Prosperity Theology

I’m not sure that that’s what they call it, but I think you know what I’m talking about–those TV people who say that all of your financial dreams will come true (and more) if you only subscribe to their way of thinking.

Where does this come from? The Puritans were a kind of prosperity theology group–they believed that being wealthy was a sign that they were acting right. They believed that if they were wealthy, they were right with God. They saw poverty as a sign of being out of God’s favor.

Is this a ressurgence of this thinking? Does it come from another source? Does this thinking crop up every so often?

We were warned of false prophets who preach a different gospel…now we don’t have to go much farther than a few clicks on the TV to see them. I don’t think it comes from a source other than the devil’s exploitation of our greed over our love for God. Also, it is a superstition to think wealth is a sign of being in God’s favor…especially when we know that Jesus is in the poor and the meek shall inherit the earth.
People have become so detached from God and from the Church he founded that they fall for anything and feel good theology is so easy to fall for because you can be totally preoccupied with money and worldly things and still be a “Christian.” Good deal, right?

A contrast to this is someone like Dave Ramsey, who is not Catholic but uses Christian principles to deal with money issues. I agree with him a lot of the time because he takes a realisitic approach, not God-as-bank-teller theology.

Oh, and before anyone tries to drag the supposed “wealth” of the Catholic Church into this… know that the Vatican operates on a budget smaller than most Universities and is in the red nearly every year. The Catholic Church is the single largest charitable institution in the world. We feed, cloth, and educate more people on this earth than any other person or group 2,000 years and counting.

That’s a simplistic version of Max Weber’s very dubious caricature of Puritan theology. I wouldn’t base much on it. Weber pointed to certain themes in Puritan theology suggesting that virtuous behavior–hard work, honesty, etc.–was a sign of election, so that a person who worked hard and succeeded honestly was more likely to be elect than someone who was lazy and shiftless or dishonest. However, Weber’s point was primarily that this attitude became secularized into a glorification of hard work and material success in their own right. He is in my opinion on target with regards to Benjamin Franklin (an example of the secularized “work ethic”), more questionable with regards to Baxter, and by his own admission completely irrelevant when it comes to Calvin himself (not that you claimed otherwise).

Edwin

Hmm. I have no knowledge of Weber’s “caricature”. I’ve read a few biographies of Puritans, and this seems to be a common theme. Illness was seen as a correction from God. Recovery meant that you had been successfully chastised and were right with God again. Having healthy children was another sign of your standing with God, and not being able to have children or having a child with a birth defect were signs that you weren’t in God’s favor. Same with wealth. If you were doing well, it was a sign that your actions were right with God.

None of this means, though, that these people assumed that they numbered among the elect. The purpose of their behavior was to do God’s will always – to always be right with God. Being right with God and being among the elect could be two different things. I think they assumed that not being right with God – as evidenced by illness, poverty, and not being able to have children – meant that there was little chance that you were among the elect. I got the impression that they didn’t think that they could tell for certain who was among the elect. (The idea that you can know that you are saved --once and forever–is newer, I think.

It didn’t seem to occur to them that someone could act villainously (sp?) and have wealth, health, and many fine children. Health, wealth, and kids seemed to prove that their actions were correct.

There were limits, of course. Adulterers, even if they were wealthy and had oodles of kids, were still looked down on. It was the grayer areas of life that seemed to be justified by the results.

Anyway, maybe the biographers are Weberite-like, though they didn’t imply that these people thought they were definitely among the elect. The Puritans’ own writing doesn’t suggest it.

IMHO the basis of it is greed and a fundamental misunderstanding of humility and servitude. We are not called to be rich and successful, and anyone who chases that as their primary goal isn’t serving God. But it sure gets a lot of peoples’ attention.

New Thought and New Age are big on this stuff because they believe it demonstrates a higher form of developed power to create one’s own surroundings. This of course stems from the belief that God is really your own ego riding herd on some sort of creative force of the individual’s origin.

Years ago, when this was becoming noticeable in the area of media evangelists, many of them quite blatantly used the theology to get the listeners/viewers to send in money. Many called it “seed money,” in that if you send it to the evangelist’s group, then it would somehow grow into more money in your pocket.

Many of the evangelists got quite rich. I didn’t hear of any senders who did.

Blessings,

Gerry

I probably overreacted. You certainly find the Puritans “reading” providential signs that way. Shucks, my family thought this way and we certainly didn’t believe in the prosperity Gospel. My objection is that the Puritans also talked about “bearing the cross” and suffering for the sake of Christ. Many Puritan clergy in the Church of England gave up their livings rather than subscribe to the 1662 BCP. Weber’s account isn’t wrong–it’s just that he focused on one kind of Puritan language while (in my opinion) ignoring others. But admittedly I’m primarily a student of the 16th century (to which Weber’s theory doesn’t apply, by his own admission), and perhaps I’m too influenced by my reading of Calvin on the one hand and the admiration I was always taught to feel for the Puritans on the other (even though I now think they were wrong on the points that led many of them to be forced out of the Church of England).

What are these biographies, and which Puritans are you talking about? Americans or British?

None of this means, though, that these people assumed that they numbered among the elect. The purpose of their behavior was to do God’s will always – to always be right with God. Being right with God and being among the elect could be two different things. I think they assumed that not being right with God – as evidenced by illness, poverty, and not being able to have children – meant that there was little chance that you were among the elect. I got the impression that they didn’t think that they could tell for certain who was among the elect. (The idea that you can know that you are saved --once and forever–is newer, I think.

No, the idea goes back to the 16th-century Reformed, and I have always thought of the Puritans as the ones who made the concept of “assurance” important. You couldn’t tell for certain if someone else was among the elect, although because of their emphasis on the fruit of election the Puritans seem to me to have come pretty close to thinking this.

It didn’t seem to occur to them that someone could act villainously (sp?) and have wealth, health, and many fine children.

Again, which Puritans and which biographies? Bunyan certainly didn’t think this. Pilgrim’s Progress portrays the godly as generally poor and oppressed and the wicked as prosperous and flourishing.

Back to the OP: I think that probably there is a link between Puritanism and prosperity theology, but I think it’s largely indirect and goes via the secularization process Weber described. On the other hand, we are seeing prosperity theology in other parts of the world, such as Africa, where these historical factors have not been as directly at work.

And for some reason prosperity theology generally seems to be linked to some form of Pentecostalism, although many Pentecostals are strongly opposed to prosperity theology.

There is a new professor (a recent Ph.D.) at Duke who wrote her dissertation on this subject.

Edwin

I’m not sure how long the Puritan movement lasted, but I think all Puritans from England were British subjects, regardless of which side of the pond they called home. :wink:

Fair enough. I said “British” so as not to leave out the Scots and Irish (and Welsh), though the Scots weren’t technically “Puritans” since they were defending what they believed to be an already purified church.

I should have said “on which side of the Atlantic did they reside?”:o

Edwin

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