Archive for April, 2011

Review of Health, Wealth & Happiness

April 7, 2011

Being unsure if he would ever see them again, Paul called together the elders of the church at Ephesus. He reminded them of their duty to protect God’s flock. He told them to be on guard because he knew eventually savage wolves would try to feed off the flock. These wolves in sheep’s clothing, with their perverse gospel, would seek to gather as many sheep around them as they could. Paul doesn’t say exactly what this perverse gospel would be, but perhaps he had it in mind as he concluded his words to the elders. “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes,” he reminded them. He then left them with the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Some years later, Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to combat these wolves that Paul had warned of. Prominent among the false teaching being used to fleece the sheep was “that godliness is a means of gain.” These depraved men, deprived of the truth, had discovered a way to make money off ministry. By practicing what they preached, they were getting rich off Jesus. This prosperity teaching however was ruining people’s faith.

Today’s church is also confronted with this perverse gospel. Ironically, while claiming to encourage faith, the “Prosperity Gospel” actually destroys people’s faith, by substituting faith in the real gospel with faith in faith. As David Jones and Russell Woodbridge point out in their just released book Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? the prosperity gospel’s roots are found in the “New Thought” movement of the early twentieth century. “In the New Thought works, one can discern some of the key recurring elements of the prosperity gospel: speaking the right words, invoking a universal law of success with words, and having faith in oneself” (p. 31).

Jones and Woodbridge have PhDs from and teach at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. They are both uniquely qualified in the areas of finance and Christianity. They have produced a very informative and readable critique of the prosperity movement within evangelicalism.

The book’s six chapters are grouped under two headings. Chapters one through three offer a critique of the prosperity gospel and prosperity preachers. Chapters four through six offer a correction of the false teaching of prosperity. Chapter one excavates the foundations of the prosperity gospel as being built upon “New Thought Philosophy.” In chapter two one can readily see the link between this philosophy and the unorthodoxy of the prosperity message. They conclude, “while many prosperity teachers offer the plan of salvation, they undermine the gospel with their teaching” (p. 71). Jones and Woodbridge use Joel Osteen as an example. “While Osteen certainly appears genuine and sincere in his faith, his prosperity message is anything by harmless” (p. 73). They go on to demonstrate how Osteen “misinterprets Scripture, misunderstands the gospel, and lacks theological conviction” (p. 73). Chapter three exposes the errors of prosperity theology by examining how it perverts Scripture’s teaching on: the gospel, faith, atonement, the Abrahamic Covenant, the mind, prayer, the Bible, and giving.

“An aspect of the prosperity gospel that makes it attractive to many believers is that it contains elements of biblical truth. Historically speaking, this has been a mark of nearly all false teaching and heresy; few would accept teaching that was clearly unbiblical” (p. 123). Part two offers a corrective by scrutinizing what the Bible really teaches about suffering (chapter four), wealth and poverty (chapter five) and giving (chapter six).

For my money, chapter five provided the most food for thought. It concludes:

Whereas the biblical gospel encourages people to work in order to meet their needs, the prosperity gospel emphasizes the conjuring of mystical forces of faith in order to meet material needs; whereas the biblical gospel stresses focusing on the material needs of others, especially those who are impoverished, the prosperity gospel focuses on acquiring wealth for oneself; and finally, whereas the biblical gospel warns people about the spiritual pitfalls of accumulated wealth, the prosperity gospel is consumed with the accumulation of wealth. The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all (p. 140).

As a pastor, it is my job to counter false teaching. Through the media, wolves have infiltrated my flock. I will recommend this book to anyone in my flock that is in danger of being devoured.

Kregel Publications freely provided this book for review and there was no expectation of a positive review.