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That's a Good Question

The Prosperity Gospel vs. Christian Faith: Unpacking the Difference

October 10, 2023

Jon Delger


Ryan Kimmel

JonHey everyone, welcome to That's a Good Question, a podcast of Peace Church. This is a place where we answer questions about the Christian faith in plain language. I'm Jon. I serve as one of the pastors here at Peace, and I also get to serve as the weekly host of this show. Our purpose here is to help people grow in their knowledge of the Bible and their walk with the Lord by answering questions. So please submit questions at slash questions. We're always happy to hear them. We don't get to them all every week, but we love to receive them and we get to them eventually. And today, we've got some exciting questions for us. We've got with us today, Pastor Ryan, lead pastor of Peace Church.


JonGreat to have you, brother.

RyanThanks for having me.

JonAnd our questions are gonna spiral off something that we're in the midst of as a church right now. So right now, we are launching, we just launched this past Sunday into a capital campaign where we are taking a spiritual journey as a church, praying and seeking the Lord about how he would call each of us to be generous and sacrificial and how we might give to expanding our facility so we can reach more people. We've been, I think some in our church would say that we've been beyond capacity for the last couple of years. I think we've definitely arrived at that point at least by now and so we're looking at expanding the facility so that we can reach more people. So here's the question. We're asking for money right now. What's the difference between us asking for money and one of the popular prosperity gospel preachers asking for money?

RyanYeah, that's a very valid and fair question, and it's something that you need to have an answer for if you're going through a capital campaign. But I think for those of us who are listening who may not be entirely familiar with even some of these terms, how would you go about even defining what the prosperity gospel is?

Question #1: What is the prosperity gospel? What's the difference between us asking for money and one of the popular prosperity gospel preachers asking for money?

JonYeah, good question for sure. There's a ton we could say about that. We'll just ease our way into it, I think one of the staples of the prosperity gospel is this equation that if you do this, then you will get this. If you give money, then you will get even more back in return. Or just another piece of it I think would be this promise that to be a Christian means that things are going to go well for you in this world

RyanYeah, I would say that the notion of if you give then God will double it back to you is an implication of it But I think when I think about the prosperity gospel and those who I've listened to who are clearly prosperity gospel preachers the for me what I pick up was the general notion that God's desire for those who follow him are to be rich and healthy. And if you're following God and you're not rich and healthy, then it's because you lack faith. And therefore, then that plays out with things like, so demonstrate you have faith by sending in your 50 bucks to fund whatever the TV preacher is trying to get you to give to. So for me, it's this notion of the prosperity gospel is not just prosperity financially, but also you prosper in your health.

JonRight. I got to jump in on one thing that you just said. You said TV preachers. For those who are listening who don't know, TV is this thing that people used to watch because people used to be on these things called channels. Now they're just on YouTube.

RyanOkay, so the screen on your phone, that bigger screen that hangs on your wall, at one point that was called a TV. It wasn't connected to the internet. There's these things called like waves, TV and radio waves that came through the air. Yeah, yeah. So, so yeah, not just Eric, so that the maybe not TV preachers, the online, the online personas. But generally speaking, the prosperity gospel is that those who follow God, following God results in financial wealth and in fact, you're very healthy, that you don't get sick or when you do get sick, you automatically get healed. And so if you're poor or unhealthy, it's because you are not faithful enough or you're not giving enough. And that's, obviously, that's, there's, I hope, I hope those who are listening would hear that already their flags would go up and be like, whoa, something's going on here. So back to the question of how are we different from those prosperity gospel preachers? I would say the first thing is, in our theology, we would never say that God is promising that you will be financially wealthy and perfectly healthy for your entire life. We would never say that. In addition, we're not saying that if you give to this cause, to this campaign, we're not saying that's gonna result in you being wealthy or healthy. I think the best thing I can say you're gonna get from giving to this campaign is number one, a deep satisfaction that you're contributing to something awesome God's doing in this world. You can say that you are being faithful and responding to the moving of God as you discern how much he's calling you to give towards this. And that's, I mean, that's, I think those are, that's pretty, pretty clear distinction between what we're saying and doing and what prosperity gospel preachers are doing. And to give like the radical extreme, I'm not gonna be buying a private jet with what people are giving, nor would I be boasting about that on my social media. Right, right, for sure. Yeah, so you're not planning on promising everybody a money back guarantee that if you're not perfectly healthy at the end of this campaign, then money back.

