CAPE TOWN: The Prosperity Gospel: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
by Daniel Bourdann
October 23, 2010
The Gospel of prosperity and miraculous healing is doing well because it glitters. Right across the globe from the USA to Asia, from Latin America and Africa, promises of material wealth and health attract people.
When facing the reality of a difficult existence, material poverty and hopelessness, who can remain indifferent to the attraction of prosperity, healing and personal well-being through faith?
And indeed in some contexts, despairing people without hope have had their lives changed, because the Prosperity movement has given them practical reasons to see life differently by believing in themselves.
However, the popular success of this theology should not make us forget that all that glitters is not gold because the end does not justify the means.
The view of human beings according to Prosperity movement theology, humans have a spiritual nature that is like God's.
So they believe that Christians can order things to happen, just like God does. For them, "humans are spiritual beings that have a soul housed in a body."
According to Kenneth Hagin Snr., "we live in a body, but we are spiritual beings".
According to Hagin, our spirit is either "God's nature or Satan's nature".
Hagin writes: "Adam gave Satan what God had given him; as a result Satan has legal dominion over humans and creation.
It is obvious that this theology is a sort of pantheism.
Salvation according to Hagin, God needed to make a deal with Satan to regain the world for himself. He had to pay the ransom through Christ.
This is the means by which the Christian can take on God's nature once again.
So conversion restores the godly nature that humans lost.
According to Hagin, "since receiving eternal life means having God's nature in us", so "spiritual death means having Satan's nature."
Is this approach Biblical? According to Scripture, humans are not a divine spirit living in a physical body. Nowhere in the Bible are humans ever described in these terms.
In the Bible, humans are an inseparable body-soul-spirit entity (1 Thess. 5:23).
Fallen humans are not demons, even if they can be inhabited by demons. They still have the image of God within them.
Hagin and others develop a conception of humans that makes them little gods. And this raises important theological, philosophical and ethical questions.
Humans created in God's image, although being in his image does not mean that humans are deified.
Humans are created in God's image, which means that their personality reflects God's personality analogically and not in a directly equivalent way.
According to Hagin, Jesus needed to die "spiritually" and physically to save humans from their "Satanic nature" after the Fall.
In the same way, all believers must identify "vitally" with Christ by taking redemption on themselves through faith.
This non-Biblical theology introduces the need for a double death of Christ.
It concludes logically that Christ's physical death is not sufficient for salvation. According to them, Jesus suffered a double death, both physical and spiritual, on the cross.
The Bible nowhere states that Christ was sacrificed to pay a just debt of any kind to the devil. Jesus' death is not the price to pay to Satan. In the Bible, Jesus' death is a sacrifice to God.
Therefore, it would be unjust to pay a ransom to recover an illegal authority. In the context of his superior power, Almighty God could never pay a ransom, because a ransom is paid to recover conquered land when the payer is in a position of weakness, or at best when the forces are equal.
Positive confession and faith Is faith a formula that operates automatically when we use it? Hagin says it is. According to him and his followers, "the law of faith" is a universal principle that applies to everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike.
No matter what your relationship is with Christ, apply the law of faith and you will have the results.
It is a formula into which "everyone can put everything they want: health, a new job, a house, a car, everything you want".
According to supporters of the Prosperity movement, faith is essential to God and his action. God is presented as a being of faith. "The word that brings forth and upholds creation is an act of faith."
The attitude of humans that consists of demanding their rights, giving orders to God, trying to domesticate him by so-called spiritual formulas and techniques is, in my opinion, contrary to Biblical thought.
The claims of the Prosperity movement fall subtly into the trap of deism.
In Scripture, faith, before being an action, is above all a relationship of trust in a sovereign and personal God. T
It is easy to see that the principle of Hagin and his followers is close to traditional African rites, which insist on the right formula or gesture.
Anyone working with African churches in which the Prosperity Gospel is preached will note the importance of ritual in prayers.
A handkerchief is given in order to pass on apostolic authority, and candles, salt and other objects are used.
The Bible does not encourage this sort of use of ritual. It is easy to fall into idolatry when these sorts of practice become the norm.
The real problem is in the very conception of faith. For the Prosperity movement, faith is optimism and idealism. Having faith boils down to positive thinking. And positive thinking is first and foremost believing in oneself.
