During these times of economic stress, many persons have become increasingly suspicious of the prosperity gospel. This is understandable. Yet who and what constitutes a prosperity preacher and ministry is still largely up for debate. Religious scholars, journalists, and beauty shop theologians continue to wrestle with the concept. And others have become somewhat trigger-happy with the prosperity gospel tag. Any minister that is somewhat charismatic, wears nice clothes, and/or talks about the blessings of God gets sprayed with the label.
This, in my opinion, is neither right nor fair. One can name a host of charismatic and somewhat ostentatious Christian ministers over the years who were theologically astute and quite committed to the cause of social justice—the legendary New York preachers Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and William Sloane Coffin come to mind.
For these reason, I try to subscribe to a rather narrow definition of the Prosperity Gospel. My definition comes from the exceptional and insightful work of UC-Davis Associate Professor of African American Studies, Milmon Harrison. His book, Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion, is the premier study of the Prosperity Gospel movement that transcends the boundaries of race.
Harrison identifies the Word of Faith movement (also known as the Faith Movement) as a part of the evangelical, charismatic Christian tradition that emerged after the second World War and can be specifically traced to the teachings of Kenneth Hagin Sr. Three core beliefs of the Faith message, as cited by Harrison:
1.) Acting on a contract between believers and God, as set forth in the spiritual laws of the Scriptures, believers are able to “name” what they want (financial, health, family, career), and “claim” possession by faith.
2.) The act of “naming it and claiming it” is an exercise of positive confession. Informed by the diverse traditions of Christian Science and New Thought philosophy, believers are encouraged to speak with unbridled optimism concerning life situations.
3.) The aforementioned beliefs lead to prosperity: “divine health and material wealth.” This is where the term ‘prosperity gospel’ is derived from. The Faith message teaches God desires everyone to live a life of perfect health and abundant wealth.
But, in order that I might help settle any theological disputes out there today, I have decided to offer this quick test. This examination, I believe, will help you determine whether or not you are a member of a prosperity church and whether your pastor is a prosperity preacher. Simply compile points according to each question that describes your congregation and/or pastor. Add up your total points at the end.
The Prosperity Gospel Self-Examination Quiz:
Does the name of your congregation end not in “Church” but in “Center” (i.e. Magnolia Christian Center as opposed to Magnolia Christian Church)?
Does your pastor use language such as “seedtime and harvest” to describe the act of tithing?
Does your church teach that God wants you to be a millionaire, yet your pastor is the only millionaire in the congregation?
Does your pastor regard the current economic crisis as a “test from God,” and thus has encouraged you to increase your financial contributions to the ministry in recent months as a “test of your faith”?
Does your congregation meet in a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art facility and talk about changing the world, yet the only other productive businesses within a five-mile radius are a Church’s Fried Chicken, an Autozone, and a Payday lender?
Does your pastor own any of the following: Rolls Royce, Bentley, Learjet, or Helicopter?
If you checked “yes” to the previous question, was it presented to the pastor as a gift from the congregation?
Has your pastor earned an honorary doctorate degree from Oral Roberts University?
Did he/she sit on the board of regents at Oral Roberts University?
Did he/she resign from the board of regents at Oral Roberts University in recent years related to Richard Roberts financial scandal?
Does your pastor teach that anyone who speaks out against prosperity teachings has a poverty spirit?
Does your pastor’s name remind you of money (i.e. dollar, price, big money ma$e, etc.)?
1-3 points—It is safe to say that you do not belong to a Prosperity Gospel ministry. Your pastor just may be a little ostentatious and/or have self-indulgent tendencies. We all have our moments…
4-6 points—Your church may not be a part of the Word of Faith movement, but may need to spend more time preparing her sermon with the Interpreters Bible and less time watching TBN and Word Network. Be careful. If not, within a year the church governance and financial boards might be comprised of the pastor, his wife, their son, and the family dog.
7-10 points—Yes, your church is a part of the Word of Faith movement and your pastor is a prosperity preacher. Who am I to judge? It just might work for you right now. But please be sure to protect your social security number, and don’t hand over your W-2s.
10 + points—Ummm, you are on my prayer list.