HEALTH, WEALTH AND HAPPINESS:
HAS THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL OVERSHADOWED THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST?
DR. DAVID JONES, PHD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
DR. RUSSELL S. WOODBRIDGE, PHD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Every day on radio or TV there’s a gospel being proclaimed—the gospel of prosperity. The gospel teaches that God wants to fulfill our every desire for health, wealth, and happiness, and all it takes is sufficient faith. The preachers of prosperity tout their own opulent lifestyles as proof of their message: God wants His children to have it all. IS this the gospel? Or is it is just a feel-good, self-centered appeal to our materialistic impulses that omits the message of Jesus and the cross? The Bible has plenty to say about wealth and possessions, but those teachings are routinely twisted out of context or carelessly misinterpreted. . Authors David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge go back to the Scriptures to set forth a truly biblical understanding of wealth, poverty, suffering and giving. They identify five crucial areas of error related to the prosperity gospel movement. Health, Wealth, and Happiness challenges readers to rediscover the true gospel of Jesus.
Over the years however, the message preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed. A new gospel is being taught today. This new gospel is perplexing—it omits Jesus and neglects the cross. Instead of promising Christ, the gospel promises health and wealth, and offers advice such as: declare to yourself that everything that you touch will prosper, for, in the words of a leading prosperity gospel preacher, “There is a miracle in your mouth”. According to this new gospel, if believers repeat positive confessions, focus their thoughts and generate enough faith, God will release blessings upon their lives. This new gospel claims that God desires and even promises that believers will live a healthy and financially prosperous life.
This is the core message of what is known as the prosperity gospel. This gospel has been given many names, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” “positive confession theology,” and as this book will refer to it, the “prosperity gospel.” No matter what name is used, the teaching is the same. This egocentric gospel teaches that God wants believers to be materially prosperous in the here-and-now. Robert Tilton, one of the prosperity gospel’s most well-known spokesman, writes,”I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the word [of God], not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”
Without question, the prosperity gospel continues to grown and influence Christians. Fifty of the largest two hundred sixty churches in the United States promote the prosperity gospel. The pastors of some of the largest churches in America proclaim the prosperity gospel, including Kenneth Copeland, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Frederick Price, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin Jr., and Eddie Long. Through the internet, television, and radio, the prosperity gospel reaches millions around the world everyday. …”American lifestyles have led African believers to equate Christian faith with wealth”. Influenced by American affluence and prosperity, native preachers readily take up the message of the prosperity gospel. Additionally, American prosperity teachers export their message on television networks such as the Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the most watched religious stations of the world. … hypocrisy of prosperity gospel….self-centered bent of the prosperity message.
Eventually, Quimby claimed to have developed his own clairvoyant hyptnotist. Powers and became a successful hypnotist. Quimby believed that sickness follows a disturbance of the minds; therefore, disease is really mental and the cure is to correct false reasoning or error in the mind. Quimby asserts, “If I believe I am sick, I am sick, for my feelings are my sickness, and my sickness is my belief, and my belief is my mind. Therefore, all disease is in the mind or belief”. … Wallace Wattles: “Whatever may be said in praise of poverty, the fact remains that it is not possible to live a really complete or successful life unless one is rich.” In these New Thought works, one can discern some of the key recurring elements of the prosperity gospel: speaking the right words, invoking a universal law of success with words, and having faith in oneself. …no mention of sin, repentance, or the gospel…
Norman Vincent Peale: The Power of Positive Thinking, Guide to Confident Living, In the Tough-Minded Optimist. (He quotes metaphysical teachers…. Salvation is a self-generated mystical experience with the infinite, which entails channeling the divine influx for personal health, wealth, happiness and success.
The Foundations of the Prosperity Gospel
The prosperity gospel is built upon a quasi-Christian heresy, popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, known as New Thought
Key New Thought thinkers include Emanuel Swedenborg, Phineas Quimby, Ralph Waldo Trine and Norman Vince Peale.
New Thought is marked by a distorted view of God, an elevation of mind over matter, an exalted view of humankind, a focus upon attaining health and wealth, and an unorthodox view of salvation.
Distorted view of God: Jesus as just a prophet. Pantheism. Lack of Trinity. Jesus falsely as an impersonal force or creative energy field. “New Thought” teachers and pastors. Problems with Napoleon Hill, Charles Fillmore. Occultist nature of thoughts.
