In his best-selling book, ‘Your Best Life Now,’ Joel Osteen addressed the necessity of faith to prosper. He shared that one fellow told him that God will bless who He wants to bless. Osteen wrote, “Unfortunately, that’s just the opposite of how God operates. God works by faith. You must believe first, then you’ll receive. Maybe you’ve been waiting on God to make a move, but God is waiting on you to stretch your faith. Make room in your own thinking, and then you’ll start to experience some of His supernatural increase.” 1 In the context of needing faith to prosper, consider the man who was healed in John 5:8-13 who had no idea who Jesus was. Where was his faith?
The prosperity gospel is a theodicy. What is a theodicy? It is an explanation for the problem of evil. Why are a few wildly wealthy and the rest are poor or drone through life in a middle-income bracket? Because the rest don’t give enough, trusting in God. Why are some stuck working at McDonald’s and not C.O.’s at large cooperations making a six-figure income? Because they lack obedience. Why do some have broken-down cars and struggle with addictions while others seem to lead blessed lives without a loss, struggle, or illness in their family? Because they don’t express a Godly joy in all circumstances or have hidden sin that hinders healing in their family.
The prosperity gospel takes a snapshot of the world and draws lines to the hardships, illnesses, deaths, tragedies, and losses we experience. Connecting on the other end of those lines is lack of faith, lack of giving, lack of obedience, and lack of joy. Those deficiencies are on our backs; they are our fault because an all-loving God would not want any to suffer. We don’t have because we don’t do; that’s what the prosperity gospel teaches. For example, verses like Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (NIV) at face value seem to support prosperity teaching. But John makes it clear, 1 John 5:14-15 if we ask according to His will, He will hear us. According to His will, not ours. You will NEVER hear a prosperity gospel preacher point that out to you. They just want you to give.
We don’t dictate to God how He is to manage His creation. In Prosperity Theology, the created become the creators. They create health, wealth, and prosperity, according to their own desires with no thought to God’s sovereign will. Paul recognized this, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Nevertheless, these preachers pluck scripture out of context and use it to miniplate others to become rich or influential. Theologians and biblical scholars practice exegesis, which means drawing meaning from the text. Scholars look at the context, who it is written to, and the author’s intent. Prosperity gospel preachers perform eisegesis; they don’t draw out meaning but draw in meaning using their own subjective sense, which is completely unsupported by the text.
Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Gospel all promise God’s generosity, benevolence, here and now. They say God does not want us to be broke, ill, or experience suffering. John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV) is another verse they will use to support their teachings. But if you read John 10 Jesus is talking about being a gate, a good shepherd, and laying down his life so his followers will have everlasting life. It is not about gaining wealth here on earth. One blogger wrote, “Jesus did say, ‘I came so that they may have life and have it in abundance’ John 10:10. In context, though, Jesus is contrasting himself with false teachers who are like a thief who ‘comes only to steal and to kill and destroy.’ If we take this literally, Jesus is saying that, instead of taking from our homes and treasuries, he will fill them with abundance. However, should we read this verse literally? Is it possible Jesus is using figurative language to communicate spiritual truth?” It should be obvious Jesus is not talking about prosperity here and now. 2
James 4:2 is a common verse used by the name it and claim it crowd. “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (NIV) Of course, they leave out the first half of the verse, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (NIV) You never hear that do you? Nor have I ever heard any property gospel preacher follow with the very next verse, James 4:3, which places a condition on what we ask for. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.“(NIV) These feel-good preachers cherry-pick all the time and Christians who don’t seriously consider their words fall prey every day to this hollow message.
Jeremiah 29:11 is probably the most misapplied verse I hear Christians toss out to those struggling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV) Well-meaning Christians use it to encourage, promise that good news is around the corner and that everything will work out. Just a little exegesis, and you will see that this was a letter to the exiles in Babylon, and it would be another 70 years before they would return home to Israel.
Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (NIV) Whoot! What a promise! Again, read that in context. Who was the author, who was he writing or speaking to, and why? This historical situation had to do with the Israelites not giving enough to the national storehouses, which were used to feed the priests of Israel. Because the priests were lacking, they had to take up farming instead of performing their priestly duties. Nehemiah 13:10-13 So God was encouraging the Israelites to test Him by giving. Yet Osteen, Hinn, Dollar, Heidler, Pierce, Duplantis, Copeland, and many others have used that verse to pressure you into giving to their ministry.
