Prosperity Theology

There's no Business like Show Business

The crowd is pumped. You can feel the electricity in the air as the coloured lights swirl and shimmer over the expectant faces of grandparents, parents, children, teenagers and singles. There's a feeling of comeraderie between the large, diverse group - the kind that can only come from an emotionally felt, shared experience.

The MC is working the audience, preparing them for the performance to come. They're ready, they want it. Then all of a sudden there's an explosion of sound and the crowd has a simultaneous orgasm of joy as live music is pumped through state of the art, powerful speakers. The crowd claps their hands in the air, exalted, as they sway from side to side to the rthymic beat and hearfelt lyrics of the onstage band. Is this one hell of a rock concert or what?

Why no, it's just another service at the Hillsong Church

Image from Golden Hills Church blog
Image from Golden Hills Church blog

The Gospel of Prosperity

For those who haven't heard of it, Hillsong Church is a part of the great sweeping tide of a new kind of religion that began with the Calvinists, was resurrected as a movement in the post-war period but gathered momentum and sprung to prominence in the 1990's. It takes its roots from the traditional, theatrical style of Christian worship found in USA and morphed into a new breed of showy evangelism known as "prosperity theology" and can be found in pentecostal and mainstream evangelical churches "with varying strains of intensity", according to jounalist Hanna Rosin. (from Did Christianity Cause the Crash)

The tentacles of the new creation have spread far and wide - prosperity gospel now has chapters from as far afield as Australia and Kenya and lays claim to tens of millions of followers. But what's it all about?

As the name suggests, the central tenet of prosperity theology is that god favours the affluent and successful, therefore it must be morally right to desire those things.


The Rationalisation

The Hillsong Church in Australia, our most obvious incarnation of gospel theology, has been popular with the 'mortgage belt'; aspirational voters with big financial committments and ambitions to have two kids at private school and a $60,000 car in the drive of their McMansion. Such materlally convenient teachings appeal to those who may be disallusioned with traditional churches and who are eager to find a spiritual philosophy which will reconcile their christian beliefs with a self-centred lust for money, power and success. Others may simply have got swept up in the show biz pizazz and sense of unity and control it provides. The message is appealing. Most people do want to succeed and have at least, financial security, if not wealth, position and power. Giving all your posessions to the poor is not a very realistic demand. However, I wonder how many people are getting their material desires fulfilled here, other than the church itself, which appears to have very fat coffers indeed?

The Church services are schmick and up-beat, with spectacular light shows, powerpoint presentations, stirring sermons given by charismatic pastors, funky music and huge crowds that feed upon each other and heighten the intensity of the experience. Who would want to go and sit in a dusty pew with a few elderly ladies and a crusty old minister thumping out tired old sermons about 'helping the poor' when you can have a laser light show and ask God to make you a millionare?

Hillsong has responded to criticism by pointing out they encourage success so people may "move beyond themselves" and help others. They also claim to divert funds to charities, yet there is little transparency in matters relating to their financial affairs. As they are under no legal obligation to help any person or cause financially, it's unclear just how far their charitable largesse stretches.


"Little Miss UK" contenders. Can you guess which girl has God on her side?
"Little Miss UK" contenders. Can you guess which girl has God on her side?

God and Tiaras

The inspiration for this article came from a documentary about an English woman and her nine year old daughter - followers of the church of prosperity. They went to services twice a week and on one occasion, the whole congregation was exhorted by the pastor to pray in church for little Madelaine to win an impending child beauty pageant, because she really wanted it, or rather her mother convinced her she really wanted it. Were mother and daughter shattered when they didn't even place? Yes, they were "shocked" but consoled themselves with the thought that God must have had "bigger things in store" for the aspiring mini beauty queen.

What would Jesus have made of such shenanigans I wonder? Is there anything wrong with wanting prizes, riches and success and moreover, to have those desires encouraged and ratified by your church? Is that what religion is about? Getting what you want and hang the other little girls in the pageant? What if there's two little girls in the same pageant who want to win and they're both adherents of gospel theology and pray with equal fervour? Mightn't this pose a dilema for God?

Of course, prosperity theology has much wider implications than tots and tiaras. The search for a moral justification for selfishness is nothing new...ask any Ayn Rand fan. However, what is new is that this theology contradicts the very essence of what Christianity is supposed to be about, ie; caring and sharing, not the refrain of self-gain. How can a religion who's central spiritual leader advocated giving your money away not be at odds with a philosophy that worships the accumulation of wealth and power? Critics have claimed prosperity theology is nothing more than "materialsm masquerading as theology" and considering all that the Bible has to say about wealth, it's hard not to agree. Whether or not the longing for personal wealth and power, often at the cost of the interests of others, is justifiable or not, such desires are not condoned in the Bible, no matter how fancy the rationalisation or whatever spin you put on it.


