By Elizabeth Prata
The American church has a lot to answer for when we all meet Jesus. The “prosperity” gospel has sunk in deep and permeated every corner of the US. Now it’s exported abroad, and polluting churches in India and Africa and elsewhere. The prosperity gospel is no gospel. It teaches congregants to indulge their flesh, seek worldly things, and keep their eyes focused laterally instead of vertically. Joel Osteen is a master of this kind of gospel.
Joel Osteen flatly laid out the main precepts of Prosperity gospel out in a 2005 letter to his flock. “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us,” Osteen wrote.
No, that’s not what God wants us to do. God wants us to live holy lives, pick up our cross, obey Him, be witnesses for His name, worship Him, be wise, and share the true Gospel all over the world, among other things. (1 Peter 1:15, John 4:24, Matthew 16:24, 1 John 5:2-3, Matthew 10:16, Matthew 28:19). The destiny he laid out for us includes trouble, persecution, hatred, and hardships, (John 16:33, John 15:18, Acts 14:22, 2 Corinthians 6:4).
The Prosperity gospel was preached so heavily on televangelist tv channels throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, that the 2010 David Platt book “Radical” touched a nerve and swept the pendulum rapidly in the other direction. Now instead of having the comfortable gospel, AKA the Prosperity Gospel, we have instead The Uncomfortable Gospel. The book intimated (or was interpreted) that the only REAL Christians, if they were doing it right, were uncomfortable. If their life circumstances were one of ease, they were not real Christians.
The book blurb for Radical states:
It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, what their new lifestyle would actually look like. They would, he said, leave behind security, money, convenience, even family for him. They would abandon everything for the gospel. They would take up their crosses daily…But who do you know who lives like that? Do you?
The book challenged Americans to reassess their commitment to the Gospel and make changes if necessary. Making sure that we are living biblically in submissive commitment to Christ is a worthy reassessment, but many people felt (me included) that the book made it sound like if you were living a normal life that happened to include comforts, you were somehow less committed Christian. Tim Challies reviewed Radical in 2011, saying,
First, I think our attempts to live radically can ignore the Bible’s concern that we be radically godly in character. There is no doubt that I am called by God to live sacrificially and generously. My first calling, though, is to know God, to be shaped by him and on that basis to preach the gospel and to live as if it is true. I am called to do all of this right where the Lord has placed me. This means that there is great dignity and great value in doing whatever it is that I want to do, like to do, and can honor God doing. We do not all need to be foreign missionaries and evangelists; we do not all need to move to faraway lands. We can (and must!) primarily honor God in whatever it is he has given us to do. I am concerned that it is difficult to read this book and believe its message and not feel that normal life is dishonoring to God.
However, despite book reviews of Radical stating these same concerns, and a subtle rebuttal by John MacArthur titled An Unremarkable Faith, the pendulum swung hard toward ditching everything and running off to Bali barefoot to evangelize whoever happened to be in the way. The collateral damage of this pendulum swing included a backlash against Suburban Christians and suburbia in general.
If you live long enough as a Christian, you begin to see that the pendulum swings to one side, them slowly all the way over to another, then back again…the cycles of life include intrusions upon and fads regarding the Gospel. We have Prosperity Gospel, Uncomfortable Gospel, and now Social Gospel.
The Social Gospel isn’t really new, it was a phase of Christianity that swept the 1900s church as a home-grown outflow of foreign missions. It came to mean that if one is saved, one must emulate Christ, which is giving to the poor, decrying immorality, and helping people in less fortunate situations. We are to do all those things of course, but in time, the act of doing those things was tied to salvation, and the doer’s act of service was substituted for speaking the Good News. Doing good acts was the Gospel, rather than speaking the Good News of the Gospel.
The Therapeutic Gospel is another gospel (literally!) that teaches that one must feel good about one’s beliefs in God and that God exists in order to resolve bad feelings in one’s self. Pursuing holiness in sanctification becomes second fiddle to pursuing comfortable feelings and finding happiness. The church exists to help seekers become happy. Thus, calling out sin or decrying immorality would make one feel bad, and thus are set aside in favor of “wanting to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;” writes 9Marks of this false gospel.
Satan has been tweaking different gospels since the beginning. The above mentioned gospels (social, therapeutic, prosperity, and there ae others) all fall into satan’s original claims to Eve and his temptations of Christ: they are the “pride of life”, “lust of the eyes” and the “lust of the flesh.” The real Gospel involves humility, not pride, killing sin, not lust, and high views of Jesus, not looking anywhere else for satisfaction.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia summarizes the gospel message this way: The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (John 3:16; Romans 5:8–11; 2 Corinthians 5:14–19; Titus 2:11–14).
If you have to add a qualifier to the word Gospel, it isn’t the Gospel.
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…(1 Corinthians 15:1-5)