Problems with these quotes by “New Thought” advocates: “directed toward positive thoughts and success will become a reality” and “visualize what you want and meditate upon the picture, and you will create it in reality”. Problems with Charles Haanel and law of attraction.
An Elevated View of Humankind. Dr. Jones’ and Dr. Woodbridge’s definition of “New Thought”: “a human-centered philosophical asserts that people are intrinsically good, spiritual beings, with the potential for godlike—if not divine—status”.
Dr Jones and Dr. Woodbridge speaks on problem with “New Thought” advocates: “that humans can become gods, there is no mention of sin and redemption within New Thought. Since the proponents of this philosophy neither acknowledge the deity of Jesus not the inherent sinfulness of humanity, redemption is both impossible and unnecessary.” Problems with New Thought advocateS: Ernest Holmes, Walter Felt Evans.
Dr Jones and Dr. Woodbridge: “IF people are essentially gods, then what kind of redemption do they really need? In New Thought there is no place for a sinless Savior who died on the cross in order to have propitiation for sin. Humans can save themselves from their dire circumstances through using the divine energy in the universe. They are, after all, in control of their fate. Problem with Ernest Holmes: “IF we partake of the divine nature we must know the same thing in our lives that God knows is His. I am master of my fate, I am captain of my soul”. “New Thought’s belief in the deification of humans”
A Focus on Health, Wealth [and Happiness]. “New Thought proposes that people become sick because of negative thoughts or an account of the fact that they are not properly attuned to the Infinite [inferior]. People allow disease to enter their bodies, thus giving disease its power. The solution to illness is to think about being health and have faith that the law of attraction will work….mind over matter ”.
Problems with the following quotes by Quimby, Thomas Troward: “send out our Thought for the healing of disease, for the suggestion of good and happy ideas…”
An Elevation of Mind over matter: Definition of “New Thought”: The focus on the mind being the key to success. New Thought: Think a certain way and change reality. Problems with New Thought advocates: Henry Hamblin, Emanuel Swedenborg, Wattles, Napoleon Hill, Robert Collier.
Ex by Dr. Jones and Dr. Woodbride: “think about how devastating this philosophy can be to someone with cancer. According to New Thought, you are the reason you have cancer. According to New Thought, you are the reason you have cancer. You are at fault. You must have done something or thought something to attract cancer to your body. The cure is not found by going to the doctor’s office; rather, it is in your mind. Change your thoughts and the cancer will be removed. If you think in the right thoughts or believe in the universal laws or harness the divine influx. Perhaps you did not have enough faith in the universal laws. In New Thought, you did not have enough faith in the universal laws. In New Thought, there is absolutely no consideration of God. His providence, or His purposes in human suffering and sickness. New Thought promises not only good health with right thinking but also financial prosperity and personal success. Whether the topic is related to health or wealth, the method is the same: control thoughts and success will materialize… In New Thought philosophy, fulfillment is not possible without money. Everything exists in order to assist people in their pursuit of money. How can one attain the use of things? By the proper use of the mind and the exercise of faith. Thoughts will actualize desires in the physical realm. Moreover, Hill says that the main reason people do not achieve wealth is because “many fail to impress Thinking Substance”. By the phrase “Thinking Substance,” Hill refers to the divine. In other words, one has to form clear, mental images of what is desired, whether that is a house, a job, or some form of personal success. This positive thought, then, is the correct method to supernaturally achieve material wealth…Like Hill, Wattles, and Collier, Ernest Holmes contends not only are thoughts critical to acquire success, but also spoken words are of great importance. Thoughts and words are forces that create reality. He writes, “If the word is the way that God creates, it is the right way. If it works for God, shall it not work for us?... All words have as much power as we put into them when we speak. ‘The Word is already in our own mouths.” That word is all that you will ever need to bring happiness, health and success to you… If you want to be healthy and wealthy, then first realize that health and wealth is your rights. Then you must think positive thoughts about your health and wealth. In the New Thought system, the only reason you do not have the health and wealth you desire is because you think incorrectly. Since your thoughts and even your words create reality, simply visualize, believe and speak the right words repeatedly and you will see your circumstances change”.
