As I grew up in the courtship community, the prosperity gospel culture seemed so far away. It is only now, looking back, that I realize I had a plank of the prosperity gospel in my eye that I could not see. It was the same wolf, just wearing the clothes of relational prosperity. We thought if we used the correct homeschool curriculum, wore the correct clothing, listened to the correct music, and attended the correct conferences, God would bless us beyond our wildest dreams with happy marriages and healthy families.
few days ago I received a Facebook message from a homeschool mother who was very angry about my book, Courtship in Crisis, which she had not read. The message came to me while I was feeling low, so I did something I don’t normally do to people who send me angry Facebook messages. I responded.
Yes, I know responding to criticism leads to more criticism, but I’d been frustrated by people who were criticizing the book without reading it or proposing an alternative solution to the courtship crisis.
So I asked her, “What is your solution to the singleness epidemic?”
She responded by saying, “Following Christ not a man or a method. He has a unique plan for each young person beyond even your wildest dreams.”
If you are a single person, I imagine that you get these kinds of “God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams” platitudes from married people all the time. These remarks are usually intended to make us feel better. Perhaps this works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. They make me feel helpless and hopeless.
Would it surprise you to know that these kinds of platitudes are often based on a form of the prosperity gospel?
The Financial Prosperity Gospel
For those of you not familiar with prosperity theology in its most common form, it boils down to this:
“Donate ‘seeds of faith’ to our ministry and God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams with health and wealth. The more you donate, the more God will bless you.”
The concept is based on the parable of the sower, in which the seeds are interpreted to represent money. For the record, Jesus specifically explained that the seeds in the parable represented the Good News about the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:18-20).
Often, in addition to donating money, the prosperity preachers recommend their followers do specific acts of faith in order to best earn God’s blessing.
To be fair, God does heal people and bless them financially. But the Bible is very clear that God’s blessings are not something that you buy with money (Acts 8:18-20). More on this later.
The prosperity gospel does make some people very rich, namely the people who receive all those donations. The most popular of which live in million-dollar homes or own multi-million-dollar luxury jets.
The Relational Prosperity Gospel
As I grew up in the courtship community, the prosperity gospel culture seemed so far away. It is only now, looking back, that I realize I had a plank of the prosperity gospel in my eye that I could not see. It was the same wolf, just wearing the clothes of relational prosperity.
We thought if we used the correct homeschool curriculum, wore the correct clothing, listened to the correct music, and attended the correct conferences, God would bless us beyond our wildest dreams with happy marriages and healthy families.
The relational prosperity gospel teaches that the holier you are, the happier your family will be. This sounds good – except for the fact that it is not in the Bible. Jesus never said “Follow me and I will give you a husband and a happy family.”
In fact, Jesus promises just the opposite.
Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”
It is Satan, the father of lies, who said, “I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” (Luke 4:7). I think you could say that the devil was serving up a full course of the prosperity gospel in the wilderness.
The “Spiritual” Way to Kick Someone While They are Down
The tragedy of both the financial and relational prosperity gospels is that when someone is going through hard times, it is “a sign” that they don’t have enough faith. The more we believe in the prosperity gospel, the more we tend to sound like the Pharisees who said the reason the man was born blind was because of his parents’ sin (John 9).
The prosperity gospel tells us, “Are you having trouble with your children or marriage? It is because you are not holy enough. Perhaps your son is listening to the wrong music, your daughter is wearing the wrong clothes, or you are not homeschooling them correctly.” This can be like saying “beatings will continue until morale improves.”
The most unfortunate consequence is that prosperity theology leads to Christians shooting their own wounded.