It is true that the prosperity gospel encourages people — especially its leaders — to revel in private jets and multimillion-dollar homes as evidence of God’s love. But among the less well-heeled believers, I sensed a different kind of yearning, one that wasn’t entirely materialistic. Believers wanted an escape: from poverty, failing health, and the feeling that their lives were leaky buckets.
Some people wanted Bentleys, but more wanted relief from the wounds of their past and the pain of their present. People wanted salvation from bleak medical diagnoses; they wanted to see God rescue their broken teenagers or their misfiring marriages. They wanted talismans to ward off the things that go bump in the night. They wanted an iota of power over the things that ripped their lives apart at the seams.
What they wanted was reassurance: that if they prayed, and believed, and lived righteously, they would be rewarded with some measure of comfort.
The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and some people don’t? Why do some people leap and land on their feet while others tumble all the way down? Why do some babies die in their cribs and some bitter souls live to see their great-grandchildren?
The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way. If you believe, and you leap, you will land on your feet. If you believe, you will be healed.
I would love to report that what I found in the prosperity gospel was something so foreign and terrible to me that I was warned away. After all, the moral and logical flaws in this theology are all too evident; it explains away misfortune as something that can and ought to be held at bay through faith and prayer. But what I discovered was both familiar and painfully sweet.
I hesitate to post this since it almost guarantees some kind of partisan reaction, but I have to admit that I never thought the prosperity gospel would wind up being so big. To me, Jesus’s words are clear — your physical blessings have little to no correlation with your spiritual health.
Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher with close ties to President Donald Trump, is calling on followers to send her donations of up to one month’s salary. Those who don’t pay up could face “consequences” from God as he demands the dough as a “first fruits” offering.
“The reason is God lays claim to all firsts,” White wrote on her website. “So when you keep for yourself something that belongs to God you are desecrating what is to be consecrated to God.”
In this case, the “firsts” are money, which “supernaturally unlocks amazing opportunity, blessing, favor and divine order for your life.”
There is so much scripturally wrong with these few sentences, I’m not sure where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that we live in the New Testament, not the Old — which is where the offering of the first-fruits belongs. Then there’s the fact that early church leaders like the apostle Paul would reject contributions from Christians at times so that his ministry would not be an undue burden upon them. And yes, Christians are commanded to give “as they have purposed in their hearts” to their home congregations for the work of the Lord — but not for a payoff of some sort.
The dangerous part about this is the trend of trickle-down theology that seems to happen when a false doctrine takes too firm a hold among religious political figures. Shades of premillennialism infect church doctrine as a direct result of those teachings permeating conservative foreign policy rhetoric. Heaven help us if prosperity gospel teachings begin to infect the church.