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Prosperity theology

5 June 2010

I really hate prosperity theology, the notion that God blesses the righteous with riches. The obvious corollary here is that if you are poor, you must not be righteous. I think one look at the CEOs of the oil, the banking, the healthcare industries, for example, shows how false the claim is that the rich have been blessed by God because of their righteousness.

Jesus of Nazareth lived in abject poverty. Remember the Beatitudes? If you don’t, here’s a reminder:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

–St. Matthew 5.3-10

Given this, do you honestly think he looks with favor on the rich? Where, in this summation of Christian ethics, do you see “Blessed are the rich, for they deserve every bit of it?” Does that fit, or even seem to fit as a possible addition? No. Period. End of story.

But more, the hymn par excellence of Christian hope is the Magnificat, Mary’s song from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Let’s see what she who was “blessed among women” had to say:

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

Well, then. If that doesn’t sound like a socialist manifesto, I don’t know what does. But back to the point: It is Mary’s lowliness that makes her worthy to bear the Son of God. In choosing to exalt Mary, God has “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (easily one of the best phrasings in the Prayer Book). God has “put done the mighty from their seat”. God has “sent empty away” the rich. What of the poor? He has “exalted the humble and meek” and “filled the hungry with good things”.

Prosperity theologians like Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Pat Robertson hold that God blesses believers with riches. Is it just me, or does this seem like the exact opposite of what the Bible they claim to hold on such a pedestal claims? And doesn’t it imply that their alleged figurehead ( i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in poverty) was actually unrighteous? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”, St. Matthew 19.24.

Prosperity theology is heresy. Plain and simple.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lee Thomas permalink
    6 June 2010 21:19

    …moreover, historically it’s a perversion of a perversion. (If your future includes Holy Orders, any homily you grind from this grist will doubtless employ your persuasive powers, as well as your prophetic ones!)

    Some referents for your consideration:
    1) it could be argued that the central outrage of the book of Job is that the just and observant Jew should become the catspaw between God and the Adversary; he deserved to be rich and the father of 10 each, right? How could anyone challenge that??
    2) When I was your age, a prominent–and completely outrageous–proponent of “prosperity theology” was the recently deceased “Reverend Ike.” This guy went far beyond the contemporary embarrassments: he had a specific formula which, of course, was grounded in sacrificial gifts to Reverend Ike himself.
    3) For yet another perspective: if you find yourself with time on your hands pre-August, check out Russell Conwell and the “Acres of Diamonds” address, delivered (according to contemporaneous estimates) on some 5,000 occasions around the country in the years following the Civil War. He was a Philadelphia divine, founder of the Baptist Temple (from which one of my alma mater, Temple University, grew). His take: Everyone has the opportunity, and the obligation, to become rich–in order to give it away. He was essentially Social-Gospel-based, but he loved and pandered to the richest of the rich, because of his conviction that this was the shortest route to actualizing the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    Random samplings. You’ll find more.

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