Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

The Prosperity Gospel vs. Jesus: Why These Two Things Are Not the Same

I believe that Christianity is a religion founded upon the life, teachings, and example of Jesus of Nazareth. Any version of Christianity that is built on a different foundation– whether it’s founded upon “following the Bible” or some foundation other than “be like Jesus,” isn’t really Christianity at all, even if it tries to go by the same name.

Christianity, by definition, is supposed to mean “like Christ.” There are some Christian traditions that highlight certain parts of Jesus at the expense of others, and this is understandable– we’re human and and we make mistakes. However, there are some Christian expressions that simply don’t line up with Jesus at all– and how we continue to recognize them as Christian is beyond me.

The prosperity gospel is one of those “expressions” of Christianity that is at complete and total odds with what Jesus said, and how Jesus lived. Here’s 5 critical aspects of how these two differ:

5. The prosperity gospel is a gospel that associates the rich with being “blessed” instead of the poor.

In the prosperity gospel being “blessed” by God is associated with being on a path of increased abundance; God’s blessing results in the accumulation of more and more. However, this is the complete and total opposite of the *actual* Gospel.

If you read the Gospel of Luke, we see John the Baptist set the stage for Jesus. As people ask him how their lives should reflect repentance he answers them three different times, each answer reflecting that repentance is marked by rejecting the concept of having an “abundance” while others do not have enough (Luke 3:10-14). Just a few pages later we find Jesus begin his public ministry, and one of the first things he says is that the poor are blessed, but the rich are not. In fact, Jesus says “What sorrow awaits you who are rich!” (Luke 6:24).

Let’s just say that the prosperity gospel begins on a foundation that literally reverses what Jesus actually said.

4. The prosperity gospel is premised on the idea that obeying God results in a “good” life by worldly standards.

Does obeying God’s way result in good things? Well, that all depends on how one defines “good” and whether or not you’re talking in terms of temporal or eternal.

In the prosperity gospel, being obedient and faithful results in comfort and abundance now– but that’s not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that being obedient and faithful results in denying yourself and becoming willing to give up everything– even your very life! In fact, some of the most faithful, obedient Christians in all of history have been those whose lives ended far before their natural time– all for the sake of following Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t invite us into our best life, or a materially abundant life– he invites us to join his movement and to become willing to give up everything, even our very lives, to this life-long calling.

3. The prosperity gospel can’t explain why bad things happen to faithful people– because that screws with the premise of it all.

If being obedient and faithful results in increased abundance, why do tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, illnesses, and car accidents happen to obedient and faithful people?

The prosperity gospel doesn’t have a compelling answer to this, other than “God is mysteriously doing something good for you.” Case in point: Joel Osteen recently told hurricane victims that they should “take it as a compliment as if losing your house is somehow a sign of coming favor from God.

Jesus, of course, doesn’t have this conundrum– he simply taught that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust” meaning that good things can happen to bad people, and bad things can happen to good people, and that this is just part of the randomness of life. He also taught that “in this world we will have many troubles” but to take heart, because he has overcome the world.

The idea that God rewards our faithfulness by good things, or that God will protect us from bad things, isn’t what Jesus taught.

2. It creates ministers who are detached from the people they minister to.

At the core or what following Jesus looks like is the calling to go out and make more disciples– it’s how the movement not only stays alive, but grows and spreads in hopes of transforming the entire world. We are called to build intimate community and to walk side by side with others as we navigate both learning ourselves, and helping others, discover how we might best follow Jesus through the joys and struggles of life.

But ministers of the prosperity gospel? They are often detached from those they minister to– and that’s not how Jesus modeled discipleship. How does one who lives in a multi-million dollar mansion and who has a private yacht, truly minister and walk with someone who is homeless, someone who doesn’t know where food money is going to come from this week, or someone whose car is broken down and preventing them from getting to work?

In the prosperity gospel, ministers get rich while those they minister to get “hope that one day they might be rich too” and that’s not how Jesus lived.

1. It teaches people to put their hopes in the wrong place.

The prosperity gospel is one where your hopes and dreams are placed in having material abundance right now, in this temporal world. However, that is not what Jesus calls us to– Jesus calls us to lives of sacrifice and obedience knowing that we are laying for ourselves “treasures in heaven.”

