about a century ago. Kenneth Hagin was steeped in Kenyon’s teachings and passed them on to other Pentecostal prosperity preachers and evangelists.

            Of course, New Thought did not invent “the power of positive thinking.” That goes back at least to Phineas Quimby if not to Anton Mesmer (in modern times). What New Thought teachers like the Fillmores added to the “power of positive thinking” was the power of positive speaking. Healing and financial prosperity can be spoken into existence through “affirmations”—positive sayings. Kenyon picked up on that, added it to his healing ministry, and Hagin later discovered it and worked it into his “Word-Faith” ministry and teachings. (Of course, Hagin claimed that he learned this technique through revelation—both the “logos” and the “rhema.” That distinction is a subject for another blog post.)

            What might surprise many people is that the prosperity gospel also has African-American religious roots. To what extent “Father Divine,” “Daddy Grace,” and “Reverend Ike” borrowed from New Thought is unclear, but I believe they were influenced by it and packaged it for their African-American and mostly poor followers. Reverend Ike was a phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who has lived long enough to remember him will be struck by the similarities between his “gospel” and that of several leading African-American Pentecostal television preachers.

            I want to note very carefully, however, that the Pentecostal prosperity gospel is not limited to African-American, Hispanic or poor people. It flourishes as well among people of majority cultures and affluent people of all races. However, it seems to be having a special appeal among some African-Americans and Hispanic people.

            Second, this prosperity gospel, the one the church history professor was talking about and that I am talking about here, is not liberating. It is giving false hope to people who are in some sense desperate. They may not be desperate in the sense of financially stricken; they may be desperate in the sense of feeling profoundly a need of financial security—in the face of illness or impending retirement or whatever. (Admittedly, some followers of the prosperity gospel simply want luxuries.)

            What poor people and people struggling with financial insecurity need is not magic; what they need is concrete help and justice. (I’m not talking about people who choose to be poor; I’m talking about those who are poor or financially insecure through no fault of their own.) They need to be liberated from purveyors of false hope including prosperity gospel preachers and teachers.

            The church history professor told the class they could not possibly understand the prosperity gospel and its appeal to African-American and Hispanic Pentecostals because they, the students, are “rich white kids.” It may be true that one has to be in an oppressed community fully to understand the appeal of false hope, but many of the students are struggling with financial pressures, too. I would be willing to bet (!) that more than a few of them have purchased lottery tickets out of a feeling of desperation.

            Nothing I have said here or elsewhere or before discounts the power of prayer. I have myself experienced God’s financial provision in times of need in response to prayer (my own and others’). Years ago, when I was just starting my teaching career and was severely underpaid by an evangelist whose name the university bore, my car broke down and the repair was very expensive. My wife and I prayed for divine intervention in the form of financial assistance. That very week a colleague gave me a check for the amount needed to fix the car.

            But the fact that God does sometimes answer prayers for financial assistance in time of need has nothing whatever to do with the prosperity gospel. First, the difference between magic and prayer is essential. We prayed; we did not “confront God with his word” and “call into being that which was not” (etc.) or “affirm” our prosperity in the face of poverty. Second, we did not assume that God wanted us to be wealthy even though I heard that in many chapel services at the university where I began my teaching career. Nothing in Scripture justifies believing that God wants all of his people to be wealthy in the sense the prosperity gospel teaches—luxurious abundance. Prayer for financial relief should be to meet the need, not the want.

            I believe calling the Pentecostal prosperity gospel, the “Word-Faith” teaching of Hagin and others too numerous to name, “true liberation” is like calling the “cargo cults” of the south Pacific islands that. Structurally they are the same—false hope in something not promised by God (or anyone with the power to make it happen).

            Finally, as I’ve said before here, the inexorable consequence of the prosperity gospel is believing that those who try it and remain in poverty are themselves solely responsible for their poverty. They simply don’t have sufficient faith or haven’t spoken the right words powerfully enough. Like some forms of belief in karma, believing in the prosperity gospel can be an excuse for not helping people suffering poverty. After all, if they just had enough faith and spoke financial prosperity into existence, they would be rich!

            I’m not blaming the victims of the prosperity gospel; I’m pointing the finger of ethical indignation and theological accusation at its purveyors—many (not all) of whom also teach heretical doctrines that smack of Gnosticism (e.g., that Jesus “died spiritually before he died physically” and that he died a merely human “sin slave of Satan” so that he could descend into hell and overcome hell by the power of the spoken word of faith—an example for us).

