By Jeff Laird
As expected, I took a lot of heat for criticizing the ministry of Joel Osteen a few months ago. I get it: he's popular, and rarely says anything people don't like to hear. And, as I've reminded sundry others recently, I honestly don't know if Osteen is sincere or not. For all I know, he truly believes his way is the best approach to the Bible. But sincerity doesn't automatically equate to accuracy, and his methodology is dangerously incomplete at best. So, I stand by my assessment. Some of the pushback I received was actually not in defense of Osteen, but the Prosperity Gospel he's associated with. That's a separate issue, and so worth examining on its own.
Prosperity Theology, like many spiritual spinoffs, can be difficult to define. There are different flavors in which it appears. Also, some who teach it carefully avoid the label, in order to avoid the stigma. As a result, many who verbally distance themselves from Prosperity Theology are, in fact, teaching a form of it. "A rose by any other name…", in other words, not only retains the fragrance, but the thorns.
For that reason, it's easier to address the theme than slog through every possible variation. Generally speaking, and as discussed here, "Prosperity Theology" or "The Gospel of Prosperity" is an interpretation of Christianity which teaches that financial, social, physical, and/or emotional success are the expected and promised products of a proper relationship with God. In some cases, it teaches that our verbally spoken words have creative, divine power.
As a development of the "Word of Faith" movement, this theology is a combination of historical Pentecostalism and a form of Christian Mysticism, a la E.W. Kenyon, Phineas Quimby, and Kenneth Hagin. In the extreme, it can be used to imply that poverty and sickness are signs of sin in a person's life, or that a person's spoken words have the same type of creative power possessed by God.
Granted, there are earthly, material blessings which can come from our relationship to God. There's nothing unspiritual about asking for prosperity, under submission to His will. Nor is there anything wrong with being successful. The danger of Prosperity Theology, and the Word of Faith movement, is in the combination of impatience and particular methods that supposedly generate those blessings. That approach, as promoted by modern Prosperity teachers, is flatly unbiblical…
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