The Prosperity Gospel goes by many names: Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name it and Claim it. The basis of this doctrine is that it is always God's will for Christians to be wealthy, physically healed, and not sick. It believes that if you have enough faith, then good things happen to you and not suffering. Being a follower of Christ and doing all the right steps leads to happiness, health, and wealth. Essentially, this movement creates a God who only wants to give you the desires of the heart when in reality. The Prosperity Gospel is something that is prevalent among American Christian churches, particularly the larger churches. Thus, it is essential to deep dive into this movement to see if it is sound doctrine, aligning with Scripture.
Let's break down the basics of the Prosperity Gospel discussed thus far. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 addresses that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Riches can bring temptation, such as greediness. Money is supposed to be a tool to bless others. We are to put more emphasis on the God who gives us any money, rather than find security in riches. The whole context of even mentioning money in this passage was because Paul was writing to Timothy about how the false teachers were only out for money and not for any "ministry" reasons. Thus, Paul calls Christians to be content with whatever God gives them. This does not mean that all of us will be rich. Is having desires okay? Yes, of course. However, we should be seeking Jesus for Him and not for what He can give us or what we want. That would be idolatry: placing the gift above the giver.
Your relationship with God doesn't mean you're elevated and get more earthly rewards. It means you are saved from Hell and get to have a relationship with God. We can't earn salvation or any sort of favor with God. The apostles were extremely persecuted and suffered. Paul discusses the extent he suffered in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27: labor, imprisonment, beatings (lashing, rod), shipwrecked (multiple times), stoned, robbers, floods, and emotional pain. Not to mention, in 2 Corinthians 1:9 Paul mentions that he was to the point of death at one point where he couldn't rely on anything but the God who raises people from the dead. Plus, Paul suffered from chronic illness (Galatians 4:13). Can anyone really say that Paul lacked faith and that is why he was poor, suffered from chronic illness, and suffered? Paul's response to suffering is found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV): "But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul took no pleasure in the pain he was facing, but rejoiced in the power of Christ that it revealed was revealed through his suffering (2 Corinthians 12:10). God does and can heal people in response to prayer. Miracles still happen, but the problem is saying everyone gets a miracle or doesn't get one from a lack of faith. Even when Christ was here, He didn't heal everyone who asked, for His earthly ministry was to bring the good news and lead others to repent (Mark 1:37-38). Anyone who Jesus did heal, wasn't because they always showed faith. In John 5:13, Jesus healed a man out of the crowd who didn't even know Him.
Clearly, God does not will that we will be happy all the time and be exempt from suffering. In fact, the Bible tells us that we are going to suffer and reminds us to keep our eyes not on the temporary things of this world. For example, Romans 5:3-5 (ESV) says: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" and Romans 8:18 (ESV) says: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Even when we are in suffering, we know that God is working things for God for those who believe in Him (Romans 8:28). Sometimes, that "good" is not going to be our definition of "good," for it may not align with out own desires and may mean suffering. In her book Suffering Is Never for Nothing, Elisabeth Elliot defines "suffering" as not having what we want or having what we don't want. Additionally, Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) states: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" God does not promise us the desires of our hearts, for He is not a genie. Nevertheless, God does give us our desires when they are lined up with His will. As believers, our joy should be rooted in the Lord anyway.
The hard pill to swallow for some Christians is that the good and the bad come from God's will and His plan, which stems out of God being sovereign. Instead of acknowledging that God allows some bad to happen as part of His plan, the Prosperity Gospel teaches that Satan is sovereign and overrules God to allow suffering. In Luke 22:31, Jesus says "Satan asks," not "Satan does." Along with this idea of Satan being sovereign is that Christ died a physical death and spiritual death in Hell. Christ, the incarnate of God and Son in the Trinity, doesn't cease to be God, so He can't die spiritually (Hebrews 13:8). This stems from the Ransom Theory that Jesus paid Satan for our sins. It's easy to fall into this without understanding God's wrath and the full message of the cross. Christ was really crucified to satisfy God's justice against sin (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Now that we established the basics, let's discuss what a prosperity-centered sermon looks like. Typically, these sermons are focused on moralism and making people feel better about themselves, more like a TED Talk than a church service. The emphasis shifts from discussing Scripture and the gospel to us. A typical example is a preaching on how we can be like David and slay our own Goliaths in life. In reality, the Bible is not about us and the emphasis really isn't even on David. It was God using David to accomplish His purpose.
