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More and more among spiritually attuned people I hear warnings against the dangers and falsehoods found in prosperity theology. If I were inexperienced in my spiritual and theological awakening I would think this was some new cancer entering the culture of Christianity. The truth is that prosperity theology isn’t new. An internet search on the subject will bring up the idea that it has been around for 60 or 70 years. (see Wikipedia) The truth is that such doctrine has been around for thousands of years – popping up from time to time as circumstances make it effective in drawing followers. I personally suspect that if you knew where to look in any prosperous society in history you would soon uncover some variant of the prosperity gospel.
Those who are concerned with prosperity theology need to understand two things that make it so appealing to large numbers of people. First, it is comforting – especially to those who are spiritually tired, shallow, or both. Second, (and this one is sometimes hard for opponents to admit) it has a kernel of truth to it. The reality is that our loving Heavenly Father does desire to bless his children – even materially so long as it doesn’t interfere with their spiritual growth. That kernel of truth makes combating the ideas of prosperity theology while maintaining sound theological footing more difficult than combating a blatantly false theological concept.
An article by Albert Mohler pointed me to a statement that I think will make it easier to identify the difference between the true and the false elements of prosperity theology.
In her recent work on Prosperity Theology, historian Kate Bowler traces the shift from what she calls the “hard prosperity” message of the early Pentecostals to the “soft prosperity” message of modern preachers…
The hard prosperity message is the truth that God wants to give good things, materially and otherwise, to those who earnestly follow Him to the best of their ability – even if sometimes, in His wisdom, it is better for Him to not give them the material things that they righteously wish for.
The idea that Heavenly Father is willing to grant us material prosperity at times but that such prosperity is distinct from spiritual success isn’t new to those who are familiar with the Book of Mormon. It’s the idea expressed in Jacob 2:18-19:
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
The soft prosperity message is that God will give us material blessings simply because He loves his children as if material prosperity were the object of His kingdom. This leads those who believe it down a dead-end road where their personal happiness quickly trumps any eternal purposes.
The message that God has no desire for those who humbly follow Him to live in squalor liberates those who hear it from the spiritually destructive concept that God either doesn’t care about them or else He is vindictive or desires to make their lives difficult. The truth is that once we have put our hearts right by first seeking the kingdom of God earnestly and humbly, then we are in a position to decide if we want to seek material wealth as our method of building His kingdom or whether we are more interested in some other path of serving in His kingdom for the betterment of His children on earth.