In a TIME poll nearly 20% of Christians consider themselves part of the prosperity gospel movement. Over 60% believe that God wants you to be wealthy. And sadly, nearly 1/3 of Christians polled believe if you give your money to God He will bless you with more money. 3 As John Piper put it, the prosperity gospel “elevates the gifts above the Giver.” He went on to say, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him, in the midst of loss, not prosperity.” 4
Did Paul ever name it and claim it? Show me one, just one verse that Paul tells us to use to become wealthy or change our circumstances. He suffered physically throughout his ministry and was imprisoned multiple times, 2 Corinthians 11:22-28, yet he recognized the value of what he was doing reached beyond any earthy material gain or wealth. Philippians 3:4-8
The prosperity gospel is not something Christians can just disagree on; it would not fall into an ‘in-house debate’. Instead, the prosperity gospel undermines and compromises the Gospel, which is the reason Jesus came, to let us know He has a rescue plan. He did not come to make us happy and healthy, to remove all the burdens and tragedies of the life we experience here on earth; he came to save us because we are incapable of saving ourselves.
The prosperity gospel is cancer, a virus, and the preachers who promote it are super spreaders. People want to believe it’s true because it is such a convenient formula. Or they find themselves in desperate situations and give their money away to these impostors who pose as men of God; who claim to hear from God regularly in dreams, visions, or the Holy Spirit moves them to speak. Frankly, it disgusts me, and my heart breaks for those who are desperate for help and turn to these deceivers who just want their money and care nothing for their wellbeing. I pray all of them will find themselves in the same position as Todd Coontz who ran the sham of Rockwealth International Ministries and continues to from prison as a front for a prosperity gospel.
I think of the Hindu beliefs of reincarnation. Suppose you were born into a poor family with no hope to rise out of your desperate circumstances, it’s because you were a horrible person in your previous life. You did some evil that put you in the circumstances you find yourself in now. Somehow you angered the gods because of what you did or did not do. The prosperity gospel has a similar theme but removes the boundary of various lives in the Hindu religion. If you are poor or suffering, it is because you don’t have enough faith. If you struggle in life and can’t seem to get a break it is because you are not walking in obedience. If your family and business are in turmoil, it is because you don’t apply the force of joy that will turn everything around. Use the force Luke! Your misery is on you because you are not doing what these pastors have found to be the secret to success. Estee Lauder said of her wealth, “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.“
In the last chapter of Hebrews, the author sums up his council, Hebrews 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (NIV) It is crystal clear, wealth is not inherently evil, but if you pursue it and make it a priority in Matthew 6:24 He explains, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (NIV)
Finally, in Mark 10:17-25 Jesus speaks with a rich young ruler who desires eternal life. Jesus lists the commandments and the man proudly announces he has kept them all since he was young. Jesus recognized what was hindering this young ruler and called him out. “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”(NIV) The young man walked away disheartened because of his love of money. How many of the prosperity gospel teachers would walk away from Jesus as this young man did?
God will never owe us because we fill our heavenly bank accounts with faith, obedience, or joy. This leads many Christians to some kind of spiritual entitlement mentality. G.K. Chesterton said about the Christian walk, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Our gratitude, joy, and thankfulness should be grounded in the person of Christ and what He has done for us, not in a change of circumstances we dictate to God.
Your Best Life Now – Part III by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com/.
Some helpful links and resources:
Cold-Case Christianity – Is God In Control
I highly recommend the documentary American Gospel Christ Alone 2018
Stand To Reason podcast and transcript.
Stand To Reason – Prosperity or Persecution a life and death example.
Desiring God God Isn’t Impressed with your Duty
Relevant Magazine The Prosperity Gospel Creates Poor Christians.
The Gospel Coalition What You Should Know about the Prosperity Gospel
Premier Christian Radio How I left the prosperity gospel
Stealing From God – Frank Turek
The Fifth Gospel – Bobby Conway
God Greed and the Prosperity Gospel – Costi Hinn
- Osteen, Joel. “God Has More Instore” Your Best Life Now, Warner Faith, 2004, p33
- Tamfu, Dieudonne. “The Gods of the Prosperity Gospel.” Desiring God, desiringgod.org, 4 Feb. 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-gods-of-the-prosperity-gospel
- Van Biema, David. Chu, Jeff. “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” Time Magazine, content.time.com, Sept. 10, 2006, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448-2,00.html
- Piper, John. MatthiasLot, “John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel” Online video clip. Youtube, 5 Dec. 2007. Web. 16. Oct. 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTc_FoELt8s