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Prosperity Gospel

  • 14 Pages
  • Published On: 27-11-2023
Introduction

Scholars have written and spoken much about prosperity gospel. But there is a ton of literature evaluating its role within the modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements, creating the need to merge, compare or contrast their position on this issue. Therefore, this essay will explore prosperity gospel and its role within the modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements. The discussion will evaluate prosperity gospel and how it theologically or biblically applies to modern Christian movements. Also sometimes referred to as seed faith, health and wealth gospel, or prosperity theology, prosperity gospel is defined as a religious belief among protestants that physical well-being and financial are always a manifestation of God’s will on them (Anderson 1987, 45). Those who subscribe to prosperity gospel believe that positive speech, faith, and donations towards religious projects will increase their material wealth.

Protestant Movements
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On one hand, Pentecostal movements are protestant Christians who focus on having a direct personal experience with God through the holy spirit and baptism (Ayegboyin 2010, 56). Pentecostalism emphasise the holiness of the bible and the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. Consequently, they claim to be in possession of powers to provide divine healing and speak in tongues. Because of their emphasis on miracles, spiritual gifts and the authority of the bible, Pentecostals regard themselves as the true reflection of teachings and spiritual power that were found on the early church (i.e. the Apostolic age); Pentecostals describe their movements as ‘Full Gospel’ or ‘Apostolic’ (Anderson 1987, 60).

Charismatic Movements

On the other hand, Charismatic movements refers to mainstream Christian groups that have adopted similar practices and beliefs as Pentecostals (Farah 1981, 78). Just like Pentecostals, Charismatics fundamentally use charismata (i.e. spiritual gifts from the holy spirit that comes with baptism. Whereas Charismatic movement and Pentecostals share their fundamental beliefs, there are a few differences worth noting. For example, some Charismatics, as opposed to the Pentecostals, do not believe in speaking in tongues as the initial sign of receiving holy spirit through baptism.

Having defined the two movements and identified their differences, the following sections of the essay will explore the theological basis of prosperity gospel and its role within the modern Pentecostal or charismatic movements. The next section (Section 2) will review the origins and global spread of prosperity gospel. Section three will examine the theological basis of prosperity gospel while section four will entail a critical evaluation of prosperity gospel. The last section, conclusion, will summarize what has been discussed in the essay

Historical Background of Prosperity Gospel

Prosperity gospel can trace its origins to the ‘Word of Faith’ movement, which was deeply rooted in the US’s ‘Healing Revival’ of the 1950s (Smail et al 1994, 78). Afterwards, leading evangelists developed a holistic approach to healing, which included mental, socio-material and spiritual domains. For instance, Kenneth Hagin, the pioneer of prosperity gospel participated in the 1950 healing revival in the United States (Maxwell 1998, 65). Later, Hagin founded the Rhema Bible Training Centre, which played a monumental role in promoting prosperity gospel. Rhema Bible Training Centre taught the importance of positive confession and faith in gaining material prosperity and physical health.

A significant historical event occurred in 1953, when a faith healer, Allen A.A published a book entitled ‘The Secret to Scriptural Financial Success’, promoting spiritual merchandise such as anointing oil, prayer cloths and miracle shavings (Heuser 2016, 8). By mid 1950s, Allen’s preaching was increasingly focusing on prosperity, with the message that developing string faith would be a solution to financial problems, and that through his miraculous and supernatural encounters with God, he had one-dollar bills converted into twenty-dollar bills to enabled him pay off his debts (Niemandt 2017, 233).

In the 1960’s, prosperity gospel took a new turn, focusing on healing revivals (Essein 2020, 131). It is also in the 1960s when T.L Osborn preached prosperity gospel, becoming popular for his display of personal wealth. During the same decade, as Wrenn observes, William Branham criticised other preachers of prosperity gospel, claiming that they used fund raising tactics that pressured church attendees. These fundraising were partly motivated by the need to build expensive campaign schedules and radio networks that had started developing.

