That the prosperity gospel has a hold on a segment of American culture is not disputable. Time quotes its own poll numbers:
17 percent of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61 percent believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31 percent—a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America—agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. … Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three—Joel Osteen's Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes' Potter's House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar's World Changers near Atlanta—are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits.For Osteen, "Prosperity Gospel" isn't a pejorative term:
"Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?"
On the other side is the guy whose church rounds out the "largest four" list:
"This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", [Rick] Warren snorts. "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?"
It's smart for Time to make Warren the piece's chief critic of the Prosperity Gospel. (One of his favorite lines, "I don't think it is a sin to be rich. I think it is a sin to die rich," doesn't appear.) And it allows Time to make its most astute observation: one of the reasons that the prosperity gospel has been able to grow is because (particularly white, middle-class) evangelical churches have avoided talking about personal finances or social inequality.
Now, however, white, middle-class evangelical churches are starting to talk about personal finances and social inequality. So the question becomes whether Prosperity Gospel is as ascendant as Time suggests, or whether it's just an aberrant theology that's about to have an unprosperous future.
This is very insightful.
Evangelicals will overcome the prosperity heresy that has crept into the camp when we overcome the insideous overly-capitalist heresy that has long ago crept into the camp - a heresy that says that God does not care about the vast economic inequality in our midst.
We have acted for far too long like free-market American capitalists ("This is my money, you get your own!" "Look at me and all my stuff! Hasn't God blessed me since I am so rich!?") and not enough like the body of Christ (that is supposed to sell their posessions and give to each other as there are needs).
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44-45)
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had...There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." (Acts 4:32,34-35)
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