Exploring Prosperity Gospel is a theological study of prosperity gospel. Although prosperity gospel is relatively new on the religious landscape, its worldwide media presence has enabled the dissemination of its message to people of all ages, ethnicities, races, and religious and denominational affiliations. The book traces its history to understand how prosperity preaching evolved and learn about the people responsible for its existence.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the history of prosperity preaching, including people and movements that influenced its origins, such as Essek William Kenyon, Kenneth Erwin Hagin, and Oral Roberts. I survey African American preachers of New Thought, including Father Divine, Reverend Ike, and Johnnie Rae Colemon, and introduce contemporary Word of Faith ministers as well.
The next eleven chapters outline the core teachings of the prosperity gospel. Each chapter bears a title that represents a frequently used phrase by prosperity preachers. The theology that undergirds each phrase is explained, and affirmations and critiques are included in a section titled Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff in each chapter. Biblical texts that prosperity preachers use to justify their teachings are included where applicable.
Chapter 2, “The Word of God Means Exactly What It Says,” explores the biblical assumptions on which the prosperity gospel is based. Word of Faith preachers interpret the Bible using proof texting, typology, and propositional revelation. I examine the rationale of literal interpretation and rejection of biblical exegesis. In the Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff section, I describe the dangers of interpretation without context and recommend an alternative interpretive approach, one that honors the context of texts.
Chapter 3 looks at the prosperity gospel’s teaching that declares, “The world’s economy is not your economy.” According to Word of Faith theology, two economies exist in the world—the secular economy and God’s divine economy. In the divine economy, believers become wealthy only by giving away what they have. Adherents are advised to ignore the realities of the world’s economy and to believe that God will supply not only their needs but also the desires of their hearts. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I examine the potential consequences of ignoring secular realities, using prosperity preaching’s role (as reported in some news articles) in the 2008 housing crisis as an example.
Chapter 4, “Poverty Is a Curse, and Jesus Was Not Poor,” explores the Word of Faith contention that poverty is a curse. Since the central figure of the gospel (Jesus) cannot be under a curse, they also argue that Jesus was not poor. I will study the Scriptures used to support Word of Faith teachings about poverty, including how prosperity preachers offer alternate interpretations of biblical texts that describe Jesus’ socioeconomic status. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I differentiate between the poor people as “cursed of God” and “poverty” as “a curse.” I also offer an African American prophetic preaching perspective on Jesus’ social status.
In chapter 5, I consider the “God is your source” teaching. While all preachers of Word of Faith theology contend that God is the source of all blessings, including finances, some preachers are more specific about the sources of wealth available for Christians. For example, some teach that “the wealth of sinners is laid up for the righteous.” In order for the righteous to receive stored money, they literally need to cry out for it. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I offer an African American prophetic preaching perspective. I also offer a basic approach to biblical exegesis.
Chapter 6, “The Anointing Produces Victory,” examines how the teachings of Kenneth E. Hagin, who believed in the power of the Holy Spirit (the anointing) to empower believers for ministry, have been adopted by Word of Faith preachers to teach that the anointing also empowers believers to prosper financially. I investigate interpretations of Joel 2:18—4:17, including the teachings of the Latter Rain movement. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I examine the concept of anointing in the Old Testament and present an African American prophetic preaching alternative.
In chapter 7, we will explore the Word of Faith teaching in the refrain “There is authority in the name of Jesus.” Word of Faith preachers proclaim that believers should use that authority to create their own life realities. Essentially, adherents are taught that their lives are direct reflections of their verbal confessions. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I look into the dangers of misusing the concept of “authority” and offer an African American prophetic preaching perspective.
In chapter 8, “Claim Your Healing,” I probe the Word of Faith assertion that believers need never be sick. Good physical health is a right of all Christians, and so believers have only to claim their good health in order to receive it. I highlight the Word of Faith interpretation of Isaiah 53:4-5 as it relates to God’s promise of healing. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I offer an alternative interpretation of the Isaiah text and examine other healing texts. Using the testimony of Betty Price, wife of prosperity preacher Fred Price, I encourage readers to broaden their thinking about healing beyond the miraculous.
In chapter 9, “You Are the Righteousness of God,” we will test the Word of Faith teaching that asserts that believers have been declared righteous in God’s sight and therefore have at work in them the same unlimited ability and wisdom of God as Christ had. I contrast Word of Faith theology of the righteousness of God and the favor of God of prosperity preachers with that of Swiss reformer John Calvin. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I dissuade readers from conceiving of God as their personal valet.
In chapter 10, “Race Doesn’t Matter,” I examine the teachings of Word of Faith teacher Creflo Dollar Jr. on race. Building on the promise of the elusive American Dream, his teaching asserts that people no longer need to identify with their natural heritage (race) once they are born again, because they have a new spiritual heritage with which to identify. Identifying with a particular ethnic or racial group creates division in the church. I will contrast Word of Faith’s theology of race with the teachings of evangelical and prophetic traditions. In Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff, I argue that racism is not a personal problem but a systemic issue.
Chapter 11 examines Word of Faith’s belief that “living by the word of God eliminates social ills.” Adherents say that all of society’s issues of social injustice would be resolved if all people would convert to Christianity. Word of Faith’s focus on individual conversion is indicative of the individualistic nature of prosperity theology. Believers are taught to make confessions (verbal claims to the promises of God) to God on behalf of themselves and their families rather than on behalf of others. I highlight the entitlement issues that result and compare and contrast these claims with those of black prophetic preaching.
In chapter 12, “Affirmations, Denouncements, and Reconstructions of Faith,” I delineate the gifts that prosperity theology brings to Christendom, along with its shortcomings. I offer observations and insights about the primary beneficiaries of prosperity theology, draw conclusions about the value of and need for critical biblical interpretation and holistic theological education, and suggest approaches to reconstructing faith after rejecting the prosperity gospel. Finally, I appeal to all people of God to work for the resurgence of the African American prophetic preaching tradition.