Nonetheless, the 1960s also saw an upsurge in the use of televangelism by prosperity gospel preachers who sought a wider audience through technology. Accounts by Jones indicate that the dominance of televangelism all over the United States was triggered by a few evangelists (e.g. Oral Roberts), who became among the first televangelists to develop a weekly religious program broadcast onus TV religious shows. Later, other preachers such as Kenneth Copeland followed suit to use TV and radio to teach the laws of prosperity as well as other ‘universal laws’ that applied to even the non-Christians (Wrenn 2019, 34).

In the late 1960s, new participants in the prosperity gospel domain emerged, including Reverend Ike, who widely used television and radio to air his preaching about prosperity – his flashy lifestyle distinguishing him from others (Gukurume 2017, 37). In 1980s’ prominent televangelist Jim Bakker drew the attention of people to prosperity gospel, before losing his influence after engaging in a high-profile scandal (Jones, 56). During the same decade, televangelists Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton rose to popularity and dominance over televangelism after forming the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).

In the 1970s, prosperity gospel took a new twist within the African American religious community. Creflo Dollar, Leroy Thompson, T.D. Jakes and Keith Butler emerged as a new generation of prosperity speakers who reflected the notion of rising black middle class (Wrenn 2019, 459). They became the epitome of neo-Pentecostal movement, attracting black denominations and Pentecostal with the gospel of upward mobility characterised by the Hagin’s theology (Hobson et al 2018, 35). Onwards, the African American Christian community remained distinct as their churches and church leaders seemed to be more networked.

By the year 2000 prosperity gospel was already on the track for international growth, with tens of millions already accepting the gospel worldwide (Nel 2020, 56). The neo-Pentecostal movement had already adopted a significant emphasis on prosperity theology by the early 1990s, before Charismatic movement adopting the gospel in the late 1990s (Lauterbach 2019, 111). During the 2000, there was a significant growth of churches preaching prosperity gospel in Third World countries. Prosperity gospel became more popular in third world countries due to their economic instabilities and its belief in miracles. For example, West Africa, particularly Nigeria, became one of the regions that saw the explosiveness of prosperity gospel (Bauman 2016, 380). Also, in Philippines, saw a widespread adoption of prosperity theology majorly spread by the El Shaddai Movement. In the 1990s, a South Korean prosperity gospel church, Yoido Full Gospel Church gained attention when it claimed to have world’s largest church attendees.

Theological Basis of the Prosperity Gospel

Positive confession (Kenneth Hagin)

Some of the most popular ministries and largest churches among the Charismatics are associated with the ‘positive confession belief’ (Konin 2017, 40). Coined by Kenneth Hagin, the positive confession entails speaking positive thoughts and verbalizing it loudly. The positive confession is believed to be in practice for several years across many cultures who believe in the power of Possibility Thinking. Thus, the doctrine of positive confession associates with prosperity gospel in the sense that it enables Christians to declare or pronounce things towards others or towards themselves (Ngoy 2018, 32). Believers in this doctrine claim that the power of positivity that is anchored upon the word of God. They believe that one can pronounce success and because it is a positive confession, they will have that success through the word of God.

Law of Faith

The other theological basis for prosperity gospel is the Law of faith. This doctrine is believed to apply to both believers and non-believers and is as impersonal as natural laws or the law of gravity (Ayegboyin 2010, 60). According to believers in this doctrine, faith is important to God and influences his actions. It is a spiritual law that is created by God and brought to earth for the purpose of the earth to function. Therefore, having faith is equivalent to believing in God and his sovereignty will to grant prosperity. By simply believing and having faith that God will grant prosperity, people are granted their wish of prosperity (Ayegboyin 2010, 60).

Holistic Salvation

The other theological basis for prosperity gospel is holistic salvation, which stipulates that prosperity and healing can be found in the complete work of Jesus Christ for everyone (Essien 2020, 136). This doctrine stipulate that God is always in the mission of saving somebody from something. Through God’s salvation, believers are saved from enemies of justice, death, poverty and poor health (Anderson 1987, 33). In simple terms, holistic salvation asserts that because is the creator of all, he saves all (Essien 2020, 137). Therefore, when one gets salvation through baptism and the holy spirit, they receive God’s care and protection from ill health, poverty, suffering and any other problem that comes next (Maxwell 1998, 63). Through holistic salvation, God heals the blind, protects people from disasters and bestows prosperity upon them.

