Seven Problems with the Prosperity Gospel

August 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Posted in False teaching | 9 Comments

In Sunday’s sermon, I mentioned seven problems with the “prosperity gospel.”  Since these points were not in the notes we handed out, I said I would try to post them here this week.  So here are:

Seven Problems with the Prosperity Gospel

1)  The gospel taught by prosperity preachers (PPs for short) robs God of his sovereignty and puts us in his place.  First, this is done by substituting a false definition of prosperity for the real one.  The Bible does teach prosperity for those who meditate on and apply God’s word to their lives (Psalm 1, Joshua 1:8), but as Sovereign, he defines what prosperity for any given person looks like – we don’t.  PPs use a Madison Avenue/Wall Street definition of prosperity and read that into the biblical passages, but that is not God’s definition.  Genuine prosperity is being where God wants you to be and doing what God wants you to do.  When people fulfill God’s purposes for them, they are as prosperous as they can be.

2)  The prosperity gospel ignores a lot of scripture.  There are passages which help us understand that trials and suffering sometimes come into our lives to build our character (James 1:2, Rom 5: 1-5), or to achieve eternal goals (2 Cor 4:16-18), or to give us an eternal perspective (2 Cor 5:1-10).  The PP would lead us to believe that we can overcome all our troubles by seeing them removed, but the scriptural teaching is that we can overcome our trials by God sustaining us through them.  Sometimes God gets more glory when his people are triumphant through trials and afflictions than he would if those were taken away.  Paul prayed for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh,” but God wouldn’t take it away; it was there to demonstrate the sufficiency of God’s grace in his life.  Which brings up the next point.

3)  The prosperity gospel ignores numerous biblical examples to the contrary.  Consider the lives of Job, Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joseph, Elijah;  these men were anything but successful by a worldly measure for most of their lives.  Yet they were each a huge success by the measure of God’s Kingdom.  And of course, by the standard of the PPs, Jesus himself was an ultimate failure.  Yet his “failure” accomplished salvation for us.  This thought shows the ridiculous hypocrisy of the prosperity teaching; we are to be like Jesus, but he was not “successful” as the PPs define success.

4) The prosperity gospel confuses our sinful and selfish desires with God’s will.  James 3 & 4 show us how our selfish ambition is opposed to God, how it causes division in the church and is easily confused with God’s will.  Such confusion is not good preaching; it is called boasting and bragging.  In the parable of the Sower and the Soils, Jesus tells us that his word can be choked in our lives by thorns; those thorns are the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things.  In other words, the things PPs tells us to pray for are the very things that can thwart God’s working in our lives!

5)  The prosperity gospel is a denial of grace, because it lifts our works and our faith to a place of prominence, but biblically God’s grace and glory should have that place.

6) The prosperity gospel hurts those who are not quickly healed or quickly rewarded by telling them they don’t have enough faith; that’s the only reason PPs can give to unanswered prayer.  But the Bible often emphasizes how God honors those with very little faith.  The parable of  the mustard seed demonstrates this as does the man who said to Jesus, “Help my unbelief!”  At the same time he seems to give the biggest trials to those with the most faith:  Consider Joseph who spent about 20 years in prison and slavery, or Ezekiel who lost his beloved wife, or Hosea who was asked to love an impossible and unfaithful wife, or the apostles who died terrible deaths because of their testimonies.

7)  The prosperity gospel only works in our materialistic Western culture and fails outside of it where the majority of Christ’s followers are poor and persecuted.  It is an absolute affront to believers in places like Somalia to imply they have a lesser faith because they are not “prosperous.”  Christians in places like that have a far greater faith than you and I can probably even imagine.

Portrait of a Pair of Politicians

August 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | Leave a comment

The 15th chapter of Mark presents a picture of two political leaders whose responses to the tense situation demonstrate two totally different approaches to politics.  I find it interesting that these two approaches are still around today and are still typical of those with political authority.  The first picture is of Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea.  The Jewish Council decided they wanted Jesus dead, but they didn’t have authority to carry out their plan; they needed approval from the Governor to do it.  Though Pilate could find nothing wrong with Jesus, and openly confessed that he’d done nothing to deserve death, he still handed him over to be crucified.  Mark tells us his motive; he wished “to satisfy the crowd.” (Mark 15:15)  So many political leaders want only to satisfy the crowd, to keep themselves popular, to assure their reelection or reappointment.  They will say or do anything to make that happen.  It often appears this is the majority of people in office today.

On the other hand, there was a respected member of the Council who was a disciple of Jesus (according to Matthew) and who had not consented to their decision (according to Luke).  He “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43)  He took courage and did what was right.  In politics, it takes courage to do what is right, especially if it is unpopular.  He didn’t care what embarrassment it might cause; he didn’t care if it meant the end of his days on the Council; he didn’t care if it satisfied the crowds; Joseph of Arimathea courageously did what was right.  O for more Joseph-type politicians today!

The 2012 election is already in the news.  When you view the candidates and when you go to the polls look for politicians who have a track record of courageously doing what is right rather a record of satisfying the crowd.  Look for men and women who stand for a biblical model of morality and principle no matter how unpopular that is rather than those whose record represents rhetoric and popularity.