The true Gospel is not about what we’re building for ourselves in this world, but is about self-sacrificially investing in helping to build the next.

The true Christian hope is that we labor not in vain, that death will not be the end, and that living lives of sacrifice will not be for nothing in the end. Our hope is in the power of God to use what we offer up to him, to create something far bigger and beautiful than anything we’ll ever know in this present life.

The hope Jesus offers us, and the hope the prosperity gospel offers us, is not the same hope.

It’s true– there are many different expressions of Christianity.

It’s also true that I believe we can often find tremendous value in those various expressions, whether we belong to that tradition, or not.

But it’s also true that the foundation of the prosperity gospel is so at odds with Jesus, that I honestly don’t know how it can be recognized as a legitimate expression of the Christian faith.

 

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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  • Not every teaching in the Bible is of spiritual nature. the author is wrong in this assumption. Proverbs has good teachings on many earthly areas of concern. The author must have torn proverbs from the bible.

  • “2Co 9:6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”

    The basic law presented to you is this; you will always reap what you sow. If you sow a little bit, you get a little bit back. If you sow a lot you get a lot back. These are just basic seed laws found in the Bible. Let’s see what else this chapter says about seeds of finance:

    “2Co 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Sowing and reaping concerning prosperity is biblical no matter how this author attempts to spin it.

  • The modern gospel is quite different from the kind of gospel the Lord Jesus christ preached and Paul and the Apostles. i dont think they would tolerate this modern gospel which centres on earthly welfare of an individual rather than focus on eternal life. All the parables the Lord gave if am not mistaken were talking about the kingdom of Heaven and not success on the earth.

    • The phrase “the kingdom of heaven” appears almost exclusively in Matthew’s Gospel, because, being a good Jewish scribe, the author of Matthew would not use the word G-d lightly. Thus “heaven” is merely a circumlocution for saying God. To interpret it otherwise does a profound disservice to Jesus’ message, which is not about “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” but about a radically different way of living now in loyalty to God, following the example and pioneering footsteps of Jesus. Likewise, in John, when Jesus tells Pilate his kingdom is “not of this world,” it does not mean it is otherworldly or “heavenly” but that it is not a kingdom with the world’s values. In John “world” almost always (except, perhaps John 3:16) means the ways and values of the world in contrast with the life God leads and calls us to participate in now–eternal life–life not bound by the constraints of time or “necessity.”

  • “Jesus calls us to lives of sacrifice and obedience knowing that we are laying for ourselves ‘treasures in heaven.’
    The true Gospel is not about what we’re building for ourselves in this world, but is about self-sacrificially investing in helping to build the next.”

    No, if this is as other-worldly as it appears, it’s not what the Gospel is about, either–not really any more than the “Prosperity Gospel” is. The Gospel is about the reign of God in the here and now, a realm of upside down values, and the hope that, in the end, God will have the last word in a new Creation, a new heaven and earth.

  • Money in itself isn’t a sin.If that were the case then almost every Christian living in the United States would be guilty.What is important after a person is saved….’These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life’ 1 John 5:13, as far as money is concerned is whether or not a person is trusting in God or their money ..and what are they doing with the money that God has allowed then to have whether it be a little or a lot?.I think when it comes to the subject of money..especially living here in the United States where the cost of everything keeps going up that we need to read ( in context) what God’s written Word has to say about the matter.Common-sense tells us that it is a blessing to have enough money to pay all your bills on time, drive a reliable car that doesn’t constantly break down, and to pay a mortgage instead of making someone else rich while you and others pay them rent or even own your own home outright,and to have enough to help others..like for example that young lady on the streets with her three young children etc.who needs a Christian brother or sister to help them to rent a place and to get on their feet again.There is nothing spiritual or blessed about those young children walking around in the cold while they are begging their mother for something to eat.
    In the right context “Blessed are the poor” doesn’t mean that it’s a blessing to be poor and not a blessing to be rich ( I’m referring to a wealthy believer who is trusting God and helping others etc.) It means a person is blessed if they realize that they need Jesus Christ in their life…wherever they happen to stand financially in this temporary life here on Earth.
    It’s true that we as believers need to be careful when it comes to money.Like the Bible warns financial gain doesn’t equal Godliness.But I also believe that given the opportunity that most true believers know what to do if they happen to come into a substantial amount of money, or to but it simply, they would know how to handle their money as far as putting God first and helping others etc…God bless.

