One of the poster-children of the anti-prosperity crowd is an internationally-famous-within-Christendom Calvinist theologian, pastor, and published author named John Piper. He is considered a theological titan among Calvinists. He is the founder and teacher of desiringgod.org, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, pastor emeritus of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and a Council member of the Calvinist website The Gospel Coalition.
Despite his near-legendary reputation, I have to take issue with everything he asserts on this particular topic, not to mention his hyper-Calvinism.
While I faithfully have adhered to my own strict rule of not calling out other theologians by name over their doctrinal issues prior to now, Piper is the embodiment of the opposition, one of its most prominent and articulate voices, so I’ve made an exception in this specific case.
I first came across his views in a video shown on The Gospel Coalition website. After viewing his video, I refuted his statements in detail in the comments. Truth be told, I’ve written so many such refutations to wretched doctrine there I was eventually banned from commenting on that site and they have conveniently provided no means to appeal their decision. As I checked today, it appears that they no longer allow comments by anyone at all, for what that is worth.
I’ve embedded that video here so you can see for yourself precisely what he proclaims and I cannot be accused of misquoting him. I will be addressing his comments in the same order he presents them.
First, he calls prosperity doctrine “abominable,” which is defined in the dictionary as:
- causing moral revulsion
This gives us an immediate indication of where he is about to go with the rest of his video.
He then asserts prosperity preachers proclaim “God wants you rich, so you should partner with Him to pursue riches and “Can’t accomplish much in life without money, so go for it!”
What is in fact being preached is this:
“You can’t accomplish much in ministry without money and God wants to you be financially well off so you can further His Kingdom by helping fund both domestic and foreign outreaches to the lost.”
Yes, there are some charlatans out there who proclaim the same bogus message Piper asserts in order to make a buck at the expense of the ignorant, but they are nowhere near the mainstream and most of them have been exposed for the frauds they are/were.
God teaches in His Word we are to be channels of financial blessing, not reservoirs. As I recounted in a previous article in this series, the foolish rich man tried to become a reservoir and lost his soul in the attempt.
One of the major characteristics of channels conveying fluids is they get wet. In other words, no matter how free-flowing a trough or pipe may be, some of the fluid remains attached to it through friction. The same thing goes for being a channel of financial blessing: as we exercise generosity, some of it gets to stick to us along the way.
One of the things I find fascinating about the non-prosperity crowd is their attitude towards the blessings of God. Rather than taking the scriptural stance of God speaking through Moses in Deuteronomy:
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19
they instead appear to reinterpret this as:
I have set before you life and death, cursing and lack of cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may suffer.
I’ve already gone on record as being totally against the concept of “give-to-get,” a selfish motive alien to the Spirit and heart of God. That being said, God repeatedly promises in His Word to financially bless those who are generous. Those promises were given by our Heavenly Father to bring us into Christ-likeness and escape the corruption inherent to the world’s system (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Why does he do this? To reward us for obedience! Anyone who has raised a child or trained an animal knows the crucial importance of rewards for positive behavior (obedience) and penalties for negative acts (disobedience).
Where do you think that concept came from?
Do you really think God instilled this characteristic throughout His creation and then decided to not use it with us? How silly would that be? And while God has many, many attributes far too numerous to recount here, one of them is not silliness!
I also find it fascinating so many anti-prosperity churches and ministries are struggling to motivate their members and partners to give financially and rarely, if ever, teach anything on the topic other than “give until it hurts,” all the while totally ignoring the huge body of promises in the Word concerning God wanting to bless our generosity. Accordingly, many of them, if not most, barely get by financially. Contrast this to churches who preach God wants to bless you financially: they are almost always flush with cash, giving away tens and hundreds of thousands — if not millions — to further God’s Kingdom.
Which leads me to his next accusation, that prosperity preachers teach: “You’re Kingdom kids and Kingdom kids don’t wear tattered clothes, they dress like the King.”
This one is based upon a kernel of truth emphasized by such ministers: we are in fact children of the Most High, joint-heirs with Jesus!
The reason this is so almost over-emphasized is the Body of Christ has for over 2 millennia been brainwashed into thinking poverty is the will of God and actually a good thing, courtesy of Roman Catholicism. While the Reformers started the process of correcting 1200 years of heretical doctrine inflicted by this cult, their efforts to shed “the rags of Romanism” fell far short of that goal — it has taken literally another 500+ years to get even more of it cleansed from the Body of Christ, a process still very much in progress as I write this.
This does not imply Christians living in poverty are in any way “less-than,” especially in the eyes of God. — our standing before Him is by the Blood of Jesus and the finished work of the Cross and nothing else!
What the prosperity message does teach is this: if you as an impoverished person will apply faith in God’s promises and obey the conditions of those promises, you no longer need to stay in poverty! Just for one example of God’s promises in this regard:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38
I am forced to admit that, at the height of the WoF movement in the 80s and 90s, this “dress like a king” schtick was carried to extremes. It got to the point where, if you weren’t wearing full business attire with your hair done to perfection like someone straight out of Dress For Success (regrettably, a required textbook at Rhema Bible Training Center a few miles from my house back in the 1980s and 90s), you had zero credibility and that is absolutely dead wrong (read the Epistle of James, if you don’t believe me!). Some of the ladies’ shoulder pads got so out of hand, it made them look more suited up for a football field than church!
That being said, such teaching did get me out of my hippie-days Afro hairdo, ratty blue jeans, and T-shirts (I never did buy into the whole suit thing, but the hairstyle and wardrobe upgrades did wonders for my IT career, if nothing else!).
Piper goes on to claim prosperity preachers minimize sin, pain, and promise if we will follow Christ everything will go well with us.
Again, there may be some preachers who have proclaimed or assumed such. One relatively famous preacher I can think of who once espoused such a viewpoint has publicly recanted. I’ve already covered the topic of sin-consciousness, suffering, and tribulations elsewhere on this site, so I will skip directly to the last of the three.
