1. I harbor a prejudice against wealthy and ostentatious churches.
2. Being somewhat prone to cynicism on the few and brief occasions that I have listened to Joel Osteen, I have found him to be a helpful corrective, but I am distracted by his similarity in appearance to Martin Short.
3. I crassly define "prosperity gospel" as the message that "if you have enough faith, you can obligate God to fulfill his 'promises' to you and give you financial and physical prosperity, 'cause he wants to do it anyway." I regard this as a false gospel, though many of its adherents are admirable Christian people.
The prosperity gospel is now a full blown global phenomena affecting millions of people ("46% of self-identifying Christians" including 96% of Nigerian Christians according to Jones and Woodbridge) and it often travels hand-in-hand with global Pentecostalism (with the latter I have no general dispute whatsoever).
In Chapter 1, they situate the prosperity gospel in the New Thought movement from the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), to Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993). They then identify 5 Pillars of New Thought:
1) Distorted view of God.
2) Elevation of mind over matter
3) An exalted view of humanity
4) A focus on health and wealth
5) An unorthodox view of salvation
In Chapter 2, they identify the pillars of New Thought in the teachings of prosperity gospel preachers, including Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. Somewhere between chapters 1 & 2, they miss the influence of Russell Conwell (1843-1925, founder of Temple Baptist Church and Temple University in Philadelphia), and I suspect that they do so because Conwell was a mainstream Baptist preacher and not a charismatic. He does not fit the mold exceptionally well (though he shares a Philadelphia connection with Swedenborgians) but he preached his Acres of Diamonds sermon over 6,000 times, from which the following is taken:
"I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.... Let me say here clearly .. . ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them... I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathised with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins ... is to do wrong.... let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings. ..."
This chapter also has a helpful critique of Joel Osteen. My limited experience with his teaching led me to conclude that he had developed a well proof-texted theology of positive thinking. I have heard him speak in a manner that had him sprinting madly (rhetorically speaking) toward the line where relatively benign pop-theopsychology meets full blown prosperity gospel. He always seemed to stop just short (in my mind) with his toes on teh line and his arms flailing to prevent seemingly inevitable transgression. But he always stopped, even if those that he shared the platform with did not. This chapter amply demonstrates both his lowest-common-denominator Christian theology and his adherence to a full-blown prosperity gospel.
Chapter 3 critiques the prosperity gospel and deals especially well with the tendency of some preachers to extend Christ's atonement into a universal doctrine of physical healing for those who have faith to believe it. Joyce Meyers takes a lot of heat in this chapter. They deal specifically with a variety of theological and interpretive fallacies that are common among prosperity preachers.
Tomorrow, I will post an overview of Part Two: Correction