I am a cynic. I’m not sure if I was born this way, or if life shaped me into this, but either way, I question long before I believe. I am a car salesman’s worst nightmare, a televangelist’s biggest critic. I read voraciously, sometimes a book or more a day, and I probably leave more advice and ideas than I take. One thing no one has ever had to sell me on is the character of Christ and the life He has called me to, so when I see the world twisting the Truth, I get nervous, and sometimes angry.
The twisting that concerns me most is prosperity gospel teaching. Whether well-intended (“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” Psalms 37:4) or blatantly self-serving, the message is both deceptive and dangerous. Following Christ is about Him, not us. We are molding our will to His, not vice versa. Teaching that our desires for health, wealth, etc. Is about us is self-serving and dishonest. We as Americans love the idea that God will provide in ways we deem necessary, but that is not His promise. We teach our kids about needs and wants, and the girls are finally getting it. We need to eat, but we want Olive Garden. Not in the budget? Ask and you shall receive! But that is not Truth. I consider missions trips I have taken to impoverished countries. I have seen God praised and glorified in shacks more highly than in beautiful cathedrals I visited in England. Are the needs different between those 2 dichotomies? I’d argue not. Humans have the same basic needs wherever they are. Is their understanding of blessing different? Certainly. And sadly, I think we as Americans align more with cathedral worshipping. Prosperity gospel is selling us a lie that God will provide beyond His promises. We are setting people up for constant disappointment with God. Why didn’t I get that promotion? Why wasn’t I healed? Why didn’t He save my marriage? If I go back to that verse in Psalms, I see that if I am aligning myself to God, my desire will be to do His will. I may not see the role a job loss or end of a relationship might play in a bigger Plan. But He promises me peace, strength, wisdom as I face it. Selling prosperity as a biblical promise ensures people who will turn from God when they need Him most.
Recently, I have found myself thinking more and more about how this dangerous prosperity gospel relates to privilege. In just the first chapter of bestselling book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis writes, “You are meant to be the hero of your own story…You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.” Yikes. Great advice for self-love, but terrible advice when marketed as Christian nonfiction, along with numerous other culprits. But as I thought more, and read more, about it, I became more deeply troubled that so many Christian advice books are written by white, wealthy, privileged people, and read by the same. This self-love, pull yourself up by your bootstraps writing is nice, but it isn’t reality. Jesus sat amongst the broken, the poor, the outcast, the ill. Now we publish books selling an idea of self and prosperity that for many is out of reach. So they set it aside, along with the flawed picture of Jesus that accompanies it. We have taken the dangerous gospel of prosperity and made it also a wedge of privilege.
I’ve come to read fewer and fewer Christian books about self. Sell me gospel or sell me nothing. The world does not need another wealthy, privileged person branding herself as a self-love guru, parceling out bits of the gospel in between drivel of “work harder, be better” and all this can be yours. We are living in a society deeply divided by haves and have-nots, by bigots, by self-idolaters. And among the piles of books and blogs, I go back to the one thing that promises the same advantage to everyone- the gospel. Jesus does not promise us equal health or wealth or happiness. He promises equal love, grace, and forgiveness, something we all need.
Read what you will. Winnow out the truth and throw away the lies. Read thoughtfully and critically. Speak the same. Someone’s understanding of Jesus is at stake. Recognize privilege and prosperity for what they are, divisive and dangerous tools to continue to draw us away from the God who created all in His image.