By: Mr. Abiodun
ANATOMY OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL –
The prosperity gospel, also known as the prosperity theology, is difficult to define precisely because it is not a systematized theological thought. However, it is often defined by many theologians as the “gospel of wealth and health” because of its disproportionate emphasis on material wealth and physical health as opposed to the traditional Gospel message that emphasizes deliverance from sin through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
The prosperity theology is a relatively new concept because it was birthed less than 70 years ago. It is an offspring of the Pentecostal movement which broke out of the Methodist-Holiness movement. The Pentecostal movement began on the Azusa Street of Los Angeles, California, USA, in 1906 through the Azusa Street Revival that spanned from 1906 to 1915. The revival was led by William Joseph Seymour (May 2, 1870 – September 28, 1922), a holiness preacher of the African American extraction. From the street of Azusa, many participants of the revival went to different parts of the United States of America and the World at large with the Pentecostal Revival message that spread like a wildfire thereafter. Prior to this, Charles Fox Parham (June 4, 1873 – January 29, 1929), an American holiness preacher and evangelist, started conducting a Bible study series in late 1900 with his students in the Bethel Bible College at Topeka, USA, where it was discovered that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was usually accompanied by the evidence of speaking in other tongues in the Bible. On the evening of 1st January 1901, Agnes Ozman, a female student at Bethel Bible College, requested to be prayed for to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which she received. She was the first person among this group to speak in tongues, even before Parham. William Seymour was a student of this Bible college before he left to start the Azusa Street revival.
Although several individuals have tried to label the Pentecostal experience as false or demonic because of certain character defects noted in Charles Parham, I am of the opinion that Scriptural evidence ought to take precedence over human frailty since God often uses imperfect people to accomplish His work. We shall deal with the subject at another time if God permits.
Classical Pentecostalism emphasized four cardinal doctrines: salvation by faith in Christ alone, baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in new tongues, divine healing and the second coming of Christ, in addition to other classical Protestant beliefs. This continued until after the World War II (WW 2) when the American healing revival broke out. Several healing evangelists began to emphasize divine healing in their messages in addition to salvation and prayed openly for people to be healed. Some of these healing evangelists in the early 1950s then began to emphasize that God blesses His people financially and materially in addition to salvation from sin and healing from sicknesses. We shall call this the “Abundant Life theology”. In the 1960s, the abundant life message became the primary focus of the healing revivals. During the decade, Willian Braham, a healing evangelist and prophet, criticized these preachers that their fund-raising tactics unfairly pressured the seekers.
We need to at this point understand the state of the Church prior to this time. Due to overemphasis on the sovereignty of God, it was a general believed that sicknesses and poverty in the life of the Christian were acts of God. Whoever was afflicted with any of them thought they were suffering for Christ. It was the will of God as far as they were concerned. Some actually thought that poverty was synonymous with piety. They had a limited understanding of the scriptures in regard to the origins of these twin afflictions, the efficacy of prayer and the application of practical wisdom in overcoming them. Hence, the general belief in the Church then tended towards fatalism.
It would have been alright if these teachings were limited to exactly what the Bible says on these subjects. Alas, this was not to be. Just like all other restoration movements that went beyond what is written in the scriptures, the healing revival and the Abundant Life gospel went awry in their emphases.
Several healing evangelists such as Asa Alonso Allen (A. A. Allen), Gordon Lindsay, T. L. Osborn, Oral Roberts etc. championed this movement at inception. Gordon Lindsay and A. A. Allen, among others, published literature that outlined the basic contents of the Abundant Life message. However, Oral Roberts is believed to be the one who laid a grand foundation for the theology. He published a book in 1970 entitled “Miracle of the Seed-Faith” in which many, if not all the principles and methods of the Abundant Life theology were outlined. A revised edition of this book was published in 1999.
Classical Pentecostalism ab initio maintained that the believer’s healing is in the atonement based on Isiah 53:5.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:5)
Two basic questions come to mind in regard to this belief. Is divine healing truly in the atonement? If divine healing is indeed in the atonement, is it meant to be manifest exactly like salvation from sin in this present dispensation for all believers in Christ at all the times? We shall leave these questions unanswered for now until a later time.
About fifty years after the beginning of Pentecostalism, the Abundant Life theology declared that the believer’s material prosperity is also guaranteed by the atonement. This time around, there was no explicit scriptural reference that could be cited to establish this assertion. Though paid for by the atonement as taught by the theology, the believer can only access these blessings through the seed-faith that comes in form of tithe, first-fruits, seed offering, special offering, prophet offering, sacrificial offering, vows, pledges etc.
In addition to the Abundant Life movement, the “Word of Faith” movement also began among the Pentecostals in the 1970s and became very popular thereafter. The Word of Faith emphasize divine healing and material prosperity like the Abundant Life message but it teaches that positive confession (Word of Faith) is the means by which these blessings are obtained. In other words, the Abundant Life theology teaches that the seed-faith is the key to these temporal blessings while the Word of Faith teaches that positive confession is the key.
The Word of Faith theology was popularized by Kenneth E. Hagin, although Essek William Kenyon (1867–1948) who died about two decades and a half before the teaching became popular laid down the principles of the theology. Several individuals have attributed the origin of the Word of Faith theology to the New Thought or Mind Cure movement pioneered by Phineas Quimby and the other New Age teachers because E. W. Kenyon once studied at the Emerson School of Oratory as a young person. This may not be absolutely correct because he rebuked the New Age teachers for their faulty theology because it isn’t based on Christ. Kenyon believed that positive confession is alright but it has to be founded on Christ’s finished work.
To Kenneth E. Hagin’s credit, he made effort to correct some of the excesses of the prosperity gospel towards the end of his life. Some of the corrections were documented in his book “Midas Touch” but it seems many of the second-generation prosperity preachers are too far into the theology to retrace their steps.
Therefore, the prosperity gospel, as we know it today, is an admixture of the Abundant Life theology and the Word of Faith theology.
To be continued………………….