In his book The Power of Positive Thinking, (World's work 1953), Norman Vincent Peale says: "Start reading the New Testament...Select a dozen of the strongest statements about faith...Then memorize each one. Let these faith concepts drop into your conscious mind. Say them over and over again. They will sink into your subconscious mind. This process will change you into a believer."
According to Peale, faith is a sort of "spiritual power technique" that consists in "faith, belief, positive thinking, faith in God, faith in others, faith in yourself, faith in life." So he lumps together faith in God and self confidence, making no distinction between them.
Humans are the ones who must be subject to God, not the opposite.
God grants whatever he wants to whoever he wants whenever he wants.
The practice of proclaiming the name of Jesus is like magic and divination that control people and things by their name.
Positive thinking develops spiritual pride in the hearts of its adepts, and often an arrogance that goes against the life principles of a servant of God.
We need to remember that God promises to supply our needs, and not to fulfil all our desires.
Creation ex nihilo is God's exclusive prerogative. Saying that humans can create using "creative faith" denigrates the Trinity.
The doctrine of divine healing God still heals people today. So divine healing is a modern reality.
But can we follow Prosperity theology when it teaches that everyone can be healed if they use their faith?
Even when the Psalmist says that "he heals all our diseases" (Ps. 103.3), he doesn't say that God must heal all our diseases.
And in fact at the beginning of the same verse he says "He forgives all your sins" Here the Psalmist is encouraging his whole being to praise the Lord for all his kindness, and so he lists all that God has done in his life.
This teaching also denies the content of the Bible. It gives many examples of the faithful who are ill and never healed. Paul himself had his "thorn in the flesh". He prayed for healing, but God told him "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Timothy had frequent health problems for which Paul's advice was to drink a little wine (1 Tim 5:23).
Paul left Trophime sick in Milet (2 Tim 4.20). Epaphrodite had an illness that almost killed him (Phi 2:27).
In denying sickness, the Prosperity movement rejects the important eschatological dimension of healing.
Depending on how we look at it, we can all say that we experience sickness. Tiredness is a form of illness that is treated by sleep.
Fatigue can lead to death.
And we know that even the teachers of the Prosperity movement are worn out after heavy day of "spiritual warfare".
Is that because they have sinned?
The other illness common to all is ageing. Every human being goes through the ageing experience. Our cells wear out, shrink, lose their energy and die. Christians are just as affected by the ageing process.
However, the New Testament proclaims that we have died with Christ and are raised up with him. So how come we continue to live with fatigue and ageing, that prove that our bodies are corruptible?
We are healed, but not yet.
We are saved in hope and we are waiting for the glorious manifestation of our salvation when the author of our healing returns.
The doctrine of revelation knowledge
The doctrine of revelation knowledge differs within the movement.
Some teachers condemn the excesses and extremes that want to set "revelation" above the Scriptures.
In principle, the exponents of the Prosperity movement teach that knowledge by revelation is given as a fruit of personal study of the Scriptures (Hagin and Copeland). They admit that the Scriptures are the source of revelation, but in reality, the facts are rather different. Direct and private revelation received personally is placed on the same level as the Scriptures.
Prosperity teachers differentiate between "revelation knowledge" and "sense knowledge" (Kenyon).
"Sense knowledge" is inferior, they say. It is limited. It cannot make it possible to know God. So we need to get beyond it and strive for "revelation knowledge", which alone is capable of "satisfying man's hunger for God." It alone allows us to attain spiritual "reality".
This "revelation knowledge" is supernatural. It allows people to rise above the limits of their senses.
According to this teaching, perfect knowledge of God is possible now, as long as people can reach "revelation knowledge". People's spirits must open to this "revelation knowledge".
This doctrine leads to ranking Christians in a hierarchy. It is easy to distinguish between "super Christians", the ones who have received revelation knowledge, and the others, who are considered as less spiritual.
In practice, this classification is frequently seen in assemblies that teach this theology.
The super spiritual, sometimes called apostles, are venerated, and even deified. They are seen as "man-gods" who are becoming gods through their knowledge.
----Dr. Daniel Bourdanné serves as the General Secretary of IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). He was born in Chad and is resident of the United Kingdom.
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