Sowing and Reaping

Th sowing and reaping doctrine stipulates that if they want prosperity, individuals must tithe (Essien 2020, 132). Believers in this doctrine claim that the only way to obtain God’s promises of prosperity and good health is to give back to God through tithe, which indicates a renewed mind of people who want God’s blessing are ready to obey God and do whatever he says (Anderson 1987, 89). They also believe in God’s instruction that they should honour him with their belongings, with the ‘first fruits’ of whatever they have reaped, and then upon doing this, their storehouses shall be filled with an ‘overflow’ of belongings (Proverbs 3.9-10). Thus, honouring God and obeying its words about tither comes with significant rewards. But they also believe that reaping rewards is not the only reason for tithing. Rather, believers should be faithful to the tithe to reap God’s love and as an appreciation for all he has done for them (Malachi 3.10, Luke 6.38 and John 15:5).

A Critical Evaluation of The Prosperity Gospel

Many scholars believe and have even tried to show how prosperity gospel is aligned to capitalism, at least in the American context. Capitalism is a system characterised by stories, considering the rise of optimistic personhood (i.e. the liberal individual). It seems, the idea of liberal individual, as enshrined in prosperity gospel, was not known to the mediaeval believers in the ancient world. It was neither developed as part of the capitalism notion of self-justification (Smail et al 1994, 56). However, prosperity gospel, and its ‘liberal individualism’ seem to have been aligned to the free-market attribute of capitalism in many ways, including the capitalist idea of ‘the American Dream’.

Critics of prosperity gospel have claimed that it has ceased to be Christian and has evolved to be American (Maxwell 1998, 34). One of the reasons why prosperity gospel has largely been associated with the American dream is that prominent leaders in the prosperity gospel movement have claimed in their books and media broadcasts that adopting the Protestant self-discipline leads to success in capitalist economies – connecting specific giving to their ministries with specific prosperity results in the giver’s life.

Such a system for ‘giving and receiving’ speaks to the fundamental beliefs of ‘The American Dream’, Madison Avenue, and Silicon Valley’s belief that cutting off the constraints of family and social ties will contribute to one finding their own path to prosperity and unlimited potential. Other critics (e.g. Essien 2020, 135) have argued that prosperity is not only a ploy to attract the commercialistic young generation but also a much deeper treachery that is founded myths and misconceptions about prosperity.

Similar criticisms claim that the myth of prosperity preached by prosperity evangelism was woven in the earliest days of the American identity when the American project was just beginning, and people were craving for a fresh start – off from the European systems. Moreover, prosperity gospel found its roots in the American Dream at a time when the American population was having a feeling of destiny, when God seemed to be in favour of the country that would later become the United States (Ayegboyin 2010, 23). It came from not only the purist settlers but also from other American leaders like Thomas Jefferson and his followers – who believed that just like in the Biblical era, God had delivered to the American people the Promised Land.

Apart from the fact that (at least as argued) prosperity Gospel was embedded into the American Dream as the American identity was starting to shape up, the other reason why some belief the prosperity gospel is alight to capitalism and the American dream is that there is a general belief among Americans that their society is an evidence of God’s blessing and therefore there is goodness and prosperity among them. However, emerging economies that are still languishing in poverty have a suspicious view of the same prosperity, perceiving it as an evidence of injustice. Indeed, it is acceptable what is seen as a blessing by people at the top of the capitalism ladder might be a curse by those at the bottom of the ladder.