I'm pickin' up exhultations. Hillsong Church, Sydney
I'm pickin' up exhultations. Hillsong Church, Sydney

What the Bible says

If prosperity is evidence of God's favour, then how come it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into Heaven? I can't see a way around that. I wonder how those televangicals who manage to accumulate multi-million-dollar homes, luxury cars, private jets and other "blessings from God" can?

Of course, as is the case with many Biblical passages, there are some contradictory statements. Yet overall, there is very little about God showering the faithful with riches, nothing at all, that I can discern, about those who live rich, indulgent lifestyles funded by the exploitation of others having God's approval but verses about helping the poor and giving your money away are plentiful. Here are a few:

Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." ~Mathew 19:21

You lack one thing. Sell what you have and distribute the money to the poor” ~Mark 10:21

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” ~Luke 6:20

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” ~Luke 6:30

“No one can serve two masters. He will love one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money” ~Matthew 6:24

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 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. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.~ Timothy 6:9-11


In the era it is claimed that Jesus walked the Earth, the belief that wealth was a sign of God's favor and that poverty was God's punishment for sin, was common. From the above passages and others, it is clear that the Jesus of the Gospels pointedly rejected that notion and it's an irony that prosperity theology is dismantlng one of the central purposes of the religion it claims to worship.

You cannot serve both God and Money...



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Comments 41 comments

Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

This kind of theology goes back to the Puritans, who also reasoned that blessings on Earth meant that you were favored by God, and misfortunes on Earth meant that you had somehow offended God. I don't know how they rationalized it when a wealthy person contracted smallpox, for example, but I doubt that I'd be able to talk to Cotton Mather for very long without needing to excuse myself from the room. Good hub; voted up.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Jane - up and awesome again! I have always wondered why people continue to give their money (often those who can least afford it) to the church when the elders are splurging on huge homes and lavish cars. I wonder how much their salary is.


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

Outstanding hub! I completely agree, these individuals focus on a topic that plays to everybodies desire, to be wealthy. Thank you for sharing.


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

A.A. Zavala is correct. This mentality, just like the media uses, plays on our very basic, lizard brain of we can all be wealthy. Our basic, down to the gray matter not having to use brain cells to Think, instincts.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I would say only in America, Jane, but you say it is out here in the land of Oz.

Greed is good was something from the 1980s. It comes back every once in a while like indigestion. If someone wants to make it part of a religion I suppose they can and no doubt do.

I think the puritans were into hard work being its own reward and not so much the accumulation of wealth but I could be wrong. Certainly that was the point of view of Cromwell and the round heads in general. I thought it was also the reasoning behind the Mayflower lot as well.God helps those who help themselves isn't a bad way of looking at the world.

Beauty contests for children are so nuts. Can you believe some mothers give Botox injections to their child and the child isn't even five. So a child under five actually has wrinkles? Way to go to stop a kid from physically developing properly. All to win and get cash and prizes. Something wrong there.

Back in the 19th Century there was a theory in England that the poor and destitute deserved their lot because in some past life they did something to offend God or maybe their ancestors did something and they have to pay for it by being poor and destitute. Me? I think such ideas are against basic democracy. If we believe that children from underprivileged backgrounds or whose parents are simply not well off don't deserve a shot at a better life then why have public schools? Not everyone is going to make it big in this world but I think everyone deserves to be able to take their best shot.

What's more, for me to be successful in life doesn't mean having a lot of money. I'm a writer. Every time a magazine or a book publisher picks up my stuff and publishes it I am a winner. I have a short story appearing soon in Night to dawn magazine and that's great.

Sure it would be nice to be rich. It would also be nice to stay healthy and to continue to do the things I like to do.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Jeff, thanks for that info. Also how did they rationalize it when bad people got rich and good people got zilch? There is a tendency still, to apply a moral value to economic status -if you're poor you're a loser who 'deserves it' and vice versa.

Part of the rationale of the NT was to offer comfort to the poor and help them feel better about the injustices on earth, as justice would be plentifully served in the afterlife.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks RH, yeh it's very dodgy..'prosperity theology' is just a little too convenient a doctrine, when it comes to those wealthy evangelists who make their money from the flock.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks AA Zavala and Bobbie Rant...and yes, I believe you are both right.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, though it originated in America, it's definitely not confined to it. The idea that God is somehow involved in our economic status is pretty silly, to say the least.I mean it's quite obvious that being rich or poor doesn't have a lot to do with morality, since you can be rich and immoral or poor and moral and vice versa.

