Posted by: Damon Whitsell | January 4, 2012

Prosperity Theology: The Gospel of Wealth – A Chapter from Randy Alcorn’s Book “Money, Possessions, and Eternity”

Through google alerts I found this nice little site that transcribes whole chapters from popular books. They seem to have transcribed some real good books.

I am not sure which chapter this is in the book. I tried to find out which chapter it was by reading through the reviews at Amazon and looking at the preview of the first 2 chapters on Google Books.  Even though I have so many books on my wishlist already I am going to add this one too. I hope you guys enjoy!

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 From Randy Alcorn’s book “Money, Possessions, and Eternity”

A “man of God” stands before his audiences and rebukes the “spirit of poverty,” assuring them of material prosperity. He sends a Christmas letter concerning “the urgent need you have to get into true biblical prosperity as the wise men did. The money they brought literally met the financial needs of Mary, Joseph, and the child in that desperate hour.” By sending money to this evangelist in his desperate hour, according to the letter, one may expect to become materially prosperous, just like the wise men who gave generously to the baby Jesus.

This man represents a large and visible segment of American evangelicalism that subscribes to what is called “prosperity theology,” or the “health and wealth gospel.” This worldview thrives, in churches and in parachurch ministries, only because such men have willing supporters, eager to get their share of the prosperity pie. This chapter isn’t about some position “out there” in the world, but “in here” in the Church. It addresses the attitudes and lifestyles of millions of mainstream Christians who, to varying degrees and sometimes without realizing it, have bought into the lie of prosperity theology.

THE OLD TESTAMENT AND PROSPERITY

What makes every heresy dangerous is an element of truth. Without a sugar coating of truth, the lies would never be swallowed. The portion of truth that makes prosperity theology credible is that some Old Testament passages link material prosperity with God’s blessing. For instance, God gave material wealth to Abraham (Genesis 13:1-7), Isaac (Genesis 26:12-14), Jacob (Genesis 30:43), Joseph (Genesis 39:2-6), Solomon (1 Kings 3:13), and job (Job 42:10-17) because he approved of them. He promised the Israelites he would reward them materially for faithful financial giving (Deuteronomy 15: 10; Proverbs 3:9-10; 11:25; Malachi 3:8-12).

In Deuteronomy 28:1-13, God tells the Israelites that he would reward their obedience by giving them children, crops, livestock, and victory over their enemies, but he also tacks on fifty-four more verses describing the curses that would come upon the nation if they didn’t obey him-including diseases, heat and drought, military defeat, boils, tumors, madness, and blindness. The teaching is double-edged: prosperity for obedience, adversity for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:14-68).

The Old Testament also warns against the dangers of wealth-especially the possibility that in our prosperity we may forget the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:7-18). Furthermore, the Bible recognizes frequent exceptions to the prosperity/adversity doctrine, noting that the wicked often prosper more than the righteous. The psalmist said, “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil” (Psalm 37:35), and “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…. This is what the wicked are like always carefree, they increase in wealth” (Psalm 73:3, 12). Solomon saw “a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Jeremiah, a righteous man who lived in constant adversity, framed the question this way: “You are always righteous, 0 Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1).

Are material wealth, achievement, fame, victory, or success reliable indicators of God’s reward or approval? If so, then he is an evil God, for history is full of successful madmen and prosperous despots. Was God on the side of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and other prosperous butchers of history during their rise to power and at the apex of their regimes when they were surrounded by material wealth? Is God also on the side of wealthy cultists, dishonest business executives, and immoral rock stars? If wealth is a dependable sign of God’s approval and lack of wealth shows his disapproval, then Jesus and Paul were on God’s blacklist, and drug dealers and embezzlers are the apple of his eye.

CHRIST AND PROSPERITY

Many in Old and New Testament times believed in a direct cause-and-effect relationship between righteousness and prosperity on the one hand, and sin and adversity on the other. Health and wealth meant that God approved; sickness and poverty meant he did not. Job’s “comforters” thought there must be hid¬den sin in his life to account for his loss of prosperity, but they were wrong. God approved of Job (Job 1:8; 42:7), yet he permitted Satan to destroy every¬thing of earthly value that job possessed.

The well-to-do Pharisees lived and breathed a prosperity theology, labeling everyone beneath their social caste as “sinners” (Luke 15:1-2; John 9:34). Christ’s disciples betrayed their own assumptions when they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus responded by saying their presupposition was entirely wrong: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…. but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). In other words, God had a higher purpose for this man’s adversity that simply didn’t fit in the neat little categories of “Do good and you’ll be well off” and “Do bad and you’ll suffer.”

Consider their response when Christ told his disciples, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).

