The Prosperity Gospel: You’re Soaking In It

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. — Ecclesiastes 9:11

Mainstream white evangelicals here in America want you to know that they do not agree with or approve of the “prosperity gospel” promoted by TV preachers like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paula White or Kenneth Copeland. Christianity Today* introduces it’s “Hot Topics” page on the prosperity gospel by describing it as “An aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith — and hefty tithing — with financial blessings.” The patriarchs of the ultra-Reformed “Gospel Coalition” dedicated a lengthy series to denouncing the theological errors of the prosperity gospel, deeming it a sinful heresy.

This criticism and condemnation is always good to see because those “mainstream” white evangelicals are right: the prosperity gospel is a cruel, evil lie that is utterly incompatible with Jesus and the Bible.

But for all the biblical and theological arguments these anti-prosperity gospel evangelicals offer, they still seem to agree with the basic outlines of what those over-the-top TV preachers are saying about poverty and morality. Look past the surface of those criticisms and you’ll find that most mainstream white evangelicals, like their prosperity gospel counterparts, believe that poverty is a consequence of sin and prosperity is evidence of spiritual virtue.

And if that’s what you believe, then there’s little difference between you and Creflo Dollar flying around in his private jet. If that’s what you believe, you’re up to your eyeballs in the prosperity gospel.

If you think the prosperity gospel is false, then why does Creflo Dollar have his own G-6 and you don't? Sinner.
Creflo Dollar has his own G-6 and you don’t. Sinner.

Christians are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on lack of effort” Julie Zauzmer reports for The Washington Post:

Which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor: lack of effort on their own part, or difficult circumstances beyond their control?

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,686 American adults to answer that question — and found that religion is a significant predictor of how Americans perceive poverty.

Christians are much more likely than non-Christians to view poverty as the result of individual failings, especially white evangelical Christians.

“There’s a strong Christian impulse to understand poverty as deeply rooted in morality — often, as the Bible makes clear, in unwillingness to work, in bad financial decisions or in broken family structures,” said Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The Christian worldview is saying that all poverty is due to sin, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the sin of the person in poverty. In the Garden of Eden, there would have been no poverty. In a fallen world, there is poverty.”

I appreciate Mohler’s attempt there to offer a big-picture context of “a fallen world.” That probably would have been the full extent of his answer if he’d been asked, instead, about disease. In that case, he would still say that “all disease is due to sin,” but he would be very careful not to suggest, or to allow the suggestion, that we should therefore ask “Who sinned that this man was born blind?

When it comes to poverty, though, Christians like Mohler are far more comfortable assigning individual moral blame.

As he walked along, he saw a man poor from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born poor?”

Mohler answered, “Both this man and his parents sinned, in unwillingness to work, in bad financial decisions and in broken family structures.”

This is the Gospel According to Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar. Those are the names of Job’s three friends. They had “a strong impulse to understand poverty as deeply rooted in morality” — and that makes them the villains of Job’s story. That view is why they stand condemned by the story and by God — specifically and directly — in that story. Satan is also a character in that story but Satan receives no such condemnation because, in that story at least, Satan isn’t enough of a fool to argue that poverty is a consequence of, and evidence of, personal sin.

And the book of Job isn’t unusual in that regard. If you read the Bible looking for ways that poverty is “deeply rooted in morality,” you’ll find the main connection its authors make between poverty and sin is that the poor are victims of the sins of others. In most of the Bible — the prophets, the Gospels, Paul, James, Revelation — it is not poverty, but wealth, that is presented as the consequence of sin and as evidence of immorality and spiritual sickness.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.

The rich man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.

The poor man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with the rich man by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send the rich man to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you were unwilling to work, you made bad financial decisions and had broken family structures.”

This garbage is ass-backwards and upside-down.

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* Reader: “Christianity Today …”

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