The prosperity gospel is not the Gospel

Published 10:10 pm Friday, September 5, 2014

By Chris Surber

On a recent broadcast of Joel Osteen’s wildly popular televised church service, his wife Victoria said: “When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy. Amen.”

No, not “amen.” Not amen at all. The prosperity gospel teaches that the highest aim of God is to glorify man. For prosperity preachers, the gospel is essentially a tool for worldly prosperity. That thinking is at war with the historic understanding of the Christian faith. For example, the opening sentences of the Westminster Shorter Catechism state: Question 1: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

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That is significantly different than making God happy by making ourselves happy. The Osteens’ message is that worship is primarily about me being happy. The biblical message is that worship is as act of ascribing worth to God, because He is worthy. Worship is about finding satisfaction in glorifying the only object of pure worth in the universe.

The prosperity message feeds our narcissism. It’s highly compatible with our consumer culture. In biblical terms, it appeals to our flesh. It isn’t a new problem. It’s an old problem in a new silk suit.

Concerning similarly false teachers, the Apostle Peter wrote, “They make proud and stupid statements, and use immoral bodily lusts to trap those who are just beginning to escape from among people who live in error.” (II Peter 2:18 GNB)

The prosperity gospel is not the gospel, because it cannot be preached everywhere. Maybe it sells on Main Street, but it’s a cruel joke to a suffering, starving child in a slum.

The prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the redemptive value of suffering — a concept central to the New Testament teaching on pain. After pleading with God for his physical pain to be taken away, the Apostle Paul wrote, “But his answer was: ‘My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.’ I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me.” (II Corinthians 12:9 GNB)

The prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the joy of the Lord. Perhaps the most spiritually satisfied and happy person I know is a materially poor elderly woman in North Carolina who sings to God out of sheer joy for her love of God and for His basic provision for her daily bread.

I abhor the prosperity gospel because it is not the Gospel. The Gospel message is a bidding to come and die to self. The prosperity gospel’s pitch to make the God of the universe your servant in this world.

Prosperity preachers have rewritten the Fanny Crosby’s classic hymn. It’s no longer, “Take the world but give me Jesus.” Now it’s, “Make Jesus give me the world.”

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at