JonAbsolutely not. Right. And that's why I think I jumped to that at the beginning of the definition was because I think that you're right. That is an outworking of the theology. But that is kind of a staple, I think, of of those kind of preachers is that if you do this, then you will get this. It's like an equation as if as if you can sort of earn something from God, I think, is in there.

RyanYeah. Yeah. So let me can we just play this off for a second? So what would you then say to someone who says to you, well Pastor Jon, are you saying that God wants me to be poor and sick? What's the flip of that then? Yeah, so no, God doesn't want you to be poor and sick, but what I say is we look at the Bible and we look at the overall storyline that God created a world that was perfectly good, and then Adam and Eve sinned, and sin came into the world, the world became broken and messed up, and then sickness is in there, we sin against God. There's diseases, there's natural disasters, there's all kinds of bad things now that are part of our existence in this world until the day when Jesus returns and makes all things new and better and perfect. And so what I'd say is that actually God does desire for us to be perfectly healthy and to have all that we might need or all that would fill our hearts with ultimate joy. And we will one day get that when we are with Him in Heaven and eternal life. But right now, we're still in that in-between where Jesus has come, he's coming back to bring the final redemption and restoration of all things. But we still live on the broken side of eternity, where sin and sickness still have some sway in this world. But I think, you know, God is working things for ultimately for our good. That doesn't always mean immediately that everything's going to be good, but ultimately, God's working for the good of those who love him.

JonRight. So let's bring in some scripture even that kind of makes this point also. Just thinking about different parts of scripture that point to the fact that we as Christians are not designed to be totally free of suffering. Jesus was clear about that. He told us that we should expect tribulation and trouble and affliction. I think of passages in the Psalms, many are the afflictions of the righteous. Scripture is pretty clear that Christians should expect suffering. I think of the book of 1 Peter, talks a ton about the suffering that Christians are going to go through in this life. That's something we should expect. Think about Jesus' own life, Matthew 8, Jesus says, Foxes have holes, birds have nests, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus had a trying and difficult life and then ultimately was tortured and killed at the end. Things were not healthy and wealthy for Jesus.

RyanPaul often recounts, or maybe an overstatement, Paul recounts troubles that he's endured at times. He's not shy about sharing that. He talks about the thorn in his side. We don't know exactly what that means, but we know that he dealt with trouble on a consistent basis in his life. And you see, even times where, like, Timothy's sick, and Paul's saying, hey, you should take a little something-something for that. I won't say what that is, but you can read the Bible for yourself. But yeah, no, I think when you see the New Testament, it's rife with examples of how even those who follow God endure hardships and trials at times. And Paul talks about he knows what it's like to have enough money and he knows what it's like to not have enough money. And there's an ebb and flow to that on this side of eternity. But what we are longing for is for the renewal and redemption of all things. That's why we are just praying for Christ to return.

JonRight. And let me bring in maybe one or two passages that I think people can misinterpret in the wrong direction on this. So one of those passages is Genesis 12, the covenant that God makes with Abraham. He promises him blessing. He promises him, we always talk about kind of three things that he promises him. He promises him the blessing of descendants of land and that he will be a blessing to the nations. But that word blessing, what does that really mean? Is it just money? Is it just wealth? Or is there something altogether different in there? It's something that I like to talk about when we talk about this topic. And that actually true blessing in the Bible is a relationship with God. Ultimate blessing is having a relationship with God that starts now and lasts into eternity.

RyanYeah, it's living the righteous life before God as He's laid out for us. I think of Psalm 1, blessed is the one, blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit and see the scoffers. His delight is in the law of the Lord. It's those who follow God and follow his ways.

JonYeah, I think of the Psalm that says, delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. I think that passage in specific is pointing to the idea that the ultimate desire of our heart is the Lord himself. So when you delight yourself in the Lord, you get all that your heart could ever want. You get God.

RyanBecause you're delighting in that, that's it being played out. Yeah. Your delight in the Lord is your heart getting its ultimate desire.

JonRight. So blessing is not simply money or health. Ultimate blessing is in God. Money and wealth or money and health can be a blessing from God. And we get that in different proportions in this life. But ultimately, we will be with God.

