The dangers of the prosperity gospel

There are frequent outcries against and defenses of the so-called prosperity gospel, as delivered by Joel Osteen and his ilk.  The news that this teaching has made its way to Nigeria recently appeared right here on TC.  It's bad enough that Americans are worshipping at the altar of a vending machine God; now we're exporting it to the very poorest nations in the world?

Hear how John Piper feels about this.  I'll give you a hint: he's not terribly pleased.  You might be able to tell I'm not thrilled with the prosperity gospel either... but is it really a perversion of the Gospel of Christ?  Or is it just America's cultural spin on Christianity, much like the cultural admonition in Paul's time for women to cover their heads?


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People always use the term “prosperity” gospel, and I am not sure what they mean.  It has meant different things when used by different pastors throughout the ages.  We need to be specific when we are criticizing something, and I think Piper is overall just too angry for my liking.  I with he would explain rather than polemicize.

Hey Danny,

I think a good place to start with “prosperity gospel” is to check out….  I’m not familiar with what the term has meant “throughout the ages”, as it seems to be distinctly associated with the (relatively recent) Word-Faith movement.

As it is, I’m sure there are PLENTY of specific criticisms that Piper brings up elsewhere re: the prosperity gospel.  In fact, search that Wikipedia article for Piper’s name and you’ll get a couple of references of his criticisms.  The point of this video is probably that it be an artsy representation of a small part of his teaching against the prosperity gospel.

Thanks for the comment!


I was finding it really hard to get motivated at work a couple of months back and I felt that sometimes we need someone like Joel Osteen to say with a big smile that we should try our best to be successful. I’m not saying I wholeheartedly endorse Osteen or any of the other preachers of prosperity (Osteen is probably one of the least worst, because I think he’s actually quite sincere, unless I’ve really been taken in :) ) Obviously I wasn’t clinically depressed in any way and I don’t think there were any reasons to seek real help. You can’t live a lie of outside success hiding a mess inside.

The big thing to remember is that Jesus forgave the sins of the cripple of Mark 2 first. I think Jesus wouldn’t even have healed him if the Pharisees hadn’t questioned His divinity.

Okay now I’ve had it, the prosperity gospel has to go.  If you gain more than you need for you, your church and family, give it to others.  2 Corinthians 2: 17 says, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.  On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.”  If you give another pastor a vehicle that is worth more than most homes, wrong.  If you charter a jet for you and friends for a speaking engagement, wrong.  No one needs 24 million dollars in reserve, or just in case.  I’m so tired of those who stand in church and bragg about taking the whole family all twenty or thirty to Hawaii for two weeks all expenses paid.  I think about the woman in Kansas City who is on welfare, but somehow is able to give 10% of that to the church, because she says there are others less forunate, then on the other side of the state sitting in her million dollar home, someone who says she deserves it.  It’s like the CEO’S of some of those companies who are given millions, why?  In God’s Grace John

John, thanks for the quote from Corinthians. That is so precisely on point, and I had not noticed it before. That really says it all. It is not true that to be a good Christian you must be a penniless wanderer on the road, although some are, nor that pastors should not be paid a decent living, at least well up in the standard of living available to their flock, BUT why does “Word Faith” always come down to, if you take food out of your children’s mouths to pay in to the well-heeled pastor to buy him another Rolls Royce, then you will be blessed ten-fold really, I promise, just wait for God to move when God is ready, really, I mean it, don’t lose faith, its going to come true… These are modern moneylenders in the Temple.

Wow. So John Piper wants to introduce the gospel of suffering and loss. Jesus looks beautiful when your child dies. Hmmm. That should sell well. To really understand the word of God you have to look carefully at Jesus. He is the word made flesh, He is perfect theology. I’ve heard it said that Jesus spoiled every funeral he came across. He healed everyone that came to Him. We NEVER read that Jesus says “sorry, I won’t heal you because suffering and sickness is good for you”. Hindus believe that. The scriptures regarding healing or health are so abundant, I don’t know how much clearer the Bible could be about the subject.

I do agree however that there is no get rich gospel. There is nothing wrong with being rich as Paul makes clear to Timothy. It’s just that there are no promises of earthly riches and the love of money is clearly sin. Selfishly accumulating wealth that is consumed for pleasure is sin. Ostentatious displays of wealth are discouraged (King Hezekiah was judged for this).

Prosperity is a little different though. I do believe that God wants us to be joyful, happy, healthy, have our daily needs met, gainfully employed (as Paul tells the Thessalonians), dressed nicely, having enough surplus to share with others and blessed. The point of Jesus saying don’t worry about what you shall wear or what you shall eat is that God has promised us these things…If he clothes the lily so beautifully, how much more will he clothe and take care of you. That’s real prosperity.

The people that use the term “Prosperity Gospel” usually are the critics. It allows writers like John Piper to say “this is a bunch of crap called gospel”.  Where are the nuances in Mr Piper’s theology? Where is the balance? The apostle John says “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.“
The half brother of Jesus, James says “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”
God says in Malachi “try Me and see if I don’t open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing.”

Foolish claims that God wants us all rich, lusting after BMWs, selfish grasping after luxury homes, the inability to share, the ostentatious display of wealth is all disgusting and a cancer on the body of Christ. But praying for health, food, a job, a car, decent clothes and decent housing is something that the Father wants to do for us. Satan may throw us a curve ball with disaster, sickness, crushing poverty and tragedy but let’s not blame it on God.

What is wrong with TC and John Piper? God is all about prosperity. Jesus became poor so we could become rich. Having prosperity enables us to give to other people, not live off just enough to cover our needs, that’s selfish.

I think what you said was fairly reasonable.
However, I do not think that Piper is promoting a gospel of suffering and loss, but only preaching the gospel with no extra, human agenda attached to it (as much as a sinful man can do of course). When he mentioned the death of a child, he was merely saying that the true gospel is and must be powerful enough to preserve love for and faith in God in a believer despite such suffering, not just to provide an easy escape route from such suffering.
Also, I do believe (and I think Piper would agree too) that in general, God wants good things for us including health and wealth. And just as you said, we are free to pray for health, food, jobs, cars and so on for He is our loving Father who hears our prayers. However, God is ready and willing to cause us pain and suffering when He has a good purpose for it, just as much as He does provide me with nice things (I didn’t go hungry today and I even had a cup of coffee! Plus, I’m typing this on my own laptop. I figure I have nice things.) according to His greater purposes. Looking at Job, there is no guarantee that we will always find out that purpose in detail, but one thing is sure that when we face God (and we will on the Day of the Lord), we will completely be satisfied by Him and Himself only.

By any means though, the clip was an excerpt from a longer talk he gave I presume. And since it is a partial talk, it may come across as a harsh opposite end to the “prosperity gospel” but what he says in it, I believe, still holds true. I’m not just trying to defend Piper, but I agree with his stance against what he calls the prosperity gospel, which includes health promoting “gospel” as well as the wealth promoting “gospel”.

> Jesus became poor so we could become rich.
Yes, but that didn’t mean that we were to become financially rich.

>Having prosperity enables us to give to other people, not live off just enough to cover our needs, that’s selfish.
Prosperity may make it easier for us to give to others a little, but it won’t enable us to give as the Gospel demands. True Gospel not only enables us to give the excess we have, but will empower us to give even when it costs us and that with gladness and joy.

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