Five Errors of the Prosperity GospelMarch 7, 2013
Prosperity gospel preacher, Eddie Long, is wearing a different kind of suit these days—a lawsuit by former members of his church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Apparently, Eddie Long encouraged parishioners to invest money with his friend’s company. Unfortunately, they lost all of their money because the friend, Mr. Taylor, was allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme. In this case, the shepherd, Eddie Long, allowed his friend to fleece the flock.
In reaction to this news, Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live, in his broadcast Pay to Pray, asked whether Eddie Long’s church was simply a case of another charlatan preying on the sheep, or if the prosperity gospel is at the root of the problem? He wondered whether the teaching that God grants health and wealth to those who sow seeds of faith contributed to the problem.
The answer is, simply, yes. The prosperity gospel teaches people to pursue wealth because this is what God desires for believers, and even promises them. With just enough faith, health and wealth is possible. With this teaching, it should not be surprising that church members might be more susceptible to get-rich-quick schemes. After all, God is in it, right?
Not so fast. The prosperity gospel is full of erroneous teaching that can be placed into five general categories of errors:
1) The prosperity gospel teaches a distorted view of God.
Many believers in the prosperity gospel do not realize that several prominent prosperity gospel teachers deny the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. These teachers reject the orthodox view that God is one in essence and yet also three in persons, co- equal and co-eternal. Instead, many advocates of the prosperity gospel believe that God is one in person and that He appears at various times in different modes as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. In other words, such a belief holds that God is not simultaneously the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This view of the Trinity is the ancient heresy known as modalism.
2) The prosperity gospel elevates mind over matter.
For the prosperity gospel faithful, words are a force and possess the power to create—mind over matter. Until believers visualize, speak, and believe in their words, God cannot act on their behalf. The “spiritual laws” of success that God established must be obeyed. Sadly, though, with such teachings the prosperity teachers denigrate God and turn Him into a cosmic bell-hop who exists to serve man once the right words are spoken.
3) The prosperity gospel presents an exalted view of man.
Prosperity theology inverts the relationship between the Creator and the creature. Man is now at the center of the universe and, therefore, God simply exists in order to meet all of man’s needs, including good relationships, sound health, and financial gains, among other desires. This gospel is man-centered and, thus, egotistical.
4) The prosperity gospel focuses on material health and wealth.
While advocates of the prosperity gospel preach and teach on a wide variety of subjects, the core of their message is material prosperity. One of the most striking characteristics of prosperity teachers is their seeming fixation with the act of giving. The driving force behind this emphasis on giving is referred to as the “Law of Compensation.” According to this law, Christians need to give generously because when they do, God gives back more in return. This supposedly, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity. The unbiblical message is that you give to receive.
5) The prosperity gospel offers an unorthodox view of salvation.
While some prosperity preachers do appear to articulate an orthodox doctrine of salvation, an important question is, “From what does Jesus save people?” Of course, the biblical answer is sin; yet, to listen to some advocates of the prosperity gospel one might conclude that Jesus saves mankind from a non-prosperous life. The point, then, is this: while many prosperity teachers offer the plan of salvation, they undermine the gospel with their teaching. The focus of the prosperity gospel is not God, but man. The prosperity gospel, then, is little more than a self-help program designed to aid man in his pursuit of material success.
How does the message of the biblical gospel compare to that of the prosperity gospel? As has been mentioned, there are several errors in the prosperity gospel. Advocates of the prosperity gospel tend to marginalize key components of the biblical gospel, such as Jesus, the cross, God’s judgment, and the sinful estate of man. If Jesus is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. If you leave the cross out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel. If you leave God’s judgment against sin out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel. If you leave man’s sin out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel.
In the end, similar to Eddie Long’s parishioners who were deceived, the prosperity gospel leaves people spiritually bankrupt and empty.
- Russell S. Woodbridge, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Church History
Russell S. Woodbridge lives in Kiev, Ukraine and is co-author of the book Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the prosperity gospel overshadowed the gospel of Christ?