RyanAnd that's the biggest blessing, because those who are sick, I mean I know you've talked with people who are sick and dealing with cancer who feel blessed. Even in the midst of that sickness and brokenness and disease, those who are not experiencing a time of financial flourishing can feel very blessed in what God has provided. And because, I mean, and also you kind of look at the standard of what does that even mean to be financially blessed. I'd say people on the lower side of middle incomes in America are among the richest people who have ever existed on the face of the planet. And so the fact I mean I don't make a blanket statement about this but I mean the fact if you can afford to go to Starbucks and buy coffee without it impacting your wallet, you are among the richest people who have ever lived ever on the planet. And so, yeah, I think we want to underscore what it means by blessing because that word is so abundantly used, rightfully so in the Christian world, but by some segments, it is a warped understanding of what blessing actually is.

JonRight, so I mean, like I can say, loud and proud right here and now, every Christian will be blessed. You put your faith in Jesus, you're going to be blessed. That's true. Now, I think you have to be careful and explain what that means, because I would go on to say that doesn't necessarily mean money and health, that means eternal blessing and you might experience some other good things in this life. But I can very easily say that, yes, all Christians, if you put your faith in Jesus, you will be blessed. But blessing according to the terms of the Bible, not just worldly terms, how we might think of blessing.

JonSweet. So, Pastor Ryan, other question. What are some subtle ways that prosperity theology might sneak into other preaching or even other everyday Christian thinking? So there are those who intentionally have this theology and they preach it and they teach it and Christians live that way. But what about those who don't intend on purpose to walk down the road of prosperity theology?

RyanHow does it sneak into other preaching and other Christian thinking? Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I think part of it is we live in a society that's transactional by nature. We're used to giving and getting things all the time. And so I think in a lot of ways we just inadvertently sometimes that just sneaks into the notion of even our faith. Like when we think about giving money, in our world you give money to get something. Money is a tool that you use in exchange for goods and services. And so I think a lot of times when people bring that in subtly, this notion of like, well if I do, if I'm faithful with giving, then I must be getting something in return. And I think that is just, that's inherent for the way that we use money in every other instance in our life. Whether we're buying groceries or saving for college or something to that effect. So I'd say that's one of the ways is that just this whole notion that we use money exclusively for that purpose in every other sphere. Well, and I even hear stories from very well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters about that. New Christians, I've heard this story a couple times from a new Christian who started coming to our church and they start giving and they maybe tell a story of, oh man, last Sunday I gave for the first time, I gave 20 bucks and man, you wouldn't believe it, the following week I found 30 bucks in my dryer or something. And it's like, see, man, God totally delivers on his promises. And I kind of go, oh, wait a minute. That's not the equation. That's not quite how it works.

JonIt's cool that you found some money and maybe that is the Lord's blessing for that week, but that's not how giving works.

RyanYeah, exactly. That's not something you can expect every single time. And, you know, something like that, for us, I just want to push back on that. I feel like, yeah, I'm glad that you are open, your eyes are open to see where God is going to continue to bless you and stuff. But that's not what you can expect every single time. And I'm not sure you can really make a direct correlation. All things come from the hand of God either way. And I mean, did that recently happen to you? Not super recently, but yeah, it's happened.

JonI can think of two times off the top of my head that I've had.

RyanYeah, so I mean on the flip side I say that and then on the other end I also can say, and I said this before, I don't feel like I can out give God. Like every time I do give I feel like it's not that we get something in back it's just that God's blessing continues to appear more abundantly. So if anything I guess you could one of the things you could say is that when you give and when you're being faithful you you're growing in your faith and therefore you have more eyes of faith to see where those blessings already have in your already happening in your life and I think that's part of it too is like when you give and you're generous and you're responding to God's blessing and When you when you respond to that that's an act of faith You're growing in your faith by doing that your eyes are becoming more attuned to See see the world through the lens of faith. And then by doing that, I think you do end up seeing how God is always blessing you. Because here's the reality, I mean, I know we're picking on an anecdotal type story, but that $30 is in your dryer, you're gonna find it one way or another. You know what I mean?

JonBut it's just nice to know that, hey. Well, or even if God miraculously put $30 in your dryer, that wasn't a, you gave 20, so I gave you back 30.

RyanThat's what I'm saying, like the whole transactional approach to how we use money, you can't think about it like that. That you're, God's this magic vending machine that you put money into, and instead of getting the one candy bar, oops, two comes out now, you know? That's not how it works.

