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


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What about the New Testament saints? Let's begin with the Story of Jesus: an innocent man who was cruelly crucified and he left behind a mother who had been promised that her son would be the King of Israel (Luke 1:46-55). Peter first confessed Jesus as Messiah but struggled mightily to comprehend a Messiah who had to be crucified. The tradition tells us he was martyred. Paul … what do we need to say but quote these lines from his own letter to the Corinthians: "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 13:7-10). The constant patter of Paul's life was suffering, not material blessing. And the roll call in Hebrews 11 tells us time and again of solid saints who experienced one hardship after another.

The Every Day Cross

The paradigm of who we are as humans in the Bible is not the Happiness Machine. The paradigm of the human is the Cross. Jesus told his followers to take up the cross every day and that meant to be ready to suffer (Luke 9:23). Jesus was crucified for us and we are called to die with him (Romans 6). The deepest paradigm for the human in the Bible is the human who has died with Christ, died to self, died to everything we want, died to the world, and died to the flesh. We are called not to seek our own happiness but to seek the glory of God by giving ourselves to God and for others. The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it focuses on "getting our wants." The cross gospel focuses on "giving our selves." Love of God means to live for God; love of self means to die to self so we can love God and others; love of others means dying to self so we can serve others. We are not Happiness Machines but Loving Machines. Seeing ourselves as Happiness Machines is the prosperity gospel; seeing ourselves as Loving Machines is the cross gospel.

The prosperity gospel is less than a half-truth. The God of the Bible is good; the God of the Bible indeed blesses. But the God of the Bible is the God who will see us through regardless of the circumstances. God sometimes blesses and we raise our hands in thanks. But other times we are not experiencing the blessing of God (or at least we think we are not), and what we learn is that God is there, watching and waiting for us to trust him, obey him, and learn that in loving him we have life's deepest blessing. He's with us, through thick and thin. Some days are good and we thank God for his blessings. Some days are difficult and we are summoned by the good God to trust, to be faithful, not to lose heart, and to hang on in the hope that Someday, Somehow God will step into history one more time and turn the world upside down so that justice will be established, peace will reign, and love will connect everyone. We may or we may not be prosperous; what we are called to be is faithful and loving.

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