The Problem for the Prosperity Gospel

Scot McKnight argues against what is often called prosperity gospel, the idea that God wants to bless believers financially.

BY: By Scot McKnight


The prosperity gospel has some explaining to do. We are in an economic downturn and countless faithful moms and dads and brothers and sisters are unemployed, suffering, and going to bed worrying if there will be food on the table for the family. Countless Christians are anxious about their finances. You can see it on their faces and you can hear it in their voices and you can read it on their blogs. The problem that must be explained by proponents of the prosperity gospel is that these folks are faithful, they are trusting God, and they are still get sacked and suffering.

The prosperity gospel (or the health and wealth gospel) teaches that God desires the material, spiritual, and physical prosperity of his people. To become prosperous, all one has to do is believe, receive, and act upon God's promises. The prosperity gospel is a half-truth, perhaps less.

Prosperity Gospel and The Vending Machine God

Let's begin with some frankness. For the prosperity gospel, God could be seen as The Vending Machine God: put in faith and out pops blessings – money, homes, cars, beautiful spouses, clever kids, good neighbors, big churches, and plush vacations. For the prosperity gospel, humans are The Happiness Machine: receive the blessings, rely on the promises, act on the commandments and you can put on a happy face – a big one. Every day, from the moment you get up to the closing of your eyes, happiness is the aim of life. In the prosperity gospel, God is there for us; we are here for God to bless.
To quote my father, Hogwash!

The Problem for the Prosperity Gospel: The Bible

The problems here are the Bible and the Christian tradition and the stories of millions, if not billions, of Christians. I will focus on the Bible but the Church has never taught the prosperity gospel and billions of Christians have lives to prove that the prosperity gospel is less than a half truth. Billions have scratched by and suffered their entire lives but lived lives of utter fidelity to God.

That the Bible teaches that God blesses us is unquestioned – from the great blessing of Abraham in Genesis 12 to Deuteronomy 28's famous list of blessings and promises to Jesus' beatitudes to James' famous one liner that God's blessing means the "crown of life" there is a theme in the Bible that God blesses. Indeed, God is good; God's goodness means he blesses us and will continue to bless us.

But, the Bible doesn't permit a prosperity gospel reading. Let's be totally honest with ourselves as we read the Bible. Abraham waited and waited for the son of promise. Joseph experienced being sold into slavery by his God-elected brothers. Moses' call to ransom captive Israel led to years of privation and testing. Israel only crossed the Jordan River after 40 years in the wilderness (and Moses never crossed the Jordan). David was the prototype of the Messiah-King but suffered years of waiting, family struggles, and a son who fell away from faithfulness. Jeremiah spent most of his days in tears. Daniel was a devoted Israelite who had anything but a cushy life. And what about Job? What do we do with this paradigm of fidelity? His faithfulness seems to have gotten him into the crosshairs of the Adversary.

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