'The Australian' newspaper ran a summary of her argument in their Global Journals column (without a byline) on Tuesday 9 December 2009 with extracts from The Sunday Times, under the heading 'Gospel doesn't add up', stating that the Pentecostal Christians' interpretation of a 'prosperity gospel' is that Jesus blesses believers with riches. It quotes Hanna Rosin, who infers that followers of that gospel had a hand in the US housing bubble and crash.
As evidence, she notes that many newer prosperity churches popped up around the fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s …. precisely the kinds of neighbourhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures. "The Gilded Age US ideal of the self-made man has given way to a gambler who believes God will provide,"
These authors also observe that, across the whole USA, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among minority groups that are also over-represented by foreclosures: the African-American and Latino congregations. Within these groups, the vast gap between aspirations and reality does not deter the faithful. This kind of modern Christian, and 21st-century American has the ability to see beyond such 'reality' setbacks as an inadequate pay cheque, a pregnant daughter, a recession – they are willingly blind to seemingly hopeless circumstances.
"Theologically, the prosperity gospel has always infuriated many mainstream evangelical pastors. Rick Warren, (wrote The Purpose Driven Life ) told Time, writes. 'This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy.... there is a word for that... baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?'"
Hanna Rosin continued her argument that critics have recently begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. She cited Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, who warned in 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, that sermons encouraging the congregation to 'max out' on their credit, leading to narratives of how "God blessed me with my first house despite my credit", started to supplant messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice.
No warnings were given to parishioners of the burgeoning predatory sub-prime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one's home equity as an ATM.
She also speaks of a chilling philosophy in which branch managers of banks and loans organisations figured pastors had a lot of influence with their parishioners and could give the loan officers credibility and new customers. Officers were even sent to guest-speak at church-sponsored "wealth-building seminars" and dazzle the participants with the possibility of a new house. They would tell pastors that for every person who took out a mortgage, $350 would be donated to the church, or to a charity of the parishioner's choice. They wouldn't say, 'Hey, Mr. Minister. We want to give your people a bunch of subprime loans; They would say, 'Your congregants will be homeowners! They will be able to live the American dream!'
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson says that in Australia there is an important theological difference between the full-on prosperity gospel that is preached in many Pentecostal churches, and a more refined teaching in more moderate congregations.
This later teaching recognises the economic realities of life, yet retains a valid notion that part of the Salvation message of the Lord Jesus Christ, is that the Holy Spirit will guide your life, along with the decisions you make.
"Becoming a follower of Jesus and, associated with this, becoming a regular Bible reader does provide many insights never considered previously," M V Tronson explained. "It helps in making considered and wise decisions, it provides a breadth of thought enabling you to better recognise the role of risk in enterprising ideas."
This more reflective aspect of this type of teaching brings with it a sophistication that opens doors to a different set of people who are like-minded in enterprise and whose Christian faith is central to that engagement. These people will be regular bible readers with the concomitant gaining of new insights. The thought behind moderation in investments and the teachings of the bible go hand in hand.
"This is reversing the emphasis of the US-style 'prosperity Gospel teaching," Mark Tronson believes. "Although people still need to learn the basics of business strategies, and many men and women excel as 'mature-age students', the Bible can bring insights and wisdom that cannot be learnt at college; or that can help the Christian person interpret the practicalities they learn about in everyday life."
There is another factor that also needs serious consideration. In every generation there have been Christian people who have chosen a path of Christian service and whose income has depended upon the gifts of others.
Jesus, Himself is an example of this life style in his three years of Ministry.
Since then, missionaries (both at home and abroad) have lived this way 'for ever'. For M V Tronson and his wife Delma, this is their 28th year in faith financed mission living. This can only occur as those who are prosperous and who have a willing heart for the Lord, graciously and sacrificially give of their wealth.
The idea of prosperity itself, says M V Tronson, is indeed a Biblical notion. The way it is utilised and taught to eager and trusting Christians is the real issue.
Did an over-enthusiastic teaching about how Jesus can 'provide' cause the crash? You need to judge for yourself.