Ask Chuck: Poverty Gospel vs Prosperity Gospel
I have been reading about Reverend Paula White, who has been called President Trump’s “spiritual advisor”, and she is apparently in the “prosperity gospel” camp. How do I explain to my friends the error in her theology?
Not a Fan of the Prosperity Gospel
Dear Not a Fan,
I too read the headlines recently that revealed the financial teaching of Paula White. She appears to be among far too many around the world that embrace and teach a doctrine that does not align with Scripture. Since I encounter this question in one form or another in just about every nation where I am asked to teach, it is of great importance.
My general observation of the leaders who teach this theology is that their lives are often characterized by an emphasis on self-indulgence, outward appearances, low accountability and materialism.
Two Extremes – Prosperity and Poverty
There are two extreme teachings about money and finances that I encounter often. In one camp are the prosperity teachers. They tend to vary from subtle to outrageous. I have not studied them or tried to sort out which is worse than the other. Some are complete con artists while others are sincere but sincerely wrong. They may truly want people to experience the abundant life promised in Scripture but place the emphasis on worldly wealth as opposed to the true riches of a Godly life (see Luke 16:10-15).
In the other camp, and equally as wrong, are the teachers of the poverty gospel. They swing to the extreme opposite direction and teach that having material possessions is evil, rich people are ungodly and that self-denial is a means to earn righteousness in God’s eyes. Those who believed they were fleeing the evils of the world through isolation and extreme self-denial of comfort and material possessions typically populated monasteries.
Sadly, far too many people in the world fall victim to the bondage of one or the other of these extreme teachings.
God’s Word teaches that everything we have is owned by God and provided to us by God. We are temporary stewards of what we have, whether a lot or a little. Money is not evil, but the love of money is.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
The goal of our stewardship is to be found faithful, not successful (I Corinthians 4:2). Our lives are to be characterized by what we give, not what we get. We view possessions as a responsibility that requires us to be careful in our lifestyle choices and radically generous towards others without expectation of a financial reward. Motives matter. Our ultimate reward will be to hear the Lord Jesus say, Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)
This reward is available to the rich and poor alike. It is a reward that comes after we depart from this life and have fulfilled God’s purposes to love and serve others.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Our righteousness is not earned but is a gift of God through the grace, mercy and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We have been rescued from death and darkness through the forgiveness of our sins. Our repentance from sin is to include turning from our greed, coveting and selfishness, not fanning it into flame (Ephesians 5:3-5). The abundant life promised in Scripture is found through abiding in Christ who fills us with love, joy, contentment and a commission to serve others.
Prosperity teachers take advantage of sincere followers who believe that God will deliver them from poverty or fulfill their greedy desires as a reward for their “faith”. Many of the prosperity followers don’t have a true understanding of who God really is. And some don’t care to know because they are simply greedy for personal gain from their teachings.
God is our Blessing
Worldly wealth veils the true riches found in Christ. A steward’s heart’s desire is to be more faithful to God and to be transformed into His image, not to be filled with more of the world’s riches.
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8-9)
The “Prosperity Gospel” generally focuses on living by certain rules AND giving generously so financial and material blessings will be received in return. It is taught as a cause and effect, a sowing and reaping – you do this, you will get that. Worse yet, the guarantee to get more in return is purportedly backed by God Almighty and the Scripture. The “Poverty Gospel” shuns money and possessions as evil, expects followers to demonstrate extreme self denial and be motivated to gain God’s favor especially over those polluted by money and comfort. These teaching are simply not true.
Stewardship of America’s vast wealth will be the key-determining factor of the future of this nation. May God raise up more faithful, sincere and sacrificial leaders to positions in public service to steward our resources at every level. It will also be the measure by which we are personally evaluated by God, our faithful Provider. May we be found faithful to manage well what we have, whether a lot or a little.
You can learn more about our extensive stewardship teaching here.
Originally published on the Christian Post, January 19, 2018