Prosperity Theology: The Dirty Little Secret By Mark Driscoll

I have expressed here before my hatred for the prosperity gospel, it is another gospel and by extension a damnable heresy. Mark Driscoll does a great job explaining what it is and its problems.

Prosperity Theology/Idolatry

While in Africa recently, I was often asked about prosperity theology/idolatry. This erroneous teaching states that the truly holy and faithful will be blessed with financial prosperity. The epicenter of this error is American greed, materialism, and consumerism, and the proclivity of some to present Jesus as the one who gives us our idol of Mammon/Money. To make matters worse, this theological error is promoted around the world on “Christian” television and radio. The effects in the US are damaging, and that damage continues around the world, particularly plaguing poorer nations where uneducated pastors sit on gold thrones wearing white suits and promise a hundredfold return on investment to their impoverished flock because it is what they learned from American preachers.

In Africa when I repeatedly answered the question about prosperity theology/idolatry, I explained it both practically and theologically. In this blog post I will deal with the practical and in the follow-up post I will deal with the theological.

A Marketing Scam

Practically, prosperity theology/idolatry is a marketing scam. My undergrad degree is in communications from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University, which is one of the top programs in the country. In my advertising, journalism, speech, marketing, and public relations classes, we were repeatedly taught that advertisers pay for media (e.g., air time on television and radio) and that unless a host or program is able to attract and retain a valuable audience for advertisers, they simply cannot remain in business.

The Dirty Little Secret

However, one of the first things I learned many years ago while co-hosting a small national Christian radio show was that there was one exception—namely, Christian programming. You see—and here’s the dirty little secret—most programming on Christian radio and television is nothing more than infomercials. Many of the shows are not kept on the air because they attract an audience that advertisers will pay for. Instead, the air time is purchased by the “ministry,” who can then use that time to say whatever foolish thing they want without needing to satisfy advertisers’ requirements for quality programming.

How to Make Jesus an Idol-Giver

The question is, how can you pay for the expensive airtime when advertisers won’t pay for the typical slots around the “Christian” programming? The answer is prosperity theology/idolatry. To pay for the airtime for infomercials, “ministry” leaders need to find a way for people to send in generous tax-deductible donations. The problem is that most people don’t give generously unless they really get the fact of the gospel—that our God is so generous that he gave us his own life—or they are given a theology in which Jesus is an idol-giver. So, prosperity theology was born for, in large part, the express purpose of paying for poor quality “Christian” programming and generating massive amounts of revenue to keep programming on the air that would not otherwise merit a time slot. Simply stated, it’s a business racket where you have to promise people God will bless them, or guilt grandmas into writing big checks by promising that Jesus is a pagan god who can be made to live for our glory if we manipulate him through faith and giving.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some fine Bible-based, Jesus-loving, gospel-centered ministries do exist on television and radio that do not promote prosperity theology/idolatry and actually teach against it by being faithful to the Bible. Just a few examples that come to mind are Greg Laurie, Hank Hanegraff, R. C. Sproul, and Kay Arthur. Nonetheless, now you know the dirty little secret about prosperity theology/idolatry.

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8 thoughts on “Prosperity Theology: The Dirty Little Secret By Mark Driscoll

  1. Mike V says:

    Hey Mike, I pray all is well with you and yours! I love reading your blog, and at times want to interact with them. So I figured I would this time… “as iron sharpens iron”…lol

    While I agree with the fact that elements of the body of Christ have perverted God’s desire to prosper His people by presenting a proverbial “buy your blessing” gospel, there is a very biblical foundation to the idea that it is the will of God for His people to be prosperous, and that He Himself desires to proper us.

    The idea that God desires His people to prosper can be found as early as Deut 28 where the many blessings of the Lord for those who obey His word are established. Deut 28:11 establishes that not only does God desire to prosper those who obey Him in a spiritual and emotional sense, but also in a financial sense. In Job 36:11 Elihu, the friend of Job, establishes that if the righteous “obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity”. In Psalm 25:13 David establishes that those who fear the Lord will spend their days in prosperity.Psalm 35:27 establishes that the Lord has pleasure in the prosperity of His servants. The Apostle John prayed that we may prosper, as our soul prospers, in 3 John 1:2. Malachi 3 has the familiar promise of prosperity for those that tithe, so to a certain extent, there is even justification to teach that those that those who give generously unto the Lord will receive abundantly in return.