Some critics have also argued their case against prosperity gospel based on how prosperity evangelists use faulty biblical hermeneutics and proof-texting to influence people into offering. The offering or giving time is often a defining moment for prosperity evangelists, who have turned the offering time into a centrepiece of worship (Anderson 1987, 56). Some churches even have skilled people to oversee the giving sessions – popular with the saying “offering time is a time of blessing”, and thus viewed by the congregation as an investment time (Essien 2020, 137). The offering time is considered as a time for the congregation to sow their ‘seeds’, twisting words to support the centrality of offering through mini-sermons to urge the congregation into giving (Maxwell 1998, 12).

Through this selective hermeneutical method, prosperity evangelists tend to take the bible out of contexts to support predetermine arguments and support for offering, which significantly relies on the congregation’s commitment to the Faith dogma. Similarly, prosperity preachers avoid central biblical arguments and instead support their arguments for offering with obscure and unfounded biblical texts (Essien 2020, 140). This is further escalated by the tendency to consider the bible as covenant, whose promises are claimed by faith without considering the historical contexts of such texts.

For example, the evangelists might quote the texts from Genesis 12:1-3 that ‘Abraham’s blessings are mine’- without considering whether the text mean spiritual or material blessings. The other popular texts used by prosperity evangelists is that of Luke 6:38, which states that ‘give it and it will be given unto you’ – backed by a mini-sermon to emphasise the benefits of giving. However, this text is often not put into context of Jesus’ teachings that focuses on mercy, love and how humans should relate or treat each other.

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Prosperity gospel has also been criticised for Over-realised eschatology. As depicted in the bible, Christians current consider themselves to be living in the last times (Smail et al 1994, 67). It is the time between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ, where Christians are confused between what has happened and what is yet to happen - creating a tension and an imbalance in Christian’s belief system (Essien 2020, 138). For instance, gospel evangelists believe that a lack of faith is the only barrier to realizing the full blessings of God’s kingdom – a belief system referred to as ‘over-realised eschatology.

In the context of health and wealth gospel, prosperity gospel evangelists might make certain claims that God does not want humans to be sick (Ayegboyin 2010, 20). They believe that because Jesus paid all the prices for sin, and because sickness sis a manifestation of sin, they will not face sickness (Maxwell 1998, 55). However, one of the major problems with belief is that it applies blessings that might only come in future to the current time – making it an over-realised eschatology (Essien 2020, 136). Prosperity gospel also teaches that there will be a time when God will wipe all the tears from believers’ eyes, and that people shall never cry, pain or die anymore (Revelation 21:4). However, when this text is put into context, such healing is not promised in this life, but rather, they are meant for the life after the coming of the new heaven and earth.

The problem with over-realised eschatology is that it lacks the theology of suffering (Smail et al 1994, 23). Even through Hagin responded to this criticism by writing about suffering, his works do not include sickness as one of the means of suffering - an omission that does not go well with many critics. Nonetheless, the other issue has attracted much criticism is the fact that lack of suffering can discourage engagement in social justice issues and economic productivity. People might avoid working based on the belief that by juts having faith, all their socio-economic problems will be solved (Maxwell 1998, 44).

Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that success and prosperity theology has different meanings in different contexts. For some people, it is a source of hope for situations of insecurity, poverty and uncertain future over some problems such as poor health occasioned by lack of access to healthcare services – especially in third world countries (Ayegboyin 2010, 13). Moreover, prosperity gospel is sometimes regarded as a means of providing financial resources for community-based social action, and not as a means of accumulating personal wealth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay has explored he theological basis of prosperity gospel and its role within modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movements by conducting a comprehensive review of literature. The first milestone of this essay is its in-depth exploration of the historical background of prosperity gospel, including the emergence of Word of Faith movement in the 1950s as well as some of the pioneers of prosperity gospel such as Kenneth Hagin. The essay has also critically evaluated the theological basis of prosperity gospel, including Kenneth Hagin’s doctrine of positive confession, the law of faith and the sawing and reaping doctrine and how they form the fundamental basis for the gospel of prosperity. More importantly, the essay has explored how prosperity gospel is aligned to the American Dream of capitalism and the notion of false biblical hermeneutics. Regardless of its authoritativeness and popularity among the Pentecostals and Charismatics around the world, prosperity gospel has specific flaws that might hinder economic productivity and discourage a focus in social justice.

