Prosperity Gospel: Joel Osteen vs. Rick Warren
Compiled by Ted Olsen on Christianity Today's website

1. Is this the Prosperity Gospel's hour? Or the hour of its critics?
Time's cover story, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" makes no reference to the National Baptist Convention, but it's worth noting that the black denomination spent much of its annual convention last week attacking the prosperity gospel. "Black communities are suffering, while this prosperity-pimping gospel is emotionally charging people who are watching their communities just literally dissolve," Friendship West Baptist Church pastor Frederick Haynes told Dallas's WFAA.



That the prosperity gospel has a hold on a segment of American culture is not disputable. Time quotes its own poll numbers:

17 percent of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61 percent believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31 percent—a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America—agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. … Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three—Joel Osteen's Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes' Potter's House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar's World Changers near Atlanta—are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits.

For Osteen, Prosperity Gospel isn't a pejorative term:

"Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?"

On the other side is the guy whose church rounds out the "largest four" list:

"This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", [Rick] Warren snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"

It's smart for Time to make Warren the piece's chief critic of the Prosperity Gospel. (One of his favorite lines, "I don't think it is a sin to be rich. I think it is a sin to die rich," doesn't appear.) And it allows Time to make its most astute observation: one of the reasons that the prosperity gospel has been able to grow is because (particularly white, middle-class) evangelical churches have avoided talking about personal finances or social inequality.

Now, however, white, middle-class evangelical churches are starting to talk about personal finances and social inequality. So the question becomes whether Prosperity Gospel is as ascendant as Time suggests, or whether it's just an aberrant theology that's about to have an unprosperous future.

   November 2018   
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