I’ve touched on this briefly above when I discussed God using a rewards/penalty system with us, but let’s delve into this a tad further. I’ve occasionally heard it said,
- If you are disobedient to God, expect all hell to break loose in your life.
- If you are obedient to God, expect all hell to break loose in your life.
While far from a fundamental truism, there is a nugget of truth there.
Whenever we walk in self-lordship aka sin, God’s hand of blessing is lifted from of us because we have begun to play the devil’s game, using his bat, his ball, and his rules, all of which are intended to bring about our failure, destruction, and death. However, once we repent, surrender, and begin obeying God, we are then playing God’s game, using his ball, bat, and rules, all of which are designed to give us life and that abundantly (John 10).
The sticking point to the latter is the devil hates us and, even when we are obeying, he does his dead-level-best to convince us his rules are easier, simpler, less painful, and more convenient through his direct lies as well as negative circumstances he arranges to reinforce those lies.
That’s the downside.
The upside to that is God’s grace is more-than-sufficient for us to endure, and most importantly, overcome and come out of them.
Such victories require the:
- Crucifixion of our flesh (because our old nature actually prefers the devil’s rules, etc.)
- Grace of God (because we have zero strength of our own which will work consistently over time)
- Support of our brothers and sisters in Christ (because Christianity is a team sport).
What prosperity preachers actually teach is the following, among many other verses:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:19
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (Jesus speaking) John 16:33
The issue here is “hope:”
- What gives hope to someone who has spent his/her life screwing up by the numbers? Your sins are forgiven!
- What gives hope to an addict? You can be free!
- What gives hope to a troubled marriage? You can live in harmony with one another!
- What gives hope to a sick person? You can be healed!
- What gives hope to a poor person? You don’t have to be poor anymore!
None of this implies “add-water-and-stir” Christianity. Turning any of these situations around takes some serious faith, repentance, mind-renewal, effort, and dying to our flesh to achieve.
John Piper believes and preaches suffering is God’s will, so we all need to suck it up and deal with it. By contrast, WoF preachers believe and preach all of life’s obstacles can be overcome by the grace of God, the blood of Jesus, faith in God’s promises, and obedience to God’s Word.
Piper goes on to state that he believes the prosperity gospel is “another gospel” which is a theological euphemism for “heresy.” I have dealt with this in depth in another article here at Miscellaneous Ramblings, so I will not rehash that issue here.
That being said, let me say this: lawyers sometimes have occasion to say during a trial, “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!” Piper is employing a common propaganda technique called “attacking the straw man” wherein He has created a plausible imaginary doctrinal position, claimed we believe and teach that, and then publicly condemned it so everyone can see and applaud his moral superiority. It’s the same kind of virtue signaling exhibited by leftists when opposing political conservatives and is just as fraudulent, toxic, and disingenuous.
The major problem with his assertion here is this: he is exalting himself to the judgment seat of Christ and declaring all who believe it is God’s will to prosper His children are deserving of hellfire and damnation, that we are not even saved.
His doing so is a sin in its own right (see Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37; John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 3:5; James 4:11). I feel the major command in play among all of them prohibiting such behavior is this:
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand… But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. Romans 14:4,10,13
Shame on you, John Piper!
I have already addressed his first actual quote from the Bible concerning the love of money in a previous article, so I will let that refutation stand on its own without further comment.
However, his assertion this doctrine leads to suicidal thoughts is even more false and disingenuous than his “another gospel” crack just addressed. In the 35+ years I’ve been associated with the WoF movement, I have never once entertained thoughts of suicide, even when I have been struggling financially with its attendant depression. I cannot recall even one other person in all those years who has.
Piper is again using yet another propaganda technique known as “appeal to fear.” He is trying to scare his listeners into believing him while relying upon his personal reputation and fame to reinforce his credibility. I mean, who could possibly question the sincerity of such a seemingly humble, soft-spoken, kindly old man with the kind of theological credentials Piper possesses?
Uh, that would be me!
His next assertion concerns Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler and His parable of the Foolish Rich Man, which I have already addressed in the article I just referenced concerning the love of money.
He goes on to passionately describe a crisis of conscience he insists must occur within any Christian desiring to prosper wherein that Christian must choose between Christ and riches.
This is yet another propaganda technique known as the “black-and-white fallacy,” where he presents only two alternatives, with his idea being propagated as the only correct or desirable one. His detailed description of the kind of conscience searing required to maintain wealth is purest fiction.
Admittedly, those rich folks who make a decision to follow Christ after having already attained their wealth are almost certainly faced with such dilemmas because they are having to crucify their pre-existing fleshly desires for wealth and power, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (like we all do as believers), yet they have this additional burden of riches to contend with, specifically their accountability to the Most High to use their financial power in holiness and to further the Kingdom of God.
However, those who have given their way into prosperity have learned, as I have previously asserted, to be channels, not storehouses/reservoirs. That doesn’t mean they cannot be tempted into switching themselves into reservoirs, it simply means they are less likely to be susceptible as they continue to be truly submitted to Christ’s lordship.
It’s interesting how he asserts how riches are so dangerous, yet I’m willing to bet good money he lives in a nice house in a good neighborhood, drives a nice car, eats in nice restaurants, wears nice clothes, and lacks for nothing. Easy for him to say and, frankly, I don’t see him being cursed or destroyed by any of that!
Hmmmmm… Moving right along…
Riches are not necessarily a “sign” of God’s blessing, but there is excellent evidence in Scripture that it can be, as I have covered in a previous article in this series where I discuss Deuteronomy 28.
It doesn’t work in the Third World is his next proclamation. His claim neatly dodges the salient fact Piper’s strain of spiritually-toxic hyper-Calvinism doesn’t work outside of overly educated, affluent nations in the First World. The vast majority — and the fastest-growing segment — of evangelical Christians in the Third World are, in fact, Pentecostals and charismatics, not Calvinists. Oops!
