Is Donald Trump's Election a Win for the Prosperity Gospel? Pentecostal Scholars Answer

Alan Ehler, dean of the College of Christian Ministries and Religion at Southeastern University, a Pentecostal school in Lakeland, Florida, told CP in a phone interview Friday that he does not think prosperity theology will gain a stronger footing with Trump's victory. But he also cautions against overreacting such that Christians never believe in God's divine intervention.  

Expectancy of God's supernatural intervention through miracles today was a key truth Pentecostals reintroduced to American Christianity, Ehler said.

He noted Pentecostals were once marginalized by many Protestant churches in their early days, but by the 1970s they were accepted and were part of the National Association of Evangelicals.

But unfortunately some started to overemphasize "the idea of faith being essential to seeing one's prayers answered and reading all the scriptural promises from God, and Jesus in particular."

For example, when Jesus told his disciples in John 14 that "you may ask anything in my name and I will do it, people said, 'Ok, I'm going to ask, and whatever I ask, I get,'" Ehler explained.

American minister and author Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking" message got co-opted in this way by some Pentecostals, the Christian academic noted.

For evangelicals who, however unwittingly, have co-opted Peale into their theology, it is perhaps no mystery why Trump resonated. Trump mentioned many times on the campaign trail he was a longtime disciple of Peale and The Washington Post called the prosperity gospel and Peale's teaching "close relative[s]."

The thinking among those declaring "positive confessions" was "if I speak it, it will happen, and if I speak bad [things], that's going to happen, so therefore we are going to go positive speaking," Ehler explained.

"The challenge is to find a balance, to say how can we be people who understand that the gospel is both the now and the not yet, that the work of Jesus in our life should change our experience of living in this earth as well as give us an eternity with him."

"But we are also told that those who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" – a reality prosperity gospel proponents usually ignore. "We see it in Revelation and throughout the New Testament that the followers of Jesus face opposition and it is not always easy," he concluded.

The lack of teaching on suffering in churches that promote the prosperity gospel bothers Reformed theologian John Piper, who voiced his objections to its teachings last Friday on DesiringGod.

"It is a missing note, it seems to me, that gives the legitimate promises of God's earthly help a superficial ring because 'through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom,'" Piper said.

Also a vocal evangelical opponent of the prosperity gospel — and of Donald Trump — is Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the past several months Moore has expressed his revulsion for this kind of belief system, warning against its hard and soft forms and the hucksterism that usually accompanies it.

As CP reported on Aug. 22, Moore said that he experiences the same dread from watching prosperity evangelists speak on television that others receive from watching horror films, recalling a time when he saw a broadcast where a female prosperity preacher was sitting on a golden throne. The woman declared that even if the gospel message was not true, she would still desire to be a Christian because it is "the best way to live."

"That's easy to say from a golden throne on television," Moore asserted. "That is not easy to say in first century Ephesus when identifying yourself with a crucified and resurrected Messiah means that you are going to lose your standing in the marketplace. That is not easy to say in an unregistered house church in China right now. That is not easy to say in Sudan. And, in fact, that is never what Christianity has proposed itself to be."

But not every evangelical pastor who supports Trump is a prosperity gospel advocate.

Early Trump supporter Pastor Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas told TIME recently that "it is heresy to teach that God wants every Christian to be healthy and wealthy." 

Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: @BrandonMShow

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