Wherever the true gospel makes inroads, we can be sure that false gospels will follow close behind. Wherever the true gospel begins to win the hearts of men, we can be sure that false gospels will begin to compete with it. And sure enough, one of the most attractive, most deceptive, and most pernicious of today’s false gospels is the one known as the “prosperity gospel.” The prosperity gospel promises that those who love God will inherit not only the eternal riches of heaven, but also the temporal riches of this world—health, wealth, and every kind of earthly prosperity. It originated in the United States, made vast inroads in North America, and then traveled far beyond so that no continent and no country is untouched by it.
This gospel of health and wealth is the subject of a new book by Sean DeMars and Mike McKinley: Health, Wealth, and the (Real) Gospel: The Prosperity Gospel Meets the Truths of Scripture. The authors approach the subject from different angles, DeMars as one who was once drawn in by it and who attempted to claim its every promise, and McKinley as one who has merely been wooed by it and counseled others through it. Together they write for two audiences: those who belong to churches that faithfully embrace the true gospel of Christ Jesus but who may have friends or family members who have been drawn into the false gospel of prosperity, and those who know or suspect they belong to a church that advocates it. For both audiences they want to ensure they know how to identify this false gospel and, at the same time, how to identify the true message of the Bible and the true promise of the Christian faith. “If prosperity gospel teachers aren’t teaching what Jesus taught, then we absolutely cannot afford to coddle them or tolerate their message. In the end, you should judge everything you hear and read (including this book!) by the truths of Scripture. We intend to make the case that the prosperity gospel is a dangerous lie that must be exposed and resisted.”
And that is exactly what they do in the book’s seven brief chapters. DeMars and McKinley first expose the heart of the prosperity gospel by describing its four common teachings: that God wants to bless us materially, that God wants us to speak with power, that God does not want for us to suffer, and that God wants us to live the victorious, prosperous life. After describing and briefly countering these teachings, they show how the prosperity gospel misuses the Bible by reading it through a man-centered perspective, by taking verses out of context, by confusing the covenants, by reading proverbs as promises, and so on. In chapter three they address promises of health and happiness and in chapter four the promises of wealth. In both cases they show how a proper understanding of Scripture radically contradicts the claims of the prosperity gospel.
To this point the book treads fairly familiar ground, but in the final three chapters it takes some unique and interesting directions. Chapter five asks whether TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) viewers go to heaven, which is a clever way of asking whether people who adhere to the prosperity gospel—and those who teach it—are actually saved. “It’s certainly possible,” they say, at least for those who adhere to it, provided they have been saved by grace through faith. After all, even true believers can be warped by false doctrine. Chapter six asks whether we should pray or do other forms of ministry with those who teach it and chapter seven encourages introspection by showing how those who are theologically astute—and even those who hold to reformed theology—can succumb to soft forms of the prosperity gospel. “Perhaps the best way to keep the arms and tentacles of the prosperity gospel from wrapping themselves around our hearts is to continually remind ourselves of the goodness and beauty and strength of our God. He alone has the power and wisdom and authority to determine the course of our lives. And He alone has the love and goodness and kindness that deserve our allegiance.”
With the prosperity gospel now extremely popular and still possibly ascendent, it is crucial that we know how and why it differs from the true gospel and that we equip ourselves to help those given over to it. Health, Wealth, and the (Real) Gospel serves this purpose well. It is a book you’ll benefit from if you read it yourself and a book you should be prepared to distribute to others. May the Lord use it to rescue his people and purify his church!
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