Regardless of all that, we are dealing with the Word of God here, which transcends time and space and cultures and theological schools of opinion and political boundaries and any other limitation invented/imposed by us puny human beings. The only difference in the prosperity doctrine between the first and third worlds is the starting point of its practitioners.
Let me first say that prosperity preachers do not fly into third-world countries in their private jets to collect offerings for themselves. They do fly there using money given by first-world believers to preach the Gospel thereby getting people saved, healed, and delivered. They often bring additional funds to help finance local pastors launching new churches to disciple the new converts, Bible schools to train leaders, and the digging of wells to provide clean drinking water.
Piper’s assertion here combines several propaganda techniques, specifically an ad metum (appeal to prejudice or fear) attack (using loaded or emotive terms to attach good or evil to someone’s behavior in a listener predisposed to agree with him), “demonizing the enemy” (making the opposition appear to be evil, diabolical, or subhuman), and “half-truth” (a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth, but is intended to deceive).
Again, Piper indulges in a Calvinist’s favorite theological pastime: suffering. I’ve already addressed that, so let’s move on to a situation which addresses both this issue as well as the one just mentioned.
Charisma Magazine published an article back in the early 2000s covering a revival which occurred in the Central American town of Almolonga, Guatemala. That village is populated by Quiché Indians, descendants of the ancient Mayans. Starting in the mid-1970s and continuing until today, the entire region around this small village has undergone a complete transformation. Here are a series of before and after contrasts:
- Before: The population was nominally Catholic but mainly worshipped a clay idol called Maximon, the patron saint of many of Guatemala’s cities and mountain villages. Maximon is often associated with alcohol, tobacco, and sexual immorality. Those who worship him kiss his image or kneel before him and place bottles of liquor at his feet. A priest typically lights a cigar, then takes a mouth full of liquor and spews it over those who have come to seek blessing.
After: Over 90% of the population are evangelical Christians.
- Before:Many people in the village were demon possessed.
After: Almost no one is demonized.
- Before: The priest of Maximon led the people in occult ceremonies. He would abandon his family to practice witchcraft for weeks at a time. His family would kneel before Maximon with candles and liquor offerings. They had no money, little food, no decent house, and only clothes discarded by others.
After: The priest converted to Christianity and burned all their idols and witchcraft paraphernalia. Now they have a small store, a house, and a calm, hard-working, godly father.
- Before: 20-30 people were arrested each month for drunken and disorderly conduct. The police chief was constantly dealing with domestic violence reports. The town had 4 jails and they had insufficient capacity to hold all of the prisoners.
After: The last jail was closed in in 1989 for lack of business. It was remodeled into a hall for weddings, receptions, and community events.
- Before: There were 34 cantinas doing a brisk business. Drunkenness and alcoholism was rampant.
After: There are only 3 remaining. Most citizens consider crime and drunkenness to be a waste of time and money.
- Before: Wives were considered to be servants and neglected.
After: Wives are loved, respected, and treated well.
- Before: Teens loitered around town, getting into trouble.
After: Teens are now working in the fields beside their fathers.
- Before: Beggars stood on every corner and drunks were passed out in the alleys.
After: They are working as farmers and businessmen.
- Before: The people were subsistence farmers. They only sold locally, if at all.
After: The people are exporters of crops to the entire region and to the world.
- Before: The farmers put in just enough effort to support their drinking habits.
After: The farmers are investing in topsoil and fertilizers.
- Before: The farmers harvested normal-sized vegetables like everyone else.
After: The farmers harvest vegetables 2-3 times larger than those in neighboring villages.
- Before: Farmers transported their crops using mule-drawn wagons and decrepit trucks.
After: Farmers transport their crops in modern Mercedes trucks.
Please note Items 8-12 on that list. The people used to be impoverished — even beggars! — before their conversion to Christ. After receiving salvation, implementing faith in and obedience to God’s Word into their daily lives, as well as applying themselves to productive work, what was the result?
God blessed them financially!
The hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4
God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). All his promises — including those of financial blessing — are “yes and amen” to all believers regardless of ethnicity, culture, or nationality (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Charisma published a subsequent article contrasting Nigeria with Almolonga which sheds further light on why this obscure Guatemalan village experienced such a radical social and financial transformation where Nigeria has not. It’s definitely worth a read!
Before we move on, let’s address another area of the third-world: India. My current employer is one of the premier WoF ministry training schools and has more than a few campuses there, charging barely enough tuition to cover its administrative costs. What follows is a testimony from one of those campuses:
Sulbha, a student from Bhilad, Gujarat, India, has a miraculous testimony of God’s provision. Sulbha is a fisherman and for 3 months had literally caught nothing. Two days before the fishing season was scheduled to close, Sulbha was so depressed he called his pastor (and professor) at 2am. The pastor encouraged him, saying, “You believe the Word of God and in the teachings you heard in ‘Principles of Faith’ and in ‘The Authority of the Believer.’ You have heard how God wants to bless us in our lives.” Then Pastor Nattubhai prayed a short prayer.
Within the hour — at 3am — the fishing nets on Sulbha’s boat started to fill with fish. And not just any fish! This was a special, very rare variety worth about $1,000 each, as certain organs of the fish are used for medicinal purposes. These large, 66-pound fish started to jump into their nets. For the next 12 hours, Sulbha and his partners were kept busy pulling the fish into their boat.
About 100 boats gathered to watch this event. Sulbha’s boat got so full it was about to sink with the weight of the fish! Sulbha had grand idea — why not share the wealth? He began giving thousand-dollar fish to each of the boats that had gathered!
When they got back to shore, Sulbha and his partners discovered that in 12 hours they caught $500,000 worth of fish! It is not surprising that this amazing blessing of God made TV and newspaper headlines.
It was a modern-day miracle! For three months, nothing. Then two men of God prayed, and the Lord heard their prayer. These believers exercised the principles of faith as told in the Bible, and look what the Lord has done! Simple people with simple faith, believing in a mighty God — and they are seeing the results.
