What's the difference between prosperity theology and the Gospel? Pastors weigh in

Unsplash/Pepi Stojanovski
Unsplash/Pepi Stojanovski

Two Christian leaders recently highlighted some of the key differences between Gospel benefits and prosperity theology, stressing that Jesus is not simply a delivery system of blessing but that He is the very blessing every person desires.

In a video posted on the Gospel Coalition website, Glen Scrivener, director of the evangelistic ministry Speak Life, said the underlying problem with prosperity theology is that it treats Jesus as though He is the “delivery system for a bunch of blessings.”

“I think the problem [with prosperity theology] is whenever you unpack the Gospel as giving you a package of blessings at the end of all things, as though Jesus is the root toward what you really want, as though He’s the mechanism, He’s the delivery system that actually gives you what you want,” Scrivener said. 

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One type of prosperity theology promises that if an individual “gets Jesus,” they have access to benefits such as “better skin, better teeth, a boyfriend or a girlfriend.”

But the other, more “insidious” type of prosperity theology says, “Get Jesus, and then you’ll get eternal fire insurance.”

“The real problem is, once again, treating Jesus as though He is the delivery system for a bunch of blessings that are apart from Him,” he said.

Scrivener referenced Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ, which says that “the problem with our Gospel presentations is that we talk about every blessing through Jesus when we should preach every blessing in Jesus.”

“So offering Christ Himself to people,” Scrivener explained. “Therefore, you’re not promised health and wealth and prosperity. What you are promised is Jesus Himself. We really need to have a good doctrine of union with Christ and be far more Christ-centered in what we offer.”

“We’re not just offering health and wealth, and we’re not just offering fire insurance. We’re offering Jesus Himself,” he stressed.

Evangelist and author Sam Chan added that Christians should focus on “union with Jesus” — not earthly benefits — when sharing the Gospel. 

“When we preach it that way, there’s this incredible prosperity in knowing Jesus,” he said. “The climactic blessing is shalom; it’s peace.”

On one side, Christians have a tendency to “shortchange the Gospel,” Chan said. Yet, on the other side, “because of our reaction against prosperity theology, we’re too scared to say… 'there’s a blessing in knowing Jesus.’”

Chan referenced John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ. In the book, Stott says, “Union with Christ is the foundational blessing. Justification and forgiveness of sins, that’s the center blessing. But the cream on top of the pudding is adoption, it’s relationship, it’s shalom.”

“By and large, life works better with Jesus,” he said, adding that the book of Proverbs has advice for a better marriage, friendships, finances, and health. 

“So by and large, Christians will have a wisdom,” he said. “Maybe what we should promise isn’t prosperity blessings on health, wealth, and whatever, but you’ll have wisdom, you’ll have a way of life that just works.”

The prosperity gospel teaches in part that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth. Such blessings can be obtained through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.

A 2018 study from LifeWay Research found that about a third of Protestant churchgoers say their congregation teaches that God will bless them if they donate money. Additionally, 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.

Costi Hinn, nephew of famous prosperity teacher and faith-healer Benny Hinn, warned that two natural outcomes of the prosperity gospel are false hope and fear. 

“False hope and fear are probably the two biggest products,” he said. “You got the false hope part, we all understand that when it comes to the prosperity gospel, but the other one, the fear of God or fear is, you know, even if I’m waiting on getting my miracle, I’m staying under the anointed umbrella and the protection of this anointed man or woman of God, by submitting to them and giving my money.”

The pastor, who famously rejected the teaching of his "Uncle Benny" after working alongside him for years, likened the prosperity gospel to a Ponzi scheme, adding: “Either way, whether you’re just wanting a miracle, or you’re just wanting to stay protected while you wait for your miracle, you got to pay to play.”

While millions of “ignorant” people are “deceived” by the “health and wealth” theology, others eagerly latch onto the message of comfort because it’s “comfortable,” Costi Hinn said. 

“A message that says, ‘I’m going to be blessed, and my kids aren’t going to have cancer, and nobody’s going to be sick.’ I mean, that is something that every person wants, we naturally seek comfort. We don’t want pain,” he said. 

Watch the full video below: 

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