    Like all teaching, there is a fine line, and much wisdom and care is to be applied in this line of doctrine. At the end of the day, all teachers will be held to account before God, and to a higher degree. If one is in the business of selling favor or blessings, then he will have to account for that. If one is leading the body of Christ to bondage by teaching poverty and suffering, then he will have to account for that.

    Love you my brother, let me know your thoughts… GB

    • Mike says:

      Hey brother nice to see you at 121! I appreciate your tone in this matter, as I see it was not in anyway quarrelsome. So, let’s begin shall we?

      “While I agree with the fact that elements of the body of Christ have perverted God’s desire to prosper His people by presenting a proverbial “buy your blessing” gospel, there is a very biblical foundation to the idea that it is the will of God for His people to be prosperous, and that He Himself desires to proper us.”

      I do believe God wants to prosper His people, but not the way the Word of Faith and Prosperity movement believes or teaches it. God is sovereign if He wills some to be prosperous then it will be and if He wills some to be poverty stricken it will be, who can stop His hand or thwart His purpose? No one. Let me bring to your memory that it was not the rich man that went to heaven, it was the poor man Lazarus. A declaration or profession of prosperity over one’s own life is empty words, because it’s the Lord decision to bless whom He wills. The view I believe you are representing robs God of sovereignty, it brings God to man status and man to God status and that is rank heresy. Consider this verse, Exodus 4:11, “Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” Also, “Ephesians 1:11, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to he counsel of his will.” One can name it and claim it all they, but ultimately the decision to bless someone is the Lords.

      “The idea that God desires His people to prosper can be found as early as Deut 28 where the many blessings of the Lord for those who obey His word are established. Deut 28:11 establishes that not only does God desire to prosper those who obey Him in a spiritual and emotional sense, but also in a financial sense. In Job 36:11 Elihu, the friend of Job, establishes that if the righteous “obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity”. In Psalm 25:13 David establishes that those who fear the Lord will spend their days in prosperity.Psalm 35:27 establishes that the Lord has pleasure in the prosperity of His servants. The Apostle John prayed that we may prosper, as our soul prospers, in 3 John 1:2. Malachi 3 has the familiar promise of prosperity for those that tithe, so to a certain extent, there is even justification to teach that those that those who give generously unto the Lord will receive abundantly in return.”

      Using a proof text to establish a biblical truth is very dangerous, namely, because majority of the time the text is taken out of context. This is the case with the verses you provided to support your argument. Who was the recipient of Deut. 28? was it echoed in the NT? If you are going to use this verse why not use it completely? it mentions “you are blessed in the city” but also mentions “you are cursed in the city” why leave this out? In the case of Job, I have one question: did Job suffer for being disobedient? Does not the scripture say he was a perfect and upright man? Job suffered because God decreed it to be, did not God ask Satan “have you considered my servant Job?” Did not God PERMIT Satan to destroy what he owned? It was God’s choice, not Job disobedience or obedience that determined any outcome. I am going to skip over the Psalms because it would be too much too type. Sorry about that. Now you mentioned 3 John 1:2, it that speaking to us or to a specific person? the context will reveal that that benediction was to a man named Gaius, who was the recipient of that letter. the apostle John was wishing him good health, I don’t know about you but I have done that before as I am sure you have as well. As for Malachi 3, there is a common misunderstanding of what this verse means. This is a scripture for Jews am I right? Jews were the recipient of all the books of the OT including this one, Malachi’s message was directed toward Jews. So, with that in mind the next question is what would tithe be to a Jew? Was it giving a tenth of their monetary income? Nope. They would give a tenth of what they grew, consider 2 Chronicles 31:5, “As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” In a discourse with the Pharisees, Jesus mentioned tithe a close observation of the text shows it was not monetary but agriculture. Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” The texts you chose do not justify your argument. Thank you again for your thoughts on this subject brother, hope this does not divide us at all. God bless.