In summary, a 3rd-world WoF Christian fisherman caught over half-a-million US dollars worth of fish in about half a day. So don’t try and tell me this doesn’t work in the third-world!
Piper goes on to describe the plight of the thousands of people groups who have not heard the Gospel of Christ, the fact that most of them are in dangerous places due to disease or warfare, and then without a shred of evidence to back up his claim, flatly states prosperity-taught believers are unwilling to minister to those groups because they personally would be “uncomfortable.”
Are you kidding me?
As I previously described, Piper lives in a comfortable situation in the US. Why has he not done precisely what he has just described? I’ll tell you why and I am absolutely 100% confident in my answer: he wasn’t called to that ministry!
All those who desire to follow the King of Kings, whether they believe the prosperity gospel or not, will do what He has commanded of them, wherever that leads. If that means staying in the US and supporting missions financially, well and good. If He commands them to go and minister to such people groups, then they better be found either doing so or preparing to do so, or their prosperity will dry up like a raindrop in the Mojave Desert in the summer!
Again, we witness Piper using the propaganda techniques of ad hominem and demonizing the opposition (they are way too selfish to obey the Great Commission) and ad metum (appeal to a prejudice assuming Christians with money cannot possibly hear and obey God).
Next, he once again goes into great and loving detail preaching his Calvinist viewpoint that the Christian life is to be filled with pain and suffering and relief is only to be found in heaven. If he wants to live his life that way, that is his choice. I — and many others — see the Word of God differently; we endure suffering on this planet with the firm knowledge and assurance it is temporary in this life, not removed only when we reach the next. That being said, if I die in the process, I go instantly into the loving arms of Jesus.
Where’s the downside?
He accuses prosperity preachers of being unwilling to preach healing in emergency rooms and rest homes as if they are doing so because it won’t work there, only in American meetings with crowds of people desperate to be rich.
You know why prosperity Christians are not preaching in emergency rooms and rest homes? Because they are not allowed to preach there by the likes of John Piper and secular folks alike.
However, when you take the message of divine healing to the third world as the late T. L. Osborn used to do — and others following in his footsteps are currently doing — it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.
Why is that?
Simply put, the folks in those places have not been brainwashed with religious and scientific unbelief concerning divine healing as the vast majority of Americans have been, so they have nothing to hinder their faith in the biblical truths that God will do precisely whatever He has promised.
Osborn used to announce to his crowds something along the following lines:
“In Mark 16, Jesus stated miracles and healings would follow the preaching of the Gospel. I am about to hold an altar call where you may come forward for prayer. If miracles and healings do not take place, then I have just preached a false message and you shouldn’t believe any of it.” paraphrase of T. L. Osborn
People would come forward by the thousands and guess what? By the thousands they were saved, healed, and delivered from demons. The blind saw, the deaf heard, missing limbs grew back, the lame walked, and tumors fell off.
Another WoF evangelist I know of who is still ministering has gotten over 11 million people saved, who-knows-how-many healed and delivered from demonic oppression/possession, and has delivered tons of food and medical supplies to the needy.
I personally know of two WoF ministry schools specifically dedicated to training and preparing missionaries.
I personally know eight WoF pastors (one of them a mentor to me in the ministry), a WoF missionary, and a WoF missionary couple.
I am a personal friend and former congregant of one of these pastors who has made over 30 missions trips to Mexico and three to the Philippines. His name is David Oberg of Faith Alive Christian Center in Reno, NV, He and his wife Frances adopted a Filipino orphan as a toddler and have raised him as their own (he is now an honor student at a local high school). This man pastors a multicultural church with a large Filipino contingent and the church sends many of them on a regular basis to another church he founded in the Philippines.
The WoF missionary is a full-time missionary to the Philippines and is married to a Filipina.
Another of the WoF pastors I mentioned — another former pastor of mine in Northern California — has made multiple trips to India over a 30-year period. Over 1.5 million people were saved during his crusades. He has also preached in Africa, Eastern Europe, Mexico, and South America. His church has financed drilling fresh-water wells all over India and Zimbabwe. His daughter-in-law oversees 20 leper colonies in India.
Another of them, my former pastor in Tucson, mentors pastors all over northern Mexico. He drives his own car each and every trip.
The couple I mentioned are two of my closest friends and were missionaries first to Estonia, then Azerbaijan.
WoF churches I’ve belonged to in times past not only sent their pastors and lay members overseas on missions trips, but also gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance evangelistic crusades, Bible schools, fresh-water well drilling, and other related missions activity.
Not one thin dime was taken from those being ministered to.
And this is just the folks I know of or know personally. If I wanted to devote the time required to more thoroughly refute Piper’s specious claim, I could find far, far more examples.
And by the way, none of them have private airplanes!
Now I will address the video I mentioned at the beginning of this article, dealing with each and every point he raised in it. I cannot embed it here, so have included the link. Again, the purpose is so you can see for yourself what he actually said and how he said it and I cannot be accused of misquoting him.
1. Prosperity teaching deflects attention onto God’s gifts rather than God Himself.
If that is indeed true, then every promise of God is subject to the same criteria, therefore making them all null and void.
However, his assertion is directly contrary to God’s Word where He has very clearly and succinctly stated:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4
“All” means just that: all. The Apostle Paul states:
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 2 Corinthians 1:20
Again that pesky word “all” appears again. So from these two verses, we can safely conclude the following:
- All God’s promises are activated by His grace through our experiential knowledge of (i.e., relationship with) Him.
- All God’s promises exist for the express purpose of imparting life and godliness to believers.
- All God’s promises exist to bring us into ever-increasing Christ-likeness.
- All God’s promises from both testaments are available to every believer, regardless of nationality, culture, ethnicity, gender, marital status, financial status, or social position.
- All God’s promises exist to glorify Him.
- God Himself describes His promises as “great and precious.”
