"Does God want you to be rich?" asks TIME Magazine's lead article this week as it examines the controversy in Protestant churches over the revival of Prosperity Theology: "God wants you to be rich!" Going by names like Word of Faith, Name It and Claim It, and Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Prosperity Theology teaches that Christ not only died for our sins to give us the hope of heaven, but also to provide his children with material blessings -- prosperity and physical health -- in the here and now. The article highlights Pastor Joel Osteen's ministry at Lakewood Church in suburban Houston. Osteen outlines his understanding of God's plan for your prosperity in his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now. [9/13/06 -- To be fair, I need to tell you that I have not personally read Osteen's book, so my comments are based on the TIME article only.]
The article does an excellent job summarizing the main tenants of Prosperity Theology. While sitting in a back room at the former Compaq Center sports arena that now is the home of Lakewood Church, Osteen explains his view of God, money, and the believer:
"I don't think I've ever preached a sermon about money," he [Osteen] says a few hours later. He and [and his wife] Victoria meet with TIME in their pastoral suite, once the Houston Rockets' locker and shower area but now a zone of overstuffed sofas and imposing oak bookcases. "Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?" The room's warm lamplight reflects softly off his crocodile shoes.
In other words, God may not let you become a millionaire, but he does want you to experience the finer things of life. How much properity one must possess to be rich is "relative." Suffering and sacrifice are not necessary. Your personal happiness and comfort are God's greatest concern. Whatever prosperity you need to be happy can be yours by faith.
Other pastors who criticize Prosperity Theology are also given equal time to state their case, including Pastor Rick Warren, Professors Ron Sider and Ben Witherington, and others. TIME also contrasts Bible verses that seem to teach God wants us to be wealthy (Deuteronomy 8:17-18, Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, Malachi 3:10, Luke 6:38, and John 10:10) with passages that apparently teach the opposite (Psalm 49:16-20, Matthew 6:19-21, Mark 10:24-26, Luke 12:33, and James 5:1-3). In the heart of the article, writers David Van Biema and Jeff Chu make this stunning observation about Osteen's book:
"Your Best Life Now, [is] an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. "To live your best life now," it opens, to see "your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass ..." you must "start looking at life through eyes of faith." Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement."
I think the Apostle Paul had a balanced view of Christians and prosperity based on his own life experience in Philippians 4:11-13. The passage teaches four important lessons:
- Wealth and health are unreliable indicators of God's blessing. Paul was at times well off in the will of God, and at other times just as much in the will of God and impoverished. Compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
- Riches come and go. Paul's poverty and prosperity came in cycles during his lifetime.
- God wants us to learn to be content, not because we have everything we could possibly want, but because we have Him.
- The secret of contentment that Paul learned is this: You and I can endure every circumstance -- poverty or plenty -- through the One who gives us strength: the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to learn this lesson of contentment rather than seeking wealth and health.
Scripture is clear that God does bless hard work and saving. He also blesses generosity to the poor. But does this mean that every Christian should be wealthy and healthy? Doesn't following Prosperity Theology to its logical conclusion mean that Christians should never be in poverty or die?!? I guess my big question for the proponents of Prosperity Theology is simply this: Is their doctrine founded on Scripture or on the materialism lust of our culture? Jesus warned, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).