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Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?

I may be biased toward Southern writers, and I may be biased because I’m a fan of Karen Spears Zacharias, but the truth of the story is this: her next book, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?: (‘Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV)
, needs to be read by twentysomethings and by pastors and by anyone who is struggling with thinking “blessing” means “material things.” Or as she puts it: “there’s a built-in audience for golden-calf theology.” The book examines the Health and Wealth Gospel, the Prosperity Gospel, or whatever you might call it.

What are your thoughts about the prosperity gospel? How do you explain the correlation of blessings (understood often enough in material terms in the Bible) and obedience?
Karen was placed on this earth to tell stories, and this book is filled with stories — both uplifting and offputting — about Americans who are making their way in this world. What this book really is is an old-fashioned expose of greed and of humans so bent on their own satisfaction that they’ll bend God to fit their own portrait. There’s a place for detached analysis, and there’s a place to tell the stories of those making decisions about life on the basis of what the relationship of faith and the material world … and Karen tells us stories.
She makes her points, like this: “money should be a vehicle, not a destination.” Or this: “But companies, even Fortune 500 Companies, are made from mist. Sometimes, it grows so thick you can’t see anything else, but then, lickety-quick, everything you work for can all be gone with the snap of a finger or the bullet from a gun.”
The hardest thing about blogging about Karen’s books is that stories are impossible to summarize, so let me mention that she’s traveled all over the place probing into people’s businesses and hearts and she tells the stories. Not many names, just characters: The Evangelist, The Mayor, The Ambassador, The Lawyer, The Veteran, The Beautician, The Preacher, and my favorite The Entrepreneur.
She’s got blurbs from Paul Young and Jeff Foxworthy, and a foreword from Steve Brown and Susan Isaacs.
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Dana Ames

posted March 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

The older I get, the less connection I see between a person’s obedience and material blessing. ISTM that in the NT, “blessing” isn’t really connected with material goods, but rather with living in, and living out, the life that is truly life- the life that begins to unfold when there is apprehension of the good news about Jesus the King.
It could be argued that in the history scripture relates, most of the most obedient people did not reap material “blessings”, but rather a lot of suffering came their way.

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posted March 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Scott, great words about a GREAT book. Karen is a gifted writer and storyteller. I’ve read all of her books, but this one just takes her way up to the next level! As a writer and journalist she is an inspiration to me. As a person and Christian, she is even more inspirational to me!

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Steve S

posted March 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm

The only problem is, scripture actually does speak of God’s Kingdom in terms of material blessing!!!
Certainly more than merely wealth and health, but definitely including health and wealth.
The prosperity preachers have that part right; God does indeed want you to ‘overcome’ and to erase all tears, to provide food and drink at no cost, etc.
The problem is not in the preaching of a prosperity from God but in an inaccurate eschatology (forgetting the Kingdom is both now and not yet), in an awkward theology (portraying a God who both condemns greed and rewards it), in a short sighted perspective on suffering (unaware of the fruit of God’s discipline), and in a skewed understanding of discipleship and spiritual formation (our desires are not in need of transformation, and can simply be pursued ‘as is’)

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posted March 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Generally, just reading Hebrews 11–ALL of it–shows how healthy and wealthy you might be. You might shut the mouths of lions. Or, you might be sawn in two.
Also, as Mark Driscoll has said more than once–your theology needs to include Jesus. If faithfulness should bring you something it didn’t bring Jesus, then you might have some jacked up theology.

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posted March 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

The Prosperity Gospel cannot be consistent with the free market message of Jesus. As just one example, if God wanted everyone to have health, we’d all make enough money to afford health care. Health and wealth are functions of the God-given capitalistic system that we look to for our earthly salvation.

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posted March 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I traveled to Viet Nam with Karen 7 years ago. She’s a gutsy gal and a gutsy writer. Never trite and always worth reading. She keeps the gospel down-to-earth

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posted March 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I think it is toxic. The implication, which hardly ever gets mentioned, is that if you are in poverty you must be living outside of the will of God. Mainly, if you are poor it is because of your sin.
To quote King David and Derek Webb, “I thought the cattle on a thousand hills was not enough to pay my bills but I fell in love with those who proved me wrong”.
God clothes the lilies of the field – what we neglect to realize is that we don’t need much. God’s provision is adequate.

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John Mark Harris

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I think most of what we hear that would be labeled “prosperity gospel” is empty of both prosperity and gospel.
However, many well-meaning Christians are overly reactionary to this perversion. “Blessed are the poor” is “blessed are the poor in spirit” in parallel passages.
Everything good comes from God, and that includes material possessions. The perversion comes in when we think there is a one-to-one correspondence between God’s favor and material wealth.
If we have wealth, we should use it to serve the Body of Christ (“my brothers” in Matt. 25) and those around us (e.g. love your neighbor).
There is also a less obvious side to the “prosperity gospel” that places far too much value on material things.
This more subtle cousin to the P.G. is the Social Gospel. It’s helping the poor and those who do not have material possessions by helping them to get stuff. Giving food and clothing to the homeless is a great thing, but it’s not the gospel. It’s impossible to love someone without taking care of these basic needs, but their problem (relatively speaking) is not that they need a hamburger and new shoes, they need Jesus.
Just as the P.G. seeks to make people’s lives better by using Jesus to get more stuff, the S.G. seeks to improve the downtrodden by using God to get the poor stuff.
The Gospel is irrespective of stuff.
If we are faithful to live the life presented in the NT, it makes no difference if you have a 50″ flat-screen TV or not.
If you are not loving your neighbor because you claim to not have been blessed with enough resources, but you have that 50″ TV, then we’ve got a problem.

