Review: The New Pentecostal Message? An Introduction to the Prosperity Movement

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Lewis Brogdon has produced an excellent work on the prosperity movement, offering more nuance to his evaluation of the movement than most, in that he is both critical and appreciative of the movement.

First, Brogdon challenges the common historical narrative that the prosperity movement has its roots in New Thought metaphysics and Christian Science, and suggests that its origins go back to the Pentecostal tradition, especially to the teachings of healing evangelists A. A. Allen and Oral Roberts.

Second, Brogdon suggests that in many cases Pentecostalism has shifted from emphasizing empowerment from the Holy Spirit to a narrative of success and prosperity.

Third, he surveys critiques of the movement (a helpful resource), including those of visible minorities who caution that “prosperity teachers give an insufficient amount of time talking with their congregations about [oppressive aspects of] economic, political, educational, criminal justice, and religious systems” (70).

Fourth, he asks, “Is prosperity teaching good news to the poor?” Here he both challenges prosperity teaching, but (unlike most critiques of the prosperity movement) also notes ways that aspects of prosperity teaching escape popular critiques of the movement. Where most studies of the prosperity movement focus on famous televangelists rooted in cities, he offers a case study on a small rural congregation of black people to illustrate how aspects of the prosperity gospel hold potential for the poor, particularly the message that “God cares about the poor and marginalized, God can change their situation, God’s work provides the ground for an alternative life, and committing one’s life to God, in faith, can lead to progress and change” (89).

In the final chapter, Brogdon wonders if prosperity could be the new Pentecostal message, arguing that it shouldn’t be, in its popular forms. He suggests that while the prosperity message could hurt global Pentecostalism, if it undergoes change, it has the potential to revitalize it.

Brogdon concludes his final chapter by observing how Prosperity teachers have missed “the importance of shared blessing” (100). He suggests that “Prosperity teaching can become a message about sharing God’s wealth with all creation and rebuking the social tendency of the few who are rich to hoard wealth for themselves” (101).

I appreciate how Brogdon both critiques and affirms (aspects of) prosperity teaching. If, however, prosperity teaching shifts in the way the Brogdon proposes, and drop the aspects that Brogdon critiques, I wonder if we could still actually call it prosperity theology.

Publication Info:

Lewis Brogdon, The New Pentecostal Message? An Introduction to the Prosperity Movement (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015).

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3 thoughts on “Review: The New Pentecostal Message? An Introduction to the Prosperity Movement

  1. While I agree with most of what Brogdon writes I think it is wise to look beyond the scope of the prosperity gospel in the Pentecostal/Christian context. My sense is that the church leadership has played a role in the emergence and growth of the prosperity message.

    I agree with Brogdon when he infers that the prosperity message will hurt global pentecostalism. Disillusionment with the Gospel will be a consequence as will a focus on achievement and gathering its rewards. By its very nature, prosperity becomes about the external to the detriment of the internal and spiritual. This will have serious implications upon the future of Pentecostalism.

    I do, however, wish Brogdon would have considered the influence of societies own prosperity and the resultant individualism (or visa versa) upon the growth of the prosperity gospel. I think a true study of this gospel has to include a study of the sociology in which it has germinated, grown and spread.

    It would seem society has gripped firmly the idea that success, identity, contentment and the “pleasure of the Gods” is all a form of prosperity. My thought is: Is the Church responsible for preaching prosperity or is the Church merely mirroring society. If the latter is the case, the Church has then conformed itself to the image of society rather than society to that of the Church/Christ.

    Individualism asserts itself as people compare themselves with others and are overcome with the desire to “out-do” their neighbour/opponent. Prosperity then becomes a very necessary evil if one is to attain any satisfactory social status.

    To be sure, prosperity can be a direct result of God’s blessing upon our lives. This is clearly evident in scripture. The same can be said for poverty.

    It is difficult to discontinue a focus on prosperity and its gospel as it is addictive and compels us, with the proper measure of humility of course, to consider it a direct blessing of God rather than the result of my own individual desire.

    The prosperity gospel is fed by our false promises of what we will do with our accumulated riches. We sooth ourselves by saying we are only building a legacy and will use the our prosperity to bless others. The actual purpose is to be seen as being above our neighbour which leads me to my last thought: The prosperity gospel is about personal power and position. Money and wealth are inconsequential but visible aspects of prosperity.

    Just my thoughts as I laboriously labour through a boring day.

    • Thanks for these insightful comments. There have been quite a few studies on the Prosperity gospel that are sociological in nature – Shayne Lee’s work on Jakes, Harrison’s work on the Word of Faith Movement, Barnes’ work on the intersection between prosperity teaching and mega-church culture. I wanted to do something different and focus on the complexities of this movement within the broad and diverse world of Pentecostalism. I thought this was an area in need of work because many publications are not conversant with this movement’s connection to Pentecostalism.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Andrew, thanks for the book review. There are some interesting observations. I do agree however with James Guskjolen’s point that we need to consider the societal context of prosperity. I think the church is often mirroring society and that looks like a prosperity message even if that wasn’t the original motivation. For example, we want our buildings to look nice with up to date interior decorating, and there seems to be a strong current of wanting to be hip and in style in order to be relevant to the culture we’re trying to reach.

    Is prosperity important to be “in the world” (as opposed to isolation)? Is it possible to be materially prosperous but not “of the world”? It seems that Brogdon’s answer is to share wealth. Personally, I believe that giving cures greed and that it corrects/tempers the motives for prosperity. It’s absolutely necessary to be giving to God what He wants you to give, in order to be prosperous but not “of the world”.