An Unorthodox View of Salvation: “Denying the historic orthodox doctrine of salvation by faith…Furthermore, according to New Thought, religion is not redemption from sin but simply the process of learning to love one’s neighbor…rejects the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way to salvation…Trine argues that all religions possess the truth and that we must find oneness with the Infinite. The end result is that all religions are the same as they afford man the opportunity to discover the Infinite. According to New Thought, true religion will be attractive to all and repulsive to none. The gospel of New Thought is acceptable to everyone because it omits sin ad each person defines the gospel for him or herself. In Summary, for New Thought, salvation is not placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who died for the sins of humankind on the cross. Rather, salvation is a self-generated mystical experience with the Infinite, which entails channeling the divine influx for personal health, wealth and happiness and success…experience of personalities”
Similarities with Hinduism, Oriental philosophy, the occult, a general self-centered pagan approach to life.
New Thought teaches that the key to health and wealth acquisition is thinking, visualizing, and speaking the right words.
New Thought ideas are often taught using biblical words and are justified by distorting Scripture.
The Teachings of the Prosperity Gospel
Key historical figures in the prosperity gospel movement include EW Kenyon and Kenneth Hagin.
Many contemporary prosperity gospel teachers are associated with the Word of Faith organization and/or Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
The prosperity gospel is a broad movement, and there are many differences between the doctrines espoused by various prosperity gospel advocates.
Like New Thought, the prosperity gospel movement is marked by several commonalities, including a distorted view of God, an elevation of mind over matter, an exalted view of people, a focus on attaining health and wealth, and an unorthodox view of salvation.
Joel Osteen is an example of contemporary soft advocate of the prosperity gospel.
The Errors of the Prosperity Gospel
The Prosperity Gospel distorts the true gospel in that it does not point people toward Christ but rather focuses on the attainment of human desires (happiness).
Prosperity gospel teachers misinterpret the Abrahamic covenant to be a promise of health and wealth for Christians who are obedient to God.
Prosperity gospel advocates teach that the death of Christ results in financial and physical well-being for Christians.
Common passages that are appealed to and misinterpreted in order to endorse the prosperity message are Ecc 11:1; Mark 10:30; 2 Cor 9:6; and 3 John 2.
A foundational reason why the prosperity gospel is off base is its fault view of the relationship between God and people.
(Translation used isn't as good. Excellent book, however. ) The OLD KJV (Textus REceptus) is a blessing! Enjoy your days, Pastor and Mrs Stanley! I hope all is going well! You have been such a blessing for many years! I want to give back some to you!
by Dr. David Jones, PHD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
by Dr Russell Woodridge, PHD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON SUFFERING
The prosperity gospel focuses upon the avoidance of suffering, including financial [suffering], mental [suffering], and physical suffering.
Pain and suffering are common among biblical characters, including David, Jesus and Paul.
Suffering is a normative part of the Christian life and, this side of the grave, is likely to increase with maturing faith.
Three main sources of suffering exist in this present world:(1) the curse on the created order, (2) personal sin, and (3) the sins of others. (Ex. JOB; Personal sin is not always the cause)
Considerations for suffering include the following facts: everyone is a sinner, everyone possesses a free will, there is value in suffering, God is acquainted with suffering and God is sovereign.
Why does God exist and what does He control in the world? What is the purpose of suffering and how do I react when I suffer? Many prosperity gospel teachers teach that God is dependent on people in order to act. When you suffer, do you blame God? When suffering comes, do you think that since you have worked hard to obey God, you do not deserve it? Mental and physical suffering: When you start thinking that you control your own future, then you demote God. Such ideas are at the heart of the prosperity gospel. Within prosperity theology, people are the focal point rather than God. According to the prosperity gospel, you are in control of your own destiny; thus suffering is an indication of your failure to utilize divinely designed means of blessing. In contrast, the Bible teaches that suffering is an instrument to make you more like Christ and that God is working all things in your life for HIS purposes (Romans 5:1; 8:16-18)
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON WEALTH AND POVERTY
One of the best defenses against the teachings of the prosperity gospel is a holistic understanding of scriptural teaching on wealth and poverty.
God created people with material needs, as well as both the desire and the ability to meet those needs
The Old Testament economic laws are built upon the ideals of laboring and resting, as well as preventing God’s people from wealth and poverty related sins.
Jesus gave no systematic, detailed economic plan; rather, in the gospels, His example and teachings on wealth and poverty are wideranging and their spiritual impact is what is usually emphasized.
There is a nonrequisite connection between material wealth/poverty and spiritual wealth/poverty.
