ScriptureSo I realize that I cannot give an exhaustive list of all passages that are referenced as promising the health and wealth that the prosperity gospel teachers are ‘believing God for’. What I can do is make a few comments on the major problems I observe and maybe deal with a few problematic and frequently cited examples.
Before I jump into critiquing the proof texting of the prosperity champions let me begin with a proof text of my own. Rather than one verse or two I want to have you read the entire chapter of 2 Peter 2. I have been blown away by the relevance of this passage to my understanding of the terrible doctrine that is the prosperity gospel.
2 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them —bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. 12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”
Teachers that seduce the unstable with greed! I personally find this passage to be an extremely accurate rebuke of the Prosperity message. I will move on without much comment here since, as I said, it is just a proof text that I think stands on its own.
One thing that has always bothered me about much of the prosperity gospel preaching is its tendency to live in the Old Testament. I think the Old Testament is useful for teaching as well but the Christian church is a new covenant community. We find revelation in the pages of the Hebrew scriptures and we submit to Jesus and even understand the old testament through Christological lenses. If Jesus ever refers to Torah by saying 'you heard that it was said....but I say' then we listen to Him. Our Church communities are to be lead and defined by Jesus. Be weary of a preacher who spends almost all of their time teaching from the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of blessings and curses that promise favor for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. This form of justice is a common feature in most of the Torah and is useful for supporting the belief that material wealth is a sign of God's favor. The problem with this position is that it is challenged from the very beginning. The book of Job, which is thought by some to be the oldest book in the Old Testament, seems to almost be written in reply to the idea that the righteous are going to be healthy and wealthy. Sometimes not. God allows the rains, scriptures tell us, to fall on the just and the unjust. Jobs friends echo the very lesson that I think is the bitter and poisonous implication of such a doctrine. If you are sick, or poor, or disabled then you must deserve it. You must have sinned or in the case of the prosperity gospel, you don't have enough faith. This implication alone makes me irate! If the 2000+ scriptures that reference God's heart for the poor echo anything consistent from the law, the prophets, Jesus and the epistles it is that God really really loves the poor and the outcaste. He identifies himself with the stranger, the hungry and the oppressed. He says he judges men, and even pays attention to their prayers according to how they treat the poor. He seems to consistently weigh in on the side of whoever it is that has nobody else on their side. God seems to be very concerned with justice.
Not only do many prosperity preachers spend the lions share of there teaching in the OT they misuse so many of the promises as well. You will here reference to promises such as we find in Isaiah 58 that reads:
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9
Then you will call,and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
A keen listener might pick up on the fact that these promises begin with a 'then' which implies that they are conditional statements. If we take the time to look up these verses in search of the 'ifs' to which they are attached we learn that these promises are about caring for the poor. "If you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry." Look it up and read the whole chapter. Better still read all of Isaiah. In the very first chapter of the book we find God ranting through His prophet saying that their religious practices make him sick and that he does not even listen when they pray. Why is that? Because they are neglecting justice and concern for the poor. If Gods harshest rants and promises of judgement against His people are because they neglect the poor can you imagine the special place in hell for those that prey on the unstable with empty promises of freedom which enslave.
If one believes that material wealth is a sign of God's favor then that person will naturally be drawn to the wealthy in their hunger for God. Besides the fact that scripture make it explicitly clear that we always find Jesus among the outcasts I can't help but wonder what you are to do with scriptures like James. James 2:2-6 reads:
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?6 But you have dishonored the poor.
Jesus said in Matthew 6 that "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.'
Jesus does heal and set many free from suffering because of his compassion AND He also calls his disciples to lay down their lives and take up a cross. A death sentence does not seem like material prosperity to me! When you really start listening to these teachers of prosperity you will come to realize that they are not followers of Jesus that have embraced his life and mission but they are men who have placed their faith in faith itself. They have only given Christian language to a very old kind or theosophy. They have compiled scriptures that seem to back up the syncratic religion which they have embraced. It has nothing to do with the life or teachings of Jesus or the bible and most of the time it stands in stark contrast with the God presented to us throughout scripture.
I can hear Jesus words echoing in my mind "blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry & woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are well fed now." Jesus just didn't leave us the option of material prosperity. It is debatable whether his homeless lifestyle is to be emulated by all or whether his command to his apostles to take no bag, bread or money on their journey was universal or specific. It is possible for us to debate what he meant when he said that the poor would always be with you. There are many things that are open to discussion however we do not have the luxury of amassing wealth and luxury in a suffering world and calling ourselves by His name.
Though there are people that fully embrace this prosperity gospel that are easy to spot, what is more scary is how many ways this insidious doctrine has wiggled its way into much of our own thinking. Be careful to "watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16) and beware that it is so easy, in a culture of greed and consumption, to begin 'baptizing' our own gluttony and greed.