JonYeah, totally. It's easy to sort of think that way. Any other ways that prosperity theology sneaks into our thinking?

RyanI think that you know what we talked about is like the biggest and most insidious but also sneaky way that it does that this whole notion like it's a tit-for-tat you know, pro-pro type approach to our finances and especially when we give. We give out of the abundance of God's faith towards us and we're just responding to that. And the whole notion is more blessed to give than receive. And so I think the blessing comes in giving, and when you truly understand that, I think your desire to give increases, not because of what you get in response in the transaction sense, but just the blessing of giving is so abundant, so beautiful.

JonWell, so let's talk about maybe that transactional way of thinking even in terms of other things, maybe even not in terms of money, but maybe like if when we pray to God, we say, well, God, I'll do this if you'll do this, or we think, God, I'll stop doing this if you'll do this for me. You ever run into anybody that thinks that way?

RyanSo our producer, Mitchell, thinks like that, so. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, Mitchell.

JonThat should be a staple now. I should just blame him for everything.

RyanSo Mitchell's not like that. I think he's theologically strongest one of us all. Yeah, he does not think that. I'd say, you know, along those same lines, this notion of, I think, how it continues to play out. Like if someone is buying into the prosperity thing consciously or subconsciously, one of the ways that plays out is they give and maybe they're not experiencing the blessing that they think they should be giving so therefore they start giving all the more to try and get more of blessing or they gave 50 bucks and they didn't experience the blessing like they were thought they're going to so next week they're gonna have a hundred dollars because they're trying to buy a blessing and they're not thinking that maybe they're not they're not given enough to get the blessing from God I think that might be another way that sometimes that plays out With that notion of if I do this then God you're gonna do this and so Well, maybe I didn't come through on my end of the bargain. So I need to do more.

JonWhat about the flip side to of negative consequences from God do you You're into that where people say well, man, I did this and so God is going to do this negative thing to me. What do we think about that thing?

RyanSo like you didn't use this word, but you talking about maybe like an act of curse Like this notion of like I did something bad now God's gonna curse me and make it all the more work Yeah, no, I I think there's the there's that's not how it works I think there's the general curse that we live in in this world. This world's been cursed by sin and When we sin, it's not that God's actively actively cursing us, we're just experiencing the negative, the unhealthy fruit of our actions. When you enter into sin, you commit sin, guess what's going to happen? Bad things will ultimately happen to you. That's one of the ways I think I would push back on that.

JonYeah, I've heard a number of people say that, you know, they've said, oh man, Pastor, I'm experiencing this right now and I think it's also that transactional mindset, like you said, it doesn't work like that in terms of that God just says, well, you did this. And so I'm going to punish you in an equal amount. Now, scripture is clear that the Lord disciplines us for our good. So he, you know, he might bring consequences into our lives in order to teach us, to train us away from unrighteous things. But it's not a tit for tat. It's not a one for one, you did this and so now you're gonna get this.

RyanOr the notion of someone says, I cheated on my taxes and so God sent the IRS after me. God didn't send that, that just was happened, bro. Yeah, right. You know, like, so that notion of like that, I don't know what the theological term would be, but those sort of like specific curses, God doesn't do that.

JonYeah, I think it comes back to that, it comes back to the other transactional piece that I think prosperity gospel talks about so much is faith. It talks about faith as a quantitative thing that if you have enough of it, a certain amount of it, then you earn something from God, you get something from God. I think that's kind of a similar way that I hear it talked about. Yeah, so it's like, you know, one misunderstanding I think people have is you read Proverbs and Proverbs is sort of general wisdom for life. That's the genre of what Proverbs are. That this is something that is generally true, that if you live according to this, that's a good way to live, that's wise in this world. But sometimes people take that as if it's a promise, that if I do this, then I will get something good. And Job is the counter story to that, in that Job is introduced in chapter 1 as being the greatest of all men. He's great, he's righteous, he walks before the Lord in the right way, and yet everything goes wrong. So Job is kind of a counter-narrative to the idea of the prosperity gospel.

RyanYeah, I think Proverbs too, you know, we're talking about Proverbs. Proverbs are principles, they're general principles, they're not promises. You see, like you were to take Proverbs as promises or mandates versus general principles for righteous living.

