Evangelizing Prosperity Gospel Adherents

January 3, 2014

One clear winter morning, I was sitting at my favorite coffee shop reading the Scriptures and journaling. A man walking past my table noticed I was reading the Bible and began to engage me in conversation.

He shared that he was a member of a large church in our area (one that preaches the prosperity “gospel”), and that he believed the Bible was primarily a book about God’s intentions to bless us.

I replied that the Bible is actually a book about who God is, who we are, and what God has done to reconcile us to himself. I began sharing the gospel, and noted that Christians were promised suffering as part of following Jesus.

He responded by saying that as long as we have faith, God will bless us and keep us from suffering. I referred to several verses where God promises that believers will suffer ordinary trials as well as specific persecution, at which point he put up his hands defensively and said, “I just don’t receive that for my life.”

My wife and I had recently suffered a miscarriage, and I felt compelled to share that with him. I explained that when we encounter trials like those, we can’t simply say, “I just don’t receive that for my life” and make them go away. I also shared the good news that Jesus has overcome the world, and that he promises never to leave us or forsake us in our trials—promises that comforted us in our suffering.

I believe my openness and the weightiness of my trial caught him off-guard, so he quickly expressed his condolences and excused himself from the conversation. But the whole experience left me wondering: how can we better prepare ourselves to evangelize those who believe the prosperity “gospel”?

WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

Sharing the gospel with people who have bought into the unbiblical message that Jesus died to make us healthy, wealthy, and successful is challenging for many reasons, but I believe two are primary.

1. The message of prosperity appeals to the flesh.

First, the message of prosperity appeals to the flesh. The prosperity “gospel” capitalizes on natural desires for health and wealth and promises what our sinful hearts desire. There is no call to repent of sin; there is no call to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus; there is no call to die (Mk. 10:34-35).

As a result, when we share the gospel with someone who has bought into the prosperity “gospel,” we are calling him to forsake his belief in a message that appeals to the flesh in exchange for belief in a message that doesn’t.

2. They use the same words we do, but with different meaning.

Second, prosperity “gospel” adherents use the same words we do, but with different meaning. For example, when I use the word faith, I mean a gift God has given me to believe that his Word is true and that his Son is the Christ (1 Cor. 2:14; Jn. 6:44, 65). When many prosperity “gospel” adherents use the word faith, they mean a tool we use to place God in our debt. Faith is simply the currency we use to get what we want from God.

As another example, when I use the word gospel, I mean the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 2:10-14). When many prosperity “gospel” adherents use the word gospel, they mean the “good news” that God desires us to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.

FIVE TIPS FOR EVANGELIZING PROSPERITY GOSPEL ADHERENTS

Paul is clear that all Christians, especially pastors, should do the work of evangelism, and that we should “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1-5). How, then, can we evangelize those who believe in the prosperity “gospel”?

1. Humbly recognize that apart from the grace of God, we too would believe a false gospel.

Humbly recognize that apart from the grace of God, we too would believe a false gospel. If it’s true that the prosperity “gospel” appeals to the flesh and we were born dead in sin (Eph. 2:1), then the grace of God is the only reason we recognize it as a false gospel. This should lead us to speak humbly with those who believe the lie of the prosperity “gospel.”

2. Affirm what is true in the prosperity “gospel.”

Let me be clear: the prosperity “gospel” is a counterfeit gospel. But the thing about counterfeits is that they have to look enough like the real thing in order to be believable. So affirm what is true in the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity “gospel” is based upon a theistic worldview. It correctly asserts that there are blessings from following Jesus—even in this lifetime (Mk. 10:29-30). It is based upon a firm belief that God hears and answers prayer (Jas. 5:16), and it affirms the truth that God rewards faith (Mt. 9:29).

The prosperity “gospel” isn’t completely devoid of truth, and to pretend otherwise is neither accurate nor helpful in evangelism.

3. Confront the lies and flaws of the prosperity “gospel.”

Confront the lies and flaws of the prosperity “gospel.” One dangerous lie of the prosperity “gospel” is that the quantity of your faith determines what you receive from God. However, the Bible is clear that it is the object of our faith, not the amount we have, that matters. If we have great faith in idols, they will not save us; if we have even small faith in Jesus, he will save us (Jn. 14:1-14).

A fatal flaw of the prosperity “gospel” is that it provides no help when suffering inevitably comes (Jn. 16:33). If we believe that our faith in God will exempt us from suffering, we will be forced to conclude that God lied to us, that he doesn’t exist, or that we simply didn’t have enough faith—none of which are true.

4. Hold out the hope of the biblical gospel.

Hold out the hope of the biblical gospel. The gospel tells us that we do not deserve good from God. We deserve to be eternally punished for our sin. And yet God, who is rich in mercy, justifies us through faith in the person and work of Jesus.

Whether we receive many apparent blessings in this life or not, the good news is that through faith in Christ, our sin is forgiven and we have been adopted into God’s family. That knowledge will keep us from idolizing good things or becoming unnecessarily discouraged when we don’t receive good things in this life.

5. Live a generous life that shows our greatest joy is found in God, not in the material blessings God gives us.

Finally, live a generous life that shows our greatest joy is found in God, not in the material blessings God gives us. If we argue convincingly against the prosperity “gospel” from Scripture but then live to acquire and hoard money and possessions, we undo with our lives everything we may have accomplished with our lips.

When we live generous lives, giving out of the abundance God has given to us, we create opportunities to share the biblical gospel. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Giving generously shows others that Christ is our greatest treasure, and that we value him and his work on our behalf above anything else God will ever give to us.

Allen Duty

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