Passages of the American Prosperity Gospel

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This is my fourth concluding post on the American Prosperity Gospel (APG). I will now show how all of the passages APG preachers use to perpetrate their (faulty) theology are taken out of context via the blatant misinterpretation of Scripture. I believe the main danger of this movement is they twist the Gospel into a Religion. But “Gospel” and “Religion” are two very different things. The Gospel says, “I am accepted because of what Christ has done for me.” Religion says, “I obey, therefore God blesses me.” The Gospel is based on joy. Religion is based on fear. According to the Gospel, I obey God to get God. In Religion, I obey God to get good things. The Gospel is the best news in the world. Religion is boring, impossible-to-fulfill moralism.

APG preachers make the Gospel into boring moralism and that is why it is so dangerous. To overly simplify this with some Christianese – According to the Gospel, Sanctification (what we do through Christ) is based on Justification (what God did for us). But the APG switches it. In essence, they claim justification (what God does for us) is based on sanctification (what we do through Christ) – and this is where it is clear the APG is NOT the Gospel of the Bible.

To review, you may want to check out the following three links including my previous posts on this subject:

1) Pervasiveness of the American Prosperity Gospel

2) Portals of the American Prosperity Gospel

3) Problems of the American Prosperity Gospel

Now, to my specific critiques. In reading Kate Bowlers’ book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, I ran across 12 passages that APG adherents most-often cite. The following are those passages (from the earliest to the latest as they show up in the canon) and after each passage I give my own explanation for why none of those passages should be understood to back up a prosperity Gospel theology. This movement misinterprets every one of the following passages. Thus, from a Biblical perspective, we should seriously doubt the validity of the APG movement.

Hosea 4:6a: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge… APG preachers use this verse to argue what the sick require most is knowledge. They argue If believers ferret out the “lying symptoms from the gospel truth” – then they will be healed of any sort of infirmity they are currently dealing with. But if we see this passage in its context then we realize this could not possibly be the meaning of this passage. Hosea 4:6 is right in the middle of lots of words of God aimed at the people of Israel during the monarchy when they were actively and flagrantly rebelling against God. During the monarchy (1050-586BCE) God’s people were adulterers, constantly adulterating themselves to the Godless culture of sex and death. Hosea chapter 1 is a picture of this. Thus Israel is condemned for their sins in chapter 2 yet God commits to righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion (Hosea 2:19-23). God concludes that chapter by saying, “I will say to those who were not My people, You are my People!” Wow, God’s grace never gets old!

Chapter 3 is only five verses where God promises that one day in the future His people will finally return. But in the meantime, God says He will love His disobedient people “even though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:2). But none of this divine mercy erases the fact that God’s people at that time were hardcore rebelling. So in Chapter 4, God reminds His people of the litany of things they are doing wrong, including the fact they have no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God (4:1). They are also “swearing, deceiving, murdering, stealing and committing adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes…” (4:2-3). Finally in 4:6 God’s people are rebuked for ignoring God’s knowledge again and they have forgotten the law of God. Hosea 4:8 says God’s people are feeding on their own sin, directing their desire for iniquity. 4:10 says they play the harlot, they stop giving heed to the Lord. 4:11 shows they are drunkards which is primarily why they are lacking knowledge and wisdom in the first place. Furthermore, at this time in history, God’s people are continually consulting wooden idols, and the list goes on and on. After chapter upon chapter of lists of their blatant sin against God, God asks, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel…I will not execute My fierce anger…For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:8-9). So, the point of this entire book is to show how horrible God’s people are acting, and how strong God’s lovingkindness still is.

Hosea 4:6 has nothing to do with the reason anyone is sick today. Hosea 4:6 was one point in an argument to show why Israel at this time was so deserving of punishment – and at the same time the book of Hosea shows how strong God’s love was since one day it would overcome all these things. Ah, the steadfast committed love of God! That is the focus of this book! This book is not about Religion. It is about the Gospel.

Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” APG preachers base much of their speech-act ideology on this verse. Many APG preachers stress the fact that speech creates power and “Faith’s confessions create realities.” So, we are to speak good things and good things will happen! This is where “seed faith” and “name it claim it” ideas are derived. Of course, it’s interesting that in the very same passage we find out “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination” (Prov. 18:11). Just a few verses before Proverbs 18:21, God talks sarcastically about wealthy people… The next verse says, “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Prov 18:12). This whole chapter contrasts foolish rich people with wise humble people. So we should ask ourselves, what does it mean to have a powerful tongue in this chapter and in this book? Does it mean we are to be demanding health, wealth or prosperity so that we get what we want? Or is a “powerful tongue” one that humbly speaks the fact that riches or earthly success could never satisfy in the ways the Gospel satisfies? In the context of the chapter and in the context of the Gospel – their interpretation of this passage makes no sense. It is a direct contradiction to what the Gospel tells us about this life and the next.