What do I deserve in life? According to the prosperity gospel, you are entitled to a good life that is marked by good health, beneficial relationship, an abundance of resources and overall success. But is this really true? The bible teaches that if we have food and clothing, we should be content(1 Timothy 6:8)—anything beyond this is pure grace.
Why did God save me? Did God save you because HE needs you on His team? Did God save you so that you could be famous and wealth? Did God save you so that you can fulfill all of your dreams? (i.e. American dream) No. God saved you on account of his great love for you. God saved you so that you might glorify Him forever and so that He might display his grace for all eternity (see Isaiah 43:25; Eph 2:4-10) We were rescued to glorify God and do good works. We did not deserve or earn salvation and this fact alone ought to humble us and cause us to express our gratitude toward God. A major problem with prosperity gospel teaching is that people are encouraged to think too highly of themselves (see Romans 12:3)
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON GIVING
Reasons for Christians’ giving include obedience, to demonstrate love, to bring glory to God, because it is a result of the gospel, and because it results in reward.
Contrary to the prosperity gospel, the biblical emphasis is not on present physical rewards for giving but on future spiritual rewards.
Evangelicals disagree about the concept of tithing, but all agree that generous giving is a biblical mandate.
Christians ought to faithfully give to the local church, other Christian organizations, and directly to those who are in need.
Christian nonprofit organizations such as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Wall Watchers serve as resources to get information about reputable Christian charities and organizations. www.ministrywatch.com or www.ecfa.org.
Why do I give to God? What is your motivation to give to the church, to Christian charities and to those in need? Cheerful heart or do you expect God to pay you back for your generosity? Do you give to please God, who has given you everything or do you give in order to see if God will come through to for you? Do you give out of guilt and obligation, or do you give out of love? If you give to God in order to get something from Him, then you have adopted a framework similar to that of the prosperity gospel. Such a rationale for giving sets one up for failure and short-circuits the true motivation for giving—grace.
OBJECTIONS AND REPLIES
Objection: How can the prosperity gospel be false if so many people follow it? Reply. Ex. 16th century Europeans believe that Earth was the center of the universe…Both history and other religions demonstrate that millions of people can be deceived and follow a lie.
Objection: But most prosperity gospel teachers seem sincere, and it seems that they genuinely want to help people. Reply: Prosperity teachers may be sincere, yet they can be sincerely wrong. It is possible to be passionate about an issue or problem, but to offer the wrong solution. Sincerity and passion cannot be the standard for evaluating the truth.
Objection: Everyone does not agree on everything in the Bible. Reply: Prosperity theology deserves a place in the church. AS far as the claim that Christians do not agree on everything in the bible, this is a true statement, but it misses the point. As we have documented in chapters 2 and 3, prosperity gospel teachers promote false teaching about fundamental beliefs such as who God is, the sinfulness and abilities of people, and the way of salvation. These are not insignificant issues. In fact these are core beliefs that with lead to God and to salvation or away from God and to condemnation. The prosperity gospel is not a harmless movement that is slightly off; rather it is a dangerous movement that has eternal consequences.
Objection: This verse supports the prosperity gospel. Reply: prosperity teachers use a wide variety of verses to support their teachings. [Read the bible in the context of things] The Bible contains many verses that declare God’s blessings toward us and we should rejoice at this. God blesses us in order to meet needs and enable us to give generously. The book of Proverbs teaches that hard, diligent work can lead to prosperity, but the prosperity gospel leads to idolatry: people worship God’s blessings instead of God Himself.
Objection: I’ve given money to prosperity gospel ministries and I’ve seen results. Reply: If there has been a restoration of health or an improvement in someone’s financial situation, it is appropriate to rejoice. Roman 12:15. Yet, to correlate sending money to a prosperity gospel ministry with God’s blessing is faulty. EXPERIENCES MUST BE judged by Scripture. Feelings and results cannot be the arbiter of truth. Just because something supposedly works does not mean that it is true. Christians have a responsibility to evaluate the means as well as the end. In other words, believers must discern if the end was reached in accordance with Scripture.
The goal of this book is to inform readers about the prosperity gospel, including its history, theology, and errors as well as to give biblical teaching on wealth, poverty, suffering and giving. The prosperity gospel is a false gospel that contains false promises, promotes self-exaltation, and ultimately does not satisfy. It is our hope and prayer that the Lord will use this book to draw people away from the prosperity gospel