How Clear is Case against the Claimed “Prosperity Gospel”?
An example of this is when Elijah challenged the prophets of the false god Baal in front of the people of Israel and their king Ahab. Because of his doubtless faith Elijah had every confidence that God would send fire. Indeed no fire came from Baal when his prophets prayed to him for it to light up the altar. When Elijah prayed fire did come from our God! It consumed the bull flesh, the water-laden wood and even the runoff water in a trench Elijah had dug around the altar. It is at this level of faith that we can know that such a request to move a mountain will happen. Nonetheless it is still up to God. At any level of faith all we can do, however is to keep on asking with strong faith. Isn’t that what Jesus also said? This seems to me what goes on practically all the time when believers make “prayer requests” in all the evangelical churches I have attended. And can it be denied that passages in Ephesians and Philippians for example endorse, even encourage Christians to ask God for things?
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. ” (Ephesians 6:18a)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philipp. 4:6)
And isn’t James saying unswerving faith is necessary in asking God for anything? He says people should ask God for wisdom if they need it:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded (indecisive or conflicted) and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8)
Not only that strong, steady faith is necessary in prayer requests, its absence is not attractive to God and shows the requestor is unreliable “…in all they do.” Receiving wisdom from God is the specific case James is addressing in this passage, I grant; but why would James’ advice be different for any other request to God?
Another quote from the Got Questions.org article states:
“If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, preferring instead to have no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20) and teaching His disciples to do the same. It should also be remembered that the only disciple concerned with wealth was Judas…”
This would have been a powerful point if the critics who see themselves as true or truer disciples of Jesus’ were following His Teaching that they know so well to use to denounce others. Moreover in John’s Gospel we are told about Judas:
“He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (12:6)
I see nothing in this passage that tells me Judas was “concerned with wealth”. If this is not an attempt to poison minds why stretch the point this far? I think that religious leaders who chastise others for not living in the light of the true Gospel must be careful to use the approach that Paul uses and recommends, namely:
“…Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25) Opponents must be gently instructed…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
I do not have the basis to impute motives but it seems to me that these critics are more concerned with “exposing a theological fraud” than presenting a strong case for God’s Gospel. I sincerely apologize however if I have missed the point they are making against the so-called prosperity gospel. It’s just not clear to me.
In reading the critics’ statements so far I am left asking: How do they get their interpretation from the passages they criticize? Or on the other hand, why do they appear to be theologically obscure? Surely these writers would have foreseen this communication problem if they were writing for the ordinary average believer or unbeliever. To whom then were they making their points?
The following are two quotations used to oppose those daubed “prosperity preachers”; the first: “True prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life” and the second: “We have been called to finance the gospel to the world.” From these the critics conclude: “While such statements may appear praiseworthy, this emphasis on giving is built on motives that are anything but philanthropic”. If these were the best examples of the crime being committed, they don’t come across as being exactly abominable. Firstly I see nothing un- or anti-theology in them; secondly there does not appear to be any teaching on philanthropy in either quotation. So what is the point of the criticism? In addition I wonder what evidence the writers used to determine with such certainty, the “motives” of the speakers they quoted. The quotations do not seem to demonstrate the truth of their critical commentary.
Respectfully, I could pretty much make a theologically or pastorally relevant observation that disarms almost all of the issues raised against so-called prosperity theology in the 5 Errors article, as I have done with selected points. My issue is that making an obscure, weak or half point or worse, presenting unsupported or false criticism actually makes the other side look stronger.
Admittedly it may be that the faulty statements of some of the people being criticized are very close in wording and even in theological meaning to real biblical truths that it becomes tricky to separate the two. In such cases differentiating the two calls for calm diligence. For example the Lausanne Movement website (www.lausanne.org) featured an article by Adeleye titled: “The Prosperity Gospel: A Critique of the Way the Bible is Used” (undated but reported to be a paper presented by the author at the 2014 Lausanne Global Consultation on Prosperity Theology, Poverty, and the Gospel). In the article Adeleye cites Galatians 6:7 as wrongly used by Oral Roberts to support his problematic “Seed-Faith Theology”. The passage in the Bible reads: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Adeleye criticizes Roberts’ use of it as follows:
‘Furthermore Oral Roberts’s use of Galatians 6:7 as basis for his seed-faith doctrine is completely out of context. He said, “You are a product of seed so am I. Even Jesus is called the seed of David. Jesus talked about an eternal law. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). You sow a seed, you reap a harvest. You give as seed, you receive it back multiplied many times”’ Adeleye goes on to state: “First it was not Jesus giving an eternal law of giving. Nor does Paul’s discussion on sowing and reaping here have anything to do with giving. Oral Robert should have read the very next verse to appreciate what Paul was talking about.”
My understanding of this critique is that Roberts wrongly attributed an action to Jesus and that Paul was speaking about a different and unrelated matter in the Galatians passage. Adeleye does not tell me the nature of the error or misguidance that Roberts’ statements indicate. The biblical quotation by Adeleye that is supposed to “clearly” (Adeleye’s word) explain the point only tells me that when I give I need to be doing so to please the spirit. Unless Roberts’ listeners believe their funds are intended for Roberts himself and not the Lord they are indeed pleasing the Spirit. Therefore the so-called criticism is almost an endorsement of Roberts’ viewpoint.
In another part of his article Adeleye would have me believe that Kenneth Copeland was manipulating his readers in the following quotation reportedly from his book:
“…Discipline everything you do, everything you say, and everything you think to agree with what God says does, what God says, and what God thinks. God will be obligated to meet your needs because of His Word…. If you stand firmly on this, your needs will be met.”
Surely somehow the wrong quote got left in the article. Are these words attributed to Copeland seriously being used to show the unbiblical character of his evangelical message? I doubt it. I also found many challengeable statements and/or arguments in Adeleye’s article, too many to pursue here further. Instead of a weak effort at condemning, offended Christian writers and organizations need to find incontrovertible evidence in other spheres of the ministry of their targets, for example to prove unethical use or embezzlement of funds trusting believers donate. The Biblical or theological line of criticism seem very weak.
It strikes me that running through the presentation of these condemnations is a suggestion of condescension, hatred or detestation of the so-called prosperity gospel; and that this subterranean thread seems totally lacking in humility or respectfulness on the part of the critics. If my observation is valid (and I do sincerely apologize if it is not) this missing Christian ingredient is critical. From my reading of Scripture especially the Gospel of John humility is a cornerstone of our faith. According to Paul humility is a key basis of Jesus becoming man and giving us Salvation (Philipp. 2:6-8); Jesus demonstrated radical humility when He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:4-5). If we live it always we will not omit to show it especially when it counts, such as when defending the Gospel of God. My paraphrase of 1 Peter 3:15 is as follows:
“… Give the Lord a special place in your hearts; and be ready always to give an intelligent response in every situation you are questioned about your faith but do so non-aggressively and in humility”.
When we act this way the Holy Spirit guides everything we say, as the Psalmist tells us:
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Ps. 25:9)
This is not a lesson on how to behave; I am only stating my conviction in contrast to my observations of how some writers have presented their criticism of the content of preaching they have labeled “prosperity gospel”. If it is really true that the people engaged in spreading that gospel is in the wrong the whole of Psalm 73 is a great encouragement for trusting that the Lord is just and is not blind to wrongdoing. Certain verses however are poignant in this discussion of those deserving of prosperity:
“Surely God is good to Israel (same as “to Christians”),
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (vss. 1-3)
“This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory”. (vss. 21-24)
“Those who are far from You will perish;
You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all Your deeds.” (vss. 27-28)
What more can sincere bible-led people ask for?