A Christ-centered interpretation will make it plain that the Bible is not first and foremost about us but Christ. If the Scriptures are about him (John 5:39; Luke 24:44), he must be central in our Bible meditation, preaching, and teaching. This Christ-centered approach will make it plain that the gospel is not about health, wealth, and might; rather, God in Christ himself is the good news.
ABSTRACT: The so-called prosperity gospel is a perversion of the biblical gospel, according to which Jesus is a means to the blessings of health, wealth, and power. The preachers of this “gospel” may quote God’s word, but twist it to support their false theology. By taking passages out of context, applying a naively literal hermeneutic, embracing an over-realized eschatology, and misapplying their texts, prosperity preachers distort the Scriptures and exploit those who follow them. The best way to challenge prosperity theology — and protect ourselves from it — is to teach Christ-centered biblical theology, which reorients our worldview and desires to cherish Jesus above all.
For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors and leaders, we asked Dieudonné Tamfu, assistant professor of Bible and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary and coordinator of the Cameroon Extension Site, to explain the nature and danger of prosperity gospel in Africa.
“In honor of the sacrifice of Jesus, I am enjoying blood money.”
I read these words on a flyer for a local conference themed “Prosperity Conference: Wealth Transfer.” Since it was on Facebook, I scrolled through the comments and saw that several people had written “Amen,” along with comments such as “I connect myself to this program even though I will not be present in Jesus’ name.” The flyer had hundreds of likes and hearts.
I live in Cameroon, where the prosperity gospel cannot be escaped. I recently preached a sermon on God’s sovereignty in salvation at a Baptist conference. Immediately after I stepped down from the pulpit, I heard the next speaker shout, “God’s plan for you is success!” I’m hoping someone saw the inconsistency.
Recently, I visited a family to share the gospel. When I told them I had a fever and could not stay long, they all exclaimed, “A man of God, sick?” A few weeks later, a woman asked me why I returned to Cameroon from the United States. I informed her that I came back to preach and teach the old and true gospel of Jesus because there were many false gospels being preached. She asked what gospels I had in mind. I immediately sensed that she was not comfortable, but carefully and clearly, I said that there are false gospels that promise riches, health, and well-being in this life and teach that Jesus is the means to those ends. To this, she made what for her was a solid argument. “Jesus became poor so that we might become rich. We are not meant to suffer. God has not destined us for anything but riches and health. Suffering, pain, and poverty are not the portion of a true believer because Jesus died to purchase those things for us.”
I have many more stories like this. There are more than I can recount because there is nowhere to hide in West Africa from the American idols of health and wealth. They have infiltrated even orthodox churches. Preachers who are faithfully teaching the gospel cannot reach into their members’ homes and shut off the televisions that constantly broadcast healing and miracle crusades.
My aim is to unmask the prosperity gospel, particularly in its distortion of Scripture, for the deceitful and hopeless message that it is, hoping that God might use these words to protect and guide some on the narrow path away from the cancerous teachings.2 Africa needs cleansing from the foreign deities from the West, the land where health, wealth, and might have become gods.
What Is It?
Collins English Dictionary states that prosperity gospel is “a modern version or, according to some, perversion of the gospel according to which the full blessings of God available to those who approach Him in faith and obedience include wealth, health, and power.”
Although the definition in Collins is good, I would make some modifications. The dictionary mentions those who approach God in faith and obedience as the recipients of his blessings, but in the versions of prosperity teaching in Africa, obedience is unheard of. Those preachers rarely, if ever, preach against sin. Against unbelief? Yes. Only because it is a way for them to excuse their inability to come through with the miracles, wealth, health, and power that they promise. When they, like waterless clouds (Jude 1:12), fail to deliver, they blame it on others’ lack of faith. Thus, faith for them is a way to excuse their inability. Based on my interactions with prosperity theology advocates and teachers of this sacrilege, I have reworked the definition in Collins:
The prosperity gospel is an idolatrous perversion of the gospel according to which Jesus is a means to God’s full blessings, primarily of wealth, health, and might, now available to those who trust and obey certain faith principles prescribed by a particular man of God.
Although adherents may not agree that they pervert the gospel, you do not need a theology degree to know that prosperity theology is a great divergence from biblical truth.