In my own theological and spiritual journey I have not been involved in those who embrace the gospel of health and wealth, but I have read some of them, I have watched them on TV more, and now have seen an exceptional, no holds barred critical evaluation in Roger Olson, Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church.
I strongly recommend this book as a good church library book, a good book for pastors, and an excellent primer for students to learn about the history of heresy.
Here’s Olson’s capsule summary, which I reformat for emphasis of the separable points:
It has many names and faces, but most scholars of religion call it the “Prosperity Gospel” and the “Gospel of Health and Wealth (GWH).
It has two main and very different manifestations: (1) a king of “New Age” positive thinking rooted in the nineteenth-century quasireligious movement called “New Thought,” and (2) a neo-Pentecostal, charismatic religion touted by television evangelists that revels in miracles. …
For both, God is a kind of cosmic vending machine who must provide health and wealth to all who have “positive faith” expressed in words of faith — spoken affirmations or declarations that create reality through divine power.
Both treat prayer as magic without realizing it.
Both deny God’s sovereignty and put God and his power at human disposal.
Both elevate health and wealth to the status of ultimate goods.
Both claim to be Christian while distorting biblical, historical, classical, orthodox Christianity to the point that it is unrecognizable (154).
Strong words indeed, and this set of lines in Olson is filled out with good exposition in the pages that follow.
The foundation of the GHW are these four Bible references, but before I get there I do think Olson needs to note that these verses are ultimately connected — if not grounded in — the themes of Deuteronomy 28 and its parallel in Lev 26-27. That is, obedience leads to blessing while disobedience leads to curses. If the former blessing involves health and prospering, the latter cursing involves sickness and poverty. I could be wrong about the GHW but I think I’m right about the source of this thought.
Anyway, Olson knows his stuff — as one who grew up near this kind of thinking — and points us to four major Bible references: Jeremiah 29:11, Malachi 3:10, John 10:10, and 3 John 2. (Hover over the texts and they will appear.) Ramp them up with some televangelists stories and some personal testimonies and some financial reward and you’ve got a compelling case for belief in the GHW.
Olson comes back: “The gospel is not about physical health and financial prosperity; it is about God’s mercy, forgiveness, and inward transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ” (158). Indeed, he points to the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh as disproof of the GHW.
He names the names — the originators and precursors and the modern-day exponents:
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby
Mary Baker Eddy
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore
Aimee Semple McPherson
Kenneth Hagin Sr
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.
A good and judicious book, Roger, a good and judicious book.