            This pernicious teaching is anything but liberating. It enslaves people to false hope and apathy (of others) if not blame. And, it doesn’t work.

           

           

  • Alan House

    Well said, again, Roger. In my estimation, Word-Faith teaching has been a convenient and effective way for the chief promoters thereof to pat (religious) rich people on the head and receive generous offerings from adherents who, for whatever reason, have (or have come in to) very significant amounts of money to dispose of as they please. Enough to buy not one, but TWO fine jet airplanes in one case. It seems to work really, really well in regions (and time periods) where there is a robust economy. One thinks of Oklahoma (and Texas) during the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s. I believe it is much more pernicious when it is used to hammer out offerings from people who have quite limited (earthly) resources and who are being taught to see God as something like a cosmic one-armed-bandit who can be manipulated by various formulations of thoughts and words. I had to laugh as I recalled the comic-tragic figure, “Reverend Ike!” What a character! No jets, but multiple Rolls Royces.

  • Gary

    Hello – I am troubled by the polemic you create here. The scripture says we are joint heirs with Christ. Does the idea simply refer to personal salvation? When Mary asks her son to provide wine for the wedding, is this simply an anomaly of frivolous provision? When the slop-eating son returns to his prodigal father and is clothed with the blessings of the house, is the opulent treatment of the betrayer hyperbole? As I understand the story, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham was the coming of Holy Spirit. This allows us into an intimate relationship with a loving Father who shows us many ways to invite others into the family and into a similar relationship. Blessings, healings, and miracles? which of the three is not a part of the Kingdom of God? In what part of the covenant life of God are we told not to make requests or put Him in remembrance of His Word? Our Father in heaven really is a good Father. He gives us above and beyond all we can ask or think. Your polemic doesn’t address these very real conditions of being a child of God.

    However, I think the issue here is helping children to mature. Maturity is learning to hear and obey. The concept of being blessed to be a blessing is not foreign to the scripture. We must be those who have ears to hear and then act. The problem then seems to be a lack of a theology of suffering. God does amazing feats for those called according to His purposes. If we train ourselves to only move when we stand to gain, we have learned little and remain children. Are we willing to step into an intimacy with the Father that allows us to hear His call to the dangerous and destitute places of the world? This could be the balance.

    Bill Johnson made an interesting comment. He said something to the effect that we are to house the presence of God. We are asked to enter into an intimate relationship with the Father. Those who will enter into intimacy only for the purpose of receiving is turning intimacy into a profession. He then warns that we have words to describe those who practice intimacy as a profession.

    I do believe my heavenly Father will out give my earthly father. This then opens up another issue for those who battle against poverty: what is a real father like? Thanks for the provocation.

    • rogereolson

      It seems you missed entirely my “polemic” against the magic aspect of the prosperity gospel–a spiritual technology that treats God like a slot machine. Sure, God doesn’t want anyone to be poor in the sense of lacking the necessities of life, but where in the Bible does God promise to meet all our wants and desires? Rather, it warns against wanting to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9).

      • Gary

        Sorry for not addressing your polemic directly. I sat under the prosperity gospel for years. My experience does not mirror the caricature you present in your blog. Hagin, Copeland, Yandin and others most often speak of a relationship with our loving Father. My experience is that those who advocate a prosperity message, strongly advocate the participation in the fulfillment of the covenant of Israel (the blessings) by entering into a relationship with Christ. A loving Father gives good gifts; a loving Father wants the best for his children, a loving Father is not a miserly scrooge waiting to pounce.

        The scripture tells us to believe, to give and it shall be given, it tells us to think a certain way. Like you, I believe that there are abuses out there and corrections need to be made. I was merely commenting on a way to fill out a weak theological system instead of demonizing it.

        • rogereolson

          I taught theology at ORU for two years and there came into contact with numerous prosperity gospel preachers and their followers. (Many ORU students transferred from Rhema and many chapel speakers were prosperity gospel preachers.) I noticed then and later that many prosperity gospel preachers and teachers seem to be moderate some of the time (as in your comment) but also some of the time say the most crazy, ridiculous and preposterous things. One famous prosperity gospel preacher said in ORU’s chapel “You can’t be a good witness for Jesus from a wheelchair!”

