November 23, 2009

The All-Consuming Ugliness of the Prosperity Gospel

"My kingdom is not of this world." --Jesus Christ, in John 18:36

Entitlement. It's a word that makes me uncomfortable because I always wonder how and why someone feels "entitled." One can be worthy, but how can one be entitled?

The ugliness of the prosperity gospel is not tied to a particular ministry, speaker, or writer. I have no doubt many people have had their spirits lifted and have been encouraged by some of the teachers of the prosperity gospel. So, what's wrong with the prosperity gospel?

First, why do adherents to the prosperity gospel believe they are entitled to more than our founder and leader? Every reliable thing we can know about Jesus' earthly life tells us he wasn't wealthy or powerful. He grew up in a lower-income home, lived with and cared for a single mother (after Joseph's death), owned only a small amount of personal belongings, and relied upon others for many of his needs. Read the gospels, folks. Jesus did not have the ancient equivalent of a Mercedes, nor did he live in a large home with many servants.

Second, the prosperity gospel offers nothing to millions of Christians suffering persecution for their faith, or living in politically and economically devastated areas of the world. Do we really believe God has more love for Christians in North America, where there is a semblance of political order and more possibilities for economic safety? What message does the prosperity gospel have for Christians imprisoned in China or Iran? What "failure of belief" are Christians in the Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo experiencing that explains their "lack"?

What witness of love and transformation has emerged from the followers of the prosperity gospel? How have those who have achieved wealth and material success used their gifts as an element of Christian witness? How many of these "name of claim it" folks are licensed foster care parents? How many of them are tutoring children and adults who need to learn how to read? How many are donating substantial amounts of their prosperity to soup kitchens, college financial aid funds, or overseas missions? How many are helping HIV/AIDS patients pay for their medications? How many are opening their large and often luxurious church buildings to smaller, struggling congregations that may need a place to meet and fellowship?

Do prosperity gospel believers really think that "wealth and health" prove God's blessings to the world of non-believers? Isn't it just as possible that living through all of the ups and downs life offers is a greater testament to God's grace? Do I have to have all of my ducks in a row to prove my spirituality is genuine?

Ultimately, it's God's choice in deciding what type of life I, as His follower, will have. Some will have a little, some will have a lot. I am entitled to God's companionship, His guidance, His protection, His love, and His eternal care. If I am asking for more than that, there's a problem. A big one.

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