Why the astonishment? It was because they were accustomed to thinking of wealth as a sign of God’s approval. If the wealthy, of whom God obviously approves (why else would he make them wealthy?), have a hard time going to heaven, how could the poor (whom God obviously disdains) ever make it? The disciples hadn’t yet grasped the significance of their Lord’s lifestyle. The one whose Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NKJV) was the same Son of Man who didn’t have a place to lay his head and owned nothing but a robe and sandals (Matthew 8:20).

Jesus said of his Father, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the un¬righteous” (Matthew 5:45). God extends common grace to all.

The air breathed by every person-sinner or saint-is God’s gift, regardless of the person’s morality. What we call prosperity is often incidental: An evil person may have good soil and a large crop, while the good person has poor soil and a small crop. As Christ’s account of the rich man and Lazarus demonstrates, an evil person may live a long life, suffer little, and prosper, while the righteous person may have life cut short, suffer considerably, and live in poverty (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus says things will be turned around in eternity, but often not until then (Luke 6:20-25).

The New Testament goes one step further. Not only may the righteous suffer despite their righteousness, but often they will suffer because of their righteousness. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The early Christians continually suffered for their faith and were assured that “your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (I Peter 5:9). A materialistic world system,

The well-to-¬do Pharisees lived and breathed a prosperity theology, labeling everyone beneath their social caste as “sinners.” with its emphasis on personal peace and prosperity, does not look with favor upon a true disciple of Christ (John 15:18-20).

These examples from Scripture should disturb any of us whose goal is to be hailed a success by the standards of this world. If we fit in so well with the world, is it because we are living by the world’s standards, not Christ’s

LIVE LIKE THE KING’S KID?

There’s great irony in a popular saying heard in “health and wealth” circles: “Live like a King’s kid.” The “King’s kid” was Jesus, who lived a life exactly opposite of what is meant by the phrase today. The King we serve was stripped down for battle. At the end of the age he will don the royal robes of victory, and so will his faithful servants with him; but now is the time for battle garb, not regalia.

How did the King send his “kid” into this world? Born in lowly Bethlehem, raised in despised Nazareth, part of a pious but poor family that offered two doves because they couldn’t afford a lamb (Leviticus 12:6-8; Luke 2:22-24), Christ wandered the countryside dependent on others to open their homes, because he didn’t have one of his own. “Live like a king’s kid”? Whatever king’s kid the prosperity proponents are speaking of, it obviously isn’t Jesus!

Prosperity theology sees as our model the ascended heavenly Lord rather than the descended earthly servant. Jesus warned his disciples not to follow a lordship model, but his own servant model (Mark 10:42-45). In this life, we are to share in his cross-in the next life we will share in his crown (2 Timothy 2:12).

In verses you’ll never see embroidered, framed, or posted on refrigerators, the King promised persecution, betrayal, flogging, and being dragged before courts and tried for our faith (Matthew 10:16-20). He warned, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:3 3) and said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

This is not the stuff of which prosperity sermons are made.

PAUL AND PROSPERITY

Other than the life and teachings of Christ, the most powerful refutation of prosperity theology can be seen in the life and writings of Paul. As the health gospel tries to experience the full redemption of the body in this life, so the wealth gospel tries to experience heaven’s rewards on earth. Because these are two inseparable sides of the prosperity gospel coin, we’ll look at Paul’s life in terms of health and wealth and other trappings of success.

Raised a Pharisee and therefore a believer in prosperity theology, Paul was one of those who could not believe that Jesus was Messiah, because of Jesus’ obvious lack of success. God’s disapproval of the man Jesus was surely self-evident in his questionable parentage, his disreputable place of upbringing, his lack of formal education, his poverty, and above all, his shameful death. But when Paul bowed his knee to the Carpenter from Galilee, he forever turned his back on prosperity theology. As his Lord said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).

In his letter to the Philippians-written from a prison, not a plush office or the Rome Marriott-Paul says, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). He depicts Christ as the suffering Servant, whose prosperity came after his life on this earth, not during it (Philippians 2:5-1 1). Had Jesus laid claim to prosperity in this life, there would have been no crucifixion, no atonement, no gospel, and no hope for any of us.

In Philippians 3, Paul discusses his credentials of success, his diplomas, and awards. These he once highly valued, but now he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). Actually, this translation is too delicate. Paul did not call his credentials and possessions “rubbish,” but dung. Excrement. That’s how he viewed the things he once valued, when stacking them up against Christ. Contrast that with today’s prosper¬ity preachers, their heavy jewelry swaying as they strut across the stage.

As a result of following Christ, Paul lost everything. What little money and possessions might have passed through his hands he considered a loss. He describes his daily adversity, persecution for Christ, and nearness to death (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). Two chapters later, Paul refers to his troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, and hunger, as well as the experience of nearly dying, and being sorrowful and poor (2 Corinthians 6:3-10).

