Monday, December 1, 2008

The Emptiness of the Prosperity Gospel

Lisa Miller has harsh words for the Osteens and their message.

Prosperity preachers are neither new nor unique in America, but the Osteens' version seems especially self-serving. Victoria's book betrays her interest in the kind of small gratifications that rarely extend to other people, let alone to the larger world. She recommends that women take "me time" every day, and indulge occasionally in a (fat-free!) ice cream. She writes repeatedly about her love for the gym. Her relationship advice is retrograde dross: submit to your man, or at least pretend you're submitting, and then do what you want anyway. "I know if I just wait long enough," she writes, "eventually my idea will become Joel's idea, and it will come to pass." When I asked her how she kept her two children interested in church, she answered that even though they were a broccoli and lean-meats household, she gave them doughnuts as a special treat on Sundays. All this is fine, in the pages of a women's magazine or a self-help book. But what has God got to do with it?

The problem with the prosperity gospel is that it is not rooted in any honest reading of the Bible. Bits and pieces get picked out to support the message, but you can't take Bible verses out of the context they are packaged in. Prosperity preachers are certainly not the only Christian group to do this, but their interpretation certainly speaks to our culture today, doesn't it? The message is all about getting stuff and taking the easy road. God wants you to be rich. God wants you to have lots of material things. God wants you to have a luxurious life without hardship. I find it hard to reconcile that with the teachings of Jesus, but maybe that's just me.

It will be interesting to see how the prosperity gospel weathers the global economic crisis. Will people be comforted by a materialistic message like the one preached by Joel Osteen or will we see people start to move away from their incessant desire for things robbing the prosperity gospel of its base? Who knows, but it will be interesting to watch.

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