Evangelical discomfort with prosperity

Keep the change, son.
"Keep the change, son".

Evangelical Christians are okay with God’s spiritual blessings but are ill at ease with material blessing from God.

One reason is an over-reaction to the excesses of the “prosperity gospel”.  We look with disdain on some American television evangelists who raise millions from naive believers by twisting Scriptures to say what they do not say, to support grandiose projects, and flaunt a lavish lifestyle that Solomon would envy.

The PEST test

An easy way to check for “prosperity doctrine” quotient is to do a PEST test that I have developed:

P –  Presumption is “an assumption, often not fully established, that is taken for granted in some piece of reasoning.” “Prosperity doctrine” is built on assumptions that are not fully borne out by the whole counsel of God, and their tenets are flawed by tenuous interpretation of scripture passages.

E – Eternity: “Prosperity doctrine” have no regard for what is eternal, accusing others of “pie in the sky” irrelevancy.  Jesus told us not to accumulate wealth on earth but to lay our treasures in heaven. He had a high regard with living on earth with a view to eternity. Hold to our material wealth lightly and be contented and free from greed and hoarding.

S – Stewardship: “Prosperity doctrine” does not emphasize God’s ownership of all things and how discipleship entails the faithful and wise management of God’s resources and places all our resources at God’s disposal. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Money(Matthew 6:24).” This practically means the wealthy Christian should use his wealth to honor God, and care for the poor and needy, this good old earth and world missions.

T – Thanksgiving: “Prosperity doctrine” does not cultivate humility and gratitude and generosity. It has tendencies toward materialism, and unchecked consumption and pride. “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” (Proverbs 30:8,9)

So we rightly say no to “prosperity doctrine” but sadly are hesitant to preach about God’s desire to bless us so that we can bless others. We do not want to be associated with “prosperity doctrine” and so we stay in the safety of the boat and do not risk teaching rightly what the Word says about God’s fatherly desire to bless his children.

God wants to bless

I preach that God wants to bless his children. He blessed Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and many may have missed this scripture: “When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”( Luke 24:39). It seems to me that every significant new beginning, was launched with the blessing of God, unmerited and free, and that blessing included material benefits as well as spiritual. He wants us to “put our hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”(1 Timothy 6:17).

In the Old Testament, as in Abraham’s case, the blessing of God covered his family, finances, protection, guidance and did not exclude the spiritual for by faith righteousness was credited to his account, and he sought a city not made by hands. The promises of blessing to those who fully obey in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 would easily have had Abraham as an example of fulfillment.

Evangelical dis-ease must be cured

Evangelical Christians think that the New Testament blessings emphasizes spiritual blessings but not to the exclusion of the temporal and material.  I rejoice and thank God for all the spiritual blessings secured for us through Christ’s death and resurrection. However, the reluctance and neglect of preaching about how God loves to bless us with “daily bread”, a temporal and material blessing embedded in the Lord’s prayer itself, does a disservice to the church. Our heavenly Father is mistakenly regarded as one reluctant to bless us with material resources as well as spiritual. Paul declared boldly that God wants “to make all grace abound toward you so that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work”(2 Corinthians 9:8).

This evangelical dis-ease must be cured.

Let’s not junk the good with the part that’s spoiled.

US preachers don’t preach on hell

Just when it seemed to have cooled off, the topic of hell is back on the front burner—at least for pastors learning to preach about a topic most Americans would rather not talk about. At the recent annual Beeson Pastors School, Selles led two workshops to discuss “Whatever happened to hell?” He asked how many of the pastors had ever preached a sermon on hell. Nobody had, he said. “I think it’s something people want to avoid,” he said. “I understand why. It’s a difficult topic.” Only 59% of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74% who believe in heaven, according to the recent surveys from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “I think it’s such a difficult and important biblical topic,” said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “There’s a big change that’s taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive.” The Rev. Fred Johns, pastor of Brookview Wesleyan Church in Irondale, Ala., said after a workshop discussion of hell that pastors do shy away from the topic of everlasting damnation. “It’s out of fear we’ll not appear relevant,” he said. “It’s pressure from the culture to not speak anything negative. I think we’ve begun to deny hell. There’s an assumption that everybody’s going to make it to heaven somehow.” The soft sell on hell reflects an increasingly market-conscious approach, Selles said. “When you’re trying to market Jesus, sometimes there’s a tendency to mute traditional Christian symbols,” he said. “Difficult doctrines are left by the wayside. Hell is a morally repugnant doctrine. People wonder why God would send people to eternal punishment.” Speakers said the seriousness of Jesus dying for man’s sins relates to the gravity of salvation vs. damnation, according to Johns. “If you don’t mention God’s judgment, you are missing a big part of the Christian gospel,” Selles said. “Without wrath, there’s no grace.” Jesus never soft-pedaled the concept of hell, Selles said. “It’s not metaphorical in Jesus’ mind; it’s a real place,” he said. Either way, Selles said, pretending that hell doesn’t exist, or trying to preach around it, short-circuits the Bible. “This is a doctrine, a teaching, that’s being neglected in churches,” Selles said. “It needs to be preached. It’s part of the Gospel.” (USA Today 16/6/09)

Should we do a survey of Singaporean preachers?