Let’s take a look at the Prosperity Gospel. Matt Slick describes it like this: “God has promised to the believer financial and physical prosperity” (https://carm.org/doctrine-prosperity). Sounds like a good deal, right? But, though it sounds “good”, it’s not actually “the deal.” And I’m thankful for that, because my experience of the Christian life has been pretty disappointing relative to the expectations created through Prosperity Gospel. However, the passages used to teach prosperity gospel are NOT to be neglected or ignored; rather, they are to be properly understood in accordance with this quote:
“Scripture stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic [selfish] and autonomous [independent (of God)] thinking of our self-absorbed world. God wants to remake and redeem our needs before He meets them. He calls us into a culture formed by the Cross” (Van Yperen, Jim, Making Peace).
Thus, when Jesus teaches “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8), He doesn’t propose a dangerous riddle. He doesn’t say “pick a door” and leave us to embrace “The Lady or the Tiger.” Christ is Good, and he will guide us to what is good via the best means. All we need ask is ourselves is:
“will we trust Him?”
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) And it’s definitely possible to steal and kill a person’s joy by giving them what they desire. Think of our sexual desires, our taste for sugar, the allure of power – all of which “are permissible,” despite not always being “beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Scripture does address “financial and physical prosperity,” indirectly, in 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” God knows of our needs more exactly than we do. Don’t think that God prefers poverty over wealth or that poverty benefits us more than wealth. This is not the case! But instead of looking for wealth, let us ask God to “call us into a culture formed by the cross.”
Now, being “a culture formed by the Cross” is distinct from being a culture entirely characterized by the cross. Being formed by the cross means being made possible through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement (That’s fancy for “He took our place”). A grace-giving, yet holy culture can only be birthed when the demands of justice are met in Christ’s holy life and innocent death.
On the other hand, being a culture entirely characterized by the cross means over-emphasizing the suffering of Christ and neglecting the victory of Christ. After all, Christians can experience victory both in self-sacrificial suffering (where Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil) and in peace (where the resurrected Christ reigns in glory). The absence of suffering does not negate the presence Christian community. Heaven will be a Christian community unoppressed, and at peace – and, (no surprise) we’ll still be Christians! The belief that Christianity is characterized by the sufferings of the cross approaches the danger of “martyr complex.” Nevertheless, each Christian should be ready to follow Christ to the death.
So what’s the danger of a Prosperity Gospel?
It is disappointing when our expectations are not met. Unmet expectations may cause one to ask, “why doesn’t God love me?” But we are not obligated to ask this question. After all, faith in Christ that is dependent upon results is conditional faith based on what is seen – which is nonsense. Faith is by definition: “the assurance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So, personally, I don’t see a grave danger in prosperity gospel. Sure, there will be disappointments, but as long as we desire Christ more than the “Prosperity Gospel” our faith will endure!
If you like speculating, ask yourself: “Is it possible that ‘Prosperity Gospel’ might actually be a sound doctrine in heaven?” Nevertheless, while here on earth, God asks us to have faith in Himself. He doesn’t promise that He will jeopardize our wellbeing by making it dependent upon the purity of our desires. He loves us more skillfully than we can love ourselves because He knows us more holistically than we can know ourselves.
P.S. Why does this appear on a blog devoted to peace? Because it’s not necessary to shun, distance yourselves from, or condemn advocates of prosperity gospel. Instead, remind them that Christ is faithful to His people regardless of their moments of unfaithfulness to Him. Encourage faithfulness to Christ (“in sickness and in health; in poverty and in wealth” as traditional wedding vows describe it). This should, in accordance with the subtle process of “survival of the fittest,” dissolve Prosperity Gospel. Watching this process may sadden us – especially when watching someone we care about suffer this disappointment and the temptations that accompany it. Trust God to work through you. Once God’s Word is spoken, it will accomplish what He desires (Isaiah 55:11). Love the disappointed and point them to Christ. Don’t proudly drive them away by celebrating their downfall. They need Christian community more than we may realize.