Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a religious belief among some Christians that financial blessing is the will of God for them.
- Kevin Kruse in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America details how industrialists in the 1930s and 1940s poured money and resources into an effort to silence the social witness of the mainstream church, which was home to many radicals, socialists and proponents of the New Deal. These corporatists promoted and funded a brand of Christianity—which is today dominant—that conflates faith with free enterprise and American exceptionalism. The rich are rich, this creed goes, not because they are greedy or privileged, not because they use their power to their own advantage, not because they oppress the poor and the vulnerable, but because they are blessed. And if we have enough faith, this heretical form of Christianity claims, God will bless the rest of us too. It is an inversion of the central message of the Gospel. You don’t need to spend three years at Harvard Divinity School as I did to figure that out.
- Rev. Otis: He gave you all his love, gave you all his divine grace, gave you all his salvation. And he deserves all your money.
- To countless generations of religious thinkers, the fundamental maxim of Christian social ethics had seemed to be expressed in the words of St. Paul to Timothy: "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil." Now, while, as always, the world battered at the gate, a new standard was raised within the citadel by its own defenders. The garrison had discovered that the invading host of economic appetites was, not an enemy, but an ally. Not sufficiency to the needs of daily life, but limit less increase and expansion, became the goal of the Christian's efforts.
- R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), p. 248
- The shrewd, calculating commercialism which tries all human relations by pecuniary standards, the acquisitiveness which cannot rest while there are competitors to be conquered or profits to be won, the love of social power and hunger for economic gain—these irrepressible appetites had evoked from time immemorial the warnings and denunciations of saints and sages. Plunged in the cleansing waters of later Puritanism, the qualities which less enlightened ages had denounced as social vices emerged as economic virtues. They emerged as moral virtues as well. For the world exists not to be enjoyed, but to be conquered. Only its conqueror deserves the name of Christian. For such a philosophy, the question, "What shall it profit a man?" carries no sting. In winning the world, he wins the salvation of his own soul as well.
- R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), p. 249
“I’m a scholar of the “prosperity gospel.” It took cancer to show me I was in its grip” (Mar 12, 2018)
Kate Bowler, “I’m a scholar of the “prosperity gospel.” It took cancer to show me I was in its grip”, Vox, (Mar 12, 2018)
- There’s a branch of Christianity that promises a direct path to the good life. It is called by many names, but most often it is nicknamed the “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.
This was not the faith I grew up with on the prairies of Manitoba, Canada, surrounded by communities of Mennonites. I learned at my Anabaptist Bible camp about a poor carpenter from Galilee who taught that a good life was a simple one.
- During my years of research, I talked to televangelists who offered spiritual guarantees that viewers would receive money from God’s own hands, I held hands with people in wheelchairs praying at the altar to be cured. They, too, thought faith contained an implicit promise of earthly reward.
I thought I was trying to understand how millions of North Americans had started asking God for more than subsistence. How they seemed to want permission to experience the luxuries of life as a reward for good behavior.
- It is true that the prosperity gospel encourages people — especially its leaders — to revel in private jets and multimillion-dollar homes as evidence of God’s love. But among the less well-heeled believers, I sensed a different kind of yearning, one that wasn’t entirely materialistic. Believers wanted an escape: from poverty, failing health, and the feeling that their lives were leaky buckets.
Some people wanted Bentleys, but more wanted relief from the wounds of their past and the pain of their present. People wanted salvation from bleak medical diagnoses; they wanted to see God rescue their broken teenagers or their misfiring marriages. They wanted talismans to ward off the things that go bump in the night. They wanted an iota of power over the things that ripped their lives apart at the seams.
“The prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich” (Sep 1, 2017)
Tara Isabella Burton, “The prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich”, Vox, (Sep 1, 2017)
- Throughout the twentieth century, proponents of this particularly American blend of theology envisaged God as a kind of banker, dispensing money to the deserving, with Jesus as a model business executive. Both of these characterizations were, at times, literal: In 1936, New Thought mystic and founder of the Unity Church Charles Fillmore rewrote Psalm 23 to read, “The Lord is my banker/my credit is good”; in 1925, advertising executive Bruce Bowler wrote The Man Nobody Knows to argue that Jesus was the first great capitalist. The literal money quote reads, “Some day ... someone will write a book about Jesus. Every businessman will read it and send it to his partners and his salesmen. For it will tell the story of the founder of modern business.”
- Central to the prosperity gospel was the idea of tithing, or giving money to the church, ideally one's “first fruits” — or initial earnings. This money, many prosperity gospel preachers promised, was an investment. By showing faith, parishioners could have a “hundredfold” return on their investment, a reference to a verse in the Gospel of Mark about those who suffer for Christ receiving a hundredfold what they have lost. Thus could Ken Copeland write in his Laws of Prosperity, "Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord!” In this mentality, tithing is a financially responsible thing to do. It’s a show of faith and a shrewd investment alike, a wager on the idea that God acts in the here and now to reward those with both faith and a sufficiently developed work ethic.
- The prosperity gospel tended to ebb and flow in accordance with wider cultural trends — it flourished in the postwar boom of the 1950s, and then again (unsurprisingly) in the no less ostentatious ‘80s, when big hair and big money alike were in. Yet despite the catastrophic fall of some of the most prominent proponents of the gospel — Jim Bakker, for example, spent years in prison for fraud — the movement has persisted well into the present day. Perhaps no less unsurprisingly, two of its major proponents — Paula White and Wayne T. Jackson — were among the six faith leaders invited to pray with Donald Trump at his inauguration.
- Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
- Vic: Reverend Otis, this is a aboriginal con man from Australia. Nigga just got out the mental institution, think he's Jesus.
- Congregation: (all laughing)
- Reverend Otis: Jesus! Well, is that right? Well, if you're gonna be a crazy fool, you might as well go all the way with it.
- Jesus: Look, I don't want your money. Neither does Pops. You can't buy God's blessings. It don't work like that.
- Man: Sit down!
- Reverend Otis: Says the man who obviously ain't got no blessings.
- Congregation: (laughter)
- Jesus: People... People, don't give this dude your money. He ripping you off. Vic, come on, man, you better than that. You really gonna just stand by and rip these people off?
- Man: That's blasphemy. He's blaspheming.
- Reverend Otis: If Jesus, the real Jesus, didn't want me to have this money, then Jesus would take it away!