9/17/2006

Osteen, Warren, and Prosperity

This from Ted Olsen at Christianity Today's Weblog:
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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.
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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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13 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Bob,
Yes. It is an insightful article. I'm afraid we take a simple truth or axiom: that America is a land of opportunity, and we jump off the deep end of that. The opportunity to fulfill MY dreams. Be financially independent. Be my own boss. And yes, spend time with my family. And this has a nice ring in our ears, because we've been more conditioned by our culture than by the truth that is in Jesus.

Scot McKnight said...

Bob,
Great piece and comments. Thanks.

blind beggar said...

Nice post. The “prosperity gospel” is an extreme manifestation of how many believers have been conformed to the world and its focus on the twin cultural values of consumerism and individualism.

Bob Robinson said...

blind beggar,

you've nailed it on the head!

marc said...

My comments on my blog to the contrary, I totally agree with ted gossard (I usually do) and blind beggar.

Bob Robinson said...

Hey Marc!!

Notice that you've been added to my blog roll. You've got a nice blog.

marc said...

Trust me, that was not lost on me. Means a lot coming from the likes of you my friend. Keep up the good work. BTW, I am praying for you.

John Smulo said...

Bob,

Glad to have discovered your blog. I appreciated this article as well.

I appreciate your observation that the church will overcome the prosperity problem when we overcome the broader overemphasis on capitalism. I'd add our struggle with self-centered individualism too.

Bob Robinson said...

John Smulo,

Yes.

The gospel is not just about getting our butts out of Hell and into Heaven. It is about creating a KINGDOM COMMUNITY that seeks to be a redemptive power in this world to overcome the effects of the Fall--
And individualism is just as big a part of the Fall as greed. And individualism and greed are two things that are centerpieces of the Great American Experiment!!

Mike Scolare said...

Bob,

These are great thoughts. Unfortunately, whereas pornography might be the number one export of the U.S.; prosperity gospel and the "me-centered" mentality it brings seem to be the number one export of the American church.

I'm overseas and hear more prosperity gospel preachers than I ever heard in the States. The people of my own congregation regularly praise these three men and their ministries and want to know why I'm so down on their teachings because it is obvious God is blessing them. These are for the most part women who live in poverty and are hoping that
God will one day give them riches to live what they see on TV (preachers and soap operas).

Removing the "I" from Christian and replacing it with "we" or community is hard work. You are dead on target in saying that we need to be about building the kingdom here and now and not focusing on material riches.

I tell my congregation all the time that God knows what we need and we will not lack for it if our eyes are on Him. That is not a promise for riches, but a promise for each day's needs. Thanks for the encouragement!

Bob Robinson said...

Mike Scolare,

Wow. Thanks for the international insight--
It's sad that we are exporting this out to you.

Thomas E. Ward, Jr. said...

Bob,

Thanks for this post. I was in Manhattan when this issue hit the news stand, and I picked it up while walking through, of all places, Times Square.

The fact that Christians are buying into this un-gospel makes me feel sick, and I really mean that. Peace to you.

Johnny Brooks said...

I also am living outside of America now, in Kenya, and the most exported message from American ministries is the prosperity message. People have a hard time understanding Jesus’ words “Blessed are the poor.”

Thankfully many of the people on the bottom here are starting to see that the only one who prospers in the prosperity message is the preacher.