  • “good things can happen to bad people, and bad things can happen to good people” – and it is very hard to decide which of these facts is the more infuriating:
    _Bertrand Russell_

  • I’m no longer a Christian, so this is a bit of a mental exercise, prosperity gospel? how absurd…I’d go for traditional Christianity over it.

    • I am not exactly sure what this means. I thought that one could not lose ones “salvation,” and therefore “once saved, always saved.” Do you mean you no longer attend Christian services? How exactly does one stop being a Christian please?

      • Only Fred Knight can answer for himself. But most ex-Christians leave religion behind in exactly the same way one stops being a Muslim or a Sikh or most any other religion. You reach a point where you realize, “this is a bunch of nonsense.”

  • Oddly enough D. R. McConnell (author of “A Different Gospel” which critiques the prosperity gospel and “Faith movement”) did graduate work at Oral Roberts University in theological and historical studies … so he was in the belly of the beast as it were!

    • Thanks for the tip, Scott! As a Prosperity Gospel/Word of Faith refugee, I’ll try to find this book. As a refugee, I’ve found that the Liberal/Progressive type of Christians possess a much more Christ-centered and level headed view. A great pity that I was taught to dismiss them instead of listening to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • The idea of salvation is part of a prosperity Gospel.
    What is it other than being opportunistic and morally lazy when one exchanges their personal responsibility and culpability for their own salvation?

  • The Prosperity Gospel can make a certain amount of sense. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe it, but along with variations on its theme, it actually produces a lot of diligence and self-confidence in the world. The rich young ruler was approved by Jesus – he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. And that is worth a lot in life. The rich young ruler, though, sensed that there should be more. And he was right. Most people remain so mired in their struggle for the legal tender that they never look up and ask, “What more. . .? ”

    So if the Prosperity Gospel would encourage people to graduate to the gospel of the Cross, it would probably even be good for the souls of its followers. You might think of it as the equivalent of Luther’s admonition to Melancthon: “Sin boldly.”

  • ‘Any version of Christianity that is built on a different foundation– whether it’s founded upon “following the Bible” or some foundation other than “be like Jesus,” isn’t really Christianity at all.’

    …but we are to be like Jesus, who followed the Bible. I sense a false dichotomy there somewhere.

  • The prosperity gospel is rooted in the bad theology of calvinistic election. See the Wikipedia article on Protestant/ puritan work ethic, which is also the basis of capitalism.

  • “A Different Gospel” by D. R. McConnell is a useful introduction to the heterodox teachings of the prosperity “gospel”. One thought here is that “If being obedient and faithful results in increased abundance, why do tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, illnesses, and car accidents happen to obedient and faithful people?” – the converse must be asked: how come there are so many seriously wealthy and powerful wicked people in the world? is that because of God’s blessing? Are they, as the Prosperity teachers suggest, simply “applying God’s laws of abundance?” The perversity of this teaching quickly becomes apparent.

  • My teacher-friend hosted a teacher from rural Uganda whose very poor school was twinned with hers. As she had to leave early the next morning, she showed him the kitchen, the toaster, microwave, frig etc. He asked what some of her other machines were for – dishwasher, grill etc. He then said ‘What do you pray for on Sundays? You have everything.’ Said it all for me…..!

  • Isn´t the Christian faith more than simply life, teachings, and example? I´m thinking the gospel of John here and
    also Jesus´ death and resurrection.

  • You said, “I believe that Christianity is a religion founded upon the life, teachings, and example of Jesus of Nazareth.” And for the most part you are correct. You also said, “Any version of Christianity that is built on a different foundation– whether it’s founded upon “following the Bible” or some foundation other than “be like Jesus,” isn’t really Christianity at all, even if it tries to go by the same name. If “following the bible” can’t be Christianity and since we only learn about Christ from the bible then your statement is contradictory.

