Russell Moore on American Prosperity Theology vs. the Gospel of Crucifixion and Resurrection
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “It is not a true gospel that gives us the impression the Christian life is easy, and that there are no problems to be faced.” The true gospel is about Jesus, and therefore a gospel that’s about health and wealth is a false gospel. Part of Jesus’ gospel is the promise of eternal life, guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection. That life includes everlasting health and wealth. That is Good News!
I recently read the following in Russell Moore’s book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, where he points out how the prosperity theology that can show up in more subtle and “culturally appropriate” forms in America is opposed to the real gospel of Jesus:
Years ago, I happened upon a television program of a “prosperity gospel” preacher, with perfectly coiffed mauve hair, perched on a rhinestone-spackled golden throne, talking about how wonderful it is to be a Christian. Even if Christianity proved to be untrue, she said, she would still want to be a Christian, because it’s the best way to live. It occurred to me that that is an easy perspective to have, on television, from a golden throne. It’s a much more difficult perspective to have if one is being crucified by one’s neighbors in Sudan for refusing to repudiate the name of Christ. Then, if it turns out not to be true, it seems to be a crazy way to live. In reality, this woman’s gospel—and those like it—are more akin to a Canaanite fertility religion than to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the kingdom she announces is more like that of Pharaoh than like that of Christ. David’s throne needs no rhinestone.
But the prosperity gospel proclaimed in full gaudiness in the example above is on full display in more tasteful and culturally appropriate forms. The idea of the respectability of Christian witness in a Christian America that is defined by morality and success, not by the gospel of crucifixion and resurrection, is just another example of importing Jesus to maintain one’s best life now. Jesus could have remained beloved in Nazareth, by healing some people and levitating some chairs, and keeping quiet about how different his kingdom is. But Jesus persistently has to wreck everything, and the illusions of Christian America are no more immune than the illusions of Israelite Galilee. If we see the universe as the Bible sees it, we will not try to “reclaim” some lost golden age. We will see an invisible conflict of the kingdoms, a satanic horror show being invaded by the reign of Christ. This will drive us to see who our real enemies are, and they are not the cultural and sexual prisoners-of-war all around us. If we seek the kingdom, we will see the devil. And this makes us much less sophisticated, much less at home in modern America.