Why would God provide us with all those promises and then expect us to ignore them? Do you really think the Holy Spirit is incapable of correcting our flesh and its inherently corrupt motives when we get our priorities out of whack, treating God as some sort of cosmic bellhop at our beck and call? Really? Do you really believe the Good Shepherd is going to tolerate any sense of entitlement exhibited by His sheep without correction?
I don’t think so!
2. The crucified life
I’ve already delved into this in depth in another article, but I will re-address this briefly here.
We are indeed called to suffer as Christ did. This comes under the heading of experiencing persecution, though we have something additional to suffer through which Jesus never did: dying to our selfishness. One of those many promises I’ve referred to throughout this book is this one:
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12
But simply being poor or sick apropos of nothing else is neither persecution nor is it suffering for Jesus sake. Why is that?
Because any human being on this planet can suffer those conditions apart from serving our Lord. The entire world is filled with billions of impoverished and diseased human beings who have absolutely no desire to surrender to the lordship of Jesus, so we are certainly not lacking for exemplars of this.
If sickness or poverty are the direct result of persecution, then, yes, we are indeed to rejoice we are counted worthy to suffer for our Lord’s sake. But simply being poor or sick apropos of nothing else glorifies no one — except the devil!
Name me one instance in the Gospels where Jesus refused to heal someone in order to glorify His Father. You will not find a single one because Jesus healed everyone who came to Him without exception! In each and every case, both recipients and onlookers glorified the Father!
There is great misconception the prosperity camp teaches Christ died to provide us with an easy life.[loud buzzer] Wrong answer! Sorry, thank you for playing!
Every teacher I have ever heard says nothing of the sort! What they do teach is this:
- Whenever we face trials and tribulations, those challenges are not from a child-abusing God inflicting them upon us to “teach us something” (humility, patience, whatever, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
- Such trials and temptations actually come from an evil and psychopathic Satan who hates us and seeks to steal, kill, and destroy in our lives.
- Our God is a good God who desires to deliver us from those trials and has formulated a plan from before the foundations of the world to bring us out of them.
- Our loving Heavenly Father has given us the victory over all those attacks through our faith in His Word, while strengthening us in the midst of them with His grace.
Overcoming such trials in the manner just described is how our faith grows, just like overcoming gravity is how our muscle strength grows.
That process requires time.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, there are no add-water-and-stir spiritual solutions to any of our problems. Yes, God can — and occasionally does — deliver us through an instantaneous miracle, but such events tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Looking back over my 45+ years of serving Him, most of my miracles occurred through a personal growth process, rather than instantly.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (Jesus speaking) John 16:33
What are “these things?” A series of God’s precious promises (among them, this one from a few verses earlier in the same chapter:
…Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (Jesus speaking) John 16:23-24
3. “Come See” Religion vs. “Go Tell” Religion
No mainstream prosperity teacher I’ve ever heard or met has ever taught we should brag on our possessions as some measure of how God has blessed us or as examples of how God wants to bless others.
Paul’s statement in Philippians concerning counting all as loss is directly related to his dead religious works and racial heritage and has nothing to do with finances, so Piper’s statement is a perfect example of terrible exegesis.
4. The Case of the Macedonians
Yes, they were impoverished. Yes, they had joy. Yes, they gave out of their poverty. These are all givens.
God works with us where He finds us. If we are in poverty, that’s merely His starting point.
Our joy is in Him. That joy is our strength, regardless of our external circumstances. From that place of joy, we express the love of Christ to others through sacrificially giving of ourselves, regardless of the “currency,” whether that be by selfless service or financially.
Once our joy or identity is derived from our possessions or material wealth, we have transgressed a very clear and hard line into the sin of idolatry. Absent our repentance from such idolatry, a believer can expect precisely zero fellowship with or blessings from The Most High. This is a foundational principle taught in Introduction to Divine Prosperity 101.
But none of all that implies God left the Macedonians to wallow in their poverty. Down the page a bit from Piper’s quote, it states,
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
The words “become rich” are translated from the Greek word “plouteo” (where we get the word English word “plutocracy”). Here’s what the Greek lexicon says about the word:
- to be rich, to have abundance of outward possessions; to be richly supplied; is affluent in resources so that he can give blessings of salvation to all
Most anti-prosperity folks desperately try to claim this is referring only to heavenly blessings after death or only spiritual blessings in this life. However, the context of this chapter is finances, therefore this properly exegetes as material wealth, though those other kinds of blessings are absolutely included.
In the following chapter, Paul further states in the following chapter:
And God is able to make all grace (every favor and earthly blessing) come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient 2 Corinthians 9:8 AMP
Contextually, Paul is continuing his discussion on finances. In my humble opinion, this verse is the definition of biblical prosperity!
Our Satisfaction is in Him.
Telling a poor man he doesn’t have to be poor anymore has nothing to do with that.
In each of his points made in both videos, Piper attacks positions which are not taught in the mainstream of the prosperity movement, but are distortions preached by:
- Charlatans on the fringes of the prosperity movement seeking to defraud the flock — they will receive a just reward in the hereafter!
- Those who have treated the prosperity message as some sort of “get rich quick” scheme, trying to misuse those principles out of their flesh (something God will not honor, hence their failures at it), or;
- Those who are so steeped in their religious traditions of men they make erroneous assumptions or false interpretations concerning what is actually being taught.
The Gospel Coalition Article
One of the others commenting on this video at the time took issue with my refutations and pointed me to another article elsewhere on the same site. It was written by Joe Carter, an editor at The Gospel Coalition. He is an elder at a church in Herndon, VA and a published author.
Carter’s article takes sound-bites and quotes from books with zero regard to context, then attacks them. Again, most of these are straw-man arguments with no basis in fact. Honestly, the author didn’t even rely on his own personal research, but primarily quoted other equally-ignorant-of-the-facts persons. Again, I have provided link to the article above so you can read it and see for yourself I am not misquoting him.
Now let’s address that article point by point.