By the way, update on the school chaplains we were talking about in another thread...did you see in the news how one of the head honchos at Access ministeries (which supplies the chaplains)said now that they had a foot in the door at schools, "we need to go and make disciples."? It's supposed to be about support..not proletysing. Yet another reason to switch the chaplains for counsellors.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

"Also how did they rationalize it when bad people got rich and good people got zilch?"

A jerk getting rich wasn't rationalized; they just assumed that he must be a nicer fellow once you get to know him. A good guy getting zilch is easy to rationalize: he must be a sinner in secret.

"There is a tendency still, to apply a moral value to economic status -if you're poor you're a loser who 'deserves it' and vice versa."

Oh, yes, that wealth = worth mentality is still very pervasive.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Donald Trump is a good argument for wealth having something to do with immorality. I have had a dislike for the fellow ever since his 'reality' show. If he is so rich why can't he afford a decent wig or is he that cheap even with himself? Dick Smith is the opposite. He has money but he cares about our planet.

Yep, let's have counsellors rather than chaplains.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Put your hands on the TV and if you believe in God say Whoa! Lol! Sorry - could not resist!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

"Hallelujah! And if you believe in God, please send your cheques to Rich Jerk Ministeries, Suite 6, 21 Rip-off St, Scamsville."

Rod, Donald Trump's hair is his tradmark. No-one would recognize him if he had good hair.

Yes, Dick Smith uses his money for positive things, rather than just accumulating it for its own sake.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Jane, it would truly be a blessing if no one recognized Donald Trump. A guy with lots of money and instead of creating good television for the masses he creates bad 'reality' television. The man is a swine with either a bad hair cut or a terrible wig. I am glad he is not running for president.

I am glad you see Dick Smith the way I do.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, if Donald Trump had become president I would have been shocked and amazed. Although I have heard many people say "the country should be run like a business". Which business I wonder? General Motors? Enron? Merrill Lynch? Goldman Sachs? JP Morgan? Hmmm.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I thought Enron went bust. General Motors is in trouble so forget that. Maybe Goodyear.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Might as well go with Ronald McDonald really. I mean at least he shows up in a clown suit and admits it right up front. Plus - he's managed to make the whole world eat carp and pay for it - and be Happy! Happy meals for everyone!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

"I thought Enron went bust"

I rest my case...


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

hahaha, RH..Ronald for President eh..? We'd know if that ever happened that America had gone to Hell in a handbasket!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Right - LOL:)


Nancy B. profile image

Nancy B. 5 years ago from Kansas City, MO

I like both the Hub and the comments afterwards. Thought provoking - both of them.

I really like the example of the two mini-belles both praying for the same result. Absurdity on top of absurdity.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Yep, McDonalds sounds good to me too. Provided you want to make lots and lots of money and your conscience doesn't both you at night.

I used to laugh at the USA glass cathedral with the preacher inside and cars outside hooked up as if they were at a drive-in about to watch a movie. The preacher man inside would always have a chorus to amen him after every salient point and they sold items like bottles of holy water from France. I have got to admit that looked like big business. Came on our tele about four or five in the morning so you'd have to be up for work or why bother. Not sure when the glass cathedral show for the good old boys and gals was on American tele.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Nancy thanks, yes the comments were great. Absurd is the right word!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, that glass cathedral sounds amazing. I hope he wasn't throwing stones in there. What's that all saying about 'people who live in glass houses'?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey Rod, is this the glass church you were talking about? Looks like it's up for sale:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/27/crystal-c...


PlanksandNails profile image

PlanksandNails 5 years ago from among the called out of the ekklesia of Christ

Jane,

Here is a link to what the false prosperity gospel has been up to in Ghana. It's quite disturbing.

http://vimeo.com/7196941


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

PlanksandNails, thanks for that. I watched the documentary, which confirmed my worst opinions about the Prosperity Gospel. Professor Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu was right I think, when he remarked, that the pentecostal church offered a message to the poor, that in the traditional church was 'missing'; that is, it offered people hope, not just in the hereafter but in this world. The only problem is the only things that seems to be "material blessed" are the churches. In the meantime, "desperate for God's blessings" they give what little they have to the church. It's very exploitative

"When you come to house of God and you give money, you are demonstrating how big or small your faith is....Before I came, God spoke to me and said 'make sure that they give in dollars'".

