Whether you realize it or not, you have been exposed to the prosperity gospel. Its core doctrines saturate most, if not all, of the charismatic churches of our day. Its teachings are broadcast across the globe via television and the internet, and it is the central teaching of a significant number of today’s most well-known American preachers. The purveyors of the prosperity gospel are known for their positive messages, optimism and opulent living. But there is a dark and sinister side to the prosperity gospel. Its roots are based in the Mind Science cults, and it promotes a false gospel that makes promises for God that He has not made and therefore is not bound to honor. This heresy has ruined the lives and shipwrecked the faith of countless numbers of people who have bought into the deceptions of the prosperity gospel.
The prosperity gospel is another name for a teaching called The Word of Faith. The late Kenneth Hagin, a towering figure in post-World War II Pentecostalism, is believed by many charismatics to be the man who developed the doctrine of The Word of Faith. Recent scholarship has proven that Hagin plagiarized significant portions of the works of early 20th-century preacher E.W. Kenyon.1 Kenyon’s teachings were heavily influenced by New Thought, the Unity School of Christianity and the Mind Science cults, including Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science. Kenyon admitted that he had adapted the teachings of these cultic groups to help Christianity compete with them. As a result, Kenyon formulated his doctrine not by sound exegesis but by twisting Scriptures to adapt it to the teachings of these cultic groups.
The primary assumption of New Thought and the Mind Science cults, as well as Kenyon’s teachings, is that “true reality is spiritual, that the spiritual is the cause of all physical effects, and that the human mind through positive mental attitude and positive confession has the power to create its own reality: either health and wealth, or sickness and poverty.”2
This same doctrine is also the core tenet of the prosperity gospel. It teaches that the reason why people suffer from poverty, sickness and lack is because they inadvertently created that reality through their negative thoughts and words. According to those who teach the prosperity gospel, the solution to poverty and lack is for people to create a different reality through their positive, faith-filled thoughts and words. A common practice promoted within the prosperity gospel includes looking at yourself in a mirror and speaking “blessings” over your life by saying things such as: “I am wealthy, I am prosperous, I am the head and not the tail.” It is believed that by doing such things, a person’s words will create a prosperous outcome in their life.3
A simple way to spot those who teach or believe the prosperity gospel is their absolute refusal to say anything negative about their lives, even if it is true. When prosperity gospel believers get sick, they never say “I am sick,” because they believe that their eyes and senses are being deceived into believing they are sick. They believe that if they say “I am sick,” they would be putting more faith in the bodily senses of the physical realm than in the revelations of the spiritual realm. As a result, speaking the words “I am sick” would result in sickness manifesting in their lives. The same principle applies when believers of the prosperity gospel experience financial difficulties. Not only are they discouraged from saying “I can’t pay my bills,” but they are also pressured to demonstrate their faith by sending what little money they have to their favorite prosperity gospel preacher. They are taught that by doing so their faith-filled words and actions will create wealth and prosperity for them.
As you can imagine, these beliefs disconnect people from reality with devastating consequences. Stories of people who have lost their homes and their loved ones because of the prosperity gospel are well documented by those who have come out of such churches. These stories include losing loved ones who refused medical treatment because they believed that it would be a form of agreeing with the sickness. The worst stories, however, are of those people who were promised prosperity and health as things that Jesus wanted them to have. But when these things never manifested in their lives — Jesus has not promised health or prosperity in this life — these people left Christianity altogether.
The simplest way to avoid being deceived by the prosperity gospel is to know your Bible. The Scriptures nowhere teach that we can overcome the negative and difficult circumstances that we experience by speaking positive, faith-filled words over ourselves. Instead, the Scriptures teach us that we experience poverty, sickness and lack because of sin. This is why we begin the Divine Service by confessing the truth about ourselves: We are all guilty of sinning against God in our thoughts, words and deeds, by the things we have done and the things we have left undone. As a result of our sins, we all justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment. Poverty, sickness and lack are the temporal consequences of our sin. God does not will for us to overcome these by speaking positive words but by confessing our sins, by trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and then bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, by calling out to God in prayer to meet our needs, and by working hard with our hands to provide for ourselves and others (Eph. 4:28).
Proverbs gives us a wonderful prayer that helps us understand what we should ask God for regarding riches and prosperity: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for 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” (Prov. 30:7–9).
This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Lutheran Witness.
1 Dan R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: Updated Edition (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 23–31.
2McConnell, A Different Gospel, 68
3Joel Osteen, The Power of I Am (New York: Faith Words, 2015).