Banking on God: Theology, Part 2


The prosperity gospel. You know it. You probably despise it.

Just the thought of some loud, sweaty, Armani-wearing “preacher” telling you that sending him $100 as “seed faith” money guarantees an increase of three, ten, or even a hundredfold…No, not this guy...the OTHER prophet Joel...well, the veins start pounding in your forehead and you’re wishing you could reach into your TV and slap the guy a good one.

“God wants you rich!”

“If you can envision it, you can have it by faith!”

“If words of death come out of your mouth, you’re going to reap death. Speak words of life!”

“Why ask God for a Ford when you should be asking for a Lexus?”

“You don’t have to live with disease if you have faith in God.”

“The power of wealth creation is in your tongue, so speak out that wealth!”

“You’re a child of the King, and you’ll never see a prince or princess enjoying anything less than the best the world has to offer.”

Now I made all those up. I’ll bet, though, that at some time or other a prosperity gospel preacher said something pretty darned similar. In fact, we could almost make a game of it by coming up with outrageous claims by prosperity teachers who teach a gospel without a cross, without sin, without holiness, and without—unbelieveably enough—Jesus.

These “preachers” of prosperity sucker millions of dollars from millions of people. Naifs who fall under the spell of these slick-talking, Bible-waving, perfectly coiffed “evangelists” often come to a sad—and savings-less— conclusion. Those prosperity preachers like to call everyone “Brother ” or “Sister,” and they often go by titles like “Apostle” and “Bishop.” And sadly for the rest of us charismatics, they claim Pentecostal and Assemblies of God backgrounds.

I feel for the people taken by these manipulators. For the most part, many of the fleeced are poor to begin with. Or perhaps it’s better to think of them as the working poor, especially in America. They have jobs; they’re just not good jobs.

Consider a mom and dad who collectively bring home about $16 an hour with no decent benefits. They have a car, but it costs more to keep it running than it’s worth. Things break in their home and they can’t afford to repair them. Doctor? Who can afford one when there’s no insurance and a simple office visit costs a day’s wages (and there’s always more days at the end of the month than there are wages). Taxes keep going up. Energy keeps going up. Prices for everything are up, up, up. Yet for these folks, wages stay the same. They’re the ones getting destroyed in this recession.

And every day they see themselves sinking further and further down with no hope of recovery. Think they’re going to latch onto anyone who can give them hope of getting out of their predicament?

The two question I ask amid all this is Where are we and what hope do we give them?

And that’s a problem for us Evangelicals who gag every time we think about the prosperity gospel.

Here’s a clue for us suburban McMansion-dwellers in our newly-erected, mega-community-churches: Poor people don’t like being poor.

It stinks to be poor. When your kid needs glasses and you can’t secure a pair because you’re too “rich” for government aid yet you’re not rich enough to afford them outright…well, it stinks even more.

I live in a not-so-rich area. Many of the houses on my road aren’t houses; they’re trailers. The state of the economy is putting a terrible squeeze on these already-squeezed people. So when they start putting faith in the prosperity gospel, I’m not surprised. The real Church hasn’t given them much other hope. Billy Joe Jim Bob Preacher Boy with a Gilt-fendered Escalade was there when the real Church wasn’t.

Do we remember Acts 2 & 4?

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:44-45

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:34-35

I would contend that if we in the Church actually lived as those four verses describe, there wouldn’t be any need for anyone to rush to prosperity teachings for hope. But when we simply ignore those passages, especially in light of those parents who don’t know how they’re going to pay the hospital bill for their kid’s broken arm, then we’re assisting the prosperity message through our inability to live by the Bible so many of us call inerrant.

But you want to know the craziest part of all this? As bad as these prosperity preachers are, as little as they care about the cross and bearing it, they’re not wrong on everything.

Psalm 112 says this:

Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!
—Psalms 112:1-10

Well, is that true or not?

That passage embodies many of the teachings found in the prosperity gospel.

And what of this?

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
—James 5:13-18

Do we believe that or not? The scary thing is that the prosperity preachers do.

And that’s a problem for us. Because there’s little difference in the eyes of the Lord between someone who preaches the wrong kind of faith and someone who has no faith at all.