Further, focusing on moralism is pointless because we can't be good. It's impossible because of sin nature. Only God is good (Matthew 19:17). This is why it's good news that we can't earn salvation by works because we would fail. We contribute nothing to our salvation except our sin (Romans 3:23, 5:8). What Christ did would be nullified if we had to earn salvation. We really can't measure up to the law as moralism calls for but change in us only can occur when we show fruit as the result of our relationship with God, just by seeking Him and reading Scripture. God calls us to relationship before obedience. When God have the 10 commandments, He said "I am God who rescued you, " then gives the commandments (Exodus 20). When you learn you are redeemed, you start to hate the sin you used to love out of the pure love you have for Jesus. The documentary American Gospel gives the example of moral commands being railroad tracks and the gospel being the engine/fuel.
Some people want a certain "God: and that's what prosperity churches present: entertainment and downplaying discomfort. Thus, Prosperity preachers will share half the gospel of "Jesus loves you" but don't share the how we know Jesus loves us: we are sinners who have been saved by Christ's blood from God's wrath. This type of preaching to what people want to hear fulfills 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV): "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions."
Another concept from the Prosperity Gospel is that Christians are "little gods." This theory comes out of the fact that we are made in God's image, but distorts this fact. We are made in God's image but are not God. If you recall from the Law of Attraction article, a basis of manifestation is a belief that man is God. Out of this comes the belief that man can call into existence (the very essence of manifestation, the roots of which are demonic, like every other false doctrine (1 Timothy)), that our words create reality (even though no where in Scripture is man given this ability and we know God is sovereign), and that we can bring into reality what we hope for. Prosperity Gospel deifies man, which is similar to Genesis 3:15; the first sin was a desire to be like God.
Further, there is Kenosis, the notion that Jesus emptied Himself of His deity when He was here. Some Prosperity preachers will just state that Jesus is not God. To them, Jesus was just man + the Holy Spirit. The belief in the Trinity, God the Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit quickly and applying this to the principle that God does not change in nature refutes these ideas. Hebrews 13:8 (ESV) states: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." The book of Hebrews is a great read in general on the deity of Christ. Mark 13:22 does show us that Christ didn't use His deity aspect all the time, but this must not be twisted that He lost His deity on Earth. What's the resulting thought? If you have enough faith, you can do as Jesus. This is not true, for Christ was sinless and is God (1 Timothy 3:16); we are not. Another way that man is deified by the Prosperity Gospel is that some prosperity pastors will tell their congregation that they are not allowed to question because God put him or her their, instilling fear. This should be a red flag in itself. Acts 17:11 refutes this and discusses believers needing to question and double-checking what a preacher says against Scripture.
How to know if your church is preaching the Prosperity Gospel:
Absence of doctrine of suffering--tribulations are necessary (James 1:2-4)
Absence of clear doctrine of self-denial--we are called to take up our cross and to live by the spirit and not the flesh (Matthew 16)
Absence of exposition of Scripture--Scripture as the center of the preaching
Trying to make Scripture work for the sermon--cherry-picking a verse out of context (1 Timothy 4:13)
Excessive lifestyle/billionaire/millionaire (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Prominence of self
The answer to the original is that the Prosperity Gospel is not biblical. It is not based on sound doctrine but on twisted Scripture taken out of context. This is an example of why it's so important to know Scripture for yourself. This will help with discernment, which is the difference between right and almost right. I thought about putting the names of the pastors who practice the Prosperity Gospel, but decided that it would not be productive. Their fruits should be evident in light of this article of who these false teachers are. A lot of Paul's epistles, particularly 1 Timothy address false teachers who deceive the church. They often come in the name of Christianity and are filled with half-truths mixed in with falsity. I used to follow Prosperity preachers, and it only led me to worrying if I was doing enough to be in God's favor and my theology was entirely self-focused. It was a lot of pressure thinking if I didn't check off all the boxes, then God wouldn't bless me. I've come out from the other side of that and can personally tell you that the Prosperity, Name It and Claim It will only leave you burnt out. Sound theology is the pathway to peaceful, godly living.
By: Bible and Hot Cocoa (IG: @bibleandhotcocoa)
Jules is the founder of Bible and Hot Cocoa. She is a law student with a passion for standing up for truth. In any free time, she loves to read, study theology, write, and draw or paint. Jules's favorite book of the Bible would have to be a tie among John, Psalms, and Romans (as of now), and her favorite figure besides Jesus is King David or Paul.