First, it links to a May 2017 news report covering a raid conducted by the US Postal Service and FBI on Benny Hinn’s ministry offices, as if that was somehow damning of the entire prosperity message.
After a quick Internet search, it appears the investigation is still ongoing, so no malfeasance has been proven as of this writing.
It is a basic principle of both American and scriptural jurisprudence that a man is innocent until proven guilty and such a guilty verdict has not been handed down. Truthfully, not even an indictment has been issued thus far, therefore no trial has taken place or even been scheduled where such a verdict could be rendered.
Whether you agree with or like Brother Hinn or not is totally irrelevant to that salient fact. The link placed at the beginning of the article is extremely disingenuous, trying to tar all folks who believe in divine prosperity with the brush of “crooks” or “charlatans.” This combines the previously mentioned propaganda techniques of ad hominem, ad metum, and demonizing the enemy.
Next, he quotes someone named Stephen Hunt, who defines the prosperity gospel as follows:
In the forefront is the doctrine of the assurance of “divine” physical health and prosperity through faith. In short, this means that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.
There are many elements of scriptural truth presented here, all expressed in such a way they appear to be refuted. Let’s unpack this.
What is in the Forefront?
His opening phrase is patently false.
The forefront of all prosperity teaching is the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ, thank you very much! “…where Jesus is Lord,” the motto for Kenneth Copeland Ministries, typifies this emphasis on the pre-eminence of our Lord and Savior.
Second, there are no “divine rights.” That being said, I have indeed heard several WoF teachers erroneously use that word in their teachings. Here’s how the dictionary defines the word:
- a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way
The problem with “rights” is that pesky word entitlement. This is perfectly okay when you are dealing with human rights in the human realm, but serves us ill when we take it into the spiritual. Why? Because God owes us nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nada! We are entitled to hell and nothing else — anything other than that is granted by the limitless grace of our loving and merciful Heavenly Father.
A far more accurate term would actually be “privileges.” Let’s again look to the dictionary for some assistance here:
- a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: e.g., a license to drive is a privilege, not a right
While the word “right” also appears in the definition of “privilege,” the connotations of each term in most people’s minds is pretty clear:
- Rights implies unconditional and absolute entitlement.
- Privileges are granted only to members of certain groups, the example of the privilege of driving a vehicle being granted only to those who have passed the required written and practical examinations required to earn a drivers license.
God daily expresses His lovingkindness and mercy towards a persistently rebellious mankind endlessly engaged in a desperate, yet futile quest for a spiritual clue by giving us access to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We can never earn or deserve it — it is a free gift requiring only our unconditional surrender to His lordship, an eternal allegiance to the Person of the Lord Jesus.
Once we have entered into His salvation, however, there are a multitude of promises in the New Testament detailing our privileges as believers, those promises describing how either:
- God has qualified us unilaterally and unconditionally imparted them through Jesus’ finished work of the Cross/resurrection, the foremost of which is we are now adopted sons and daughters of The Most High, joint heirs with Jesus, or;
- How we may enter into them conditionally through our faith as well as compliance with their conditions.
Whether we ever avail ourselves of those privileges is a matter of our heeding New Testament admonitions to study God’s Word so we can:
- Discover them
- Develop faith in them
- Walk in them by God’s grace
Which now brings us to the topic of faith. We have already discussed how faith grows in elsewhere at Miscellaneous Ramblings here and here. Here is another crucial tidbit: faith is required to please God (Hebrews 11:6), so it behooves us as believers to be studying God’s Word so we can learn:
- What faith is
- How faith works
- How to cooperate with God to develop it in our lives
In a nutshell, faith works like this:
- By His grace, we exercise our faith by trusting God to keep His Word despite all negative external circumstances/opinions/thoughts to the contrary.
- By His grace, we crucify our flesh by conforming to the conditions of those promises.
- By His grace, we maintain our love walk with those around us because faith works by love (Galatians 5:6).
Redemption from physical disease and financial poverty are merely two categories of the multitude of our privileges as believers found in the Bible. Because traditional churches have spent far more time preaching their religious traditions instead of properly exegeting God’s Word, the WoF movement sought to un-brainwash believers from those faith-crippling doctrines of men.
The crowning truth in the entire paragraph is: “the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.”
YES & AMEN!
Carter then goes on to quote the tired old saw of the prosperity doctrine being a “false gospel” (again, see my article refuting this claim) by another person named David W. Jones who lists 5 so-called characteristics of the prosperity doctrine with precisely zero documentation to support his assertions. Here they are, along with my analysis of each.
- The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
We are indeed inheritors of the Abrahamic covenant by faith. I’ve explored that doctrine in depth in elsewhere here at Miscellaneous Ramblings.
That covenant includes God’s promises of protection (I will bless them who bless you and curse them who curse you) as well as financial blessing. These are promises we can call upon, among many others, promises God has given, not some prosperity preacher.
- Jesus’s atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
Poverty is not a sin, never was a sin, never will be a sin! No prosperity teacher I’ve heard over the last 40 years has stated otherwise or even hinted at it.
What faith preachers do teach is sickness and poverty are two of the manifold consequences of the Fall and that Jesus came to completely reverse the curse pronounced on mankind resulting from that rebellion.
- Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God.
No, Christians give out of obedience to God’s Word and the love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We emulate God’s generosity by being generous ourselves, thereupon by habit and resulting lifestyle becoming more Christlike regarding our finances. We give to advance the Kingdom of God, so Jesus may be glorified and the lost can be saved. Period!
The removal of the curses of sickness and poverty is an act of grace inherent to the atonement and Christ’s finished work of the Cross. Abundance comes through our operating in generosity which God has promised to bless.
Try to out-give God. I dare you!
Yes, there are those carnal Christians who see the prosperity message as a “get-rich-quick” scheme, but if folks really listened to prosperity teachers, rather than cherry-picking sound-bytes to attack, they would find such preachers are teaching about a lifestyle of giving. They teach a church offering is not an onerous burden foisted upon them by a greedy pastor always talking about money, but an opportunity to advance God’s kingdom — and that God will bless them for it.
