Retired NHL goalie turned theology student Scott Bailie takes on the prosperity Gospel—the idea that God wants to bless you with money and a big house etc.—in a blog post he calls More Pastoral Stupidity. Scott writes in part,
First, go out and find out what “worldview” means. First-century people did not understand money the way you do, or have the same assumptions towards money that you do. There were no banks. There was no ATM’s. There was no interest. You have to understand how they understood money before you can use their writing to substantiate your argument. Investigate how much money a first-century Galilean fisherman would have seen and used in his lifetime. I think the verse about having all of your needs met might take on a different meaning.I once preached on a related theme in the sermon The Inside-Out Gospel. Jesus wanted a fuller, more rewarding life for you. That's why he said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. But did Jesus define an abundant life as one in which you have a lot of money, a big house, an expensive car, etc.? Jesus seems more interested in a flourishing life that is not all about having more and better stuff.
Secondly, some how some way, you are going to have to show me prosperity in the lives of Jesus, his disciples, and the early church. Jesus: poor and crucified. I’ll give you a pass because he had to do that whole atonement thing and all, but couldn’t he have at least done it in style? Let’s see, disciples? poor and martyred. Peter? martyred. Paul? poor and martyred. James the brother of Jesus? Killed by the Sanhedrin. Justin the martyr? Well, his name is a small clue. Polycarp, Ignatius, I mean the list goes on and on.
Where is Peter and Paul in Rome living in a large villa with slaves at their beck and call, piles of money all over the floor, living Their Best Life Now? Why was Jesus not the head of the Sanhedrin, or one of the priestly elites? Why was he a poor outsider? Seriously, at some point you are going to have to harmonize the life of Jesus and his followers to what you speak. Where is Paul writing, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified… and of course, how to be rich, healthy, happy, and the most successful people in Corinth“? Where does Peter write: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed…in your finances“? The “prosperity” you preach cannot be found in their lives.
Finally, the priestly elite that Jesus so often clashed heads with, and were largely responsible for his death, were the richest people group in Jerusalem!....
One of the writers of the Bible had this to say to his ‘little children,’ “By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.” There are many ways to do theology badly, but I’m not sure if the plot has been more lost by any other group. You can’t get much further than turning the enemies of Jesus and their lifestyle into the “Gospel.”
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor
Today's religion column for the Tribune & Georgian is now online here: How to Be a Genuine Imitation