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More Than One Type of Prosperity Gospel

Among Christians and some atheists, people know about the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel “claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.” Us evangelicals can name some of them, but we mostly avoid them and disassociate from them. We might reword worship song lyrics with such implications. We omit anything in our ministry with any connection (even distant) to prosperity gospel preachers. We even condemn them on Twitter.

A few months ago, Katelyn Beaty wrote of another kind of prosperity gospel: the sexual prosperity gospel. “Sexual prosperity theology was supposed to combat the mainstream culture’s embrace of no-strings-attached sex and sex education in public schools. Purity culture arose in a time when the traditional sexual ethic looked increasingly prudish, unrealistic and kind of boring. Writers like Joshua Harris, Josh McDowell, and Eric and Leslie Ludy held out the ultimate one-up to secular licentiousness: God wants to give you a hot spouse and great sex life, as long as you wait.”

Beaty continues: “The giveaway of any prosperity teaching is an “if/then” formula: If you do this, then you will get this.” She concludes, “it’s worth recalling that formulas cannot shield us from the pain, frailty and disappointment of being human in a broken world. Sooner or later, life catches up with us, and we can either shake our fists at an unfair God, or recognize that God never promised fairness in the first place. It is we, not God, who come up with the formulas.” (emphasis mine).

There’s some potential bad news here: there could be more than two types of prosperity gospels. In the U.S., we love if/then statements. But we tend to make a lot of them outside the Bible.

Maybe we think if we’re charitable and woke, then God might make an exception for us when it comes to salvation. Maybe we think that if we know as much of the correct theology as possible, then our chances of Heaven will be increased. Maybe we’ve bought into some of the false (but spiritualized) promises for financial and relational wellness utilizing a formula or even a “hack” that’s not in the Bible.

Churches and ministry organizations can follow other types of prosperity gospels, too. If we follow a certain ministry model, then our church will grow. If we know lots of “good doctrine,” then we will be sanctified and complete disciples. If we play popular songs on the radio with excellence, then we will attract younger people to our church. If we update our church technologically, then our professionalism will impress and attract more businessmen.

But we’ve already witnessed many of such promises fail. May we cling only to the promises of God as written in Scripture and not to man-made formulas.

Can you think of any prosperity-gospel if-then statements that you’ve witnessed or believed?


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