JonSo, related to this topic, this past Sunday you preached a sermon on the goodness of God and I actually got to be in the prayer room afterwards and had two people come up to me separately and both asking for prayer and specifically they shared just about some bad things that happened to them recently, some negative circumstances, and how that was causing a challenge for them to trust that God is good, which is something we experience commonly as Christians.

RyanSo to respond to that, I would say God is good because He's good in and of Himself. And part of the ways we see that is when there's times where He's good to us. But the fact that we live in a sinful broken world isn't proof that God is bad. The fact that bad things happen to us isn't proof that God is bad. I mean, partly because Scripture never makes that qualification or standard. I mean, that's not how Scripture reveals who God is. That's not how God has revealed himself in Scripture whatsoever. What we know is that God is with us when times are bad, and even more so when times go bad, when times are not good, the reason we can have hope is because God is good. Our hope that we have is contingent on the fact that God is good. Because God is good, we can have hope that whatever we're going through, God will make right in the end. And so I get it, though. I mean, when bad things happen, those are times that our faith gets tested, absolutely. And people who are going through those times need to be talked with and loved with a shepherd's heart, and not to automatically, you know, demean them or question their faith, but walk alongside them and remind them of the truths of Scripture that they're living into, or they're employing a cultural notion of a general God, not the specific notion of the revealed God in scripture. And we have to point people back to that, like crush the cultural God that we've crafted in our own minds and point us to the actual God who's revealed himself through scripture that does not promise that things will always be good, but he is good and he's gonna be good through it. And we lean on him with our ultimate hope of the final restoration when all the sin and brokenness has been brought to judgment.

JonRight, and I would say this is really the ultimate or the typological temptation that human beings face. Think of the garden, right? In the garden, Eve is talking to Satan the snake, and he's tempting her to believe that God is not good. See, God told you you couldn't eat all the fruit. Oh man, God must not be a good guy because he's not trustworthy because he doesn't let you eat of this tree. So it's the temptation going all the way back to the beginning to, are we going to believe that God is good because he tells us he's good and we've seen it? Or are we going to be swayed by the voice of Satan, our circumstances to just think he's not good?

RyanSeriously, I mean, if you think about it, I think the most terrifying possibility out there is that God is not good. That there is a God and he's not good is without question the most terrifying notion that's possibly conceivable. The fact that there's an all-powerful creator who can command anything and everything at beings not good, that is utterly terrifying. And I just don't think in their heart are people believe that. I think people experience terrible times and they're just trying to reconcile that. And that's one of the ways they process it.

JonAnd we see that all through our scripture, the psalmist and others, you know, experience that. I've felt that myself. I've asked myself that question, you know, all these bad things are happening. Can the Lord really be good?

RyanFor however bad things are, it's not as bad as if God was bad.

JonSure, totally, totally. Well, I mean, if God was not good, then we can't even trust the good promises of the Bible, which means that we have no hope that good things are coming in the future. So that's a whole different bad world to live in. But one of the Psalms I thought of on Sunday was Psalm 77. It's one of my favorites, one of my that I go to when things are tough. The opening of the Psalm asks the question, has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he forever shut up his compassion? So it's asking that question, is God still good? Has he forgotten about me? And then ultimately the psalm turns and says, but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. And it goes on to recount the good deeds of the Lord going back to the Exodus. And so throughout Christian history or throughout the history of God's people. And we can do the same thing. We can look at the Bible and recount the history of God's goodness to us and even look in our own lives and recount the history of God's goodness to us.

RyanAbsolutely. Amen. Amen to that.

JonCool. Well, thanks, brother. Thanks for the time. Thanks, everybody, for listening. It's been great to spend some time with you. If you have more questions, please submit them at We love getting to try to answer these biblical questions in plain language.

RyanCan we add something? Hold on. I want to add one thing to that. This is something we've been dealing with. For those who listen, I think sometimes people have questions and they don't know where to ask or how to ask. And so that's what we're providing this for. But sometimes people have a question that they don't necessarily want it talked about broadly. If you'd like one of the pastors to respond to you personally, it is a very, very small number of people who see the questions that are asked. If you could include some contact information, one of our pastors would follow up if you want that. But we'd also very much encourage you, if you have these questions, someone else also does. So ask them and allow us to talk about them questions, someone else also does. So ask them and allow us to talk about them more broadly.

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