A new LifeWay Research study on Christians and prosperity theology concludes that “more than a few people in the pews have embraced it.”
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said the findings indicate “evangelicals appear to be to the most eager to embrace a link between God’s financial blessings and their actions.”
But the research appears to create more questions than answers about American churchgoers’ views on what many agree is the heretical teaching of prosperity theology.
McConnell admitted to ChurchLeaders that his researchers took on the project with an underlying belief that prosperity theology is a problem and to determine how deeply it is entrenched in the American church.
But it appears researchers felt the best way to warn Christians about the heresy was by suggesting it has overtaken the church.
Study Concludes Prosperity Theology Embraced by Many in the Church
LifeWay Research asked 1,010 U.S. adults who attend religious services once a month or more at Protestant and nondenominational churches to agree or disagree with three statements.
- To receive material blessings from God, I have to do something for God.
- My church teaches that if I give more money to my church and charities, God will bless me in return.
- God wants me to prosper financially.
“All three cross the line into heresy,” McConnell told Churchleaders, “by just going a little too far into what they said and see how many churchgoers agreed with each statement.”
LifeWay found about a third of Protestant churchgoers say their congregation teaches that God will bless them if they donate money.
One in four say they have to do something for God to receive material blessings in return. Two-thirds say God wants them to prosper.
Prosperity theology is typically defined as a belief that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for true believers.
Question #3 contains no such absolute. If LifeWay was trying to determine how many churchgoers embrace prosperity theology, shouldn’t the question have included “always”?
“The first question is a parallel to that third question,” McConnell explained, “that earlier question brings in a little of that obligation that God would have, not in just wanting it, but actually being obligated. So, the first question we asked was to receive material blessings I have to do something. That creates an obligation and that’s a much smaller group but still is a quarter of church attendees really believe that it is possible for God to owe us if we are we doing the right thing.”
In 2016, LifeWay conducted a study that found 1 in 4 Americans said they believe God will always reward true faith with material blessings. A question that included “always” and garnered the same percentage of “yes” answers as the first (and different) question in this most recent research.