The prosperity gospel teaches Christians to expect, and demand, material wealth and physical health in this life: “Since God’s covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now” (Kenneth Copeland, 'The Laws of Prosperity').
The prosperity gospel is partly right and very appealing. First, it mixes truth with lies, and appears biblical, increasing the deception. It emphasises true things about God—his immeasurable generosity, power, and commitment to his promises. It is littered with Bible verses apparently taken at face value.
Second, prosperity and global communication give it fertile ground. It legitimises the materialism of those who have, and feeds off the aspirations of those who don’t. From the US, where it originated, it now dominates much of the global church scene, and as a global city, it is found in many London churches.
It is badly wrong and very dangerous
It leads people astry because pursuing prosperity now:
- Is a false hope: Solomon knew unmatched wealth, yet called it: “vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccles 2.1-11). Jesus warns that treasures on earth will fail (Matt 6.19). Ken Mbuga says, “you’re giving them a hope in something that is crumbing, so it’s a multiplying of their hopelessness”.
- Desiring wealth can destroy Christians: “The deceitfulness of riches” chokes the word (Mark 4.19). “Those who desire to be rich” fall into temptation that leads to destruction (1 Tim 6.9-10). Prosperity teaching encourages Christians to pursue what could kill them.
- Makes God pagan: prayer becomes a tool to make God grant our desires, giving persuades God we’re committed enough for him to act, and faith becomes a spiritual force we direct to our own ends. This is how pagan religion works, and it’s an ugly distortion of the sovereign grace of God.
- Obscures the message that saves from hell. Repenting of sin and turning to Jesus brings eternal life in place of eternal death, yet a message focused on the passing trinkets of this world leaves lost sinners blind to the real problem, and replaces what people most need, with a false message that cannot save.
Listen carefully to God
By listening carefully, what God says answers the prosperity gospel. Rather than be intimidated or swayed, God has spoken clearly and truly, and so let’s always keep doing what we’ve been doing in RML:
- Reading verses in their immediate context: James 4.2 is a prosperity teacher favorite: “you do not have, because you do not ask”. So anything we ask, we’ll receive? But read on: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”. This is not a blank-cheque promise, but a rebuke to worldly attitudes.
- Reading verses in their Bible context: God really has made promises of material blessing, but they’re either not for us because they’re from the Old Covenant we’re not under (eg Deut 28.1-14), or they are spoken for us, but for the world to come, not for now. We’ll ‘save our lives’ when Jesus comes in glory, but will lose life now (Mark 8.34-38). Our redeemed bodies are coming, but life now means groaning (Rom 8.23). Immense riches will be ours, but only when God makes all things new (Rev 21.5, 18-21).
For more on this difficult but vital issue, see: www.thegospelcoalition.org/pages/prosperity