The Prosperity Gospel
I agree that 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,” an insipid heresy whose popularity among American Christians has boomed in recent years, teaches that God blesses those God favors most with material wealth.
Wikipedia gives a quick overview of how this insidious gospel came to the fore:
It was during the Healing Revivals of the 1950s that prosperity theology first came to prominence in the United States, although commentators have linked the origins of its theology to the New Thought movement which began in the 1800s. The prosperity teaching later figured prominently in the Word of Faith movement and 1980s televangelism. In the 1990s and 2000s, it was adopted by influential leaders in the Charismatic Movement and promoted by Christian missionaries throughout the world, sometimes leading to the establishment of mega-churches. Prominent leaders in the development of prosperity theology include E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, David O. Oyedepo and Kenneth Hagin.
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.
The Uncomfortable Gospel
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 feel (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. This is where it gets personal.
I agree with Challies. I have not been called to be a missionary in Tonga. I am not called to be a preacher’s wife in the 10/40 belt. I am not a bible smuggler living dangerously in China or North Korea. I am a white, middle aged Christian woman living in rural/suburban Georgia. I go to a boring ole Baptist church with regular people who have a variety of blue collar jobs, or are farmers, or work in professional settings. I drive the 7 miles to school every day, assist children in Kindergarten, and drive home. I enjoy covered dish suppers, grocery shopping at the same place where I know all the checkout ladies, and banking at a small town bank where they know my name when I come in.
I live where there are rural farms all around including my own rental property where the lambs are about to be born any day! But horror of horrors, there are also ‘suburban’ subdivisions nearby, malls a half hour away, and a McDonald’s within a few minutes.
I don’t make a lot of money and in fact have to watch every penny, but I know by global standards I’m rich. I am comfortable in every aspect of my life, from what I drive, to what I wear, to where I worship, to where I work. Suburbia has gotten a very bad rep. I live in suburban-ish America, and according to many liberal and hipster Christians, I’m doing Christianity wrong.
Hipsters: It’s cool to Hate the ‘Burbs
I asked Mr NickDon the following:
“Is there something sinful about living in a house in suburbia that will bring woe?” and of course I never received a straight answer.
In his piece “Why Do We Hate The Suburbs?” author Keith Miller pointed out the flaw in ‘burb-hate.
Here are a few of the most prominent Christian objections to living in the suburbs. How many of them hold up to even a slight bit of scrutiny?
Suburbs are inauthentic: I confess to not quite understanding what this means. Yes, suburban things are often newer and feature less exposed brick, but how is that a moral argument?
Suburbs are consumeristic: No more than large cities.
Suburbs are morally repressive: Wait, overt exhibition of immorality is a good thing?
Suburbs lack diversity: The most diverse places in the country are suburbs.
Suburbs are full of a lot of Evangelicals who vote Republican: Oh, wait, now we are getting somewhere…
Obviously, each of these charges deserves a post of its own to address these issues with the requisite nuance, but even the one-liner responses should cause us to think. Why are we down on suburbs? Do we have a biblically grounded objection rooted in our personal experiences, or have we merely baptized a secular prejudice and called it Christian ethics?
Why do Christians hate the suburbs? Or if hate is too strong a word, why do so many disparage it? The question was asked by Matthew Lee Anderson in his 2013 article “Is Radical Christianity Radical Enough?“
David Platt, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and now Kyle Idleman are dominating the Christian best-seller lists by attacking our comfortable Christianity. But is ‘radical faith’ enough? … Really. If there’s a word that sums up the radical movement, that’s it. Platt’s Radical opens with it, by describing what “radical abandonment to Jesus really means.” Idleman says he’s going to tell us “what it really means to follow Jesus.” Furtick says that “if we really believe God is an abundant God … we ought to be digging all kinds of ditches [for when he sends the rain, as Elisha did in 2 Kings 3:16-20].” Do those who lead mediocre, nonradical lives for Jesus really believe at all?
And there is exposed the subtle two-tiered system that books like Radical instituted. Therein lay the insidious mindset by these holier than thous, that the millions of people living and worshiping and witnessing in suburbia are ‘lesser-than.’
I reject that notion because of one important factor. This is where God put me.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (Acts 17:26)
God made the nations and all the peoples in the nations. He placed each one of us where He wants us, whether it be India or Canada, suburban Ohio or metropolitan Paris. He is sovereign and in His will and plan it pleased Him to give me this life. Who am I to speak back to God? Or worse, who am I to disparage His plan for me and many others He has set forth?
Yes- it would be sin if I lived in a comfortable environment and felt the call to become a missionary in Burma and refused Him because I was comfortable. Yes, I understand the original intent of the book Radical was to get us to reject sinking into a mealy mouthed Christianity because we’re surrounded by comfort.
The true fact is, no matter where a person lives, if they are doing Christianity ‘right’, it is not comfortable. It takes commitment, energy, a proactive stance, and diligence. Matthew Lee Anderson concluded his piece this way-
The Good Samaritan wasn’t a good neighbor because he moved to a poor part of town or put a pile of trash in his living room. He came across the helpless victim “as he traveled.” We begin to fulfill the command not when we do something radical, extreme, over the top, not when we’re really spiritual or really committed or really faithful, but when in the daily ebb and flow of life, in our corporate jobs, in our middle-class neighborhoods, on our trips to Yellowstone and Disney World—and yes, even short-term mission trips—we stop to help those whom we meet in everyday life, reaching out in quiet, practical, and loving ways.
The essence of Christianity is loving your neighbor. Suburbia needs loving neighbors ‘reaching out in quiet ways’ just as much as the poor need help in Calcutta or the lost need help in Afghanistan. The daily grind of being a faithful witness for Jesus occurs all over the world, in jungles, mountain villages, cities, farming communities, and suburban plats. I reject the Prosperity gospel, and I also reject the Uncomfortable gospel. I accept and live by the only Gospel.
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 (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8–11; II Cor 5:14–19; Titus 2:11–14).
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, 15:4 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)