Whether it’s coming from Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, or any number of well dressed multimillionaires who appear behind a pulpit on television screens across the nation, many American Christians and non-Christians alike have an abiding disdain for prosperity theology.
Prosperity theology distorts the message of the Gospel, teaching that Christians are entitled to be healthy, wealthy, and happy, and that an absence of wealth and health in a person’s life necessarily corresponds to their lack of faith or generosity or the presence of an unrepentant sin.
Preachers who peddle this message often instruct their followers to give donations as “seeds” of faith in order to reap a disproportionately large financial return or healing for their illnesses and ailments.
Since this framework sees wealth and health as evidence of faithfulness, the rich preacher who rakes in donations to purchase expensive clothing and jewelry, a luxurious home, and private jets appears to be the most connected to God of anyone in the entire church. Never mind the fact that his wealth was attained not by the strength of his faith but his ability to convince ordinary people to donate their bottom dollar on the false promise that doing so would deliver them from whatever dire straits they have found themselves in.
At its heart, prosperity preaching is cruel and manipulative. It is the kind of thing that causes Jesus to flip over tables and drive people out of the temple.
Naturally, most Bible-believing evangelicals want nothing to do with the obvious evils of prosperity theology. However, in our vigilance to stay away from this false teaching, sometimes we overcorrect for its ills. And while our move to the opposite end of the spectrum certainly does not often rise to the level of the evil it is responding to, it does cause us to act in ways that are nonetheless unhealthy when it comes to money and earthly success.
Here are four ways evangelicals tend to overcorrect for prosperity theology.
1. We Develop a Scarcity Mindset, Afraid To Ask God for Too Much.
Followers of Jesus serve the God of the infinite. The Spirit who dwells in and among us is the God of endless possibilities and resources. We know that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
It’s just that by looking at most of us, you wouldn’t necessarily know that this is one of our core beliefs. Our prayers are often timid. Afraid to ask God for too much, we ensure that our requests are manageable, often including the caveat that we are only asking for God to provide if it is “in his will.” We wring our hands, and often argue with each other at congregational meetings, about whether we should spend resources on bold initiatives that we believe will advance the mission of the gospel in our communities.
Certainly, God does not “owe” us anything, and we must always be wise and judicious in the ways that we expend resources. Nevertheless, God invites us to boldly “draw near to the throne of grace,” knowing that God understands and sympathizes with our needs, weaknesses, and God-given desires (Hebrews 4:16).
Christians would do well to remember that God is not disinclined toward blessing us. Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). And while that doesn’t mean it’s God’s intention to make us rich and powerful, he is not unconcerned with our well being. Further, when it comes to our desire to see the hearts of the people in our communities transformed, our prayers and actions should reflect the fact that there is no one who wants that more than Jesus himself (2 Peter 3:9).