The Prosperity/Positivity Gospel

When I came out of the Southern religious culture that upholds a fragmented, inconsistent, willfully ignorant perspective of the Christian faith, the Word of Faith movement was very attractive to me.

The aura of passion and relevance surrounding its key figures was captivating. I marveled at their “big,” boundless view of God, which seemed to contrast with the belief system I had inherited – a system which assigned God a limited place in people’s lives only in the context of Sunday mornings and social media posts. As I started college and tried to cope with my broken home life, severe sense of loneliness, and crippling social anxiety, I jumped at the concept of a God who could apparently be relied on to respond to my offering of faith by resolving my problems.

As time passed and I began to realize that this promised exchange wasn’t manifesting in my life, I turned away from Christianity for a time, shrouded in feelings of jealousy, bitterness, and depression. While the people I respected most (including Joyce Meyer, Joseph Prince, and the leaders of Bethel Church) endlessly proclaimed their victories, my problems seemed to grow deeper and heavier. Once again, I found myself proclaiming a faith that was impossible to apply to real, raw, normal life. It was devastating. This realization was one of the few times I have ever been moved to prostrate myself on the floor, weeping, and pray for God’s help – though at that time I didn’t know Who I was praying to. I just desperately wanted to know what was true and what wasn’t.

By the patient help of friends, apologetics ministries, R.C. Sproul sermons, and ultimately the Holy Spirit, I saw the beauty of the gospel for the first time. And it wasn’t the “gospel” – the good news – that my life on earth could be better if I had enough faith in my potential and in God’s love for me. No, this Gospel told me what I knew deep down: I was more wicked, more hypocritical, more fallible, more unreliable than anyone knew or than I had ever acknowledged. I deserved to be crushed by the wrath of the holy God who created and sustains all things. Every breath I continued to breathe was a mercy. And further, in His grace He sovereignly chose to redeem and transform me . . . not for anything good He saw in me, but because of His mysterious plan to display His own glory and power and love in my life.

And that is the key difference between the true gospel of Christ and the false prosperity/positivity gospel. The latter is so incredibly short-sighted and self-centered. The irony is that prosperity teachers hinge everything on the power of faith . . . and they claim the object of this faith is the power and love of God, but really their faith relies on God’s power to change their circumstances. What they don’t have faith in is the sufficiency of God Himself above all other things. So when the realities of sin and loss are manifested in life, they roar and rage and rebuke, and they cannot rest because their hope lies in temporal realities rather than in the surpassing eternal worth of Jesus Christ. I say this is an irony because it reveals that the great faith they’re known for is actually quite weak and empty.

Of course, not all unsound teaching that belongs to this category belong formally to the Word of Faith movement; and not all positivity preachers are guilty of the same extensive heresy as the prosperity televangelist preachers are. But the thing about gospel purity is that truth doesn’t lie on a spectrum. A lie about God is a lie about God, and one lie is every bit as heinous as another.

It baffles me that so many people defend false gospels because they’re close enough to the true biblical gospel, especially with arguments like, “We shouldn’t condemn Christian teachers that help so many people. They really benefitted me/my mom/my friend, and it’s wrong to say they spread a false gospel.”

Friends, if we really want to care for our brothers and sisters and see them thrive spiritually, then we must be convinced that they need the truth about God and about themselves rather than lies. And half-truths are still lies.

They may comfort for a time or may bring temporary change, but they will never save our souls to the extent that we desperately need.

Rather than help us, the prosperity gospel and positivity gospel harm us spiritually by . . .

  • Making us believe God owes us a good earthly life (resulting in bitterness and despair when we don’t perceive our life as being prosperous)
  • Elevating God’s love for us above our love for God
  • Convincing us that we are essentially good and that our sins are minor issues
  • Telling us that God needs us in order to accomplish His plans
  • Creating an unbiblical hierarchy amongst believers based on the relative strength of their faith
  • Making our emotional fulfillment the chief goal of gospel deliverance
  • Tempting us to idolize earthly treasure and prosperity, which Scripture specifically forbids
  • Neglecting to value eternal blessings and realities, thereby preventing us from having real, lasting hope
  • Persuading us that sobriety and godly sorrow has no place in the Christian life
  • Contradicting or rejecting Scripture like Romans 8:16-18: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (ESV) [emphasis mine].

These aren’t small problems. They affect us in prayer, in Scripture reading, in finances, in church order, in our response to sin, in our personal relationships, and many other areas of life. Personally, I have been under sound discipleship and church leadership for almost four years now and I still see many of these effects playing a negative part in my spiritual journey. They are attitudes and approaches that root themselves deeply.

However, God has been patient and faithful to show me the truth over and over. One day I hope and pray to see these lies completely eradicated from my heart and mind, as well as from the hearts and minds of people I love. Perhaps it won’t happen fully until He brings us into His heavenly presence – until then, may we strive to believe the true Gospel that prizes Christ above all things.

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