The Prosperity Gospel: A Way to Reclaim Dignity?

Nog een keer dan: een blog in het Engels. Dit is een voorpublicatie van het artikel dat ik heb geschreven voor het jaarlijkse Word & Context-tijdschrift van Justo Mwale Theological University College. Nieuwsgierig geworden? Laat het even weten, dan stuur ik je het hele artikel toe.

Abstract

This article tries to understand the prosperity gospel in a way that enables us to distinguish what is valuable and what is not in this phenomenon. The article starts by recognizing the puzzling aspects of the prosperity gospel. Someone might be tempted to dismiss it straightaway as simply unchristian and foolish. Looking at the people who are attracted to the prosperity gospel, however, helps in recognizing the prosperity gospel instead as a genuine protest against certain tendencies in the mainline churches. The article suggests that the prosperity gospel might be a celebration of the dignity in pure, spontaneous religious impulses and the dignity in enjoying or wishing to enjoy the good things in life

This leaves us with the question of how we can distinguish between a genuine form of the prosperity gospel and forms that are simply is unchristian and foolish. To find answers to these questions the prosperity teaching’s interpretation of Abraham is compared to Sören Kierkegaard’s reading of Abraham as a knight of faith. This leads to a kind of litmus test to distinguish a genuine prosperity gospel from theologically unacceptable forms of it. Four criteria are presented: 1. our should show gratitude rather than being a form of manipulation; 2. we should recognize the value of both tradition and resignation; 3. a genuine prosperity gospel would be a personal affair always enacted in fear and trembling; and 4. it should be about God and not about you.

When these criteria are met, the prosperity gospel can be a theologically valid way to express dignity, so this article concludes, the dignity in pure, spontaneous religious impulses, and in enjoying or wishing to enjoy the good things in life.

“Do you want better health? Do you want more wealth? This year you will get it. God has prepared a miracle with your name on it. Just believe!” In Zambia on the radio and on television I hear this same message being proclaimed over and over. And it puzzles me. How can people say these kinds of things? Am I misunderstanding them? Do they mean something else? They cannot really be saying what they appear to be saying, can they? So I wonder.

The Ghanaian preacher Mensa Otabil, in Enjoying the Blessings of Abraham, claims it is simply not possible “for the person that operates under the blessing of Abraham to get poorer” – just have faith, like Abraham had (quoted in Gifford 1998:81). He refers to the story of Abraham who had to sacrifice his son Isaac. He obeys God, he has faith, and at the crucial moment God provides a ram to sacrifice. Abraham kept his son, and both became rich. In the same way a believer cannot get poorer. But how can Otabil say this? And, how can people believe it? It appears to be a blatant untruth: many believers will become poorer. Just like many listeners to the radio and television will, and they will become ill this year, and some will die. These preachers seem to be lying –  without even hiding it…

I learnt that this message is called the prosperity gospel, and it puzzles me.

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