By Elizabeth Prata
The Prosperity Gospel
The prosperity gospel has sunk in deep and permeated every corner of the US. The American church has a lot to answer for when we all meet Jesus. 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, make disciples, 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.
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 along the way. The collateral damage of this pendulum swing included a backlash against Suburban Christians and suburbia in general.
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, older Christian woman living in rural Georgia. I go to a boring ole Baptist church with regular people who have a variety of jobs; some are farmers, some work in professional settings, some are blue collar. I drive 1 mile to school every day, assist children in the lower elementary grades, 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. Suburbia for sure.
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
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?
I think the second question is the answer: we’ve ‘baptized a secular prejudice and called it Christian ethics.’ I reject that notion because of one important factor. This is where God put me.
Justin Bullington said on Twitter today, I continually find comfort in this truth: I am where I am in life because God has sovereignly and wisely placed me here.
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).
When you sprinkle salt into your dish the salt crystals go everywhere. With God, though, He sprinkles His elect all over the world and directs each one of us specifically to where He wants us to go. And when we land, here we are, doing the Lord’s work. One place isn’t holier than another. And definitely not holier because it’s rougher than other places in terms of living status.
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 or the Faroes. 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. It was intended, I think, to jolt us out of The Prosperity Gospel’s insidious tentacles.
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. Christians can easily be just as hated in the suburbs than in the impoverished Third World countries.
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 radical ‘Uncomfortable gospel’. I accept and live by the only 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, 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)
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