Van Ens: Is the ‘prosperity gospel’ a bankrupt religion? (column)
Why do many Americans recognize Benjamin Franklin but give blank looks when the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards is mentioned?
Both leaders achieved 18th century fame. Franklin teaches consumers how to save cash to get ahead. Jonathan Edwards’ faith in Jesus teaches believers to get a kind, moral life. Choosing between a fatter wallet and a richer life religious purpose bestows, a growing number of believers pick cash over Christ.
“For some Americans, dropping a check into an offering plate at church is a bit like having a Discover Card. Both offer a cash-back bonus,” writes Bob Smietana, who interprets religious trends for Christianity Today magazine.
He reports a LifeWay Research poll results that surveyed 1,010 churchgoers who attend a Protestant or nondenominational church once a month.
“About a third of Protestant churchgoers say their congregation teaches that God will bless them if they donate money,” he wrote. “Two-thirds say God wants them to prosper. One in four say they have to do something for God to receive material blessings in return.” Converts to this prosperity gospel expect high dividends for investing faith in Jesus.
Prosperity gospel televangelist Jesse Duplantis made headlines last May, claiming Jesus wants him to fly high in a deluxe “… Falcon 7X, a private jet that nears the sound barrier, but also has noise-limiting acoustic technology,” wrote Washington Post reporter Cleve R. Wootson Jr. Plus, this plane features “a Bluetooth-enabled entertainment center and an optional in-flight shower.” All for $54 million.
You may reject this luxurious religious vision. Believing God showers Christians with bigger bank accounts, however, Duplantis requests contributions from television viewers to buy the Falcon 7X. Dreams of reaching 7 billion earth inhabitants for Christ demands a pricey jet for Duplantis’ “high-flying around-the-globe” witness.
“… Asking for a multimillion-dollar luxury jet is not exactly what Jesus meant when he said, ‘store up for yourself treasures in heaven.’” (The Denver Post, “What would Jesus fly?” May 31, 2018, p. 4-C)
Because Christianity offers so many brands of faith, it’s difficult for some people to distinguish the Gospel’s true message from commercial counterfeits. Duplantis uses traditional religious vocabulary, but he dumps new meanings into sacred words. Christianity becomes his piggy bank to monetarily get ahead. Success replaces sacrifice.
In “Through the Looking-Glass,” and “What Alice Found,” Lewis Carroll shows confusion replacing clarity when words lose original, agreed-upon meanings. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things?”
“The question is,” said Humpty, “which (word) is to be master — that is all.”
Humpty Dumpty mastered the art of stripping content from sound words, preferring alternate conversational meanings. His strategy gains converts today.
Trinity Broadcasting Network’s prosperity gospel superstars Paula White, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis give President Donald Trump a pass because he speaks clearly and convincingly to their television audiences.
The President redefines valid criticism, lashing out about how the press is out to get him. He chastises print critics as enemies of the people. The president steals this tactic from Humpty Dumpty’s verbal playbook. Fiction masquerading as truth takes off into thin air, like Jesse Duplantis’ jet, and seldom lands on a safe runway of truth.
“Anyone who would come after me,” taught Jesus in opting for sacrifice over success, “must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.