In an article entitled, A New Kind of Prosperity Gospel, Bruce Epperly writes:
“While there is much to affirm about the relationship of positive thinking, visualization, and heart-felt faith with physical, mental, relational, and spiritual well-being, I believe there are serious problems with both the new age/new thought and Pentecostal understandings of spirituality and prosperity. First, both are highly linear in approach: they assert that right thought or faith alone matters. If you have faith, you will succeed; if you don’t, you will fail in every aspect of your life. Positive thinking ensures success; while negativity leads to disease and failure. Accordingly, both approaches neglect the relational and social nature of life. They believe that regardless of our environment, economic situation, physical condition, mental health, or family of origin, we will succeed if we only have enough faith or affirmative consciousness.”
Apart from agreeing entirely, I particularly appreciate that Epperly’s focus on the social weakness of success-focussed spiritualities. So he continues:
“I believe that Christians are called to affirm a new and more compassionate kind of prosperity gospel, one that affirms the life-transforming power of the faith and positive affirmations, but sees our affirmative faith in the context of many factors, including environment, economics, relationships, opportunity, etc. In contrast to linear causation, I assert that our well-being and suffering are the result of many interdependent factors, including God’s lively vision for us and the impact of the social structure, and not just our own positive thinking, will, or faith. From a pastoral perspective, this is essential: we are not fully responsible for our success, ability to have faith, or current health condition. This encourages both gratitude for the web of relationships that supports our success as well as appropriate responsibility for our failures. The mind or faith are not omnipotent but always relational and contextual, and to some degree limited in power.”
What’s your thoughts on prosperity?
9 thoughts on “A New Kind of Prosperity Gospel”
I’ve thought about this post for a while and even took the time to read Epperly’s original article. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with the prosperity gospel or the more extreme claims of the “positive thinking” line of thought in the New Age movement. After all, I do believe there has to be a limit to the power of positive thinking.
Ultimately, I think the real power of positive thinking lies in the fact that given any situation — even those situations that are not of our making — we can still control our own actions and decide how to handle the situation. We can choose to make the best of it, do what we can to improve it, seek out any help we might be able to find, and do many other things. And positive thinking also allows us to understand what choices we have made and what actions, again helping to create a different and hopefully better situation in the future.
Of course, to me, there’s also a flips side. I think that this process involves a bit of soul searching and considering what it really means for us to be prosperous and successful. To me, prosperity and success isn’t about the rush to acquire wealth and luxuries (though I admit that I do enjoy being financially comfortable and having a good number of luxuries), but about having a meaningful and pleasant life. And for me, that means having loved ones to share and celebrate my life with and to take part in their lives. I suppose this is why I often joke that there’s no point in having a lot of money if I don’t have people to spend it on. 😉
I may have more to say later. I’m still mulling it over.
Jarred, you have me reflecting on how close our values sometimes are, despite our very different deities. No doubt some of this is cultural, but, nevertheless I suspect there is even more too it than that. Our gods can’t be completely alien to one another.
I take my understanding of God from Jesus of course. He warned of the ultimate futility of the rush to acquire wealth. But he also confronted poverty and sickness as problems to be overcome. Thus, neither poverty or wealth were ideals for him, he sought to transcend both. I like his emphasis of giving over getting. One must have something to give in order to give, and one must hold it lightly in order to give.
I have grave reservations about itdentifying it as “Pentecostal”, as Epperly does, or as “charismatic”, as some others do. Yes, the “prosperity gospel” is also preached by some NEOpentecostals, but it is not a part of classical Pentecostal teaching, and is certainly not something taught by all charismatics.
One of the biggest problems I see with the prosperity gospel is its growing association with witch hunting, and especially with harrassing supposed child witches. I realise that not all prosperity groups do this, but it is mainly prosperity groups that are involved in this. I tried to raise this in the Lausanne Conversation, but no one seemed interested in pursuing the matter further.
I suspect the difference between our contexts has a big impact on our perspectives here. In Sydney, prosperity gospel and pentecostalism are virtually synonymous, spearheaded by Hillsong which is the dominant local expression of both. Witchhunting on the other hand, particularly of the more deadly serious kind, is virtually unknown.
I would reccomend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy.
Prosperity gospel…The secret etc…all have some attractions to me. Certainly the way we mentally frame the events in our lifes can be key. And I don’t doubt that we often draw things/events and circumstances to ourselves. But it ends up to me being too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account the real existance of evil and it’s effects in the world…examples being genocidal activiities of the Holocost, Rwanda, violence in the Congo, Sudan etc. and it can lead to indifference to the plight of others.
Are there no classical Perntecostals in Sydney? I’ve never been there, but from descriptions I’ve read Hillsong sounds like a typcal NEOpentecostal megachurch, such as appeared in the late 1970s and 1980s. Examples here are Rhema, Christian City and Christian Centres. Older Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Full Gospel Church, were not happy with the prosperity gospel, and the founder of the Christian Centrres was a former Full Gospel minister who left that denomination to start them.
Hillsong is the dominant neopentecostal megachurch AND the dominant Assemblies of God church in Australia. They’re the face of AOG for most of us. Pentecostalism has so morphed in the Australian context that I think it’s fair to say that meaningful distinctions between the two have largely collapsed over here, at least in terms of the public eye. Though I gather we have some ‘classicals’ they are definately underground.
That’s very interesting. I believe a Hillsong church recently started in Cape Town, but I don’t know if it has any connection with the AoG in South Africa. I thought it was its own denomination.
From the AOG website: “The Assemblies of God in Australia was formed in 1937 and has experienced consistent growth, particularly in the last twenty years. It adopted a new name of Australian Christian Churches in 2007 and currently consists of more than 1,100 churches with over 215,000 constituents, making it the largest Pentecostal movement in Australia.”
From the wiki article on Hillsong: “Over 20,000 people attend services each week”
The simple math is that a single one of the 1100 churches in the Australian AOG approaches 10% of the denomination’s total membership, even ignoring irregular attendees. It wields enormous influence. It’s possibly transforming the local AOG beyond what the global AOG would recognize as AOG.