“I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven
When I awoke I spent that on a necklace…”
—Kayne West, “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'”
For some pastors and Christians in the pew, it is certainly every bit of a dream come true — a free market, capitalistic, good time God.
A God that is always happy and wants everyone who follows and worships him (because, of course it’s always a him) to be happy all the time. So with this God, there are never any bad days, no need for Xanax or Lithium and no down moments.
A God that created humans in his image as rugged individualists. A God that enables humans to beat back sickness and disease solely through personal empowerment and faith in God and regular tithing to church.
A God that rewards this faith with unfettered prosperity and financial increase that would make the profits that flow through a Fortune 500 company seem modest in comparison.
For some, this wealthy God who endorses a gospel of prosperity, is the very Imago Dei, or Image of God. For some, this is the God they worship and praise on any given Sunday.
But, for the rest of us, this image of God who measures faith by material success represents simply “prosperity theology,” and it is anything but healthy or prosperous for its adherents and Christianity.
It’s detriment, however, isn’t always easy to discern. Prosperity theology has become the face and voice of Christianity itself. It’s ubiquitous.
Almost every preacher and clergy we see on television and hear on the radio, subscribes to prosperity theology. They literally fill auditoriums and stadiums for their worship services and conferences.
Their books become instant bestsellers. And their ministries are multi-million dollar empires, complete with jets, assistants, and brand managers.
And while church membership in many mainline Protestant communions has dwindled, prosperity churches are thriving and bursting at the seams.
So it follows that prosperity theology is popular among Americans. Seventeen percent of all American Christians indicate that they belong to the prosperity gospel movement.
However, over 60 percent of American Christians believe that God wants them to be prosperous. Who doesn’t want a God that values prosperity?
Prosperity theology isn’t a new concept in Christianity. The concept of prosperity is derivative of the Charismatic Movement, in which Christians believed that God, by way of the Holy Spirit, endowed them with special spiritual gifts to help and protect them from harm.
And to their credit, prosperity preachers claim that their theology is firmly rooted within the scriptures. They use a novel hermeneutic to suggest that the entire Bible, particularly Genesis, Malachi and the gospels of Christ, and God himself has always supported prosperity for Christians.
However, here’s the rub. Prosperity thinking is very dangerous for Christians. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6, that the desire to obtain and keep money is the root of all evil because it creates an unyielding temptation to oppress others to get it.
So the very thing prosperity preachers say that God wants believers to have, and uses to measure faith, creates a desire to oppress others.
What’s more, prosperity preachers travel to impoverished neighborhoods and inculcate a message to very oppressed and marginalized people, that if they just have faith they can alleviate all of the ills and pain in their lives.
But, this message couldn’t be further from Christ’s actual teachings. Christ said that all humans, and particularly Christians, will suffer on earth.
Both Christ and Paul indicate that while suffering is unavoidable on earth, it creates spiritual maturity and a close relationship with the Creator.
A theology that blames the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering for their own suffering, is an evil theology.
However, telling them that they can overcome their suffering on earth simply by being more faithful and paying tithes to church, is unconscionable because it implies that those who suffer deserve to suffer.
That is the problem with prosperity.