Spirit-Prosperity: An Evangelical Mistake
With the death of Oral Roberts, I started thinking about the mistakes of the prosperity gospel. Interestingly, it seems that much of evangelicalism has bought into the same kind of gospel, but have replaced material prosperity with Spirit prosperity. The results are just as, if not more, damaging. Spirit prosperity is the belief that if you are living right with God, God will bestow upon you a feeling and experience of the Spirit which will continue to grow unabated as long as you are faithful. God, on this view, ceases to be a personal God, and is now a force for our own happiness. The Spirit, rather than being the Spirit of the wholly free God, becomes tethered to a simple and singular activity – our own happiness and joy. Ultimately, this view, which is prevalent in evangelicalism, undermines the cross of Christ.
The cross is depicted in the Bible as both an event in the life of our Lord, and as a pattern of our life in Christ. We are called to bear our crosses, in baptism we die and rise and in communion we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. All of these activities, and many more, focus on the pattern of dying and rising. In many ways, we are dead and raised in the same way that the kingdom has come – we have died, Paul tells us, but we must still try and live as though we had died to our former manner of living. Our death and resurrection is "already" but clearly "not yet."
Therefore, the Spirit-prosperity gospel seeks to move beyond the pattern of the cross to a life which mirrors the life of the saints in heaven. It is a desire to leave behind the very physical realities of our redemption, and focus on "eternal" things. Doing so has the sound of spirituality, but as Paul says, not the power. It wants to accept the work of Christ as a gift, but does not want to follow in his way. It seeks to avoid the incarnate one who took on hunger and temption, rejection and suffering, forsakenness and death, for something a bit more happy. What happens, just like in the great revivals, is that people are moved, excited, elated and experience life changing things that don’t actually change their lives. Experiences takes the form of idolatry, and God is not sought through the cross, but is left behind for other kinds of happiness, joy and experiences.
For evangelicalism, and I think particularly for pastors, if we actually care about the kingdom of God, we must accept that life will look a lot like Pilgrims Progress, where the depth of our devotion and emotional naiveity will be exposed for what it is. We need to enter in to life with others as people who do not need more excitement, but need the deep and abiding love of God. Spirit-prosperity is the death of the gospel, and under it, people slowly die inside, all the while trying to force themselves to experience the Spirit according to their pre-conceived method. More and more I see this error choking the spiritual lives of Christians, leaving them overwhelmed, troubled and, ultimately, frustrated by a message that does not seem to "work" as promised.