“I don’t know what to do,” confesses 27-year-old Chloe*, a mum from Sydney’s Inner West. “Yesterday, my four-year-old threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t buy her an iPad. She threatened to tell the police that I was a bad mummy.” Chloe buries her face in her hands. “That’s not normal, is it? What did I do wrong?”
Chloe is far from being the only parent in this sticky situation.
Prosperity theology suggests that we can bargain with God—that we are entitled to material blessings as a reward for our faith.
“’She terrorises us’: How entitled children are making their parents’ lives hell,” screamed a recent headline in The Sydney Morning Herald. The article painted a ghastly picture of children who smash windows, threaten to kill themselves and even hold knives to their mothers’ throats when they don’t get their own way. And the cause of this phenomenon?
“It’s the end result of giving kids everything they want,” psychologist Judith Locke explained to the Herald.
But there’s an issue out there that I believe is far more insidious than that of “entitled children”. The movement is called prosperity theology, also known as the “prosperity gospel” or the “wealth and health gospel”. It’s based on the premise that God will give you everything you want if you are faithful enough: a sizeable bank account, a prestigious job or even physical healing.
To clarify, it’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with big houses or nice cars. And I’m sure most of us wouldn’t mind bigger bank accounts! But subscribing to prosperity theology has created a group of “entitled Christians” whose blessings depend entirely on their willingness to “Name it; Claim it!”
“I do not put my eyes on men but on God,” says Robert Tilton, a strong advocate of the prosperity gospel. It sounds like an admirably pious statement until he finishes his sentence: “On God, who gives me the power to get wealth.”
“Jesus bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity,” agrees a popular megachurch pastor. Aptly named Creflo Dollar, he recently asked his followers to help him purchase a luxury jet worth $US65 million, which he claimed was “necessary” for ministry.
Prosperity theology suggests that we can bargain with God—that we are entitled to material blessings as a reward for our faith. Our relationship with God becomes little more than a legal agreement between two parties, each bound to fulfilling their own part of the contract. If God blesses us, we will pray. If we pray, God will bless us. The focus is put on God’s gifts rather than the One who gives them.
Is it possible to love God and still prosper? Absolutely! I’m led to think of Job, a man in the Bible who was faithful to God and certainly received his share of God’s material blessings. Yet Satan cast aspersions on Job’s faithfulness, arguing that Job was only obedient because of God’s blessings. When Job’s circumstances changed dramatically, he was advised by all, including his wife, to curse God and die. Yet he refused to do so; showing that his love for the Giver was of more worth than any material gift.
In Ruth 1:21 we read of Naomi’s reaction when her husband and sons die, changing her circumstances. “I went out full and the Lord has brought me home again empty,” she says bitterly.
But in Job 1:21 we see a very different type of response. Job acknowledged that nothing he possessed was truly his and that it was God’s right to give and take away.
Prosperity theology is an exclusive gospel. At its core it suggests that Christians should be . . . well, prosperous. It teaches that God’s will is always for everyone to be healed, to be wealthy and to be successful. While this sounds good in theory, it excludes a wide proportion of the population—namely those who are broken and hurting, vulnerable and poor.
What happens when people “Name it; Claim it!” on behalf of a dying loved one and they are not healed? If God rewards Christians with health, wealth and success for being faithful, how can this be explained? Prosperity theology implies it’s the petitioner’s fault. That they didn’t pray hard enough. That they didn’t have enough faith.
There are many instances of people who have been miraculously healed and use their healing to glorify God. But there are many more instances of people who are not healed, yet still glorify God through their courage, bravery and strength. They have nothing else but Him to cling to, yet still consider Him enough.
The prosperity gospel is exclusive. It promises health and wealth in this lifetime. Christ’s gospel is inclusive. It promises blessings that will last throughout eternity.
Televangelist John Avanzini has attempted to justify the movement’s emphasis on material wealth by arguing that Jesus had a big house, lots of money and designer clothes. Conveniently, prosperity preachers often shy away from Matthew 8:20, which tells us that the Son of Man had no place to lay His head.
One verse that is often cited is John 10:10 where Jesus promises us a more abundant life. But what does it mean to have an abundant life? Does it mean owning a mansion in a posh suburb or driving a Ferrari? Does it mean wearing ragged garments and raising orphans in Africa?
Consider the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul knew what it was like to live on both sides of the coin. He knew what it was like to be wealthy; he knew what it was like to be poor. He knew what it was like to be full but also what it was like to be hungry. But most importantly, he knew that his relationship with God had nothing to do with circumstance and everything to do with contentment. In all situations, in whatever state he was in, Paul had learned to be content. Even in imprisonment, persecution and exile.
In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul notes that it is contentment combined with godliness that leads to great gain.
To be content, regardless of circumstance. To stand strong and hold firm to your faith, no matter what the situation. To remember that this earth is temporary and to set your eyes upon eternity. Forget the mansion. This is the abundant life we should aspire to.
*Name has been changed.
Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.