  • jamie orr

    I have become very sceptical of some of the television evangelists, the very fact they have private jets and numerous homes in different states, which are extravagant to say the least. It makes me think very cynically when they ask for donations, simply because (where is the money going) it looks as if it is being spent very unwisely and I don’t know if I should say this, but I just get a feeling when the donations come in, some of these folk are grinning like Cheshire cats. Of course they do good work at spreading the gospel, but it seems as if they are to focused far to much on this life and living it up here and now.

    Like the story of the good Samaritan, I have witnessed people coming out of church and they see a down and out in misery and utterly hopeless, slumped against a wall. Many of them not only ignore the person but also treat them with utter contempt, rendering the poor soul to feel even worse. Yes that individual may be a fool or is deserving of his misery in some respect, but the very fact these folk are not even trying with these individuals hurts me when I see it. As Jesus said, Christians are to be the salt of the earth, what message are they conveying by seemingly being compassionless and even displaying hatred in some cases?.

  • Rnold86

    Amen!

  • Jack Harper

    Roger, Bravo, very good post. It took me a long time: by God’s help, to come out of that teaching. You are right it enslaves those with guilt if they are not experiencing the abundance promised by scripture welding preachers. True prosperity is seeing your empty refrigerator and saying ” God I know you are faithful’ and see him provide time and time again. Thanks for being bold enough to expose the false teachings of the so-called prosperity gospel.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    For many of its adherents, the Prosperity gospel amounts to the opposite of prosperity.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, especially when the prosperity gospel preachers insist that receiving “God’s financial blessings” depends on giving to them.

  • Ben

    John Wesley observed the same phenomenon among his Methodist converts and worried that the newly acquired prosperity tended to dampen spiritual enthusiasm.)
    I found this remark a bit ironic since Wesley didn’t think “enthusiasm” was positive ;-
    Further I think it necessary to disentangle the actual biblical teaching on healing from its association with Word of Faith teachers. There is a healthy way of articulating the doctrine. Even in your post, healing is the ready analogy and parallel for prosperity. If there’s any aspect of the Gospel that has been more malaligned and mocked in American media than healing, I’m not sure what it would be.
    Lastly, the Baptist form, prosperity lite, for the prosperity gospel is clothed in tithing. If you tithe, you’ll be blessed. And some forms, if you don’t you’ll be under a curse. I’ve heard countless testimonies of people who, in a financial pinch, tithed when they couldn’t afford it and got a breakthrough in their finances. Isn’t this magic, too? Just under the guise of obedience? This turns God into a slot machine. Put your ten percent in and win gold.

    • rogereolson

      I was using “enthusiasm” in our contemporary sense–passion. Wesley opposed “enthusiasm” in the sense of “religious enthusiasm” as a technical term (then) for abandoning the means of grace for a purely “spiritual” relationship with God. What opposed as “enthusiasm” we would today call “fanaticism.” The rest of what you wrote has merit.

  • James Petticrew

    I was part of a group who were quests at a large prosperity teaching church in the UK, it was very noticeable that many of the hispanic people parking, had very old cars in not great condition, later I passed the staff car park where top of the range new luxury cars were parked, couldn’t help but link those two things and that rather than liberating the poor these “christian” leaders were exploiting them.

    On a more humorous note, an acquaintance could not take part as a leader in a “supernatural holy Spirit outpouring weekend” this weekend in the States at which “breakthroughs into physical healing and prosperity were promised” because they had hurt their knee and couldn’t afford health insurance and so couldn’t go to the doctors.

    • rogereolson

      As you may know (because you read my blog regularly) I began my teaching career working for a world famous “healing evangelist” who founded a university that bore his name. It was a good university. I had great colleagues and students. However, during the two years I taught there the faculty and staff were being paid less than was necessary to live even a moderately comfortable life in that city. And yet the evangelist, his wife, his son and his son’s wife all drove extremely expensive European-made four door sedans that only the wealthiest people owned or drove. I saw them with my own eyes–parked in a private underground garage. Each family member’s name was printed on a name plate on the wall of the garage in front of their parking spaces. The windows of the cars were darkly shaded so people could not recognize the family members as they drove the luxury cars around town and in and out of the underground parking garage. (They also had a private elevator to whisk them from the underground parking garage up to the top floor of the “academic center” where they had offices. They didn’t want to share elevator rides with the riff-raff.) The evangelist often rode around the campus in an old Chevy station wagon driven by his friend and right-hand man–I can only assume in order to fool people into thinking he was not filthy rich. At that time he was promoting “seed faith”–his own form of prosperity gospel. I guess it worked for him and his family. Many faculty members, however, were struggling just to make ends meet. We were living off savings.

