I’ve been mesmerized and confused by “prosperity gospel” (PG) sermons for decades. Twenty years before the phrase came into use to describe them, I wondered about the supposedly direct relationship between the Gospel and prosperity so boldly proclaimed by PG preachers.
Though most of PG’s heyday, I had not yet mined the depths of the Biblical text. I was unarmed and unable to refute or affirm the Biblical references placed at the bottom of the screen during these sermons. Did they prove the relationship between the Bible and prosperity, or did they merely proof-text long enough to separate believers from their tithe?
“Blessed” provides history about, but no answers to such questions. It leaves the Bible unopened, provides the facts, and risks only tentative opinions on the so-called prosperity Gospel. The book is no more and no less than “A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.” The history comes in a series of newswire-like reports on the preachers, events, and relationships associated with this Pentecostal offshoot “movement.”
The Bible is Unopened
The Bible remains unopened in the author’s historical exploration. Except for quoting a preachers use of a Biblical verse, there is no exegesis or comment on some PG tenet or another.
Just the Facts
If you read a string of newswire reports about the Viet Nam war, you might form opinions about it. However, except for the editorial choices of which stories to cover and which to leave unreported, newswire services are not (or shouldn’t be) in the business of providing opinions. Likewise, except for a few tentative views at the end of the book, neither does “Blessed” offer those of the author on her subject.
The Deification of the American Dream
The exception to the opinion-less nature of “Blessed” comes at the end of the book when the author comments that the prosperity gospel is “the deification of the American dream.”
The point is offered and then only partially made by the author. Counterpoint questions such as, “But, didn’t the advances that made the dream possible stem naturally from a new nation adhering, however briefly, to Judeo-Christian principles and values?” are not posed or answered.
A Paradox for the Reader to Untangle
If there’s any truth at the heart of the prosperity gospel, it will have something in common with all great truths: paradox. That discovery might begin with questions neither asked nor answered in “Blessed”:
- What is the relationship, if any, between the Gospel and human prosperity?
- How could salvation of the lost have nothing, whatsoever, to do with human flourishing?
Every believer with a heartbeat might have an opinion on such questions. But, what is the truth contained in the Biblical text? What might a believer seeking the whole counsel of God, conclude? Have some, or all, of these prosperity gospel preachers been fleecing the sheep or does the fulfillment of one or more of the missions of Jesus Christ involve prosperity and believers?
“Blessed” neither poses nor answers, such questions. For those interested in forming their own opinion, however, the history documented in the book provides an informed place to start.
I wanted to get more out of “Blessed” by sharpening my thoughts and confronting any scriptural tensions between prosperity and the Gospel. But the book is subtitled as history, so the fault is mine for bringing those expectations to it. Perhaps the author will build on this book and dive into the heart of the matter (the paradox?) in a future work.