Jesus came to save us from poverty not the wrath of God. That is probably the most succinct definition I can muster for the money message so common in the churches of the developing world. But this one doctrine–like any doctrine in all systems–can’t stand alone. Below is a brief catalog of the ingredients that prosperity stew needs to taste right to the contemporary connoisseur.
So to the aid of this New Testament distortion comes a renovated teaching about faith. Thomas Goodwin, leader in the Westminster Assembly, defined faith in these transporting terms:
As the soul sees the spiritual excellency and the glory that is in Jesus Christ, so the will doth set the highest value and esteem upon that excellency that is in him, a value and esteem far above what a man hath for all things whatsoever; and this is to believe.
A lesser son of greater sires wrote,
Saving faith is an ability given by God to agree with the historical facts of the Gospel and to commit to those facts and their implications.
However, the prosperity gospel requires faith to be a kind of force that actually creates reality. In this skewed universe, God has faith and He has to obey those who have this supreme, new age power. Faith is disconnected from believing the Bible and resting in Christ, and has mutated into mindless positive thinking.
I have even been told by business men when they failed to provide the services that I needed and they offered, that I must refrain from saying anything bad or disappointed because I will attract more business failure to myself. How’s that for a convenient way to avoid offering customer service?
By insisting that faith is a power that Christians must harness to get what they want, the leaders have a way to get off the hook when their people are poor. The prosperity gospel cannot handle a robust, Biblical treatment of faith. A faith that is Christ-centered, otherworldly, rejoices in tribulation, hates sin, and is content to be poor as long as God is glorified.
The Little Gods Doctrine
The prosperity gospel also needs an emphasis on the divine nature of humans. Men have to convince themselves that they are actually god. It actually amazes me that this can even be considered Christian doctrine. Yet, there it is on YouTube waiting for all self-professing Christians to walk out on this blasphemy.
As the shtick goes, men are gods because they were made in God’s image. They are gods because God makes us His children which supposedly infuses or releases divinity in humans. But mainly, men are gods because that’s the only way they can defend their unbiblical thinking about money and comfort. Because of our godlike status, we can demand Jehovah to do things for us, and He has to obey.
At this point some Christians who had previously followed the point and agreed may be frustrated. Yet, agree or not, charismaticism plays a major role in the prosperity gospel. Not all charismatics love money, but all those who love money as it is embodied in the prosperity gospel (that I have ever met, read, or can imagine) also hold to the continuation of the sign gifts.
How do spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, and miracles support prosperity theology? Prosperity needs visible demonstrations to offer to their adherents. Rather than looking not at what is seen but what is unseen, they follow modern revivalism with a fixed addiction to tangible shows of power, excitement and interest. Very Wimber-esque, or more properly Finney-ish.
So, here is a brief delineation of the key cogs in the machinery of prosperity theology. Others could be added, but these three are essential. They cannot be eliminated from the system without losing something integral.
In case it is not widely known, Hank Hanegraaff and John MacArthur have done excellent jobs in serving the church by offering some highly readable book-length critiques of this movement. They both quote widely from original sources, and the quotes alone are worth the price of both books.