Most Protestants Believe in the Prosperity Gospel

Most Protestants Believe in the Prosperity Gospel September 15, 2023

I’m thinking that the decline of Christianity in America is even more than we realize.  It isn’t just that fewer people are going to church.  In addition, many of those who do go to church and many of the churches that they go to have little understanding of what Christianity is.

A study from the Baptist research group Lifeway has found that most Protestants, both evangelical and mainline, believe, to one extent or another, in the prosperity gospel.

To get these numbers, Lifeway adds together the percentage of those who “strongly agree” with the percentage of those who “somewhat agree.”  Here is the complete report.  But the numbers are eye-opening anyway you look at them.

According to the Lifeway press release, 52% of Protestant churchgoers in the U.S. say “say their church teaches God will bless them if they give more money to their church and charities.”  This is up from 38% in 2017.

Also, 76% believe that “God wants them to prosper financially.”  That is up from 69% in 2017.

And 45% believe that “they have to do something for God in order to receive material blessings from Him.”  That’s up from 26% in 2017.

Churchgoers aged 35-49 are the most convinced that God wants them to prosper financially, with 85% agreeing to that.  And among young adults, aged 28-34, 81% believe that.

What most interested me in the study were the denominational breakdowns.  And, yes, it includes Lutherans, which we’ll get to below.

Now the prosperity gospel has been a staple of Pentecostal churches for years, as evidenced by virtually every TV preacher.  Unfortunately, the Lifeway study doesn’t spin out the data for Pentecostal Christians, evidently lumping them in with evangelicals.

But what astounded me is that the highest adherence to the doctrines of the prosperity gospel comes not from evangelicals at all, but from mainline liberal Protestants!

Among evangelicals, 48% said their church teaches that if they give more money God will bless them.  But 55% of non-evangelicals said that was what their church is teaching them.

The worst offendersMethodists with 85% saying that.  Followed by “Restorationists” like my old arch-liberal Disciples of Christ at 71%.  Then non-denominationals at 50%, followed by Baptists at 49%, Presbyterian/Reformed at 32%, and Lutherans at 26%.  (I suspect that we confessional Lutherans were lumped together with the liberal mainliners, but I’m glad that we came in last, though to think one-out-of-four of our churches are creating that impression is still too high.)

As for the conviction that God wants me to prosper financially, this time more evangelicals agreed (80%) than non-evangelicals (74%).

But, again, Methodists took the lead, with a whopping 93% who believe that.  Followed, again, by the “Restorationists” at 88%.  Then come the Baptists, 75%; then us Lutherans at 64%; and then  Presbyterian/Reformed at 60%.

On this issue, Lutherans don’t come off so well.  Nearly two-thirds of us believe that God wants us to prosper financially?

On the critical issue of whether we have to do something for God before he will give us material blessings, once again, non-evangelicals at 50% are more prone to this belief than evangelicals at 37%.

And once again, Methodists take the prize at 85%, followed by the “Restorationists” at 68%, the Baptists at 46%, non-denominationalists at 34%, Lutherans at 25%, and Presbyterian/Reformed at 19%.

Look, I can understand how someone might construe some of these questions in a non-prosperity gospel way.  We understand that our financial prosperity is a blessing from God, so, in some sense, it must be His will.  And the time will come when we will walk the Streets of Gold.

And we need to attend to the difference between those who “strongly agree” and those who “somewhat agree,” since the latter may involve some mitigating nuance.

But still, the constellation of questions points to a dangerous assumption that apparently permeates all levels of American Christianity.  (I wish Lifeway had asked the Catholics.)  Namely, that if we do something for God, He will reward us materially.  This owes more to animism, the notion that a deity is someone to manipulate for our own well-being, than to the Bible and the Triune God.

And I would hope that no Christian, however oriented to material rewards, would link prosperity to the Gospel, much less think prosperity is the Gospel, as opposed to what the despised and rejected Son of God did for us on His bloody cross.

Why do you think people in the more liberal mainline denominations like the Methodists and the Disciples are so prone to these superstitions?

Mainliners like Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuler promoted the “power of positive thinking” movement, now adopted by erstwhile Pentecostalists like Joel Osteen, which taught that if you think positively and really believe, what you visualize for yourself will happen.  Maybe liberal theology, having played down salvation by Christ for eternal life, is trying to fill that void by promising “this-worldly” happiness.  Or maybe it’s a sign of what Luther warned about, the dominance of theologies of glory over the theology of the cross.  (See my post from six years ago, The Prosperity Gospel vs. the Theology of the Cross.)


Illustration from Picryl, CC0, Public Domain

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