We’re all theologians, as Tim Challies wrote in his recent blog post.
What we think about the nature of God and the nature of man drives most, if not all, of our actions in life. Right thoughts about God leads to right living before God before the face of God, which brings glory to God. In its simplest form, sound doctrine is the very essence and fuel of good theology. Sound doctrine rightly understood and applied helps Christians to both contend and stand fast against heresy.
Sound Doctrine and the Wrongness of the Prosperity Gospel
The prosperity “gospel” has become an umbrella term for a myriad of movements such as Christian Science, Word of Faith, and the Name it and Claim it teaching. There are different facets to each, but each treats God as a genie in a bottle who grants your every wish if you have faith. The other is Christ dying on the cross only for people’s forgiveness of sin and their material blessing on earth.
There is a story my uncle David (actually a family friend, but I’ve always called him uncle) shared from the pulpit years ago. I don’t remember the name of his friend or the story word for word, but I do remember the tears in his eyes and the anger on his face when he shared the fruit that comes from poor theology.
He served faithfully as pastor of a small congregation for several years. He had a congregant who was diagnosed with a disease and was bed-ridden in the hospital during her final days.
David, along with other members of the church would frequent that flower- and balloon-filled room to talk to and pray with their dying friend. Though on the edge of death, she encouraged and ministered to the very people who came to minister to her. She knew and loved God’s electing grace in her life, so she did not grieve as others did.
Another man came during that time as well. Her former pastor; he was a prosperity “gospel” pastor. He would roam the halls of the hospital to stop and pray for those in the rooms, and tell people he prayed for that “God will heal you, but you’ve gotta have enough faith.”
He stepped in to pray for her as he made the daily rounds and continued to remind her that “God will remove the sickness, but you gotta have enough faith.” My uncle was upset. His friend was saved from this false gospel, and now in her final days, her former pastor came to tempt her with it once more.
After several weeks, she died, singing hymns and praying God-exalting prayers before she went. The group gathered around her as she passed from this life to the next. A few moments later, her former pastor walked in to remind her once more, “God will remove the sickness, but you gotta have enough faith.”
He peered in, saw the tears in their eyes, the stillness of her face and the stillness in the room, and turned and walked away. But not before declaring to the room, “I guess she didn’t have enough faith.”
His story is not unique. It is the logical outcome of that theology. If you have enough faith you’ll live; if you don’t, you die. David’s friend died according to that theology because she did not have had enough faith according to them.
Biblical Teaching Contradicts the Prosperity Gospel
What makes the prosperity “gospel” so insidious is it trades the giver, God, for the gift. They trade God for the gift through taking passages of Scripture meant to preserve the Christian and give hope amid heartache and suffering, or to the poor and needy, and twist them to apply to physical health and material wealth.
1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
The prosperity “gospel” preacher takes this passage and tells us that Christ died to heal our souls and our bodies. They focus on physical healing. They say to the person suffering from cancer, depression, or a myriad of other diseases, are not God’s will for their lives; all they have to do is speak healing into their lives, and the healing will come.
But sound theology calls us to look at the context of the passage. What do the surrounding verses say?
1 Peter 2:20-21, “But if when you do good and suffer for it, you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
Here, suffering for Christ is a blessing, one to be emulated, not shunned, by us.
Another out-of-context verse prevalent in the prosperity culture is from the book of Philippians.
Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That verse is pasted on coffee cups, T-shirts, baseball caps, and fills the mouths of every preacher of the prosperity “gospel” preacher, who tell you that job promotion you’re looking for is yours, that spouse of your dreams will say “I do,” that money you’ve been wanting will come if you name it and claim it, and of course, plant the “seed” of money in the preacher’s pockets.
But again, the context reveals that Scripture is a blessing to us believers for the opposite reason. Philippians 4:12 states, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
Coupled with Philippians 4:12, verse 13 encourages Christians in any circumstance because it reveals that whatever circumstance we are in, healthy, sick, wealthy, poor, or anything in-between, we can live rightly before Christ. We can do all we do in the Christian life, but only in and through the strength Christ alone provides since He, not material possessions are our true treasure.
These verses are not a comprehensive list of the one’s prosperity “gospel” preachers use to their gain. There are others which could be used. Christ Himself addresses the prosperous living these preachers claim as good in His parable from Luke 12:13-21. The rich man had more than enough to live on. Instead of being charitable with what God gave, he sought to hoard it all by building bigger barns. But God told him his life was required of him that night; money couldn’t save him, only God could.
Preachers of the prosperity “gospel” claim that man was wise. His money had cometh, and he was securing it to be spent today. They tell us God calls that man “good.” But God calls him “fool.”
Those preachers make their living by twisting Scripture to line their pockets with money from those who hang on their every word instead of the word of God. Their preaching, however, has no hold on Christians who understand God’s word. In Acts, Luke tells us these Bereans were nobler than other believers because they searched the Scripture to see if what Paul said about Christ was true (Acts 17:11).
Good Theology Finds It’s Source in the Word of God
As Challies stated, the question isn’t whether we’re theologians it’s what kind. Part of being a good theologian is recognizing and responding to error, lovingly. Good theology finds it’s source in daily reading and studying God’s word.
So let’s read God’s word, study God’s word, and treasure God’s word. Through that, and sitting under the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word, we will follow the sound doctrine that will protect us from straying into poor theology, such as the prosperity “gospel,” which is no gospel at all.