Portals of the American Prosperity Gospel

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This is #2 of what will be 4 posts on the American Prosperity Gospel. I now want to focus on the “portals” of the American Prosperity Gospel. Or, in other words, what are the main marks of the American Prosperity Gospel? What are some of its’ distinguishing features? What are the phrases that are often used in this movement? Who are some of the important leaders of the movement throughout the last 100 years? Etc.

Hopefully this blog post will help people with the issue of identification – both for those who are within the movement (oftentimes without knowing it), and also for those who are purposely on the outside looking in. This can be helpful since on this topic there is an “Absence of a shared self-identifying label… Few want to be stereotyped as prosperity preachers” (249). So this list should be helpful in at least some sense. Not to stereotype, but to identify. The following are some of my findings as I read Kate Bowlers’ recent book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.

But before you check out my list please note what Bowler says on page four of her book. “The prosperity gospel cannot be conflated with fundamentalism, pentecostalism, evangelicalism, the religious right, the so-called black church, or any of the usual suspects (though it certainly overlaps with each).” Her book (and also my list derived from that book) is not an effort to finger-point so-as to pretend all American Prosperity Gospel adherents fall into a single, same tradition. Or box. They don’t.

Like most religious movements that gain traction in our world – The roots of the American Prosperity Gospel are long and tangled as are its branches. So I doubt any one list could ever “do” as a completely satisfactory description of any movement – let alone this one. That is not what I am trying to do here. But a simple list like this can help in one sense b/c it may allow us to look on at this movement with a proper sustained attention. Identification has to be one of the first steps of that process… So the following is not a full description. It is simply one part of the larger process of my attempting to personally understand this movement with a greater sustained attention.

Oft-Used Phrases in the American Prosperity Gospel Movement: 

  • “Faith-Talk,” “Laws of Faith,” “Word of Faith,” “Faith as a Force”
  • “Just take God at His Word”
  • “Keeping your healing”
  • “Expect a miracle”
  • “Picturize, prayerize, and actualize”
  • “Speech achieves results”
  • “Expect Rewards”
  • “Hearing and Speaking Activates Faith”
  • “Say-It-Faith”
  • “Power of Agreement”
  • “Name it and claim it”
  • “Blessed to be a blessing”
  • “The Year of…”
  • “Successful Living”
  • “Living in the Overflow”
  • “God’s mathematics”
  • Faith yields results”

General Descriptors of the American Prosperity Gospel: 

  • Focuses on the individual rather than groups
  • Use of physical objects as a means of blessing. Objects given a “talismanic value” (144)
  • “Senior pastor is the heart and soul of a prosperity church’s self-image” (254 – note that 71% of American prosperity megachurches use the image of the senior pastor as the primary advertisement on the church’s homepage)
  • Techniques of “binding and loosing spiritual power” includes using methods of “prayers of agreement, names of God, angels, and directional prayer” (187)
  • Emphasizes the power of the individual mind to “transform thought and speech into heaven-sent blessings” (11).
  • Pragmatic messages stressing “favor,” “abundant life,” and “positive confessions”
  • Focus and goal of community is upward physical or financial mobility
  • Using “points of contacts” for “releasing your faith toward God”
  • Physical manifestations or illnesses often understood as signs of a spiritual problem
  • Medicine as diagnostic but not curative
  • Assumes essential unity between God and humanity
  • Employs a high anthropology and high view of human perfectibility
  • Thought is understood as primary
  • Primary reality is made up of divine thoughts as opposed to material substance
  • Believe people share in God’s power to create and heal by means of thought.
  • Faith described as “dominating,” “appropriating,” or “victorious”
  • Healing explained as a spiritual “right.”
  • Signs and Wonders as evidence of true faith
  • Attempt to overcome illness through “the cultivation of faith” (19)
  • Focus on desire, prosperity, and materiality
  • “Spiritual insight backward from circumstance” (53)
  • Mechanistic formulas for spoken prayers
  • Leaders often known as a public persona rather than a “real person” (198)
  • Adherents learn to look for negative patterns in their lives and root out their spiritual cause
  • Theology includes an excess of excess
  • Straight line between life circumstances and a believer’s faith
  • “The prosperity gospel’s chief allure is simple optimism” (232)

Naming-Names: Main Figures in the American Prosperity Gospel from the Last 100 Years: 

Late 1800s:

  • E.W. Kenyon
  • A.B. Simpson
  • Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (Mary Baker Eddy used much of this to base her Christian Science thought-system)
  • John Alexander Dowie

Early 1900s:

  • Fred F. Bosworth
  • John G. Lake
  • Albert C. Grier
  • Napoleon Hill

1950s:

  • Granville Oral Roberts
  • Gordon Lindsay
  • Jack Coe
  • T.L. Osborn
  • William Branham
  • Kenneth E. Hagin
  • Norman Vincent Peale

1960s:

  • David Nunn
  • W.V. Grant
  • R.W. Culpepper
  • Leroy Jenkins
  • Kenneth Copeland
  • Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter
  • Lester Sumrall
  • John Osteen
  • Karl Strader
  • Tommy Reid

1970s and 1980s:

  • Pat Robertson
  • Paul and Jan Crouch
  • Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
  • Brenda and Mack Timberlake
  • Robert Tilton
  • Benny Hinn
  • Marilyn Hickey
  • Daisy and T.L. Osborn
  • Frederick K.C. Price
  • Carlton Pearson

1990s-2000s:

  • Joel Osteen
  • Joyce Meyer
  • T.D. Jakes
  • Creflo Dollar
  • Noel Jones
  • Paula White
  • Eddie Long
  • I.V. Hillard
  • Bill Winston
  • James Robison
  • Bishop Jack Wallace
  • I.V. Hilliard
  • David Evans
  • Charles Blake
  • R.A. Vernon

My next two posts on this topic will be more evaluative in nature. My 3rd post on this topic will explore what I see to be the main theological Problems of the American Prosperity Gospel. My last planned blog on this topic will be on the Biblical Passages of the American Prosperity Gospel. What are the passages this movement often utilizes and are their interpretations of those passages correct?

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2 thoughts on “Portals of the American Prosperity Gospel

  1. Well Said!

    I wrote a post a while back on a disguised version, meaning people in the Church may not say prosperity as it relates to money but a version of success or that God “must” bless them. Sad.

    -Justin

  2. Hey Justin, great to hear from you. I’d love to read your post. Plz Include a link so I can check it out! Thx

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