These past two decades has seen much written theologically on the philosophy of the nature of the prosperity doctrine in both the secular commercial world and the Christian movement that embraces such a theology.
No one denies in any shape or form that the desire for prosperity is inherent in the nature of the western world's seeking betterment for each other, and even a careful and deliberate examination of the industrial revolution has at its heart - not primarily great riches - rather an innate passion to create something better for our children and their children.
Therefore affluence itself is not what is ‘suspicious’, rather the application and delivery of the principles associated with the desire to be a little more prosperous - and then more prosperous - and more and more prosperous with little theological discussion as to when being prosperous enough has a Christian stop sign to it (or some such thing).
I am reminded of an article in ‘The Atlantic’, where Hanna Rosin challenges the prosperity gospel preachers’ “recommendation is partly grounded in economic reality, and partly drawn from mystical notions about a biblical calendar”.
She noted the suburbs decimated by foreclosures were the same areas where these types of churches rose up with this statement: “The Gilded Age US ideal of the self-made man has given way to a gambler who believes God will provide,”
Theologically, the prosperity gospel has always infuriated many mainstream evangelical pastors. Rick Warren, (wrote The Purpose Driven Life ) told Time Magazine, '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?'” Warren stated.
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.
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-speakers at church-sponsored “wealth-building seminars” and dazzle the participants with the possibility of a new house. They would say, ‘Your congregants will be home owners! They will be able to live the American dream!’
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. 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.
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 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 my wife Delma and I, this is our 41st 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 is indeed a Biblical notion. The way it is utilised and taught to eager and trusting Christians is the real issue. Undoubtedly those who exercise an over-enthusiastic teaching about how Jesus can ‘provide’ through clever financial systems and the wanton, wish to get rich quick, will inevitably come a cropper (as they say). When you hear it, run to the hills!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html