While critics tend to focus on what size house one of these ministers lives in or whether they have a private jet, and other such trappings, what they are missing is:
- Those selfsame ministers give away thousands, even millions, of dollars to support the propagation of the Gospel around the world. To my certain personal knowledge, Kenneth Copeland, everyone’s favorite prosperity guy to bash, has given over a half million dollars to just one international ministry educational institution alone over the last 5 years or so and that is just the very tip of his giving iceberg.
August 2021 update: Kenneth Copeland loaned one of his jets and donated $15,000,000 to Glen Beck to help Glen evacuate desperate Americans abandoned in Kabul, Afghanistan by our feckless, incompetent, and useless excuse-for-a-President Biden during the shameful 2021 Fall of Saigon 2.0 debacle he created. Piper and the rest of the anti-prosperity crowd were nowhere to be seen, probably believing the Calvinist nonsense it was God’s sovereign will for those Americans to have been stranded.
- Most of such ministers live off the proceeds of their book/CD/DVD sales rather than offerings received in their meetings or on television.
- Those selfsame ministers give away thousands, even millions, of dollars to support the propagation of the Gospel around the world. To my certain personal knowledge, Kenneth Copeland, everyone’s favorite prosperity guy to bash, has given over a half million dollars to just one international ministry educational institution alone over the last 5 years or so and that is just the very tip of his giving iceberg.
- Faith is a Self-Generated Spiritual Force That Leads to Prosperity.
Faith is based upon a vital relationship with the One True God through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of His Holy Spirit, a place of total surrender. Self-will has nothing to do with the matter!
There are some who have erroneously taught faith is some sort of spiritual commodity which can be gained or lost, but that is totally unscriptural. Faith comes by the grace of God and is a gift given to all believers at the moment of salvation (read here for a more in-depth treatment of this topic).
The real tragedy is, due to the traditions of men and the encroachment of man’s religion into Christianity, most believers get saved and stop there because they have never been taught otherwise. As a result, most churches are inhabited with spiritual babies who have been taught the lie the trials and disasters they are experiencing are inflicted by God so they will learn something. As a result, they sit there and suffer, rather than fighting back against their real enemy, the devil who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy in all of our lives.
Many have become disillusioned with this Calvinist concept of God being a cosmic child-abuser and, in their pain and despair, have fallen away from the faith. That being said, there are a bunch of WoF folks out there who have driven other folks away by demonstrating zero compassion towards those who are hurting, judging them as “less-than” because they didn’t have “enough faith.” So neither side has pristine hands when dealing with those in pain. But I digress…
For a personal example of faith in action, awhile back my wife and I walked out the process of purchasing a new house, the nicest house we’ve ever lived in, far nicer than anything we could have asked or imagined even a few short years ago (and no, it’s not a mansion!).
- We submitted ourselves to God’s will, bathing every step we took in prayers of surrender and faith in His guidance and provision.
- We trusted His wisdom and His provision.
- All of this was based God’s amazing track record of fulfilling His promises in our lives, a list of which I do not have the time or space to recount here, but trust me when I tell you we have a rock-solid faith in His Word after decades of God’s dealings with us.
Did we need a newer, much nicer house than our previous one? Nope, not for a second! For that matter, did we need the previous one? Nada! As I covered in a previous article, if you take that hypocritical “God only provides our needs, not our wants” schtick to its logical conclusion, none of us “needs” anything more than a lean-to or a cave, yet here we are in America where both adherents and critics of the prosperity message alike are living in accommodations a king or queen could not have even imagined 150 years ago!
Critics, if you really, truly believed that “needs” junk, where’s your cave? If you really, truly believe sickness is sent from God to teach you something, why are you going to doctors and defeating the plan of God?
- Prayer is a Tool to Force God to Grant Prosperity.
Are you kidding me?
No one forces God to do anything and no prosperity teacher I’ve ever heard has taught otherwise!
God is sovereign. He can do anything He so desires without let or hindrance from any other being in the universe. However, in practice, He has unilaterally limited His own sovereignty by:
- Honoring our free will, and;
- Honoring His Word (He honors His Word above His own Name — Psalm 38:3).
His Word is His revealed will, period, full stop! No exceptions, ever!
Prosperity critics believe that statement without exception when it comes to every promise concerning salvation, but when you start discussing any other topic, suddenly they start backtracking, saying, “Well, maybe it isn’t God’s will.”
Whenever we pray His promises, we are by definition praying in accordance with His will, which then brings the following promise into play:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 1 John 5:14-15
Prayer has absolutely nothing to do with manipulating God into doing something and everything to do with enforcing His expressed will on this earth, emerging victorious over the wiles of our enemy Satan, his tricks, his schemes, and his attacks.
God’s Word is to believed, trusted in, and relied upon (thank you Amplified Version!) to the exclusion of all else until the circumstances bow their knee to that Word, which they eventually must to do. I was taught this, not by some prosperity preacher, but by The Navigators who discipled me as a new believer.
Hmmmm… Out of the mouths of 2 or 3 witnesses?
Many critics of the prosperity message quote the following verses as if this passage magically and definitively sweeps away all the promises concerning financial prosperity found elsewhere in the Bible into a dumpster:
Give me neither poverty nor riches — feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8b-9
I find it interesting they have cherry-picked the single passage about finances out of Proverbs which doesn’t talk about how we can prosper and avoid poverty. The quote is from Agur the son of Jakeh, whose sole contribution to the Bible (Proverbs 30) is opened with these words:
Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One. Proverbs 30:2-3
So… our attitudes on finances are supposed to be modeled after a man who declares himself to be stupid, lacking understanding of the affairs of life, and has neither received wisdom or knowledge from the Most High?
Context, people, context! The first and foremost rule of hermeneutics is context!
The article’s author goes on to state:
Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things.
