…with apologies to our friend Joseph Michael Bennett, who wrote a book we recommend, “Two Masters and Two Gospels” (2019).
Last week, multiple news sources reported a Lifeway Research study of 1,002 Protestant Christians strongly indicating that the “Prosperity Gospel” is rapidly rising in America. These two beliefs go hand in hand to spread this heresy: 1) God wants Christians to prosper, attaining wealth and health and 2) God requires a gift from us humans before he will answer our prayers.
According to the well-crafted study, “Those who say their church teaches that God will bless them if they give more increased from 38% in 2017 to 52% in 2022.”—a huge increase over a short amount of time—and “76% believe that God wants them to prosper financially”, up from 69% in 2017—another rapid increase.
Lifeway Research’s methodology was an “online survey of 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers was conducted September 19-29, 2022, using a national pre-recruited panel.” Comparisons were made to a 2017 online survey of 1,010 Protestants who attended religious services at least once a month. They estimate that the “sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed +3.3%”
Prosperity Gospel Parallels the American Dream
If you believe in and think you deserve a share in the American Dream, then your beliefs are probably shared with a large segment of the U.S. public. If you believe in the prosperity gospel—that God will multiply blessings upon those who richly bless Him with money, it appears you share that belief with a large majority of American Protestant Christians.
“The American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone. …(It’s) believed to be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance.”—Investopedia
“God helps those who help themselves” is a phrase that’s often mistaken as a scriptural quote. More on Wikipedia
In some ways, the two beliefs have merged.
The only problem is that neither the Prosperity Gospel nor the American Dream “work”, especially for poor and disadvantaged people. Both those lies wreak havoc with desperate people who are grasping at something, anything that might alleviate their suffering, even lottery tickets. Some will be blessed by God materially, but most won’t be.
The “prosperity gospel” message panders to the sensual desire for riches but is the opposite of the message of the cross. It’s a pious, pleasing message that avoids repentance from self-seeking. Regarding piety… “The curse of a godless man can sound more pleasant in God’s ear than the Hallelujah of the pious”—Martin Luther (repeated by Dietrich Bonhoffer)
Consider Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now” and other similar religious self-help books that ignore or cheapen the grace of Christ.
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall save it.”
The cross of Christ means the death of self. For those of us who call ourselves believers, we prayerfully abandon control of our lives to God.
Signs that your church has embraced the lie of the prosperity gospel, sometimes ever so subtly: the preacher’s mansions, luxury cars, private jets, and expensive clothing; the lack of transparency (read our article here) regarding the finances of the church; the lack of accountability (he or she answers to no one), i.e., nobody can hire or fire the pastor (read here).
The sin of greed thrives in a climate of secrecy. Therefore, we believe that churches should be required to make their finances available publicly—read about “dark money” in the church here.