It was a little past midnight.
Unable to go to sleep because I had taken a four-hour nap earlier in the day, I pulled out my Bible. I’ve been a little lax, to put it mildly, on Scripture reading in recent months, so I’ve decided to go back to my favorite chapters in the Bible to be reminded of why I liked them and liked reading Scripture in the first place.
At this moment, it was Proverbs 3. I’m daily reminded of that chapter because I get verses 5 and 6 as a reminder every day at 9 a.m. — “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
I kept going, but I stopped short at verses 9-10:
Honor the LORD with your wealth with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
I stopped because this sounded like the so-called “prosperity gospel.” It sounded like, “Give God money, and He’ll bless you unbelievably.”
This is the “prosperity gospel” that many evangelicals rail against, whose main proponents some criticize President Trump for hanging out with, which pastors can get congregational points for speaking ill of. This is what we think the Bible speaks directly against.
As I thought about these verses and this idea, a couple things came to mind (which is why I’m writing a blog post) and I was left with some questions that I’ll attempt to answer.
Is “Prosperity Gospel” Even the Right Phrase?
This is the common phraseology we use for the teachings of Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar (a ridiculous name, by the way) and more.
But I don’t think that it’s the right verbiage. The teachings of the “prosperity gospel” have nothing to do with the act of being saved, with salvation. A quick peek at Osteen’s “What We Believe” page on his website shows that, in his beliefs about salvation, he doesn’t veer from what most evangelical Christians believe.
Perhaps the right language is “prosperity teachings.” It’s a look at the Bible that says that if we give and are obedient to God, we will receive health and wealth in return and be blessed. It’s not a matter of salvation, so “gospel” isn’t even the right word.
Are People Who Believe in “Prosperity Teachings” True Christians?
So the people who believe in “prosperity teachings” are still believers, I think. I was talking to my pastor about this today and he made a comment that some would say that those who believe in such teachings are going to hell. Well, he added, so are some of those who believe in what many believe are “right” teachings. As my mother has said many times, we’ll be surprised who’s there and who’s not there when we get to heaven.
Does the Bible Really Support the Idea of “Prosperity Teaching”?
I think the answer to this is yes.
Verses like Proverbs 3:9-10 prove it. There are many Scriptures that talk about God blessing the faithful with riches and asking for and receiving things. The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. John 10:10, about having life abundant. Matthew 7:7, ask and you shall receive. Matthew 21:22, you’ll receive what you ask for in prayer if you have faith.
Most of these are words of Jesus, and aren’t being taken out of context. So I think it’s safe to say that, in both the Old and New Testaments, there are verses that support the idea of prosperity for Christians.
Does the Bible Support All of “Prosperity Teaching”?
I don’t think so.
There are many Bible verses that talk about how suffering is a part of being both a human and a Christian. Just because you’re faithful doesn’t mean everything will go well. Jesus asks a young man to leave his wealth behind to follow Him. Jesus guarantees His disciples that they will suffer for claiming to believe Him, and that those later on will also.
So Have We Gotten “Prosperity Teaching” All Wrong?
Yes and no.
I think Christians often vilify the teaching, the teachers and followers unfairly.
Many prosperity teachers have massive amounts of wealth and some manipulate poor people in a horrible, non-Christian way. Just watch John Oliver’s piece on televangelists (it’s on HBO, so expect some profanity and inappropriateness) to see that. In those cases, they should be admonished and people should be warned about how harmful they can be.
But in other cases, maybe these teachers and followers understand something that we don’t. Maybe they believe the Bible (in certain places) more than we do. Maybe they are more cognizant of God’s blessings in their lives than we are because they’re looking for them and looking for a way to praise God in response.
I’m pretty confident that they’re believers, just as I am. But if they’re guilty of misreading Scripture in the intensity of their belief in “prosperity teachings,” I’m just as guilty of other sins. I’m no better.
I’m left with a lot of questions. How much of “prosperity teaching” is true? I think it’s a matter of some of it is right and some of it is wrong. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding the balance. We can ask God for things, and he will answer, and He does bless us for our obedience, but maybe it’s not in the volume prosperity teachers preach about.