Being unsure if he would ever see them again, Paul called together the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38). He reminded them of their duty to protect God’s flock. He told them to be on guard because he knew savage wolves would eventually try to feed off the flock. These wolves in sheep’s clothing, with their perverse gospel, would seek to gather as many sheep around them as they could. Paul doesn’t say exactly what this perverse gospel would be, but perhaps he had it in mind as he concluded his words to the elders. “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.” He then left them with the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Some years later, Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to combat these wolves that Paul had warned of. Prominent among the false teaching being used to fleece the sheep was “that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). These depraved men, deprived of the truth, had discovered a way to make money off ministry. By practicing what they preached, they were getting rich off Jesus. This prosperity teaching however was ruining people’s faith (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Today’s church is also confronted with this perverse gospel. Ironically, while claiming to encourage faith, the “Prosperity Gospel” actually destroys people’s faith by substituting faith in the real gospel with faith in faith. As David Jones and Russell Woodbridge point out in Health, Wealth & Happiness, the prosperity gospel’s roots are found in the “New Thought” movement of the early twentieth century. “In the New Thought works, one can discern some of the key recurring elements of the prosperity gospel: speaking the right words, invoking a universal law of success with words, and having faith in oneself” (p. 31).
Jones and Woodbridge have PhDs from and teach at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. They are both uniquely qualified in the areas of finance and Christianity. They have produced a very informative and readable critique of the prosperity movement within evangelicalism.
The book’s six chapters are grouped under two headings. Chapters one through three offer a critique of the prosperity gospel and prosperity preachers. Chapters four through six offer a correction of the false teaching of prosperity. Chapter one excavates the foundations of the prosperity gospel as being built upon “New Thought Philosophy.” In chapter two one can readily see the link between this philosophy and the unorthodoxy of the prosperity message. They conclude, “while many prosperity teachers offer the plan of salvation, they undermine the gospel with their teaching” (p. 71). Jones and Woodbridge use Joel Osteen as an example. “While Osteen certainly appears genuine and sincere in his faith, his prosperity message is anything but harmless” (p. 73). They go on to demonstrate how Osteen “misinterprets Scripture, misunderstands the gospel, and lacks theological conviction” (p. 73). Chapter three exposes the errors of prosperity theology by examining how it perverts Scripture’s teaching on: the gospel, faith, atonement, the Abrahamic Covenant, the mind, prayer, the Bible, and giving.
If you are a typical, suburban American, you ride a wooden horse on the “consumer carousel.” And on this economic joy-ride, there is a place where we grip the pole with our left hand and reach out with our right to grasp a brass ring. Then, as our painted horse proceeds in a lazy circle to the accompaniment of festive music, we get another chance to grab another ring. And on this particular ride, the rings get bigger and better with each pass.
On our first circuit we sign a lease on a modest apartment. The carousel slowly turns and with great excitement we return to the ring post and hook a starter home. On the next pass, we hope to grasp a bigger house in a better location.
On round one we dine at McDonalds and Dairy Queen. But as the carousel completes another revolution, we upgrade to Red Lobster and Olive Garden. On the next round we reach for a yet bigger and better brass ring, hoping to dine at exclusive restaurants with story-book names, opulent décor and white-capped chefs.
On our first pass we secure a used car. On the next round we get something “more reliable.” Another pass or two and we are reaching for that car or truck (or tank) of our dreams.
Life on the consumer carousel is all about upgrading. Each circuitous pass provides fresh opportunity to secure a bigger and/or better replacement of what we already have. Bigger and better shelter, higher quality food, more expensive clothes, better transportation, entertainment, appliances, furnishings, vacations, and on and on it goes.
Economic conditions among suburbanites in this country vary considerably. But we all have a horse on this ride. Admit it, there is something right now that you are hoping to replace with something more costly in the near future.