Christianity Today is running an interesting article today that describes the perceived downturn of the prosperity gospel in American Christianity.
I was raised in a very moderate strain of this type of thinking, and my home church definitely steers clear of some very dangerous extremes inherent to the prosperity gospel. Consequently, this article is particularly interesting to me.
It describes the financial difficulties of some of the most prominent prosperity ministries in America, from the Copelands to Juanita Bynum. And quite honestly, the staggering statistics and facts released here are embarrassing. The Copelands are the subject of a Senate investigation, largely because they have refused to disclose their salaries – I can’t even imagine how mad I would be if I heard them.Juanita Bynum’s ex-husband, Thomas Weeks III, has become better known for roughing up his wife than for preaching about Jesus. Randy and Paula White’s church has shrunk drastically since their divorce, and it is struggling to hold the ship together.
So what are we to make of all this? Is this the evidence so many have been longing for that condemns the prosperity gospel as heresy? I suppose that all depends on perspective.
Many within the movement are actually using these events as fuel for the fire by interpreting them as attacks from the Devil, rather than God’s judgment. The appropriate response is an “even truer faith” which will prove the system.
Of course, others (myself among them) will point out that these events actually prove the opposite to be true.The prosperity gospel, more often than not, is nothing more than a mask for greed. Want to indulge in a materialistic culture without feeling guilty about it? The simplest way for a Christian to do that is to justify it theologically. If God wants us all to be rich, then it can’t be wrong to be materialistic, can it?
A New Testament scholar from Denver Seminary sums it up well:
“Some may well interpret this as judgment on the leaders who have abused their positions or proved immoral in other respects,” said Blomberg, a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary. “And many may simply assume this is the time to call others and themselves to an even truer faith so that the ‘system will work’ as it is supposed to in their minds.”
In Grady’s view, the notion that “God blesses us so we can be a blessing” is biblical. What is needed, he believes, is a shift to a more selfless movement where people “realize that God wants to bless us so that we can feed the poor, lift up the broken, and transform society.
“We need that kind of prosperity,” he said, “and I think that is where things are going.”
Or maybe, what we really need is just a little more of this:
Ultimate Farting Preacher