You may have heard the term prosperity gospel and that it’s not a good thing. Maybe you’ve even heard to avoid it and the people who promote it like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland. But when you get into the nitty-gritty theological issues, what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel? Does God want us to be happy, and will he reward us for our faithfulness?
What God Wants for Us
To begin with, we need to understand what exactly God wants for his people. This issue starts almost like the problem of evil. They assume that God’s will for Christians is to make them comfortable. God’s desire for us is that we grow to be closer to and more like him. This goal is not typically accomplished by making us healthy, happy, and wealthy.
God does work everything ultimately for our good, but that often does not include comfort in this life. Reality is not as simple as karma, where if you do good, good will happen to you, and vice versa.
There is perhaps no more striking example of what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel than the lives of the apostles in the new testament. Isn’t it a little strange that some of the most faithful believers in the early church died as martyrs? The ones who knew Jesus and wrote the New Testament nearly all died horrible deaths after experiencing long-term persecution. Was Peter executed because he didn’t pray enough? Are we really willing to say that we have more faith than Paul, since we haven’t been put in prison? Suffering tends to be part of the Christian story. Wealth, not so much.
A False Gospel of Manipulation
In a more practical sense, the prosperity gospel is manipulative and deceptive. For the longest time, I was under the mistaken impression that the prosperity gospel was unique to rich western cultures. It seemed like a way for us to stroke egos and explain why we are so rich. Instead, this message thrives in the most impoverished cities and nations who look to it for hope. Maybe if I pray more and give what little I do have, God will reward me with riches. Prosperity gospel preachers spread the message, get rich, and leave a trail of destruction behind them. Not only are countless people left with false hope, but they are also left feeling guilty for not having more faith. The reputation of these few preachers who get rich from this gain gets reflected onto all Christians, doing further harm to the church as a whole.
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