iMonk has posted this. After reading it, I don’t think I have much room to criticize Osteen. I am guilty of preaching my own version of the prosperity Gospel. After all these years, I don’t think I have found a good way of honoring the complexity of Christ-following. I think I often preach my aspirations and what I wish was so but what isn’t, in fact, so. In our country there is a patriotism that can ignore our realities – fly the flag, play the music, drop the balloons and confetti, etc., while at the same time looking away from those left behind, left out and the chicaneries of the power brokers who destroy and pillage the simple and trusting folk. So, too, the church can overlook the realities of our real struggles and shortcomings, fears and failures, doubts and dealings. There is a veneer we demand. The realities are too painful. I am not a fan of “ain’t it awful” brand of Christianity. But neither do I desire to depress, discourage and suppress those who are making good-hearted attempts at Christ-following by ignoring what they know to be true – at best we are at the outer edges of His ways. Church on Sundays has to move beyond a version of patriotic rallies – noise, excitment, fast-paced enthusiasms, and saying things we know aren’t true. I think that one of the reasons we are tempted to this kind of Chrisitanity is that most churches aren’t centered around the truly converted who want honesty and wouldn’t be scared away by our realities but instead cater to those further away from the center who need the psychological boost to stay connected to the church. Something really bad happens when we do that. By the way, Relevant Church in Florida, which promoted their married couples having sex for thirty straight days, reports that their attendance grew by 15%. I guess that means they were right for promoting Christians having lots of sex and proving something or other to the world. I don’t know – maybe that 15% are just people who want more sex, and if Jesus gets it for them, that’s okay with them. (How did I get on that topic?) Anyway, here’s iMonk’s blog post.
The “Real” Prosperity Gospel
By iMonk on Theologia
A reader sent me a very nice note yesterday, talking about a bit of the scope and direction of my writing on this blog over the years. He mentioned something I want to share with you. Hear his idea and initial direction; then I want the ball.
It’s funny how among some of the religious types you seem to be surrounded by, there is both a deep hatred for the prosperity gospel, and something that at a functional level, is the prosperity gospel. A gospel where although Jesus may not give you a BMW, He will make sure you’re always happy, never struggle with doubt, and most of all, He’ll keep you from feeling like you might need to ask a question of Him. It’s subtle, but I had adopted many of these beliefs into my own life, and as God has been taking those ideas apart over the past few years, yours has been a voice letting me know I’m not alone. Your writing has helped keep me sane.
The real prosperity gospel isn’t the overt appeal to wealth. It is the more subtle appeal to God guaranteeing that we are going to be happy, and the accompanying pressure to be happy in ways that are acceptable and recognizable to the community of Christians we belong to.
The real prosperity gospel is the belief that God will- must?- keep things at a level where it’s still possible for us to follow Jesus without overt appeal to rewards in this life. The real prosperity gospel is revealed not in the promises of a yacht or a large home, but in the unspoken approval of a level of prosperity that allows us to live the Christian life on our own terms. It is the ratification of our private, sometimes entirely secret, arrangements with God of what his “goodness” means.
When I was having a tough time a few months ago, and anticipated things might get even more difficult, I shared where I was and what I was feeling with several Christians.
That was a mistake.
I’m not being insulting here. I don’t have any horror stories. It was simply a mistake. I should have anticipated that many Christians don’t have any real idea what to do with a minister who is going through a crisis involving the character and ways of God. I should have known that confessing a crisis in your understanding of God was incompatible with how most people understand what it means to believe in God and to “be saved.”
I found myself deviating from this “real” prosperity gospel’s hold on my fellow believers, and I soon discovered that the response was more to the threat of what I was saying than to the fact of what I was going through.
You see, the “real” prosperity gospel says that all of us ministry types have an inside track on stability, happiness and “being a good witness all the time.” If we have questions, doubts, crises or conflicts, then that raises the issue of whether the whole business is what some believe it is.
How can a church sing the praises of God and allow its members to lament the pain and questions? How can a church advertise their pictures of shiny, happy families if they acknowledge the presence of spouse abuse and/or divorce? How can we say Jesus is answering all the questions if the children of some of our people are becoming atheists? How can our claims about the warmth and attractiveness of our fellowship be sustained if we take account of the church quitters in our history?
What this has opened up for me is something of the reluctance of my evangelical family to be honest or to often even value honesty that goes beyond the code of silence. It explains something of the tacit, unspoken agreement that seems to prevail in all kinds of Christian communions to not speak about the the painful, contrary truths or the terrible, uncategorized realities. It has something solid to suggest about the highly selective kinds of thinking and behavior we maintain in the face of persuasive evidence contradicting our hidden deals with God.
This is, I believe, why so many report that when their worlds fell apart, the majority of the evangelical church did not know what to do, and easily resorted to responses like shaming, blaming and bullying.
We evangelicals apparently need to believe a version of the prosperity gospel where, at the least, none of us are below an understood “line of credibility” in Christian experience. And if we happen to go below that line, don’t expect instant encouragement. You may be surprised at what happens to you when you become walking evidence that not everyone is as happy, blessed, obedient and satisfied as they are supposed to be.
Ask yourself this question: Why is it that so many western Christians find the greatest challenges to their faith are experiences that do not even qualify as persecution or serious suffering? Why will the loss of a a job or the moral failure of a pastor lead to the end of faith? Why do interpersonal conflicts in a church cause so many to abandon Christianity altogether?
Is there something about these experiences that are inherently discouraging to a particular kind of faith experience? Perhaps a faith experience that says things should be turning out right most of the time?
The “real prosperity” gospel especially appeals to the idea that the church is fixing things, people and situations. In this kind of thinking the church has a repository of wisdom and power that can actually cause us to live in a different world than our neighbors, a world with different rules and a different outcome to the usual situations.
I don’t know of many Christians who want to stand up in front of a room full of unbelievers and say “I live in the same world as you do; a world with the same problems, the same questions and the same kinds of pain and failure. God doesn’t provide some kind of insurance or protection from this world, and Christians aren’t wise enough to understand or fix everything in this world. In some ways, you (atheists) may be wiser than any one of us. What we have to offer is the gospel of Jesus, and the truth of the gospel isn’t a pay off in this world. Whatever changes the Gospel makes in us, we remain human, fallen and in need of final rescue, redemption and resurrection. There is plenty wrong with us, and some of it is shocking and terrible. In this world, we’re on a pilgrimage to follow Jesus, to love neighbor and to live our lives in an authentically human way.”
What’s scary about that paragraph? It refutes the real prosperity gospel.
That’s why it scares me.