      • Mike V says:

        Hey Mike, no worries, this is healthy. I certainly respect your opinion, but I dont necessarily agree with all of it. If you remember, we used to do this all the time…lol

        I am not into the name it, claim it deal, as it has been misrepresented by some, but there is biblical foundation for the word of faith. If there was no power in words, why pray? If there were no power in words, why preach? Yes, God is sovereign, without a doubt, but arent there examples where mans prayers have moved the hand of God? Clearly, there are. Hannah prayed for a child and the Lord granted it, Moses prayed for mercy and the Lord spared the people, Elijah prayed for fire and God sent it, Israel prayed for a King and got Saul, Jesus Himself said to ask, seek, and knock. If a sovereign God decides to answer a prayer, does that give Him “man status”? I think not, it’s just who He is. God is love, and God answers prayers.

        As far as Deut 28, this is an example of the concept that God desires to bless His people, if they are obedient to His commands. I didnt mention the rest because is doesnt apply to what we are discussing. Were discussing blessings, not curses. The scripture is not taken out of context, the context is precisely that God will bless if we will obey. That is the exact meaning of the passage. While the Mosaic covenant of the OT doesnt apply to Christians, the text are still inspired scripture that can be used to understand the nature and character of God. Do we have a different God now than He of the OT? No, He is the same. If I write a note to you, the message is for you, but the content will tell anyone who reads it my heart and nature. If God desired to bless the people then, how much more now, that He sent His Son to die, to reconcile gentile and Jew?

        Did God allow Job, a just and righteous man, to suffer? Yes, He did. The ultimate end, however, was restoration and prosperity. Job’s story just further shows that, ultimately, God desires to prosper us. It doesn’t mean we wont suffer, or have moments where we do not prosper. In the end, He will prosper us. God’s perspective is eternal, ours is temporal. Temporary afflictions will give way to God’s ultimate dispensation towards us, which is His never ending LOVE. God is love.

        IS Malachi 3 a reference to an agriculturally driven economy? Of course. That was the nature of the society at the time. It was an agricultural economy, and as such, grain held value as much as gold. The two were interchangeable. To offer grain or gold to God was the same, it was to offer of your treasure.

        I havent taken any of these scriptures out of context through prooftexting, not at all. I think the underlying issue at hand in this interpretation is the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, and not prosperity, as it were. If you view the scriptures through a certain perspective, that is all you will see. But that, my friend, is a whole other sermon all together….lol…

        Love you Brother! We need to catch up, for real! Congratulations on your family! You guys look super happy! Praying for you and yours…

        Mike

  2. Jesse Botella says:

    First of all, I also vehemently oppose the “Word-Faith Movement/ name it-claim it” theology but I would like to respond to Mike V.

    I think we need to define more clearly the term “God’s will.” The bible constantly speaks of God’s will in several ways, primarily his 1. Decretive will (His sovereign, efficacious will); 2. Preceptive will (His commands and precepts placed on all his creatures); 3. Will of disposition (that which pleases God). It seems to me you are referring to God’s will of disposition in which it is God’s desire to make us prosperous. If prosperous is defined as monetary prosperity than I have to disagree with this statement, though I do not believe it is God’s desire for us to live in poverty as some form of piety. I agree with Mike that the issue of prosperity is rooted in God’s sovereignty as everything else. Granted, you see examples in the OT where God blesses individuals in light of their obedience but I don’t think the texts you have cited substantiate your assertion that God desires to prosper us financially if we do our part. I think what we learn from those texts is not the desire for God to make us prosperous, though He can if He chooses to, but that our obedience to his commands is what’s most important to God. Surely, he sometimes blesses people for their obedience but what about nonbelievers who are very prosperous? If you affirm God’s sovereignty over everything than why do unregenerate people prosper? The unregenerate definitely do not obey God’s commands so applying your hermeneutic you would have to conclude that God is prospering nonbelievers even though they disobey Him which would call to question His character, in my opinion. You can object and say, “nonbelievers prosper because of God’s common grace or providence” to which I respond, “exactly!” It all boils down to God’s sovereignty and Him ultimately choosing to prosper or not to prosper someone regardless of one’s obedience. As a matter of fact, I personally can recall a time in my own life where God granted me financial prosperity at a time when I was shamefully in sin. So prosperity is ultimately not dependent on one’s own obedience but rather on God’s sovereign decree. I think that is consistent with the totality of scripture. I think God’s word shows us what his desire is for us as far as our prosperity while we are here on this earth, for example, Luke 12:15 “Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. James 4:13-15 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” I do not like to engage in “proof texting” but it’s already late and I don’t have the time to exegete these passages in context but you can do so on your own time. Regardless of disagreements we are still all brothers in Christ and I enjoy dialoguing with my brothers of the faith for the sake of my own edification as well for the edification of the body. God bless!