    Let’s say this preacher Joel Osteen centers his ministry around prosperity and bends the bible to that view. You constantly bend the bible around pacifism. So the only difference between you and Joel is the centerpiece of your efforts; but you both take liberty interpreting the bible to your detriment.

    • You don’t have to “bend” the Bible around pacifism (nonviolence is a better word) if you’re talking about Jesus’ teaching and example–or about the teaching and practice of the early Church which saw itself as following Jesus’ way for that matter. Everything about Jesus was about nonviolent loyalty to the will of God and creative resistance to violence and evil, as hard as that may have been in the past for many in the Church and may be for many Christians to hear today. After all, who would Jesus kill?

  • Partly right, except the part about “laying up treasures in heaven.” Jesus was, as the prophets before him, very “worldly.” The kingdom he proclaimed was not some day and far away, but very much “near you.” He saw himself as not being the king of “some day and far away,” but the beginning of a new aeon – the kingdom of God. It was, as the prophets said, to be a kingdom of justice and righteousness, the fulfillment of the promise of Jubilee. “Laying up treasures in heaven” was not the promise of personal abundance later on, in some other life, but the meeting of God’s approval, through a life of service, sharing, and sacrifice – walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Otherwise, we are little better than the Joel Osteens of this world – the only difference is that we are more patient in getting our “riches.”

    The other part of this is that we follow the one who said, “foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” who led a life of service and sacrifice. We are called to be members of that “body,” to “put on Christ,” to be “baptized” (“immersed”) into his life. He is not only our example, but “in him we live and move and have our being.” To be joined to Christ is to be joined to his ministry.

    All that, of course, is just a hint of all that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament have to say on the subject. For another tutorial, read the Epistle of James.

  • I have always wondered why other Christian denominations have not condemned the “prosperity gospel”, since it is such a total corruption of Jesus’s message.

  • Unfortunately, there are shreds of NT teaching that lend a patina of truth to prosperity gospel preachers. For example, Mark 10:29,30 (deemed editorial gloss, in whole or part, by NT scholars) says that those who have left houses or family or land for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will receive a hundredfold more IN THIS TIME, including HOUSES, family, and LAND, along with persecution and eventually eternal life. Some have tried to construe these verses merely as promises that followers of Jesus will share material things with one another, but such interpretations are strained. Because of this kind of editorializing by the authors of the gospels, ammunition is given to those who desire to undermine or distort an otherwise unmistakable thrust of the teaching of Jesus: detachment from worldly possessions and power and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Attempts have been made to write synoptic gospels, faithful in form and content to the canonical accounts (and also informed by NT scholarship), which offer alternative yet traditional Jesus stories with a minimum of editorial gloss; for example,

    https://www.amazon.com/Life-Truth-synoptic-gospel-Theophilus-ebook/dp/B00NIZOJ4C

  • Jesus didn’t allow a person to go back to his folks to bury his kin, but ordered him to follow Jesus. Most of His disciples instantly followed Jesus leaving everything when Jesus called them. In modern times there are hundreds of thousands of missionaries who have left everything to work for Jesus, even to serve lepers in leprosy hospitals. Although I’m a Protestant, I admire the young priests and nuns who have opted to live without enjoying the happiness of marriage life, family life and even the pleasure of sex. Some Pentecost sects also live by sacrificing all pleasures of earthly life just to please Jesus. In my view, these dedicated persons who have sacrificed the joys of earthly life to follow Jesus are real Christians. Others are time servers and even frauds. Christianity does not ban family life, but it recommends a Christian family life, say like Peter of Jesus’ time or Billy Graham of modern times.

  • I have always thought that the only real followers of Christianity were ordered priests and nuns in Catholicism. Anyone else who has material possessions kind of missed the boat. I figured out at a young age I couldn’t be Christian!

  • “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
    My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
    Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
    So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

  • I believe that Christianity is a religion founded upon the life, teachings, and example of Jesus of Nazareth.

    I used to believe that.

    Over the last several months, I have come to realize that Christianity is a white supremacist political group.

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