My issues with Prosperity Theology

Does God want us to be wealthy?

Does giving to God mean he will give back to me (monetarily)?

Is my faith (or lack thereof) tied to God’s blessings in my life?

Does not tithing mean God is unable to bless me?

These are weighty questions, and a blog is hardly the place to answer them thoroughly.  Especially if I want people to actually read the post.  So I’ll try to keep this brief.

I am not against wealthy people.  I am not against wealthy pastors, even.  The Levites (ministers in the Old Testament) were well paid, and got the finest things.  They were, after all, paid with “first fruits” from everyone else.

What I am firmly against is the idea that if I give to God, he is obligated to give back to me; or the reverse of that—if I don’t give to God, He can’t or won’t give to me.  I once heard a pastor say to his congregation “There is a 50% blessing window open over this church, because only 50% of the members tithe.”  As though God is bound by our giving in how he blesses us.  That sentiment totally and completely undermines the gospel.  It could not be any more opposite to the gospel.

What the “prosperity gospel” teachers (such as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Bruce Wilkinson, etc) are totally missing is that JESUS is the blessing of the gospel.  Money, health, sucess, and all the other blessings of the Christian life all pale in comparison to Jesus.  And I don’t get 80% of Jesus because only 80% of my church is tithing.  I get all of him.

It is a thoroughly pagan idea that we need to give to God to make him give to us.  It’s how all of the pagan deities were satisfied.  You give them money, and they don’t punish you.  It’s karma.  Do good to get good.  “Pay it Forward.”

Conversely, Jesus offers grace.  That’s a word that has almost totally lost its meaning after years of being tossed around the sanctuary.  It means unmerited, unearned blessings and gifts.  Grace is the idea that you get something for nothing.  In the context of God’s economy, grace means you get life when you deserve death, blessing when you deserve a curse, heaven when you deserve hell.  The gospel turns karma on it’s head.  You do nothing to get everything.  Instead of “Pay it Forward,” Jesus Paid it All.

The gospel is not just how God operates to get you into the kingdom, though.  It is his MO all the way through the Christian life.  Because of Jesus, God can and does richly bless you in spite of what you do.  There is nothing you can do to earn his blessing, affect his blessing, or revoke his blessing.  That’s the beauty of grace.  If you can’t earn it, you can’t un-earn it.  Tithing doesn’t make God like you more, and not tithing doesnt make him like you (or bless you) less.  To think or say that is a direct offense to God’s kindness in dying for you.

So today, on Christmas, let’s remember the ultimate gift of God.  He is Jesus.  He is still the highest blessing we could ever receive, and we receive Him by grace.  We have more wealth in Christ than we could ever have from money.

To close, here’s my favorite song.  A song that resonates so deeply in my heart.  It helps me to realize that I do the exact same thing that I speak out against.  Following the song is a video of Derek Webb describing the song’s meaning.

When Would I Tell You to Stop Supporting Our Ministry?

Check out Exodus 36:2-7.  And take notes.

I was blown away by two things:

  1. The people were so committed that they gave more than enough.
  2. The workers were so committed they told them it was more than enough, and to stop giving.

I wrestled this morning with the point at which I would tell folks to stop giving to my ministry.  Then I wrestled with the difference between the old covenant and the new in this regard.  See, in the old covenant, it was a “come and see” issue.  Folks from other nations came to see the favor God had bestowed on the Israelites.  The tabernacle, and later the temple, were places where the nations looked on in amazement at the glory of the only living God, Yahweh.

That changed in the new covenant.  Now the faith is a “go and tell” issue.  The gospel is to be taken out, proclaimed among the nations.  We are the temple.  And we show the glory of God not by how lavishly we live, but by how we no longer need riches to define us.  The nations see the glory of God in the face of Christ, who sacrificed his very life for his enemies.  That sacrificial giving of time, resources, and our very life is our new model of glorifying God.

So how does that affect the “more than enough” issue?  In the old covenant, once the tabernacle was finished, there was no longer a need for that specific type of giving.  In the new covenant, we never finish showing off the true and living tabernacle, this side of eternity.  Like giving to a war effort, you don’t stop making bullets until the war is over.

So I’ll never stop asking you to give to our ministry, until the war for the hearts and minds of students is over.  But I’ll also never stop repenting of the lie that finances are the point.  Jesus is the point. That’s what is so dangerous about prosperity theology.  We make the mistake of old covenant thinking (look how big the house/car/Rolex is that Jesus blessed me with!) without the wisdom to see that we live in the war-time mentality of the new covenant.  And nobody wears their Rolex to battle.

The hero of Exodus 36 is not the people who gave so much, or the workers who told them to stop, but the God who graciously revealed himself to hard-hearted people.  The tabernacle made of fine linen had nothing on the God-man who came and “tabernacled” with his people.

What about you, are you living in the war-time mentality or do you, like me, often fall prey to the old covenant way of thinking? Comment below.

If You have Nothing to Hide, Hide Nothing: a look at the financial transparency of Christian organizations.

Does transparency matter?  Not according to the likes of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and TD Jakes.

I spent some time recently on a the website of a ministry called (the  online database component of Wall Watchers) to see, among other things, how Campus Crusade for Christ (the ministry my wife and I work for) is doing when it comes to honesty, openness, and transparency regarding financial issues.  I was thrilled, though not surprised, to see that we rank among the elite in terms of “putting our money where our mouth is.”  That’s one big reason why I work for this organization, and will for as long as the Lord continues to provide.