This is yet another propaganda technique know as “The Big Lie.” The actual truth is this:
Divine prosperity is by grace, God is pre-eminent, and Jesus is the measure of all things.
The prosperity movement does not teach godliness is an avenue to personal gain — that would be clearly unscriptural (read 1 Timothy 6:5). On the other hand, they do teach:
- We are not to love money, but Jesus alone.
- God is faithful to His promises — finances included — when we live in faith according to them and obey their conditions.
- God will not bless us when we are living a life of sin and self-lordship.
- God will not honor any sense of entitlement on our part.
- One way we honor Him is through our generosity in giving to advance the Gospel and to assist the poor.
- God will not prosper a bad work ethic, but we are to be diligent in the workplace.
- God will not prosper those who harbor bitterness, strife, or division in their hearts.
- God rewards those who work hard and give generously as the Spirit leads.
And no one anywhere in the prosperity movement espouses envy of anyone. Again, that would be a sin in and of itself.
Now we come back to the estimable John Piper again and his so-called identifying marks of a prosperity preacher:
- The absence of a serious doctrine of the biblical necessity and normalcy of suffering, the absence of a doctrine of suffering. I have already exhaustively and repeatedly dealt with this one elsewhere, so let’s move on.
- The absence of a clear and prominent doctrine of self-denial is a tip off that something is amiss.
I guess he hasn’t really listened to any prosperity preacher long enough without jumping to conclusions to have detected this. Oops!
- The absence of serious exposition of Scripture. This is clear case of “the pot calling the kettle black.” Throughout his discussions, he has yet to accurately recount what prosperity preachers actually teach, much less exposit a clear, concise, and accurate exegesis on any aspect of this topic.
- The absence of dealing with tensions in Scripture.
Objection! Assumes facts without evidence! I have dealt with several of them here; one specifically comes to mind.
- Church leaders who have exorbitant lifestyles. I am an ordained minister of the Gospel as well as a leader in my local church. No one with a lick of sense could ever level that accusation at me. I know a bunch of other prosperity teachers who are no better off financially than I am. Another swing and a miss!
- A prominence of self and a marginalization of the greatness of God.
Are there people who have heard just enough of the prosperity message to be dangerous and then run off to indulge their flesh to no avail? You bet!
Are there prominent Calvinist theologians who cannot properly exegete their way out of a wet paper bag when dealing with any topic outside their doctrinal wheelhouse? Equally so!
Both exemplify this very accusation.
In my humble opinion, the rest of the article is not worthy of my time and effort to address.
Here are my responses to other miscellaneous objections raised by others:
- The prayer of Jabez and Jeremiah 29:11 are the inspired Word of God, period, full stop! God Himself says His Word will not return to Him bereft of effect, but will accomplish what He sent them to do. He honors His Word above His own name. The problem with most people when they claim Jeremiah 29:11 is they stop there instead of moving on to Jeremiah 29:12-14 and incorporating those verses into the equation as well.
- As tragic and precious to God as they are, the deaths of His martyrs do not — and never will — negate His promises, or any other aspects of His Word for that matter. Someone who cherry-picks which verses concerning God’s blessings are valid and which ones aren’t is no better than those liberal theologians who justify sin by their human reasoning determining which verses are culturally relevant/irrelevant for today.
- There are many Bible verses problematic to us because we human beings of finite and corrupted-by-sin understanding have a hard time wrapping our puny minds around some of the thoughts of our infinite and holy God. However, our lack of understanding has zero bearing on whether God’s Word is true and applicable to our lives, no matter how contrary those words may be to our personal experience.
- Obedience will cause us to receive God’s blessings as promised in His Word. And, yes, many of them are tangible.
- Some can say all they want about the promises to the Israelites being for them and not for us, but they still have not resolved the major sticking point in that commonly used and specious argument: 2 Corinthians 1:20 (quoted above).
“In propaganda, truth pays… It is a complete delusion to think of the brilliant propagandist as being a professional liar. The brilliant propagandist is the man who tells the truth, or that selection of the truth which is requisite for his purpose, and tells it in such a way that the recipient does not think he is receiving any propaganda…
The art of propaganda is not telling lies, but rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear.”
Richard Crossman, British Deputy Director of the Psychological Warfare Division for the Allies during WWII
Any competent theologian should be able to accurately:
- Articulate the viewpoint he is opposing, and;
- Apply universally accepted rules of hermeneutics while using Scripture to refute that viewpoint
Piper has committed an epic FAIL on both counts. Instead, he sullied his otherwise stellar reputation by stooping to the use of universally recognized propaganda techniques to proclaim his “message.” The cognitive biases and logical fallacies on this topic I have catalogued here are merely scratching the surface.
I began listening to Piper’s diatribes against the prosperity doctrine with an open mind, initially operating under the mistaken assumption he would deal with this topic even-handedly, proclaiming his theological position using a detailed exposition of biblical texts he felt were appropriate to make his case.
However, the longer I listened and read, the more I realize his teachings on this topic are truly mean-spirited hatchet-jobs offered by a master propagandist possessing a thoroughly closed mind. Instead of exemplifying behavior congruent with his seminary chancellorship, his commentaries far more closely resemble those of the scripturally illiterate and spiritual immature Internet trolls we encounter on social media, who parade their self-righteousness for all to see while spewing their hateful invective in “defense of the Gospel.” His videos and the other article I addressed are just the type of divisive doctrinal drivel which brings reproach upon the entire Body of Christ.
The longer his ranting continued, the more angry I became. Frankly, I have lost all respect for this man as a minister.
Just prior to completing this article, God reminded me through a sermon of His command for me not to retain any offense over all this and process forgiveness towards John Piper, my brother-in-Christ, no matter how misguided or deceived he may be, or how many people he is damaging with his doctrinal nonsense.
That sermon was preached by one of my prosperity-doctrine pastor friends.
Please stop and let that sink in for a moment…
Thanks for reading!