What do you think of when you read the words “Prosperity Gospel”? Odds are your stomach turns a bit as you think about the preachers on television that speak to very large crowds and appeal to even more in their books. More than likely you look at it as “out there” rather than “in here.” In one sense this is good. The shenanigans that some of those religious hucksters engage in should never be replicated in our churches. In another sense, however, it’s naive. One does not have to cruise around in a private jet or be dressed ostentatiously to qualify as a promoter of the prosperity gospel. It is more subtle. And it is more pervasive.
In its unabashed nakedness, the prosperity gospel is a damning heresy that is not a gospel at all. It is a Ponzi scheme concocted by those at the top to prey upon the weak and vulnerable. Preachers of this false gospel use God as a genie who is dispatched to give us stuff; as a result, the gospel gets reduced to getting more stuff. This message is primarily physical rather than spiritual and is about this (best) life now rather than the one to come. And most damning of all, it is about us rather than God. The cross of Christ is reduced to a stage prop to support the large tent meetings they hold. It is like they use Jesus’ band-with to hack in and launch spiritual viruses in the world.
Regrettably, the prosperity gospel has gone viral. Being more nuanced and subtle than you may think, it is very active in the church. Like a computer virus it is draining vitality and productivity in the covenant community. And you know what the worst part is? You may not even know that you are impacted by it.
Here are a few ways that you can tell that you are nibbling at the hook of the prosperity gospel, without, perhaps, even knowing it.
(1) You are dissatisfied by the ordinary means of grace.
The Sunday gatherings of the Lord’s people are very unspectacular. We sing, read and respond to God’s Word together. We probably don’t walk out of church like we walk out of a movie saying, “Wow! That was spectacular! I can’t believe how it ended! I never saw that coming.” No, we do the same thing every week with some variation of songs or Scripture. We do this because God tells us to do it; he says it is good for us (Heb. 10:25). We trust him. But sometimes we want a little more. Dissatisfied by preaching, prayer and singing, we want it to be a little more “our style” and to fit “our tastes.” Soon, we find ourselves looking for that perfect place for us rather than the faithful place to God. Somehow it becomes our show. This subtle shift shows that we are at least susceptible to if not fully on board with prosperity thinking.
(2) You think more about God’s blessings than God himself.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am thankful for the innumerable blessings that are ours in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But we must remember that the blessings are not the end but a means to an end; they point us to God. It is God himself that is the ultimate blessing. You can see how this plays out when you lose something that God has given you (maybe a job, a relationship, health, opportunity, etc.). How do you react? Many times people get sideways with God as if he has changed. This preoccupation with created things instead of the Creator has the footprints of idolatry (Rom. 1:20-25). It is also at the heart of the prosperity gospel. Christians should be on guard for this type of unbiblical thinking in their church and in their lives.
(3) You avoid communion with God in the Word and in prayer.
Let’s get right down to it: Christianity is spiritual before it is physical. If you are restless about what you see then you will never be content in the One whom you cannot see. There is an epidemic of Bible negligence and prayerlessness in the church today. It is not because we are too busy, too smart or too whatever—it is because we do not want to have communion with God. I believe this is a demonstration of prosperity thinking. It is hard work and a real demonstration of faith and discipline to read your Bible and quiet your heart before the Lord in humble adoration, confession and petition. We are very distracted by our stuff and our craving for stuff (created things) and not so drawn to God (our Creator and Savior). This is prosperity thinking and it has gone viral in the church.