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posted March 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Also, as Mark Driscoll has said more than once–your theology needs to include Jesus. If faithfulness should bring you something it didn’t bring Jesus, then you might have some jacked up theology.
What if faithfulness brought me a wife that I love?

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posted March 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm

God’s promises of prosperity were made to *corporate* Israel (eg Deut 30:5-16), not to individuals. The nation of Israel would be prosperous if they lived obediently. God would protect his people if they were faithful to him. God never promised individual prosperity and of course there is much in the NT (and even Job in the OT) to dispel an suggestion that prosperity is to be expected (or even likely!) for Jesus followers (Matt 5:10; Matt 10:35; Matt 24:9; Jn 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12 etc).

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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I don’t buy the prosperity gospel either but I think we would do well to get into the minds of the poor and marginalized on the issues of wealth and God’s provision. Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw wrote a great blog post awhile back that explains why:
“… It?s tempting to trash that kind of [prosperity] theology, but the Century writer [Paul Gifford, “Expecting miracles: The prosperity gospel in Africa”] rightly holds back from doing so. He is obviously concerned about the sort of preaching that he has witnessed there [in Africa]. But for all of that, he reminds us, there is something to be said for telling desperately needy people ?that you matter, that you belong on top, that you will have what you desire.? Marginalized groups of people do need to hear encouraging words that ?provide incentives in circumstances in which it is all too easy to give up.?
What I would add to this wise counsel is that we need to do the theological homework that will address these concerns more effectively. For me, the case was put in a challenging manner by my former colleague, the late Paul Hiebert, who published an important essay, ?The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,? in the early 1980s in the journal Missiology. Hiebert recounted his experience as a missionary anthropologist with recent converts to Christianity in a village culture in India. When these folks would face difficult challenges relating to fertility, family crises, or economic threats, they would often turn to the shaman for help. Hiebert realized that he did not have the theological resources to address their practical concerns. He had a ?high? theology of God, salvation, and human destiny. He also had a scientific grasp of empirical reality. But he was lost when dealing with a middle range of issues: How can I avoid accidents? How can I win my husband back? Who can help me deal with my child?s illness? How can I find enough food for our next meal?
This is the theological ?excluded middle? that my own theology does not know how to address. Yet for many people in the world, those are the most important issues in their lives. Much of what goes into ?prosperity preaching? makes me nervous theologically. But until the rest of us learn how better to address ?the middle range,? I for one will refrain from attacking.”
Not the prosperity gospel? Fine. Then what else will we comfortably feed and sheltered, Christians with our “high” theology offer them that is practical?

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Scot McKnight

posted March 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Thanks. I’m on a similar page, though I unequivocally disagree with the heart — and all the trappings — of most of prosperity gospel stuff.
But, I agree that what you are calling the “Middle” stuff must be examined, and I approach this through the lens of Wisdom instead of Law or Promise. I think you might agree. Hard work produces, that’s mostly a fact. I learn that more from Wisdom than I do from the incredibly-exploited promise that God will reward the faithful.
A sociologist, perhaps Peter Berger (or Robert Bellah), did a piece on this in Africa and concluded that the the prosperity gospel helped the poor out of their poverty enough for him to think it was not as bad as many make it.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

“… I unequivocally disagree with the heart — and all the trappings — of most of prosperity gospel stuff. ”
Ditto! The stuff I see from prosperity televangelist just makes me ill. But I also get convicted on why we haven’t don’t a better job of filling the middle.

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Wes Ellis

posted March 11, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I am interested in this book now!
The prosperity gospel is just such a distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who shared his identity with the poor and the “least of these” (matthew 25). Discipleship, or at least an aspect thereof, is practicing solidarity with the poor. Now even people who don’t buy in to the prosperity gospel will say that it’s no sin to buy stuff, but it’s gotta be tough to practice solidarity while driving a Bentley.
Blessing and prosperity is about finding joy in what is truly beautiful rather than seeking fulfillment in the stuff you can attain from the stuff in your wallet.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 12, 2010 at 4:23 am

I look forward to reading this, and catching up in reading all her books.

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posted March 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm

The other thing that tends to happen with prosperity teaching (and the closely related “name it and claim it”) is that it creates an ethos where a lot of the focus of Christian discipleship is on how to manipulate God so that God has to give you what you want. At least that was how it felt in the early 80s when I was in fellowship with some disciples of Ken Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, etc.
Ultimately it needs to be about God conforming us to his will, not the other way around.

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posted March 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Thanks, Scot. Always delighted to have your support. But as you know, I think the PG is a lot more insidious than we realize. Isn’t what we mean when we say God has blessed America, that we have more toys and better food than the other guy? At least in part?

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Jim Martin

posted March 13, 2010 at 9:45 am

Scot, I really enjoyed this book. In part it was because of the way she approached the issue of the prosperity gospel. But I especially liked it because of the way Karen writes. She is a very, very good storyteller. I felt like I knew a few of these people. :)

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