Will following God make you healthy, wealthy and happy? Is there a connection between your faithfulness to God and your prosperity? Advocates of the prosperity gospel say yes.
David Jones and Russell Woodbridge tackle these important questions in their new book, Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017). This book, an update to their 2010 bestseller, thoroughly and biblically explains why the prosperity gospel is flawed and dangerous.
Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics, serves as the Associate Dean for Graduate Program Administration and Director of the Th.M. Program at Southeastern Seminary, and regularly contributes to Intersect. Today, he graciously takes some time out of his busy to schedule to talk about the prosperity gospel and his new book.
Why did you and Russell Woodbridge decide to release this new version of Health, Wealth and Happiness?
Our first book on the prosperity gospel, Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?, which we released in 2011, was surprisingly well received by the church. This book was not overly technical or academic, as it was written to be accessible to the average Christian, as well as to be used in colleges and seminaries. It seems that our book hit upon a need in the church, as it soon became a best-seller.
Many people who bought the original book have used it effectively to minister to family and friends in their local churches. However, these readers expressed a desire for a shorter version of the book that they could put in the hands of those with little biblical knowledge or even give to the unchurched.
So, we wrote a shortened version of the book to reach more people who might be attracted to the prosperity gospel. Since it is shorter, the abridged version also has the benefit of being less expensive, thus making it possible for people to buy in bulk for wider distribution.
What is the prosperity gospel? Why is it so problematic?
The prosperity gospel is the teaching that Christians can expect material flourishing if they have faith in Jesus and obey God’s Word. This is usually understood in terms of health, wealth and happiness.
The prosperity gospel is problematic because it is not the true gospel. Indeed, it obscures the true gospel by redefining the spiritual flourishing promised in Scripture in terms of material prosperity in the culture. Furthermore, history shows that once material prosperity is not manifest in the lives of followers of the prosperity gospel, such followers leave the church and tend to become inoculated against the true gospel. In other words, exposure to the prosperity gospel can make people less likely to believe the true gospel.
Why is this book important?
Given the challenging economic times that we’re in, it is easy for believers and unbelievers alike to become susceptible to the lure of the prosperity gospel and its teachings of health, wealth and happiness. In a survey conducted by the Pew Forum 46% of self-proclaimed Christians indicated that they believe God will make them rich if they have enough faith. This false gospel is being preached every day on radio, on TV and via the Internet. Indeed, 50 of the 260 largest churches in America preach the prosperity gospel. The preachers of prosperity tout their own opulent lifestyles as proof of their message: God wants his children to have their best life now.
Yet, this is not the gospel. It is a feel-good, self-centered appeal to our materialistic impulses that omits the message of Jesus and neglects the cross. This book is aimed at helping people recognize the false message of the prosperity gospel and embrace the gospel of Christ.
What does the Bible really teach about wealth and poverty?
In our book we explain that neither material wealth nor material poverty is favored in the Bible. Indeed, there are many examples of godly and ungodly rich individuals in Scripture. Similarly, Scripture mentions many godly and ungodly poor individuals. One’s material state, then, is not the focus of the Bible.
Scripture does, however, have much to say about events and activities that lead to either material wealth or poverty, as well as giving direction about how we are to interact with our material resources. For example, the Bible commends honest labor, benevolence, proper stewardship, mercy, social justice and the like.
What do you hope the book accomplishes?
Of course, we hope that this book works to lessen the effect of the prosperity gospel upon the church and culture, as well as to equip the church to resist this movement. Yet, in addition to correcting the false teaching of the prosperity gospel, it is our hope that this book will give readers a biblical perspective on some of the topics and issues that make the prosperity gospel so attractive. Indeed, half of this book is devoted to giving a biblical perspective on suffering, wealth, poverty and giving.
It is our desire that readers would finish this book firmly equipped to resist false doctrine, but also thoroughly educated in these crucial areas of doctrine related to material and spiritual prosperity. In sum, it is our goal to replace the prosperity gospel with the gospel of Christ.
This book takes a balanced approach that is both biblically rigorous and in touch with current issues. This is an invaluable resource for those wishing to deal with the prosperity gospel with accuracy and clarity. This is a very Gospel-centered book.
– J.D. Greear, Lead Pastor of The Summit Church, Durham, NC.
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