Prosperity or Prophetic

Rev. Bob Howard commented in the previous post:

The celebration of King’s holiday in January, near his birthday, may obscure the whole point of his living and dying, unless savvy people continue his efforts and explicitly link their actions to his.

This comment really rings true to me. I think we see the same thing happen with the ministry of Jesus. It is much easier for a government to manage a population that sees these men as standing for being nice to each other rather than standing up for justice. (It reminds me of Rev. Miller’s preaching on the difference between charity, wherein the powerful retain power, and justice, wherein the powerful surrender power.)

CNN is running a story that details another movement in opposition to King’s vision. That is the prosperity gospel movement. The idea is that God rewards the righteous. I really find this idea offensive. It is hard for me to consider it seriously, but I also acknowledge the tremendous traction it has.

At first this movement seems less dangerous than the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-science versions of fundamentalism. I think from the perspective of the United States, it probably is. But, as for the health of the faith, I’m not so sure. Here’s what the folks at CNN had to say:

Prosperity ministers preach that God rewards the faithful with wealth and spiritual power. Prosperity pastors such as Bishop T.D. Jakes have become the most popular preachers in the black church. They’ve also become brands. They’ve built megachurches and business empires with the prosperity message.

Black prophetic pastors rarely fill the pews like other pastors, though, because their message is so inflammatory, says Henry Wheeler, a church historian. Prophetic pastors like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, often enrage people because they proclaim God’s judgment on nations, he says.

“It’s dangerous to be prophetic,” said Wheeler, who is also president of the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Full story.

3 replies on “Prosperity or Prophetic”

Greetings, Jim,

Prosperity Gospel. Ohhh, don’t get me going!

Ethically, it is a ponzi game — you send me money for telling you how to get rich. Or for not telling you how to get rich, but simply assuring you that God really wants you to be rich. Or for not even that, but showing you that people who say “Gahhhd” and “Jeeeeesus” a lot on television tend to dress in expensive threads and smile a lot. And maybe you’ll luck out, too. So, if enough folks buy that pitch, I become rich off of their dreams. Nice.

Theologically, it completely contradicts the “downward mobility” advocated by Jesus (phrase not coined by me) (see, for example, Mark 10:21, and the rich young guy’s reaction in v. 22). In fact, the prosperity folks seem to overlook the plain-as-day warning Jesus gave as he viewed the rich young guy’s back going away (v. 23): “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.”


What, then, of us well-to-do North Americans? The ancient preacher bishop John Chrysostom railed against the wealthy who came to hear him — finger in their faces! — saying that hoarding their wealth amounted to robbing the poor of food, clothing, and housing, and that God looked on with chill dismay. Chrysostom took no prisoners. What to do? Methodism founder John Wesley might offer some help here: “Make all the money you can,” he urged, true enough, “but also give away all you can.” He set himself the goal of departing this earth with not a penny to his name.

So I would say, if you want to make money, fine, but do so with fear and trembling, recognizing that, from God’s point of view, said cash is actually a test of our faithfulness to God’s “downward mobility” program of spreading the blessing around on this planet to any in need. And as we give, we’ll learn what true prosperity means: mutual prosperity in the deepest possible way.

Bob Howard

Bob again, Jim,

Hmmm. A couple of amendments to the previous comment.

1) the “prosperity gospel” virus strikes all breeds of Christianity; it is an equal opportunity player, if you will. African American, European American, Spanish-speaking, and so on. No group has a corner on this market. And (unfortunately) no group escapes this scam.

2) there must be an economic floor called “enough to live on” (a decent life). We do nobody any favors by stealing bread out of childrens’ mouths in the name of some arbitrary tithing figure (or similar formula). When the cash starts piling up, then you’ve crossed the line toward hoarding, and that is when the sharing-generously-like-Jesus gene should kick in. But requiring that the poor become poorer in order to gain some sort of heavenly brownie points is equally sinful.

Needed addenda, lest I become either racist or a heartless zealot.

Bob Howard

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