      • James Petticrew

        very sad, no lets call it what it is dishonest, explotive and verging on the abusive. It was a misprint, it was a church in the US, a very big well known church, in your state. Despite being special guests we weren’t allowed into the “inner sanctum” but being a nosey Scot I waited for a door to open and had a look, opulence does do justice to the room I saw. Just can’t square that with the Kingdom of God, prosperity teaching seems to be Jesus advice to the Rich Young Ruler reversed and made the whole point of salvation.

  • Dave O’Brien

    I have often said, in my teaching, that prosperity gospel is the poor Christian’s lottery. In another gambling analogy, calling attention to one who has contributed and then received some unexpected financial blessing reminds me of the Vegas slots that are rigged to pay off just enough to keep people playing. The beauty, for the practitioner is that the message is fail-safe. If the one who gives doesn’t receive some benefit it is their own fault because their faith is weak.

  • Marshall

    Personally I think a core error to see “prosperity” in financial terms. Should be food security, friends, job satisfaction, stuff like that. Don’t you think God wants his people to be prosperous in this sense?

    • rogereolson

      I think God wants people to have enough to live human lives. But I don’t think he particularly cares about our comfort or happiness–in this present world under the conditions of sin. And God cannot be manipulated by magic–a major point of my post.

      • Marshall

        I think one can be deliberate in aligning one’s will with the Father’s. I don’t think that is “manipulation”, but I don’t think it’s “supplication” either.

        • rogereolson

          You mean like Paul the Apostle accepting his thorn in the flesh because God was magnified in his weakness?

          • Marshall

            I think God told Israel very clearly what he wants from us: locally, feed my sheep; globally, be a blessing to the nations. Paul deliberately ceased from worry about the thorn in order to get on with business, so yes exactly. He never got a color TV, but I imagine he did well in job interest/satisfaction. (To me, magnifying God’s glory sounds like an oxymoron.)

          • rogereolson

            Yes, it would be, if I meant “increasing” God’s glory metaphysically. I meant increasing our appreciation and praise of God’s glory–to ourselves and each other.

  • http://www.radicallynormal.com Josh Kelley

    I am in full agreement that the Prosperity Gospel, as described here, entraps many in a wishful thinking and detrimental habits (including giving to support the property of many of the movement’s leaders).

    However, I wonder if a “poverty gospel” that is suspicious of wealth (such as found in popular books such as “Radical”) also traps Christians in poverty. What do you think, Dr. Olson?

    • rogereolson

      I think the Bible cautions us to be suspicious of wealth. At the same time I don’t think God expects all of his people to live in poverty. Some are called to poverty. But this conversation requires clarification of the word “poverty.” If by it you mean starvation, then, no. If you mean voluntary giving up of luxury, then I see no problem.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Prosperity pieces are rampant in the OT. This is what the book of Job is all about. Jesus, of course, taught against these ideas, but who needs justice of Jesus when we have the OT to justify our competitive, tribal animal natures?

    • rogereolson

      Um, I doubt any Old Testament scholar would agree that the “prosperity gospel” is what “the book of Job is all about.”

  • roger l olson

    Ha, thanks for writing this and i agree and i attend a Vineyard church. God bless.

  • David Martinez

    Thank you for this blog, Roger.

    Do you recommend a book that might do a good job at dealing not with the prosperity gospel persay, but with the Bible verses prosperity pimps use? I know the PG is wrong but sometimes I have difficulty with verses like “death and life are in the power of the tongue” and others, especially when the PG preachers are so good at eisegesis.

    • rogereolson

      Unfortunately, perhaps, most theologians have not taken the prosperity gospel seriously enough to even spend time on it. Years ago I had a colleague who wrote an excellent book about the prosperity gospel. His name was Chuck (Charles) Farah. He taught theology at ORU. I replaced him in the undergraduate department of theology when he moved over to the graduate school of theology. He wrote a book exposing the prosperity gospel entitled From the Pinnacle of the Temple. I don’t recall now what verses he deals with in the book, but his overall approach was to distinguish between faith and presumption in our dealings with God.