Pros. Gospel Preacher.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Well you know what they say - strength in number$;)!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Yes indeed RH..:)


waxi 5 years ago

Hi Jane Awsome Hub Enjoyed every bit of it -My reaction is simply put :Its a subconscious cathartic back lash from frustrated Christians from Bibles preaching that in the end the meek shall inherit the earth .Who wants to wait why not get it now !!!!!!!!!

Waqxi


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Could be waxi...perhaps they don't altogether trust that they'll be getting their reward in the hereafter Thanks again for reading my stuff.


waxi 5 years ago

I dont think you wrote stuff It was a great hub :)

Waqxi


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks waxi...:)


qwark profile image

qwark 5 years ago

Hi Jane:

Ya did a great job writing this hub! Ya had me laughing all the way thru...:)

Tell ya what tho, there was a "black" church (I'm not referring to the color of the church..:) ) about a block away from where I rented an apt in Fla. I have to say that when that choir was singing, I defy anyone who enjoys "spirited" music and harmony, not to stop, listen and keep there body from not movin' to the music! They were GOOD! They were havin' fun!

All religious belief, to me, is silly to the max, but... we humans are easy to fool and lead.

Most Monotheists don't read their religious books. they listen and follow! They are not "thinkers" they are "followers!"

As human population continues to grow, living conditions all over the planet will worsen and religion will become a stronger influence because it promises a better life after life.

It's going to become more troublesome than it is.

I voted this hub up.

Thanks! :)

Qwark


waxi 5 years ago

Hi Qwark

A bleak but very plausible prediction of an over populated world giving boost to Religious beliefs But I think that secularism is also flourishing in parrallel and the struggle in next hundred years would be more fierce for limited resources . Some mysterious power will emerge approving and promulgation that genocides of certain sects in human race that wont use reasoning ought to be eliminated .

Very freightening indeed-today we have Islamists suiciders tomorrow other believers will start to emulate.

One of the leading reasons identified here in Pakistan accounting for suicide bombing is dire poverty . With growing dosparity in income in other countries with no solution in sight this may gain popularity in other countries.

Hope not.

Waqxi


qwark profile image

qwark 5 years ago

Hi Waqxi:

To my way of thinking "secularism" has no chance of succeeding.

As population grows human povery, deprivation, squalor and ignorance will keep pace.

There is no possibility of we humans coming together to work in concert to guarantee the viability of our species.

Yes, the future is frightening.

Thanks for the response.

Qwark


waxi 5 years ago

Hi Qwark

Pleased to read your response to my comments -Thanks.. I share your pessimism re the future.

But I like to ask A Question : Is this grave population confined to Third World Countries or it can expected to creep into advanced Western world? I lived in USA and UK I didnt notice poverty there at appallingly low levels matching what I see in many parts of Pakistan and I saw in some African countries I visited.

Your kind reply awaited

Waqxi


qwark profile image

qwark 5 years ago

Hi Waqxi:

No, it'll happen mainly in the 3rd world countries which, as you well know, are already suffering. The more advanced nations will probably do very well in controlling population growth.

That's why a population increase of almost 3 billion people in another generation and a half is so worisome.

It will be a drain on everything and Hitler proved in the 30's during the "Great Depression" that people can be won over by a charismatic potential leader who promises them everything they desire.

I think religion will promise the suffering a reward of a better life after life and the young will be programmed to do whatever it takes to attain that reward.

Islam is a powerful influence and is growing rapidly.

From about 500AD to 1500 AD, the roman catholic church did what Islam is attempting to do today.

I think we're in for a very bumpy ride for the next 10 yrs.

Change is inevitable. What it's going to be is...???

Just my opinion of course.

Qwark


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks very much Qwark (and Waxi)...sorry for the delayed response. Been neglecting HubPages..


waxi 5 years ago

Hi Qwark

I agree with what you wrote and this worries me as well But I have read on Net many Europeans have accepted Islam as well but they wont be blowing them selves up

What is interesting is that you mentioned Hitler and his role in great depression and the possibility some one might emerge and emulate him That will be disastrous.

Also -if we are in for a bumpy ride it wont be for ten years it will be much longer Who will feed, offer work and educate 3 Billion People [and lets not ignore severe water crises around the corner ]

My worse fear is that some form of Fascism will stage a return

Waqxi


qwark profile image

qwark 5 years ago

Waqxi:

Hi...I didn't say the "bumpy" road would would only last 10 yrs.

I said: "I think we're in for a very bumpy ride for the next 10 yrs."

The next 10 yrs will determine the future of America.

You are correct in saying that teh 'bumpy ride" will last for more than 10 yrs.

There's plenty of fresh water on and under the earth. The problem will be getting it to those who need it.

QWark

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