The God of nice things

Time coverTime's David Van Biema and Jeff Chu have a cover story about the Prosperity Gospel this week. I can't wait to read the whole thing, but the full article requires a subscription. So I'm writing based on CNN's summary. The story appears to take a rather hard look at advocates of the strain of teaching that God wants people to make it rich:

In three of the Gospels, Jesus warns that each of his disciples may have to "deny himself" and even "take up his Cross."

In support of this prediction, he contrasts the fleeting pleasures of today with the promise of eternity: "For what profit is it to a man," he asks, "if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"

Generations of churchgoers have understood that being Christian means being ready to sacrifice. But for a growing number of Christians, the question is better restated, "Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?"

Zing! The story says the movement has been percolating among Pentecostal Christians and goes by the name Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It and Prosperity Theology:

[I]ts emphasis is on God's promised generosity in this life. In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke.

The story says that "Prosperity" first blazed to public attention in the 1980s with televangelism. But what about Rev. Ike? He's featured in the photo essay accompanying the 9,000-word article (1 picture=1,000 words, right?) on the website. He was broadcast all over the dial in the 1970s. And Oral Roberts (shown first in the photo essay) has been a popular preacher for many decades. In fact, many people trace the current incarnation of prosperity theology in America to New England preacher E.W. Kenyon, famous for coining the phrase "What I confess, I posess." Kenyon was around well before the turn of the 20th century, and numerous other contemporary and early 20th century preachers followed him.

Perhaps the full article has more historical perspective. But the cover is subtitled "The debate over the new gospel of welath." Too often it seems that journalists write as if the American evangelical and Pentecostal traditions sprung forth 25 years ago when a heretofore unseen group of people came out of the woodwork and elected Reagan.

Also of note is how three of the four biggest megachurces in the country -- including Joel Osteen's -- preach prosperity. I'm a bit curious why the editors thought it would make a good cover story. I'm also curious why, with colorful personalities like Osteen and Joyce Meyer, the cover art is so inanimate:

"Who would want to get in on something where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?" asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. "I believe God wants to give us nice things."

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