Isaiah 53:5 “…By His stripes we are healed…” APG preachers argue that Christ’s atonement achieved at the cross was for our earthly health. Of course, when Isaiah talks about healing, he isn’t talking about our earthly health. In fact, the passage is titled, “The Suffering Servant.” It’s almost laughable that they could make a verse in this passage about earthly gain. In one of the most descriptive chapters in all of Scripture of what Christ’s suffering would be like (“The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” 53:10), they somehow believe this will lead to our earthly health. Well, actually, Isaiah 53:11 makes it clear the end goal in all of this is not earthly health – but spiritual justification! As if God suffered so we never have to… What? Paul couldn’t be more clear about how wrong they are. In Philippians 1:29 He says God’s people are granted two things: 1) Belief in God and 2) Suffering for Christ’s sake. To argue Isaiah 53:5 is referring to earthly healing is to ignore every other verse in that passage and it is to ignore the Gospel message.

Matthew 18:19-20 “Again I say unto you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that you may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Many APG preachers talk about the “power of agreement” and it is this verse that they use. The idea is simple – get some people together, all agree on what you’d like to happen, and if you pray hard enough, God will grant it. But that is not what this passage is talking about. This chapter begins by the disciples foolishly asking who is going to have the greatest rank in heaven and Jesus responds, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then talks about people who are stumbling blocks and how bad it is to cause others to stumble, especially children. After all, God is always keeping in mind the outcast (18:12-14) which leads to Jesus concluding the chapter in talking about how to discipline someone in the Church (18:15-20) which leads to the famous command to forgive others “seventy times seven” (18:22).

Matthew 18:19-20 is sandwiched in that section about church discipline and God’s willingness to allow forgiveness as God commands His people to deal with sin, and then forgive it as God forgives them! This passage is a promise of God to extend forgiveness as His people forgive. It has nothing to do with health, wealth or prosperity. It has nothing to do with earthly, or especially heavenly rank! It has everything to do with earthly human justice and the need all humans have for God’s forgiveness. Praise God, He is always willing to forgive although we often are not. This passage is Gospel, let’s not make it into moralism.

Mark 11:23-24 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” APG preachers take this to mean that faith is the force that actuates what we want. They fail to quote the next two verses which show what all of this is leading to – forgiveness! Like the above passage, these two verses are not talking about health, wealth or prosperity. This passage is about God’s willingness to forgive us! And I can’t bear to not mention the passage that shows up just a few verses before all of this: Mark 10:29 where God promises tribulations and sufferings to all His true followers.

In these two chapters God is saying, “If you follow me, you are going to have a difficult life…and when you get frustrated… when you fail… I’m going to forgive you every time!” If you ask me, that’s a cooler message anyways. Yes, I know the “cool” factor has nothing to do with the truth and meaning of a passage but I’m just trying to show how we should be glad the Gospel is not the same thing as moralism. The truth of the matter is that In the end, this passage is all about forgiveness which is something that brings a much deeper health than all that other earthly immediate stuff. God is always about reconciliation – in the very moment we deserve it least!

Luke 6:38 “Give and it shall be given unto you.” This is one of the most popular verses for the APG preachers. Another one that is used in conjunction with this one is Luke 12:31 which says, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Again, these passage are not talking about everything. they are talking about judging, condemning and forgiveness. The verse right before Luke 6:38 makes this crystal clear. God is saying if you judge others, you’ll likely get judged. If you condemn others, you’ll likely be condemned. If you have a problem forgiving others, others will likely have a problem forgiving you. The passage right after this one is the parable about judging the speck in someone else’s eye while you’ve got a huge issue yourself. Luke 6:38 is not about earthly health, wealth or prosperity. It is, again, about forgiveness. The funny thing about the way APG preachers use Luke 12:31 is that Luke 12:13-34 is a passage about covetousness denounced! How ironic…

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” APG preachers say this passage means God wants us to experience earthly health, wealth or prosperity right now. But that is not how Jesus describes an “abundant life.” In the very next verse Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Later Jesus repeats Himself for good measure, “I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:15). Jesus then says, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative…” (John 10:17-18). An abundant life is the life that is given for others. It is not to live in health, wealth or prosperity.

