In Signs and Wonders (65–66), Paul Alexander recounts a conversation with Nigerian theologian Lawrence Nwankwo. Nwankwo expressed the opinion that God wants all Christians to be prosperous. Alexander offered a corrective: “Food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education—these things are necessary and important, but prosperity for all is impossible. It’s not true, I said, that God wants everybody to be wealthy.”
As the conversation continued, it became clear that the two were using “prosperous” in different ways, each defined by context. Alexander wanted to stand in opposition to “a bloated, greedy church that seemed to lust after more and more possessions, spending what it did not have on things it did not need to impress people it did not like.” For Nwankwo, “prosperity” meant having enough.
Alexander writes, “I was arguing against overabundance, hoarding, greed, exorbitance, and consumerism—and for enough for a healthy life. I argued for a simple existence. He was arguing against starvation, poverty, sickness, and hopelessness—and for enough for a healthy life. He argued against subsistence and for a simple existence. I was looking up the mountain of money and trying to bring the wealthy down; he was looking down into the valley of despair and trying to bring the poor up.”
Behind Nwankwo’s endorsement of “prosperity” was a distinctly anti-gnostic conception of the good of religion: “Lawrence says that Africa’s holistic worldview means that ‘the expectation that the experience of wholeness, that is long life, wealth, fertility, success, etc., is legitimate and that religion should contribute to its provision.’ He points to the Igbo people of southwestern Nigeria as a good example of this and as an explanation of why prosperity teaching strikes a deep chord in Africa. The Igbo understand their gods to have an obligation to provide the conditions for well – being in the lives of the people in the community—life on earth is a foretaste of the fullness of life in the ‘other world.’ So the prosperity gospel is really a human dream—to have enough (and maybe a little more).”
That’s a very different sort of “prosperity gospel” than one normally hears, and an attractive one.