    • Mike says:

      Jesse,

      Great thoughts and observations! I agree 100% with you, whatever God decrees will be. I have engaged in these dialogues before with WOF and prosperity believers and I always ask this one question: Was Paul and Jesus properous? I don’t think they experienced “abundant life” and they were obedient till death. I still haven’t heard a good answer for it yet.

  3. Chris Cruz says:

    I dont usually leave any replies at any blogs, but lets hope I can offer some assistance in the matter.

    In normal prosperity theology many word of faith/prosperity teachers would say that God is going to give you what you want according to your hearts desires if you have enough faith. Other preachers and teachers who arent even within that category also say that God will bless you in accordance with your performance or how good you are.
    Sadly, Id have to say along with R.C. Sproul that we all believe in the prosperity gospel. The reason we do is because we dislike when the God in His Sovereignty ordains something we dislike. We feel as though God should make things easier for us. It shows how our affections and joy are in gifts rather than the giver or in creation rather than creator.
    Let us take a simple verse such as Psalm 37:4 which states, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” and try to dissect what that means. Many people use this verse to represent their theology on prosperity, but however if you are to look at this verse exegetically the implication is not that God gives us the desires of our hearts because we delight in Him. But it actually means that because we delight ourselves in Him (through grace) then the desires of our heart will be Him. Our joy and affections will be in Him. Thus making hardship, trial, and blessing a work of grace and never a work of performance. He gets the glory and we are the recipient. We are able to understand that all things work together for our good and for the ultimate glorification of our souls.

    Hope this helps

  4. Just wanted to express some of my views and concerns on the topic of “prosperity gospel,” also known as the “Word of Faith,” that has infiltrated the church. May God bless you guys as you continue to pursue God with a passion and love that never surrenders!

    

In the prosperity gospel, also known as the “Word of Faith,” the believer is told to put God to “use”, whereas the truth of biblical Christianity is just the complete opposite. God uses us the believer in His Sovereign plan and the “Word of Faith” or the “prosperity theology” sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills and wants. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person who enables the believer to do God’s will. The “prosperity movement” closely mimics some of the destructive cults that became part of the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accepting these false teachers who represented such heresy and neither should we. They identified them as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them.

 Paul warned Timothy about such men in 1 Timothy 6:5, 9-11. These men of “corrupt mind” supposed godliness was a means of gain and their desire for riches was a trap that brought them “into ruin and destruction” (v. 9). The pursuit of wealth is a dangerous path for Christians and one which God warns about: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (v. 10). If riches were the goal for the godliness, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, preferring instead to have no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20) and teaching His disciples to do the same. Interesting to note that the only disciple concerned with wealth was Judas.

Paul said covetousness is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5) and instructed the Ephesians to avoid anyone who brought a message of immorality or covetousness (Ephesians 5:6-7).

    Prosperity teaching prohibits God from working on His own, meaning that God is not Lord of all because He cannot work until we release Him to do so. Faith, according to the” Word of Faith,” is not submissive trust in God; faith is a formula by which we manipulate the spiritual laws that prosperity teachers believe govern all. As the name “Word of Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we follow and believe in our hearts. 

A favorite term in the Word of Faith movement is “positive confession.” This refers to the teaching that words themselves have creative power. What you say, Word of Faith teachers claim, determines everything that happens to you. Your confessions, especially the favors you demand of God, must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer (as though man could require anything of God!). God’s ability to bless us supposedly hangs on our faith. James 4:13-16 clearly contradicts this teaching.

    Believers, especially leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:3), are to be free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). The love of money leads to all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the Word of Faith emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).

    The contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

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