John 14:14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” APG preachers make this passage to seem like God wants to answer every single whim we have! Just ask God for something that you want, and you can be assured God will want to give it to you! Please… John 14:7-14 is a passage about Jesus’ oneness with the Father and how we are to be united with God. Certainly, if we are united with God, then our desires will be the same as His. But what is abundantly clear is that even the bestest Christians aren’t always living according to God’s will and so we shouldn’t think that every time we have a desire, that desire is coming from God. God isn’t just going to do whatever we want Him to because our desires are not always united with God’s desires.

We also shouldn’t ignore John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” In the context of this pericope, we learn from Jesus what are the results of a life lived when we are completely united to God. We also learn that we can know if we are in God’s fold NOT by our earthly success but by the measure of our obedience to God. If we are honest, we know in our own lives, we fail all the time. So, obviously, we shouldn’t expect a one-to-one correlation of our desires and God’s direct fulfillments of those desires. God is much more perfect than that. Instead of using this verse to make demands of God, we should use it for what it was intended for – as an encouragement for living according to God’s will and NOT my own.

Romans 3:27 – “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” APG preachers utilize this wording, “law of faith” to mean that God has a sort of law: If we have enough faith, He’ll do what we ask. Unfortunately, this is not what this passage is talking about. In order to understand what Romans 3:27 is really all about – we have to know what Romans chapter 3 is about and how Romans 3 fits into the greater context of the first six chapters of the book. This helps us to rightly interpret God’s word and not make it into anything we want it to be.

In the first three chapters of the book of Romans the author Paul talks about the reasons God gave humanity a law through Moses… the law was to show and convict people of their utter weakness apart from Christ. In short, the law helps us understand our need for grace since the law is un-masterable by us. So there is lots of talk of sin and law and judgment in the first three chapters and then the tone of the book of Romans shifts in Chapter 3:20-21 when Paul tells us, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” 

In these verses Paul brings us a step further in the redemption story – He explains that the promise of eternal life (NOT EARTHLY BLESSING) with God is actually not through the law, it is through faith in Jesus Christ. Then, in chapter 5 Paul starts getting a bit excited b/c he begins to explain the results of such outrageous divine grace as contrasted with the law. Paul says that when we are salvifically justified by faith we are set free to a new sort of life – one full of peace and hope! In Chapter 5:20-21 Paul says, “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” All of this discussion of faith is about our eternal relationship with Christ – it is not to be used for my own earthly pleasure. Christianity is not hedonism. Christianity is the movement of the Gospel. 

Phil 4:19 “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Yes, this is true, but this doesn’t mean God will always give us health, wealth and prosperity. Or even that God always wants us to have these things. A few verses before Phil 4:19, Paul says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity, in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction” (Phil. 4:11-14).

The chapter before, Philippians 3, Paul inverses the boasting process where he boasts about all the things the world counts as rubbish (3:4-8) since nothing the world has to offer could even remotely compare to “Knowing God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:10-11). Those are the things Paul asks us to yearn for (3:17). The chapter before this, Paul exalts in Christ’s emptying of all His power for His people. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27) is to empty ourselves of fleshly desires, to die to self, and to live like Christ did. This entire book of Philippians is in fact a message in the opposite direction of the APG. The best way to rightly interpret this passage is to read the whole book and see how Philippians 4:19 fits into Paul’s bigger argument! The worst way to interpret this passage is to take it out of its context and place it into a foreign theology. Unfortunately that is what the APG preachers are doing. No Christian should be OK with this no matter how much they’d like it to be true. God is not all about our earthly health, wealth or prosperity. The Gospel is so much bigger than that.

Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Yup, that is true! But that has nothing to do with earthly health, wealth or prosperity. The best way to understand what sort of life follows from a Godly faith is to study the lives of the people who are in the Hall of Faith which is what Hebrews 11 is. From what I can tell, none of these faithful dudes had a life of health, wealth or prosperity – so what gives? Of course Hebrews 11:1 makes clear that the triumphs of faith are in now way revolved around the here-and-now. After all, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Perhaps all this faith is about something much bigger… It is about salvation, it is about sanctification, it is about vocation, and it is about beatification. It is not about health, wealth or prosperity.

3 John 2 “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” Does this mean God’s will is always that we prosper and are in good health? Of course not. This just means the guy who wrote 3rd John was inspired to tell the people he was writing to that this was a prayer of his for them. But for the author of 3rd John – there was one thing even more important than being prosperous and living a life of good health. He says, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4). And what a way to conclude! More important than all that stuff we might like is whether or not we are believing in something that is true. We know the Gospel is always true. But the APG twists the Gospel into something that it is not. My explanation of these passages should have made this clear. Thus, the APG is not a true reflection of what Scripture says and we should reject it as outside the lines of orthodoxy.

The American Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel. It is moralism. And as such, it should be rejected.

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