Perhaps the most graphic portrayal of Paul’s life comes later in the same letter:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers,’ in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)

Paul seems to make a case for what might be called “adversity theology,” or the “sickness and poverty gospel.” I wonder if in his dreams the apostle ever heard a faint chorus of voices from the future saying, “Paul, you don’t have to live like this-why don’t you trust God and live like a king’s kid?” The truth is, Paul heard some of these voices in his own day. In fact, Paul had to defend himself against the “super apostles,” well-off ministers who berated him because he couldn’t claim their wealth and prestige (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). He said to them, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings” (1 Corinthians 4:8). He added, “We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!” (1 Corinthians 4:10) . Paul faced off with these prosperity preachers, pointing out that they’d jumped the gun on reigning with Christ by living now as kings rather than as servants. Paul’s point is clear: Don’t try to reign prematurely! Dress like a servant. Let God put robes of honor on you when he brings you to his kingdom. Don’t put them on yourself now!

After explaining that God had given him some special revelations, Paul adds:

To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul knew that God had a definite purpose in his illness or disability. We don’t know what the disease was, but among other things it apparently caused his deteriorating eyesight (Galatians 6:11). His affliction, Paul said, was “given” to him in order to keep him from being conceited.

Moreover, God had a specific purpose for not removing the disease-to teach Paul that God’s grace was sufficient. Paul wasn’t to trust in his own strength but in God’s. His disease was a day-by-day reminder of his need to trust in the Lord rather than his own gifts and accomplishments.

A physician sponsors a frequent ad on our local Christian radio station. He says, “Helping you get well is all that matters.” Well, actually, it isn’t-there’s a great deal more that matters, and a great deal that matters more! I speak as an in¬sulin-dependent diabetic who has seen God do greater things through my sick¬ness than through my health.

Instead of assuming that God wants us healthy, we need to realize that he may accomplish higher purposes through our sickness than through our health. We may pray for healing when we’re sick, which is exactly what Paul did. But notice that he prayed only three times. When God chose not to heal him, he didn’t “name it and claim it” and demand that God heal him. Instead, he acknowledged God’s spiritual purpose in his adversity.

Today’s health and wealth preachers bypass the rest of this passage and say, “Paul called this disease a ‘messenger of Satan.’ It’s from the devil, not God. The devil wants us sick, but God wants us well.” Yes, Paul called the ailment a messenger of Satan. But God is bigger than all, and Satan is just one more agent he can use to accomplish his own purpose. After all, whose purpose and plan is the passage talking about? Satan would never give anyone something to keep him from being conceited. God is the one who intended the disease for Paul’s good. It wasn’t Satan but God who refused to remove the disease, despite Paul’s pleadings.

If you’ve prayed for healing and not received it, take heart-you’re in good company! Not only was Paul himself not healed, but he also had to leave Trophimus in Miletus because of sickness (2 Timothy 4:20). His beloved friend Epaphroditus was gravely ill (Philippians 2:24-30). His son in the faith, Timothy, had frequent stomach disorders, for which Paul didn’t tell him to “claim healing” but to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23). Those who claim enough faith can be healed” apparently have greater faith than Paul and his missionary associates.

Like many of God’s servants in the early Church, Paul was neither healthy nor wealthy. It’s clear that God didn’t intend for him to be healthy or wealthy. Paul is now enjoying perfect health and wealth for all eternity. But when he was on this earth, it was God’s higher plan that for much of his life he would be poor and sick.

When Paul was taken in chains from his filthy Roman dungeon and be¬headed at the order of the opulent madman Nero, two representatives of humanity faced off, one of the best and one of the worst. One lived for prosperity on earth, the other didn’t. One now lives in prosperity in heaven, the other doesn’t. We remember both men for what they truly were, which is why we name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero.

THE NEW TESTAMENT UNDERSTANDING OF WEALTH

How can we explain the apparent contradiction between the words and life¬style of Jesus and the apostles, and the Old Testament prosperity passages? The answer lies in the fundamental differences between the Old and New Cove¬nants, which we will explore further in chapter 11. For now, suffice it to say that the New Testament reflects a fundamental change in its understanding of true wealth.

In the New Testament, the Greek word ploutos is used six times for material riches put to evil purposes (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; 1 Timothy 6:17; James 5:2; Revelation 18:17). Yet the same word is used eleven times in the positive sense, each time referring to spiritual, not material, riches (Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:18; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27). Once we experi¬ence those riches, we find them so profoundly satisfying that we can never again elevate earthly and material riches to the place of importance they once held.

DIDN’T CHRIST PROMISE PROSPERITY IN THIS LIFE?

READ MORE HERE

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