    • Wayne Shaffer, Jr.

      For Bible-study issues in general, I heartily recommend the “How to…” series of books by Gordon Fee and various co-authors. Also, Craig Keener has some nice free resources available at his site
      For the issue at hand, long ago Fee wrote a slim paperback called, “The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel.” I think it was *roughly* contemporary with Farah’s book. As I recall, it dealt — only rather briefly — with some of the specific passages misused by “Faith” preachers. (Sadly, I’ve misplaced my copy, and have just ordered a replacement. Since the book is long OOP, one must kind of overpay relative to the size and scope of the book.)
      In my experience, it is usually possible, with a bit of probing, to evaluate the Faith preachers’ proof-texts by examining context. For instance, does Mark 11:23-24 teach that you can “have” what you “say”? Well, does anything in the context suggest that by “confessing” something is so, one can cause it to manifest? Is the passage reminiscent of any other Gospel passages (e.g. Matt. 17:20; 21:21-22, Luke 17:6)? Does this sound more like “confessing” or “commanding”? In all the Gospels and Acts collectively, do we see Jesus or the Apostles telling someone in need, “Ok, go on home and keep confessing that your sickness is healed and your financial needs are met, and wait for the manifestation”? There are definitely examples of Jesus and His emissaries “commanding” things to happen, but is this taught as a routine “principle of faith”? Or does material elsewhere — e.g., 1 Cor. 12-13 — suggest that such “mountain-moving” faith is something that shows up in special cases, “as the Spirit wills”?

      In regard to the specific case of “life and death in the power of the tongue,” since that comes from Proverbs, “context” can be trickier. The nature of the book is that it’s a collection of pithy wise sayings, so determining context is more difficult than elsewhere. However, Prov. 18 has quite a bit to say about right and wrong “speaking.” Rather than be taken in isolation as a teaching about the magical creative or destructive spirit-power of the spoken word, it would seem better to view it as possibly related to other “words” or “mouth” or “lips” teachings nearby.

      • rogereolson

        I interpret it as teaching the common sense idea that what people say about other people can have life and death consequences.

  • Tito Ed

    Strange as it may seem God still provides grace to these churches while in their chains of deception. The gifts of the Spirit are in Operation in many , if not all, of these church’s. Yes the prosperity gospel is of the Flesh and has been a thorn in the side of the church from the very beginning and still has lemmings caught up in the flow of deception. I think its just another test for us to hurdle, not on our own but with God casting down the false imagination ( Not spoken in existence ) Also not mentioned is the heresy that you become god and have the power to speak creation, what that implies is that allowance to curse and hate others that stand in your way or become a threat to your fantasies. When you look at scripture where Jesus commanded that we bless, the followers of the prosperity gospel will claim right to curse because of divine privilege.
    Bottom line, the prosperity gospel is a vulgar misrepresentation of scripture that in reality is nothing more than the operation of an antichrist spirit. The preaching of a different Jesus.

    • rogereolson

      I draw a line between the “prosperity gospel” and the extreme Pentecostalism of the “Latter Rain Movement” about the “manifest sons of God”–superhuman people who attain powers such as bilocation and death curses on others. Some Pentecostal churches blend them, but most prosperity gospel preachers don’t preach the manifest sons of God doctrine which I deem to be beyond heresy. I often wonder how people who believe in it can read 2 Corinthians and not see themselves when Paul criticizes the “super apostles.”

  • Wayne Shaffer, Jr.

    Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I attended a modest-size Pentecostal or “Full Gospel” church. It was associated with the “Independent Assemblies of God, International,” which seems to be much more of a loose affiliation than a “denomination” in the usual sense. The member churches have quite a bit of autonomy, and I only found out that we were members because I was curious and inquired. The church was not, AFAIK, affiliated with any of the “Faith” de facto denominations cited by Dan McConnell in his book, “A Different Gospel,” but it clearly promoted “Faith” teachings. This put us in some degree of tension with the local branch of the “regular” AG, since during at least part of that time Jimmy Swaggart and Dave Wilkerson were strongly denouncing “hyper-faith,” and the local AG pastor at that time was in hearty agreement with them. (Really, the “Faith” doctrine and practice at my church were relatively mild compared to a couple of others I visited during those years.)

