The September 18, 2006 issue of Time magazine is running a cover story on the prosperity message in evangelical churches in America. According to a CNN.com summary, the article states that in a recent poll, “17 percent of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61 percent believed that God wants people to be prosperous.”
I have grown up in churches that emphasize that God desires for his people to prosper and I attended seminary at Oral Roberts University http://www.oru.edu, where prosperity was a part of the ethos. I have written two academic essays (“Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology” & “P.G. Vargis and the Indian Prosperity Gospel”) that deal with the subject of prosperity and I have had countless conversations about the subject. And at the end of the day, I do believe that God desires to financially prosper his people. Before you label me a heretic and start sending me flaming emails, let me explain.
I believe that there are some basic biblical principles that we all tend to agree on, most importantly that, “God is good; poverty is bad; and money can be good and bad.” Typically, Christians who argue over the issue of prosperity pile up the Scriptures on both sides and talk until they get red-faced and walk away with the issue unresolved. The arguments over prosperity are not biblical, they are cultural.
The cultural problems begin with how we define prosperity. It does no good to define prosperity as “rich,” because that only begs the question – How do we define “rich”? It is easy for white, upper middle-class, evangelical Christian to criticize the popular prosperity preachers, while they sit on their leather-covered chairs behind their mahogany desks, typing on their thousand-dollar laptops, in their air conditioned offices. (This actually describes my office, minus the mahogany desk). Are middle-class evangelicals rich because their family drives two vehicles and they live in a 2,300 sq. ft., three bedroom home? I typical American would say no, but my friends in India would say yes. I know of Indian pastors who are believing God for a bicycle so that they don’t have to walk from village to village.
So within our own culture we have to define what is prosperity. I have always liked Oral Roberts’ definition of prosperity. Roberts is the historical impetus of the prosperity message. He is the one who initially brought attention to this message in the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition. In 1963, he wrote: “Prosperity is the possession of everything you need for yourself and loved ones with enough surplus to give to those who need help. If you have only the bare necessities, you are not prosperous. ”
I have found Roberts’ definition to be balanced and biblical. If we define “prosperity” in these terms then I would say, Yes, God wants us all to be prosperous.
The biblical issue is not whether or not you have a lot of money. The biblical issue is what you do with that money and is your money the sole devotion of your life. Money has the potential to steal your devotion away from God whether you have $100 or $10 million dollars.