Culture At Large

Prosperity Gospel and Holy Week


Ben Witherington writes an insightful critique of Joel Osteen and the dangers inherent in the "prosperity gospel" (via Verbum Ipsum):

With 20,000 peeople regularly showing up at [Osteen's] church in the Compaq center in Houston and bringing in revenues of millions on his bestseller book, it is not a surprise that many will wonder and ask--- well what is wrong with a message that speaks about kindness, and generosity and success and prosperity? What could be wrong with this? What's wrong with a message that hardly ever mentions Jesus by name, or sin, or suffering, or self-sacrifice? Of course this message of prosperity is not new in America, nor new to American Churches.


The problem is several fold, and it involves a fundamental replacement of what the Bible actually has to say about wealth, with what our culture says about wealth and prosperity. And of course when you preach a message that is heard as saying "God wants you rich" or is heard as saying "if you give generously to God (i.e. our ministry) he will repay you many times over"), then of course the implication is that the Gospel message is really all about us, and ways to get God to fulfill not merely our needs and desires but even our conspicuously consumptive dreams. But is God really a nurturer of a vision of life that says its all about me and my material success?

Ben's excellent post delves into the Biblical warnings against the temptations of excess wealth that stand in stark contrast to Osteen's message that "God wants you to be a winner."

God does indeed bless most of us richly in this life, but there are many Christians who remain impoverished in spirit and in finances despite their faith. A theology that focuses too much on blessings in this life does not speak to those who suffer in this world and await their blessings in the next life. While Osteen's focus on the positive aspects of faith can be inspirational to many Christians, it strikes me as particularly incomplete as we are about to enter Holy Week. I once had a pastor observe how easy it is for Christians to move seamlessly from the "hosannas" of Palm Sunday to the "alleluias" of Easter morning without pausing to note the darkness and grief of Good Friday. Likewise, when we overemphasize a God who doles out prosperity in this world, we can lose sight of the God who suffered on the cross, the God who allows suffering in the world, the God who stands by us through our pain and poverty, the God who gives us hope beyond this life, or the God who tells us to take up our cross and follow him.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology, Christmas & Easter