Where I was shocked was as I perused other ministries, and specifically those ministries associated with what’s been called the “prosperity gospel.”  Teachers who say that God intends for us to be materially wealthy are not being honest about their material wealth, when asked.

TD Jakes, for example, according the the site, was noncompliant when asked about his ministry’s use of funds.  That means that if you have ever given money to TD Jakes and his ministry, you have no idea how that money was spent.  Legally they may not be required to tell you how they are spending your money, but you can bet I’m not giving a dollar until I know how they will use that dollar.  And you shouldn’t either.

Plus, when Joyce Meyer, who clearly correlates financial prosperity and God’s blessing, is asked about how much she is compensated for her ministry efforts, why wouldn’t she jump at the chance to be totally honest and share how God is blessing her?  But according to the site, she’s released info about her ministry, but nowhere in it does she mention how much money her family makes off of the donations of others.  That is shady, at best.  It’s like she’s ashamed of the income she makes.  Again, that’s not an accusation, so much as a point of fact.  She has not been transparent.  Christians should be transparent.  Especially ones with massive budgets.

That brings me to Creflo Dollar.  His ministry is literally worldwide, with offices in South Africa, the UK, Nigeria, America, and Australia.  He and his wife Taffi co-pastor a megachurch that has spawned multiple corporations and ministries.  Then, when being asked to be transparent and tell folks who give how that money is being used, (and even being asked to do so by the federal government) they still refuse to give any information out regarding their financials.  While I don’t think it is the government’s place to investigate churches and their financial records, I do feel like the folks who give money to his ministry have every right to know how that money is being used.

Dr. Dollar, in the response to the government posted on his website, justifies their financial secrecy with the verse from Matthew 6:1-4 that references individuals giving in secrecy, NOT corporations stewarding in secrecy.  Again, I think the federal government is overstepping its bounds (and please don’t get me started on that as a topic in general), but I think Dr. Dollar’s justifications for corporate and organizational secrecy are absurdly unbiblical.  Nobody is asking him to disclose what particular individuals gave, just that he disclose a dollar amount of total giving, and how those funds were used.  To use the very verse he quotes, he’s on the “openly” side of the equation.  The members and others gave in secret.  It’s time for God to bless openly.  So openly that anyone who wants to see it can see it.  His own (half-biblical) theology says that God will openly bless his church financially if they are faithful.

God doesn’t do back-alley accounting.  He honors integrity and honesty.  If you have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

The list doesn’t end with those.  Go see for yourself which ministries refuse to give account of how they use funds.

What do you think?  Should churches and other ministries strive for openness and transparency?  Why or why not?  Comment below.

Dear American Christianity: Part Two.

(to the pastors)

If the congregation is not generous, it may be because you* aren’t sharing the gospel with them.

A biblical way to motivate people to give is to repeatedly show them how much they’ve been given, and how great the needs are elsewhere.  A person who understands the gospel, that Jesus Paid it All, is far more likely to give, out of a sense of gratitude.  A gospel-perspective on money shows you that Jesus is the treasure of the Christian life, and having HIM melts away a need for more money, more possessions, and more power.  Jesus is the blessing of the gospel, not (necessarily) financial well-being.  The gospel makes generous people out of selfish people.

But as pastors, when you moan about not having enough money, it looks to the watching world like you are en route to becoming Creflo Dollar, with his Rolls Royce and penthouse apartments.  It looks like you care more about the money than the mission.  Yes, money is important, and many churches don’t talk about it enough. Money is a mega-theme running throughout the Bible.  But the gospel is THE theme of the Bible.

You should talk about the gospel more than you talk about the dollars.  Every time I bring someone to church they should hear about the costly death of Jesus.  If the sermon is from Nehemiah, I should hear about the costly death of Jesus, and Him resurrected.  If the song is about how good it is to praise the name of Jesus, the worship leader should point out that apart from his death and resurrection, all of our praises would be filthy rags.  The gospel, that we are wretched sinners saved by an unmatched, righteous, perfect King of kings ought to be the first thing people think about when they leave the service.  It ought to be tied into every component of the service, from the children’s choir to the handbells to the baptisms.  All of it needs to be tied back to the cross, where Jesus was as generous as humanly possible (and more).

Every time you ask for money (which you should), it ought to be an appeal that is drenched in the gospel.  Pastors, you should not want the 10% of someone who you know thinks they are earning God’s favor, or unleashing blessings from God, because that means they’ve missed the blessing of the cross.

*I’ve used the term “you” throughout because this is specifically a note to pastors, as opposed to those of us in non-pastoral ministry.  The same principles apply to us, and by God’s grace, I’ve begun to see how unbiblical even my own heart has been in the (recent) past toward fund-raising.  It’s my prayer that, going forward, all of those of us who make our living from sharing the gospel would keep in mind that we need not panic and manipulate.  God will provide.  The gospel is the power of God.

What is the Bible Primarily About?

Saw this video over at Zack’s place.  Like him, I have been floored by reading the Bible through this lens.  The Old Testament is an Easter egg hunt that has been so loaded with eggs it’s unfair.  Once you start to see the Bible in this way, it’s pretty awesome.  Please take a few minutes and let Tim Keller blow your mind, and like Zack said, if your pastor is not giving you this kind of stuff on a regular basis, kick him in the hind-parts.