I have been reflecting lately on the prosperity gospel. How should it be looked at? Is it a Christian heresy or just a bad idea? Generally a movement is judged to be a heresy by its Christology. So Jehovah’s Witnesses are unorthodox because they see Jesus as an angel and Mormons are unorthodox because they see Jesus as another god beside the Father and a host of other gods that were once human. But the most devout prosperity believer would heartily affirm that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the divine Son of God and Messiah. So is the prosperity gospel just another orthodox form of Christianity along side Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, cessationism, etc.?
There certainly is some truth in the prosperity gospel. God sometimes does heal people with miracles and God sometimes does bless people financially. I would not argue with that. But I do have some concerns. First of all, it does not seem to fit with reality. Sincere Christians trust in God for a miracle and yet remain sick or die. Many faithful Christians remain poor for their entire life. Should we question Billy Graham’s faith because he is ill or Mother Theresa’s because she was never rich? It goes beyond just modern examples. There is no promise in the Bible that everyone would be healed. In fact the Apostle Paul asked three times to be healed from his thorn in the flesh (most likely a physical illness) and was told by God “My grace is sufficient for you.” As for wealth, Jesus, the Twelve, and most of the early Christians were very poor. It would be easier to argue from the Bible that the rich are not saved than it is to suggest all Christians are supposed to be rich.
These are good enough reasons to question the prosperity gospel. But there is one aspect of the movement that brings it close to heresy and that is their use of faith. Faith of course is very important in every form of Christianity. But in the prosperity gospel, faith is almost raised up as another god. If it is not another god, then God becomes an impersonal force that can be manipulated by faith. God’s will is not important, it is his power that can be accessed by faith that is important in the prosperity gospel. I recently listened to C.H. Spurgeon’s All of Grace on audiobook. Spurgeon had some great teaching on faith and in his book he warns against setting up faith as another Christ. This is just what the prosperity gospel does.
I am not saying a follower of the prosperity gospel is not a Christian (although I might question some of their leaders). But I do believe that the prosperity gospel can be dangerous. It leads people away from a dynamic relationship with the living God and into a formula driven manipulation of divine power. It is also dangerous because it often does not fit with reality. To tell a new believer that they just have to ask God and they will be healthy and wealthy could lead that person to unbelief when they find out that the Christian faith is much more messy than that. We need to let God be God. If he wants us to be healthy and wealthy, that is wonderful, I am not against those blessings. Yet we must be prepared to follow God in all circumstances. As the wedding vows go, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” If we can be faithful to our spouses in such circumstances, we should have the same dedication to God.