Can you spot prosperity preaching? In chapter 1 of “Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel” Kenneth Mbugua has written a helpful and enlightening chapter on how prosperity preachers misuse the Bible. The chapter lists some of the wide spread and common wrong teachings. Among them are: ‘his poverty our riches’; health and healing; our prayers and God’s promises; sowing and reaping; and ‘word of faith’ theology.
Favourite Verses Abused by Prosperity Preaching
The author begins by listing some of the most commonly misused Bible verses and shows how prosperity preachers fashion them to teach a particular principle or concept. He points out passages like 2 Corinthians 8:9 and explains how it is often falsely interpreted: “Prosperity preachers use this verse to proclaim that Christ died so we could be rich” (p17).
Another example of this is under the topic health and healing, “A verse that is often used to suggest that God will make us healthy is Isaiah 53:5.” Listening to prosperity preachers it becomes apparent that they are often one trick – or verse – ponies. They return to the same well-worn and familiar passages in making their case. There is value in knowing these verses as well as understanding them properly. This brings us to the next point.
A Balanced Biblical Response
The criticisms of the prosperity gospel and its proponents is mature, measured and balanced. Most importantly, they are biblical. Here is one example: “God promises to answer the prayers of his children. That is what the verses say and that is what they say and mean. But that is also not all that the verses say and mean” (p22). By ‘biblical’ I mean that he is responding to the misuse of these verse by helping us understand them in their right biblical context.
“When Christians sow in generosity, they reap glory and honour to God. And there is no better harvest. Read on 2 Corinthians 9 and you see that Paul wrote that their generosity ‘will produce thanksgiving to God’ (9:11). In supplying the needs of God’s people they had inspired ‘many thanksgivings to God’ (9:12). And those who have received the gift would ‘glorify God because of your submission’ (9:13)…The message is clear: give so that God is glorified” (p28). Thus Ken’s corrections also equip believers to carefully study and interpret the Bible for themselves.
Calling Christians to Focus on Heavenly, not Earthly, Blessings
The first chapter does an excellent job of showing that the promises made in prosperity preaching are promises God has made for glory. “One day our bodies will be glorified and the earth shall be restored and there will be no more tears…there will be no escape from suffering for as long as we live in our corrupted bodies in a broken world, but we confidently look forward to the time when everything will be right” (p20).
This will help Christians to realize that they should not obsessively focus on things. We can love and enjoy God’s many gifts to us but always wary that we do not lose sight of eternal things. One of the worst fruits of the prosperity gospel is that it teaches Christians to believe we can have heaven now. Worse, it stifles the gospel longing for glory in the presence of God as Christians are weighed down by earthly blessings.
Providing a Serious Warning
Finally, the prosperity gospel is a false gospel which means it has consequences and the author offers some sobering warnings. This is what he says “If we love money, as God has specifically warned us not to, we may get some fleeting pleasures and temporary benefits. But as money cannot satisfy our souls or heal our hearts, in the end this disobedience sowing will reap sadness and death” (p31).
The tragic danger of the prosperity gospel is that in promising a full life it can lead to spiritual death. As the chapter concludes, “May all who have the responsibility and privilege of preaching the word of Christ remember Christ’s own words: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
This is a very helpful and important chapter, in an incredibly important book. Every Christian will benefit from listening to or reading and meditating on the truths that are laid out. There are some basic tools for rightly reading God’s Word, while correcting prevalent misinterpretations of certain verses, all the while the readers’ eyes are kept fixed on Jesus and the joy set before us, when we stand before God in glory. This is undoubtedly a necessary corrective for most. Finally there is a stern warning for those who preach as well as those who believe the prosperity gospel. As Jesus asked, ‘What does it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose their soul?’ (Matthew 16:26).