    My favorite Faith preacher by far was Kenneth Hagin. I enjoyed his homespun style of communication, I liked the fact that virtually all the other big-name Faith preachers affectionately referred to him as “Dad” Hagin, because they regarded him as the “Father of the Faith Message,” and I was fascinated by his “prophetic” ministry, built largely around accounts of visions and audible conversations with Jesus. Ultimately, reading some of those accounts and noting occasions where “Jesus” made clear factual errors became a major factor in my reevaluating and rejecting the distinctive doctrines and practices of the Faith Message.

    Ever since reading Dan McConnell’s book and seeing a reference in an endnote, I’ve wished I could get a copy of Dale Simmons’ “Hagin: Heretic or Herald of God,” but it’s not exactly the sort of thing that shows up by the boxful at Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, ABE Books, half.com, or anywhere else; it was his ORU Masters Thesis, and I’m not completely clear on whether or not it was actually published. I did get a copy of his later “E.W. Kenyon and the Postbellum Pursuit of Peace, Power, and Plenty,” the book version of his ORU Th.D. thesis, but it had only a short section devoted to Hagin.

    • rogereolson

      You’re taking me down memory lane to revisit old friends. Dan McConnell was a graduate student at ORU when I taught there and replaced me in the undergraduate department of theology when I left ORU to teach at Bethel. I never did know him well, but I admired his work on Hagin and Kenyon. Dale Simmons is an old friend from ORU days. But we have lost touch. I think he is provost at Judson College in Illinois. If you contact him he may be able to send you a copy of his early book on Hagin. Farther back…when I was in college I used to listen to Kenneth Hagin on the radio. I remember that God always spoke King James English to him (e.g., “Come thou up hither!) during his visions and visits to heaven. I found his radio talks entertaining and quite unbelievable. Why would God speak King James English to a 20th century American evangelist?

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  • John I.

    It seems that prosperity theology intentionally ignores, or works out ways of sidestepping, the clear language of the New Testament that believers will suffer and that the suffering will include famine, financial reverses, illness, etc. Romans 8, James, 1 Peter are among the many clear passages on suffering that believers will experience. I note that the NT does not call on believers to seek suffering (like some among early martyrs did), and indeed Paul at times flees persecution and suffering.

    However, in commenting on New Testament references to believers suffering, respected evangelical and other Christian commentators (other than prosperity preachers) are agreed that our suffering is inevitable and that suffering will include lack of prosperity.

    John Stott: “[suffering includes] not only the opposition of the world, but all our human frailty as well, both physical and moral, which is due to our provisional, half-saved condition.”

    Douglass Moo: “These ‘sufferings [pathemata] of the present time’ are not only those ‘trials’ that are endured directly because of confession of Christ – for instance, persecution – but encompass the whole gamut of suffering, including things such as illness, bereavement, hunger, financial reverses, and death itself”.

    John Hicks: “suffering that Paul envisions here is not simply persecution. According to the context, this suffering also involves any kind of hardship or trouble. It includes nakedness and hunger (famine) as well as persecution or threats with a sword”

    N.T. Wright: “we would be wrong to think of suffering only in terms of the direct outward persecution that professing Christians sometimes undergo . . . . [A]ll Christians will suffer for their faith in one way or another: if not outwardly, then inwardly, through the long, slow battle with temptation or sickness . . . ”

    Scot Hafeman argues that Paul wrote against prosperity gospel preaching in his own time: ““Paul’s full-orbed definition of suffering speaks against those who, whether in Paul’s day or our own, attempt to limit the kinds of suffering that can be legitimately experienced by those who are filled with the Spirit. In such a ‘health and wealth gospel,’ those who truly live by faith may be persecuted, but they will not be subject to emotional illness, physical sickness, or financial distress. Yet the general terminology Paul uses in this context to describe affliction, together with his own experiences of physical suffering, persecution, natural deprivations, economic hardships, and the emotional distress of anxiety (see 1 Cor. 4:11-13; 2 Cor. 2:12-13, 17; 4:8-9; 6:4-10; 11:23-28; 12:7; Gal. 4:12-16), make such a limitation impossible.”

    The above quotes appear frequently in various internet articles on suffering and prosperity, so there are good resources out there (and in local bible college libraries) that one can use to counter the prosperity gospel.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for this.

  • Roger Olson

    I didn’t say Kenyon was a “cultist,” but I will stand by McConnell’s claim that he was influenced by New Thought.


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