References

Anderson, A. (1987). The prosperity message in the eschatology of some new charismatic churches. Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Mission Studies, 15(2), 72-83.

Perriman, A. (2003). Faith, health and prosperity: a report on" Word of Faith" and" Positive Confession" theologies. Paternoster Press.

Baumann, R. (2016). Political Engagement Meets the Prosperity Gospel: African American Christian Zionism and Black Church Politics. Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review, 77(4), 359-385.

Farah, C. (1981). A Critical Analysis: The'Roots and Fruits' of Faith-Formula Theology. Pneuma, 3(1), 3-21.

Maxwell, D. (1998). 'Delivered From the Spirit of Poverty?': Pentecostalism, Prosperity and Modernity in Zimbabwe1. Journal of religion in Africa, 28(3), 350-373.

Ayegboyin, D. (2006). A rethinking of prosperity teaching in the new Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. Black theology, 4(1), 70-86.

Essien, E. D. (2020). Ethical Audit of Prosperity Gospel: Psychological Manipulation or Social Ministry. In Religion and Theology: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 131-146). IGI Global.

Gukurume, S. (2017). Singing Positivity: Prosperity Gospel in the Musical Discourse of Popular Youth Hip-Hop Gospel in Zimbabwe. Muziki, 14(2), 36-54.

Heuser, A. (2016). Charting African prosperity gospel economies. HTS Theological Studies, 72(4), 1-9.

Hobson, N. M., Kim, J. J., & MacDonald, G. (2018). A camel through the eye of a needle: The influence of the prosperity gospel on financial risk-taking, optimistic bias, and positive emotion. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

Jones, D. W., & Woodbridge, R. S. (2017). Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ. Kregel Publications.

Koning, J. (2017). Beyond the prosperity gospel: Moral identity work and organizational cultures in Pentecostal-Charismatic churches in Indonesia. In New Religiosities, Modern Capitalism, and Moral Complexities in Southeast Asia (pp. 39-64). Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

Lauterbach, K. (2019). Fakery and Wealth in African Charismatic Christianity: Moving beyond the Prosperity Gospel as Script. Faith in African Lived Christianity, 111.

Mashau, T. D., & Kgatle, M. S. (2019). Prosperity gospel and the culture of greed in post-colonial Africa: Constructing an alternative African Christian Theology of Ubuntu. Verbum et Ecclesia, 40(1), 1-8.

Mundey, P. (2017). The prosperity gospel and the spirit of consumerism according to Joel Osteen. Pneuma, 39(3), 318-341.

Nel, M. (2020). The prosperity gospel in Africa: An African Pentecostal hermeneutical consideration. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Ngoy, N. K. (2018). Neo-Pentecostalism: A post-colonial critique of the prosperity gospel in theDemocratic Republic of the Congo (1960-2018). Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Niemandt, C. J. P. (2017). The prosperity gospel, the decolonisation of theology, and the abduction of missionary imagination. Missionalia, 45(3), 203-219.

Obadare, E. (2016). 'Raising righteous billionaires': The prosperity gospel reconsidered. HTS Theological Studies, 72(4), 1-8.

Kalu, O. (2008). African Pentecostalism: an introduction. Oxford University Press.

King, P., & Theron, J. (2006). The'classic faith'roots of the modern'word of faith'movement.

Coleman, S. (2002). The faith movement: A global religious culture?. Culture and Religion, 3(1), 3-19.

Sullivan, K. R., & Delaney, H. (2017). A femininity that ‘giveth and taketh away’: The prosperity gospel and postfeminism in the neoliberal economy. Human Relations, 70(7), 836-859.

Wright, N., Walker, A., & Smail, T. (1994). 'Revelation Knowledge'and Knowledge of Revelation: the Faith Movement and the Question of Heresy. Journal of pentecostal theology, 2(5), 57-77.

Wrenn, M. V. (2019). Consecrating Capitalism: The United States Prosperity Gospel and Neoliberalism. Journal of Economic Issues, 53(2), 425-432.


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