Proponents of the prosperity gospel are easy targets. Apart from an emotional appeal, its very foundation lacks the necessary literacy in Scripture to allow a firm, unshifting foundation. As a Biblicist who believes in both the inerrancy and the sufficiency of Scripture, I have no problem urging outright rejection of such a gospel. Yet, in the midst of a particularly trying time, a disturbing thought entered my mind and a deeper reflection revealed something even scarier: I am closer to the prosperity gospel than I would ever desire to admit.
The most disturbing aspect of the prosperity gospel is the motif that elevates the self above God. Such a teaching permeates all aspects of the Christian life. Tony Evans demonstrates this in his recent book Kingdom Prayer when he indicates that prayer is merely “earth giving heaven permission to intervene” (pg. 18) (1). With such thinking, prayer is no longer an acknowledgment of our need for God but is transformed into God’s need for us. Evans essentially says God needs our permission to do anything. This is the product of faulty thinking that places man above (or even ‘equal’ with God).
However, a further examination of this line of thinking takes us a step further, from not only suggesting that God needs us but also obligating him to our will. Consider the words of Joyce Meyer who states, “Don’t go around angry because your life is not turning around the way you want it to when you didn’t do what you should have done to have gotten the right result” (2). There exists a mindset that we ‘do’ so that we may ‘receive.’ This plays out in a concerning way because it suggests that God is obligated to give us what we want because we prayed today, studied our Bible, or did a good deed.
T.D. Jakes would tell you to “Praise God on credit” meaning that if you praise him now, he will fulfill it later (3). More than a works-based salvation, such a message teaches entitlement that denies the very message of the cross. The result is worldliness that the world tries to pass off as godliness.
For obvious reasons, such a theology needs to be rejected. It is one that I would reject and one that I suspect most of the readers of this blog would reject. Yet, sometimes, we skirt dangerously close to the line. There are times in which in the midst of my praying, I migrate to the same mindset as those preaching this gospel. I find it embarrassing to admit how easy it is for me to think that the Lord will answer my prayer because of something I had done, previously, or because I think I should have ‘credit’ with Him that entitles a positive answer.
That tendency underscores the need we have to be reminded of our depravity. There exists a large gulf between God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, yet we have a tendency to minimize that gulf. In exalting man and subduing God, the gap that Christ bridges is minimal. Therefore, in order to confound this propensity to live by the prosperity gospel, we must grasp who we are, who Christ is, and who we are without Christ. Only then can we move beyond a gospel that is man-centered, to one that is God-centered so that He may be glorified and that we may enjoy Him supremely.
(1) I recognize that some will take an issue of me equating Tony Evans with some of the other prosperity gospel preachers; perhaps they would be correct. I know his background includes sitting under the teaching of a solid seminary. Yet, any experience I have had with his writings and teachings have all been closer to prosperity gospel than anything else and so my inclusion of him here is based upon that.
(2) This quote comes from a sermon called “Don’t Blame” one of the many of hers available on YouTube. Because I find her teaching so concerning, I have chosen not to link that message here as a citation.
(3) Like Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes sermons are available online and this one comes from one titled “It’s Still Mine” but again I have chosen not to link any messages as a citation as to not give a greater influence to such a false teaching.
Photo “Steps to Heaven” courtesy of user Visit Lakeland and Flickr