by William J. Stewart
Joel Osteen assures his readers and followers:
God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.
Osteen is perhaps the most popular prosperity preacher in North America today. He preaches a “name it and claim it” gospel; turning Christianity into a religion about temporal happiness rather than devoted service to the God of heaven in hope of eternal life. He tells us that:
If we say it long enough eventually we’re going to reap a harvest. We’re going to get exactly what we’re saying.
Again, he declares,
If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, peace, happiness—nothing on earth will be able to hold these things from you.
Osteen is certainly not the only one to take up the prosperity theology, if we can call it a theology. He is simply the latest and greatest in a long list of health and wealth gurus, preceded by the likes of Bakker, Hagin, Wilkinson, Copeland, etc..
Prosperity preaching is based in a misuse of a few Bible texts, and an utter disregard of several others. It teaches selfishness, not selflessness. It emphasizes materialism, not spiritual things.
The apostle Paul rebuked the Galatians, saying:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7).
Men have perverted the gospel in a variety of ways through the ages. In Paul’s day, some of the Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentiles keep Moses’ law (Acts 15:5). Years later, the roots which would eventually result in the Catholic church added a plethora of doctrines, grounded in human tradition, not the word of God. After centuries of worship in song with the absence of any instrument, the desires of men trumped the will of God again. Now, those who worship without instruments are a small minority. There have been several different gospels and variant teachings throughout the centuries, each one a perversion of the truth of God’s word.
You will hear prosperity preachers say that God wants you to have “an abundant life.” Indeed, Jesus said,
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Was Jesus promising His followers cars, vacation homes, boats, etc.? The life which He gives is in contrast with the death and destruction that the thief causes (v 10). Who is the thief? Is it not the devil? Satan does not begrudge us prosperity in things of this world. He wanted Eve to have the fruit; he offered the nations to Jesus, and was happy for Judas to have the 30 pieces of silver. Two of the three listed died as a result of their partaking in what Satan offered.
The abundant life which Jesus offers has nothing to do with materialism. Jesus depreciated things of this life, emphasizing the spiritual (Matthew 6:25-34). He commanded the rich young ruler to sell what he had, for his material wealth stood between him and eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22).
Another favourite text of the health and wealth folks is 2 Corinthians 8:9. There we read:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
In the context, Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to minister to those who were in need (v 1-15). The text is not about amassing goods but about being willing to sacrifice and gift to others.
Jesus became poor in that He dwelt as a man and died for our sins (Philippians 2:6-8). We become rich in Him by faith, and are motivated to imitate Him. This text is not about increasing wealth (2 Corinthians 6:4-10; James 2:5).
Finally, you may hear prosperity proponents citing 3 John 2:
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
It baffles the mind how an entire doctrine can be made on this verse. It was a greeting, nothing more nothing less. Even today, we begin most letters with a hope that things are well. That’s what John did.
If good health and great physical prosperity are in a linear relationship to faith, then Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:27), and others were not very faithful to God. Even Paul had health issues, which He asked God to take away, and the answer was “No” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In the first century, the Christians didn’t tend to be the noble and wealthy folks (1 Corinthians 1:26). Consistently the New Testament gives warnings to the rich.
Osteen and his cohorts say “name it and claim it,” making God their own personal Santa Clause. This is not the gospel of God; it is a perversion.