Recently, I visited a few sites where people who believed God for healing terminal diseases came under fire from commenters. That made me livid. While it may be true that the commenters were wise enough to see through the phony promises of prosperity preachers who took money from the sick in exchange for a promised healing, is that any worse than not believing for healing at all? When I read those commenters, this quote struck me:

“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
—Mark 5:35b

Isn’t that the voice of resignation? Isn’t that the voice that says to give up? Isn’t that the voice that says to just make peace with the suffering?

Isn’t that the voice of the Enemy?

To which Jesus replies:

“Do not fear, only believe.”
—Mark 5:36b

I’m convinced that when we get right down to it, for many of us, our so-called faith is a sham. We may pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but which of us actually lives from one day to the next dependent on God to provide that day’s food? Can’t we buy our way out of almost any trouble we encounter? Why do we need God for anything?

Sure, Christ died and with His blood secured eternity for us who believe. No, we couldn’t do that ourselves. But beyond having faith that He will take us to heaven at some future date, how well do we live in the dark moments before then?

What happens should we find ourselves on the tight loop of the downward spiral? That time when we can no longer afford medical care, even if we have insurance? What happens when we confront some expensive-to-deal-with disease. Will we have faith then that God will come to help when before we counted on our money to make it all better?

Or will it all be suffering?

Prosperity preachers don’t like suffering much. In fact they pretty much hate suffering in every form. Boo on them, because we should expect suffering in life, right?

Funny thing is, the Scriptures tell us that one of the reasons Christ came was to relieve suffering:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
—Luke 4:18-19

Isn’t our Gospel supposed to be Good News to suffering people? How then did we turn it back into being about suffering? Isn’t the Kingdom of God a Kingdom that drives out that wicked kingdom filled with suffering? I mean, if we should be content in our suffering, I guess all those sick folks and families of demon-possessed people had it all wrong when they cried out to Jesus to come and take away their suffering.

And while we’re at it, what is so wrong with speaking positive things by faith? The prosperity gospel people always talk about making a positive confession:

From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
—Proverbs 18:20-21

True or not true? Obviously, I believe it’s true. Why then do so many act as if it’s not? I’ve got to believe the world would be a better place if Christians, especially here in the States, showed their faith more effectively to the world by speaking words of life rather than so many deadly words that only drive the lost further from Christ. And even in our own lives, how many times do we condemn ourselves by the negative words we speak with regard to our own lives? If a man truly reaps what he sows, what is reaped by the negative things we say about ourselves or our neighbors?

So as much we say we despise these prosperity preachers for filling desperate people with naive hope while draining their wallets, I look at my own life and the lives of a lot of other Christians who oppose those charlatans and wonder if our faith is even visible at all.

Now which problem should concern me most?


Banking On God: Series Compendium

“‘Word of Faith’ Stupidity” or “Standing on the Promises”?


Ha! Ha! I Named It and Claimed It! Certain memes travel around the Godblogosphere in curious outbreaks. It’s as if a dozen people at once blog on the same subject without any prior knowledge of each other’s posts. Someone like me who reads blogs via an aggregator sees the impression of oddness double when so many of my regular reads are talking about the same point of doctrine.

Recently, there’s been a rash of Word-of-Faith postings out there, most of them negative. Brad at The Broken Messenger and Steve Camp at Camp on This are two that recently addressed this topic, Brad with “Word of Faith” and Steve with “Stupid People in the Church…and How Not to Be One.” I suspect that their reaction must be to the recently posted list of 50 most influential Christians that was curiously stacked with a large number of Word of Faith’ers. (Perhaps those on the list are being blessed the way they pray they will be! – Ha! Ha!)

I’ll come right out an say that I’m not a Word-of-Faith guy even though I go to a Pentecostal church, a familiar haunt for such folks. I regularly “must…restrain…the fist…of death” when listening to prosperity Gospel acolytes, but I’m also perturbed when I read something on the other side of the fence that seems resigned to whatever fate one has befallen. Steve Camp here:

What is the N.T. formula for “success” or “prosperity?” Paul gives us the clear biblical answer in 1 Timothy 6:6, “…godliness, plus contentment is great gain.” Are you living a godly life in accordance with the Word of God; are you content with what you have from the Lord—not seeking more or complaining of less? Then the Lord calls that, “great gain.”

