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Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

Reconstructing Prosperity

The word of faith movement has received the label “health and wealth” gospel by various critics because there is an emphasis not only on physical healing, but on material wealth. In word of faith theology, financial prosperity is rooted in the Abrahamic covenant that the believer enters into by the atonement. Hagin writes,

Abraham’s blessing is ours!…Abraham’s blessing was a threefold blessing. The first thing God promised Abraham was that He was going to make him rich. “Do you mean God is going to make us all rich?” Yes, that’s what I mean. “Do you mean He’s going to make us all millionaires?” No, I didn’t say that. But He is going to make us rich. You may not understand what the word “rich” means. The dictionary says it means “a full supply” or “abundantly provided for.” Praise God, there is a full supply in Christ![83]

The eulogia tou Abraam – blessing of Abraham – recorded in Galatians 3:14 is a singular blessing (i.e. the justification of Abraham by faith) however the undeniable result of covenant blessing in Old Testament theology is material prosperity. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. observes, “Material blessings in the Old Testament were used by God for various ends. First of all they were given that God might confirm his covenant promise to build a mighty nation.”[84] God glorified himself in his covenant(s) with Israel by blessing them materially for specific purposes. The provisions of Yahweh were not only spiritual/ceremonial, but material/physical. The Psalmist declares, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”[85] In Word of Faith theology, these material blessing are conferred upon the Christian as the child of Abraham in Christ.

The doctrine of financial prosperity has its value especially in its missiological concern. Edward K. Pousson observers, “(Charismatics) now see their vast deposit of spiritual and material wealth as a resource for empowering and financing an army of laborers for world-wide evangelism and church planting.”[86] This does not excuse the selective hermeneutic of word of faith exegetes. The writings of word of faith teachers emphasize texts that refer to wealth, but they exclude other texts that bring a biblical balance. They theologically stack the prosperity Scriptures (often out of their context) and declare it to be the truth of God. Yet their interpretation of Scripture does not include the full biblical material on the subject; it only includes the texts that support their position. For example, Hagin writes,

Paul said, writing to the church at Philippi, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). All your needs would include your financial, material, and other needs. In fact in this chapter, Paul is talking about financial and material things.[87]

Hagin’s selective hermeneutic draws attention to verse 19 which mentions prosperity (God meeting our needs), but he excludes the context of the passage. In Philippians 4:11 & 12, Paul writes,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

God’s promise of provision is true, but this does not imply secured wealth at all given times. The context of Philippians 4:19 contests the notion that anyone in the will of God will always experience prosperity. Paul freely admits his moments of lack. The biblical balance is not absolute prosperity at all times, but contentment. Promoting contentment over greed is the initial step to reconstructing prosperity.

A reconstructed prosperity is built on the whole counsel of God concerning wealth. This includes the blessings bestowed from the Abrahamic covenant and God’s nature to care for the needs of his children. This is held in tension with the biblical warning concerning the deceitfulness of wealth. Jesus clearly warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”[88] This tension between the blessings of wealth and the deceitfulness of wealth is maintained by devaluing wealth in the scope of Christian experience. Financial blessings are considered a part of God’s purpose for the church, but to avoid a gospel of greed that feeds the fallen nature’s lust, those blessings are considered merely an appendix. The superior blessing is right relationship with God through Christ.

Within this biblical realignment, word of faith theology can reprioritize social and evangelical concerns over materialistic egoism concerning prosperity. The primary purpose for the blessing of prosperity is not the accumulation of possessions, but for the realized ethic – “love thy neighbor.” This ethically reinforced doctrine values the sharing of wealth above the mass accumulation of possessions to satisfy individual lust. Oral Roberts, a pioneer in the word of faith doctrine of prosperity, provides a suitable definition for this type of reconstructed prosperity. He writes,

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. And if you have all the sufficiencies of life but no more, that is not prosperity. But, if you have everything you need with something left over for the poor, that is prosperity. If, after you have paid the tithe, you have enough for offerings to spread the gospel and help the needy, that is prosperity.[89]

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: Derek Vreeland, MDiv (Oral Roberts University), DMin (Asbury Theological Seminary), is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of Shape Shifters: How God Changes the Human Heart: A Trinitarian Vision of Spiritual Transformation (Word & Spirit Press, 2008), Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostles' Creed (Doctrina Press, 2011), and Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader's Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015). Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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