Faith and Prosperity

The prosperity gospel is a subject that often surfaces in the blogosphere and often is accompanied by a lot of vitriol and controversy.. thought that these economic times might be a good time to discuss it here.

Christianity today recently highlighted two preachers who pastor two of the largest churches in America and their views on the subject:
For [Joel] Osteen, Prosperity Gospel isn't a pejorative term:

"Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?"

On the other side is the guy whose church rounds out the "largest four" list:
"This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", [Rick] Warren snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"
Two interesting perspectives.. my thinking is somewhere in between.

I agree that God wants us to pay our bills.. also think that He doesn't want us to live above our means.. don't believe that God wants us to be slaves to our credit cards.. this is where many prosperity folks go wrong.

I think that God does want us to be happy.. if that happiness is accompanied by contentment.. really.. money and things can't make you happy.. again the prosperity folks mistakenly define "blessings" narrowly and create an illusion of a "right" to be blessed with things.

I also agree that God wants us to be a blessing to others.. but often money is not what people need most.. many times they need our compassion.. mostly they need us.. they need our presence.. they need the blessing of our time.

I do wonder who Warren is speaking of when he says:
"I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty."
He is probably not speaking about folks that attend his church in Southern California. He might be speaking about folks who have had troubles.. health issues.. family tragedies.. folks in third world countries.. mostly he speaks the obvious.. the world is full of folks who are poor due to no fault of their own.. but I doubt that he would say "God wants you to be poor" to His church.

So what should a pastor say to the folks who they regularly speak to? Should they say "God wants you to be poor"?.. or "God wants you to be rich"?.. or should they simply offer scriptures that will cause folks to consider how they can best live a contented and responsible life?

8 comments:

  1. Bob, I agree. Scripture doesn't say we MUST be either. The spectrum is there from the widow with only two pieces of money and Abraham (and others) with great wealth.

    The emphasis that I preach is contentment and it's antithesis, greed. I've observed that greed has little to do with how rich a person is. Greed finds its seeds in poverty as well.

    The more content I am with God, the less time I spend thinking about whether or not I'm poor or rich.

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  2. My thinking was greatly expanded on this subject by Michael Kruse. He's written a whole series on prosperity from the position of one who understands the factors involved, but maybe his best bit on the Prosperity Gospel was this one he quoted from the Wall Street Journal:
    Pennies From Heaven

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  3. I love this ...

    "God wants us to be a blessing to others.. but often money is not what people need most.. many times they need our compassion.. mostly they need us.. they need our presence.. they need the blessing of our time."

    Very good stuff.

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  4. Great thoughts, Bob. As always!

    Aside from all this "health and wealth" talk regarding this strand of Christianity, my biggest problem with the prosperity gospel is that they think the reason for the bad things in their lives are a result of them not having enough faith.

    Bad things happen to bad people, not good people. There is no such things as a "good" person. We aren't good... we are sinners. Bad things happen to bad people because of the Fall. If we make faith about us and not about God and what Christ did for us on that tree, it puts a huge amount of responsibility on us... to affect something we don't have the ability to affect.

    To me, putting that responsibility on our shoulders is the opposite of prosperity. It's despair. It is bound for failure.

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree and couldn't say it any better than you said.

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  6. somewhere in the middle myself as well, thanks for the post we need a reality check in the faith and prosperity Dept every now and then and here you have given us one.

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  7. God wants us to be prosperous, but our definition and God's definition are often two different things.

    In my interpretation, to live an abundant life according to the bible simply means being content with the things we have, knowing that no matter what happens to us, as Christians we have a sure hope of a heavenly inheritance with our salvation. In truly knowing this to the depths of our soul, we will have joy and inner peace no matter what circumstances come our way. Our abundance will be the fruit of our character and how we've been able to positively impact the world around us. All can be done without prosperity as often defined by the world as material gain.

    That's my two cents. :)

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  8. Thanks all for the great comments.

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