I’m not sure an entire theology of God’s provision can be wrapped up in a portion of one verse. I’m sure that Steve Camp would tend to agree with that point. But what of his argument then? First of all, I think there’s “contentment” and then there’s “contentment with exception.”

A survey of the Bible contains person after person who cherished God, but there were a few lacks in their lives and they sought God to change their situations. One obvious example is Hannah. Barren and desperate for a child, she pleads before God and He blesses her with the future great leader of His people, Samuel. We saw the same request earlier in Rachel, likewise barren, who also petitioned God and was blessed with a son, Joseph, who grew up to save the lives of thousands, including his own family. And Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, whose barren womb was opened to give Christ the Elijah that would prepare His way. Three women, none content in their childlessness.

Samson was not content with his role as a blind Philistine toy, but prayed to God that he would be granted one last curtain call, and with it he brought the house down—literally. Solomon was not content with his position as king as long as he was lacking the one thing he knew he needed to govern, wisdom. Jacob was not content with the wife he’d been fooled into accepting. If Lot had been 100% content with his lot, would he have fled Sodom at the Lord’s urging? Would Paul have cast out the spirit of divination from the slave girl who followed him around in Acts 16? Would the centurion have asked Jesus to heal his slave? Or Mary and Martha requested that Jesus come see their dying brother?

Lack of contentment, in many cases, is what drove great men and women of the Bible to pray big prayers and expect big things. But even the nameless people were not always content with their station in life. Lepers, the blind, and the lame all came to Jesus and asked for healing because they were not content with being infirm or diseased the rest of their days. Contentment does not mean resignation, but too often I see Christians treating it as if it were such. Being content means always keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, but it does not mean being a doormat for every lousy happenstance that comes our way. As Jesus Himself said:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
—Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

I think the lesson here is that God is not against us petitioning Him because of a heart longing. John Knox in his zeal for souls went so far as to pray, “Give me Scotland or I die!” That doesn’t sound like someone who’s perfectly content. God honored Knox’s bold discontent.

I don’t believe the only kind of prayer that God answers is one for salvation for others, though. As I noted above, Christ healed and gave us the gift of healing. There’d be no reason for such a gift if people were to always be satisfied with illness. It seems to me that too many of us take God’s promises too lightly. We say that we believe the Bible, but then we start making excuses when it comes to certain promises. However, promises of God are not to be taken lightly. Take for instance the following:

You [God] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
—Isaiah 26:3 ESV

Simple, right? Who out there does not believe this verse? Now what about this?

Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!
—Psalms 113:5-9 ESV

Much harder, right? Do we believe that God raises the poor up to sit with princes? Do we believe that God gives the barren woman children? Why are we so quick to believe the promise in Isaiah 26 and not the promise in Psalm 113? Did that passage pass away with the coming of the New Testament? Should we chuck the Old Testament because the New replaced it entirely and it no longer contains the accurate truth about what God promises? Certainly not!

I said earlier that there was a difference between contentment and contentment with exceptions, and this is the key to knowing what to ask God for and how. The state of one’s heart must always be centered on Christ or else what we ask for is meaningless. As James writes:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
—James 4:1-3 ESV

Paul’s infamous thorn in the flesh is allowed to continue for the very reason that it kept him from becoming too prideful, what with all the amazing visions and healings that happened around him. So even a man of God as extraordinary as Paul can fall prey to passions that can undo him, just as James notes. Pride may have always been Paul’s chink in the armor, given that he was highly educated, a Pharisee, and a Roman citizen, all distinctly lacking in the other apostles.

So I don’t believe that Paul’s thorn is a prooftext for claiming that all requests for personal help go unanswered. Too many people claim just that and they derail the kind of faith that believes God’s promises as they are written. The Word of Faith’ers stumble because they often fall prey to what James describes. Nor are they always asking with their eyes on Jesus alone. Yet as much as their antics are a disgrace, they do a better job than some of us at taking God at His word.

In conclusion, the hymn “Standing on the Promises of God” and an appropriate promise of God:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
—Numbers 23:19 ESV