The Prosperity Problem

We know there’s something bad out there called “The Prosperity Gospel.” We know it’s bad because most preachers and pastors will quickly tell us that it’s wrong and that they don’t teach it. However, I’m not sure that we quite grasp exactly what the problem is. The risk then is that we can end up making the same mistakes.

We assume that the Prosperity Gospel’s problem is that it guarantees a person will never get ill or at least be guaranteed healing and that they can expect untold wealth and riches … or at least, a big house, fast car and so on.

Now, lots of people believe in Prosperity teaching who are not mega rich and who still get ill. This suggests to me that the problem is a lot more than outcome. It’s about a way of living and a way of relating to God and each other. What it says is this.

There is a system or code to life out there and if I can live by it then I will get what I want out of life. So, if I do the right things, in the right way, in the right place with the right people, I will get the right result.

This is what leads to a belief that if I

  • Find the right words to say to God – name it and claim it
  • Do the right things – often including a clearly defined tithe of my income
  • With the right people – usually a specified church and recognised leader
  • Then my life will experience material blessing.

Now you will realise at this point that we can talk about those sorts of things without expecting the full-on prosperity outcome.

For example

  • I need a give exam result
  • I hope I will get that job I’ve applied for
  • I’m struggling with debt
  • I’m waiting for the Home Office to get back to me with an answer about my immigration status.
  • We are undertaking an evangelistic campaign and we would like to see a few new believers added.

These aren’t big, extravagant prosperity claims but we can still approach them in the right way.  Have I prayed enough? What was the right type of prayer? Was there something else I needed to do? Did I get the right person to pray for me? In the last example, did we get the right speaker, course, setting etc.

This approach plays into the three dangers we’ve met before

  • Legalism – follow this mechanism to get this result. So, if I get the wrong result then it’s because I did not pray enough or give enough
  • Magic – place superstitious trust that in someone or something other than Christ to get the result for me. Did the right person pray for me? Were the right words used?
  • Licence – because often once you focus on one particular thing such as saying the right prayer, tithing the right amount, going to the right pastor, then other aspects of life get neglected. Indeed, these things replace key Biblical instruction such as act wisely, speak truthfully, work hard, be accountable.

Ultimately the big problem with Prosperity teaching is that because it is obsessed with the mechanistic process by which I can get what I want out of life, the result is that it diminishes our view of who God is. We lose touch with his greatness, awesome majesty. God becomes something small, something to be manipulated. We lose touch with his goodness. God becomes impersonal, he is little more than a cash machine delivering the goods we demand.

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