Some Christians are disapproving of those who express concern about the prosperity or positivity gospel. I use the term positivity gospel to refer to slightly watered down or subtler versions of the former. Why are some of us so concerned? Should we just live and let live? Are we hyper-critical? Here are 5 brief reasons for genuine concern (ooh, I think this is my first ever post that features a numbered list!):
1. The prosperity and positivity gospel can create false expectations about what is possible in this life. All of salvation’s blessings are not to be experienced now. Some await eternity, and we are not immune to the repercussions of life in a fallen world that is awaiting the final redemption. When expectations and reality clash, this can lead to disappointment, disillusionment, or even rejection of faith. Christianity promised but did not deliver. Is it a farce?
2. The blessings of the prosperity and positivity gospel tend to be things like career success and affluence. The focus is primarily on the temporal things of this life. In contrast, the New Testament of the Bible has a pronounced spiritual and eternal perspective. For example, the blessings we posses are spiritual and linked to Christ in Ephesians 1 and 2. It was an eternal perspective that got Paul through difficulties in life – see 2 Corinthians 4. Paul suffered in many ways, yet was a faithful servant of Jesus.
3. After listening to some prosperity or positivity teachers, read the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus in Matthew 5 -7. This sermon, and in particular the Beatitudes, stand in conflict with the prosperity and positivity gospel. Contemplate this difference.
4. Jesus?? Oh yeah, that guy. Try following someone like Joel Osteen on twitter. Rarely, if ever, is Jesus mentioned. Sometimes God is mentioned in a generic sense. Most of the tweets are optimistic motivational slogans. Joel Osteen is the pastor of a Christian church – isn’t Jesus supposed to be the center of Christianity? Good advice and motivational slogans can be found in many places, but the church is in the unique position of pointing people to Jesus.
5.Finally, the prosperity and positivity gospel turns us inward, and it creates a self focus. It’s about us, our goals or desires, and affirming ourselves. It is an anti-gospel of self-absorption, self-fulfillment, and self-affirmation. Again, this is the antithesis of Christianity! Jesus told us to deny self, and make the priorities of HIS kingdom first in our lives.
I think these are legitimate reasons for concern, and not simply being hyper-critical or making much ado about nothing. While I have serious concerns with Joel Osteen type of theology (enough that I wrote a book!) – God can still use him to bring people to genuine belief. Osteen can be an encouraging word when people need it. However, far too often it leads to an off-kilter and weakened Christianity that distracts people from Christ and the eternal.
By the way, God is not against success or wealth in and of itself. But what kind of success are we talking about? And there is nothing wrong with affluence, but the Bible contains warnings about how money can control us and distract us from what matters in life. We can easily end up serving 2 masters, and Jesus is to be our only Master (Matthew 6/Luke 16).
**Check out these thoughtful posts by Tim Fall: