Prosperity Gospel Without the Prosperity?

There is an interesting article in by Hanna Rosin this month’s The Atlantic entitled “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Rosin makes an interesting connection (although largely anecdotal) between the rise of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (or “Health and Wealth Theology” or “Word of Faith Movement”) and the mortgage collapse that led to the present economic crisis. Many of those taught by their church that faithfulness means that God expects them to have the trappings of wealth were over-optimistic in their use of credit. Rosin suggests that many of the sub-prime mortgages responsible for this present financial darkness were directly marketed to Prosperity Gospel church members through their ministers and pulpits. God wants you to have houses, and here is a way to have one now.

Did the Prosperity Gospel really contribute of the bursting of the mortgage bubble? Read the article and tell me what you think. But it does stand to reason that people take greater financial risks if they really believe that faith guarantees that God will bless all their financial endeavors and enlarge all their financial territory (to use Jabezian language). Paul’s words like “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Rom 13:8) and “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12) are lost pretty quickly if you believe that God wants you to have the biggest house and the best car in the neighborhood because somehow that gives glory to Him. Early disciples like Peter and his partners gave up everything to follow Jesus (Mk 10:28) and died penniless in prison as martyrs. Jesus himself had nothing and warned that those who follow him might not do much better (Matt 8:20). How does that fit into the American Dream?

It will be worse than irony if the world comes to sees the church as leading the cultural charge into financial ruin rather than being a help to the poor who are hurt by it!