Eloquent Preaching and the Cross

August 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

When I am occasionally told that I am a good preacher, I, unfortunately, pride myself in those comments.  Eloquence, if one has it, is a gift from God to be used for his glory, but it can easily become a reason for arrogance.  When it comes to preaching, eloquence is not what it’s all about.  The real issue is the message of the gospel.  And when I rely on eloquence, rather than the message, then my preaching has no divine power.  The real power is in the message of the cross.  Here are the inspired words of Paul on this matter:  “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  (1 Corinthians 1:17; See also 2:1-2)

There are two thoughts for today.  First, though the cross is a part of the gospel message, baptism is not.  As important as baptism may be for a follower of Jesus, it is not part of the salvation message.  However, without the cross, there is no salvation message at all.  Those who teach a baptismal regeneration are a very small minority, though I seem to encounter them often.  They would do well to ponder Paul’s words here.  If baptism was a part of the salvation process, as they so adamantly teach, then Paul would have the perfect opportunity to clarify that here, instead he separates baptism from the gospel.  The message of the gospel is what Christ accomplished on the cross; it is not about what we do.

Second, preachers like me would do well to ponder these words also.  Though we may have the correct message, if the presentation of it is in our own abilities, then all we gain are personal disciples of our gifts rather than disciples of Jesus.  That is exactly what the context of this verse is about.  There were divisions in the Corinthian church based on which preacher the people were following.  The point of the passage is that Christ was crucified, and not the preacher.  It is in that cross, and what was accomplished there that gives the message its power.  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

What Good Deed Must I Do?

August 18, 2011 at 10:38 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith | Leave a comment

In Matthew 19:16-22 Jesus is approached by a rich young man who asks the question, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Notice that his entire mind set is one of works; he’s thinking, “if I do enough of the right things then I can go to heaven.”  That is the wrong paradigm.  We can never do enough good to get to heaven.  But Jesus answers the man within his own framework.  First, Jesus says, “Obey all the commandments,” then he lists some of them – five of the Ten Commandments and the addition of Leviticus’ words love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus leaves out the more difficult commandments like “have no other gods before me” and “don’t take the name of the Lord in vain;” he includes those that can be given a nice outward showing.  The man responds that he has kept those commands, and I would guess that he thinks he has kept them perfectly.  Mark’s version adds “since I was a youth.”  Jesus has already told him that there is no one who is good, but he doesn’t get it.  He knows he is not good enough, but thinks doing something else will make him good enough.  So Jesus tells him that good enough means perfect: “If you would be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor.”  He went away sorrowful, because, as Matthew tells us, “he had great possessions.”  Jesus makes him realize he is not perfect and can never be perfect.  He holds on to his possessions too tightly to be perfect.

The story is followed up with Jesus’ explanation of how hard it is for a rich man to be saved, and here he tells his famous “camel through the needle’s eye” illustration.  By the way, that means what it literally says; there has never been a small gate in Jerusalem called the needle’s eye.  If there had been such a gate, the disciples would have responded, “Well that’s difficult, but it can be done.”  Instead they responded with, “Impossible!  Who then can be saved?”  Jesus’ answer finally gets to the point he was trying to make: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   A man cannot save himself any more than a real camel can go through the eye of a literal needle; but God can save him.  If you are trying to do things to be saved, or if you are trusting in things you have done, give up and trust God to save you.  Jesus died to pay for the sin in your life – only that will make you good enough.

John Stott Remembered

August 8, 2011 at 11:11 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John R. W. Stott passed away two weeks ago, though I just found out about it today.  He was one of the great spokesmen of Evangelical Christianity in the late 20th Century.  He had a big impact on me through both his speaking and his writing.  I first encountered Stott through some of his IVP devotional/teaching booklets in college, and I picked up a few of his other books then too.  I have since read Men Made New, The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit, Basic Christianity, Your Mind Matters, and The Cross of Christ (one of his best works, but it was so long ago I’d like to read it again, unfortunately I only had a borrowed copy).  His masterpiece called Between Two Worlds has been the most influential book on preaching I’ve read.  And, finally, I have used and mostly read a number of his commentaries including Acts, 2 Timothy and 1 John.

Here is a personal story, and then a great quote.

I was privileged to hear him speak as he led the daily Bible studies at the Urbana Missionary Conference in 1979.  He expounded on Romans 5 (from his book Men Made New), and we students were delighted to hear him talk about the “roth” of God with his wonderful British accent.  I approached him after the morning lesson one day to ask if I could accompany him back to his room, and by some miracle he agreed!  While we walked, I asked him what he did to spend time in God’s Word, and though I don’t recall much that he said about his methods, I was impressed how much he emphasized the necessity of just doing it.  Take time in God’s Word, only then will you be on solid ground in your relationship with God; only then will you be what God wants you to be; only then will you have something to minister to others.

And finally a great quote for a preaching pastor:

When a man of God stands before the people of God with the Word of God in his hand and the Spirit of God in his heart, you have a unique opportunity for communication.  I fully agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that the decadent periods in the history of the church have always been those periods marked by preaching in decline.  That is a negative statement.  The positive counterpart is that churches grow to maturity when the Word of God is faithfully and sensitively expounded to them.  If it is true that a human being cannot live by bread only, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, then it also is true of churches.  Churches live, grow, and thrive in response to the Word of God.  I have seen congregations come alive by the faithful and systematic unfolding of the Word of God.

— John R. W. Stott, from in interview with Albert Mohler in Preaching magazine

Thanks for a life well lived, and for a positive influence on this younger man.

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