“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV).
Prosperity theology is a lie. Prosperity theology is an American movement rooted in the idolatry of wealth, success and consumerism. Prosperity theology looks very appealing and attempts to provide answers for difficult questions. However, that look is a thin varnish and provides no answers of substance.
Prosperity theology, also known as the prosperity gospel, is a belief that our material, financial and physical health is directly proportionate to our amount of faith and trust in God. This theology asserts that the more I give to God, the more God will give back to me. Have you ever heard someone say something to the tune of, “If you have enough faith, God will multiply your gift two-, five-, or 10-fold back to you!” If so, you have encountered prosperity theology and it is a lie.
There is a reason why a theology which correlates wealth and faith is either not catching on or hurting those in developing countries. It only preaches well with the glimmer of hope toward upward mobility. The American dream is the perfect context for such a theology to be created and flourish.
Again, prosperity theology is an American movement rooted in the idolatry of wealth, success and consumerism.
Nowhere in the New or Old Testament does it instruct that wealth or lack thereof is dependent upon our faith. Giving to God and our neighbor is about giving from the heart with no expectation of anything in return. Think of Jesus’ teachings about the Widows mite and the Good Samaritan.
But you might say, “Wait one minute pastor! God multiples and God says we will be prosperous if we ask! Think of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. Think of the promise God made to Abraham that he will be fruitful and multiply. What about verses such as Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you…(NIV)’ or James 4:2, ‘You do not have because you do not ask God (NIV).'”
Of course, these stories and verses are in the Bible. However, none of them were written with the correlation of success, wealth and faith as seen in America through the lens of prosperity theology. These texts were written to teach about God’s abundance of care, God’s desire to grow a nation, God’s plan to liberate his people from exile and God’s desire for us to ask with selfless intentions. These texts, and all of Scripture, were not written to assure the padding for your bank account. When we cherry pick verses from Scripture out of context we can construct almost any theology. This is what prosperity theology has done.
Our giving of time, energy and money is not about what we will receive from God, but what God has already freely given us. Our generous outpouring of time, talents and treasures are a response to what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ. God has already lavished us with the gifts of hope, love and the promise of eternal life. People of God, that is the Gospel with no strings attached and that is no lie.
Keith Marshall is a pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Enumclaw. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.