Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Prosperity" Abounds...

...or, Brit Hume and Christianity, part two.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the web has been abuzz with Fox News anchor Brit Hume's public encouragement to Tiger Woods to seek hope in Christianity.

I'll say again that I am grateful for Mr. Hume's public witness to the hope of Christianity, and I'm grateful for his boldness in doing so. And I'll say again that I am, in no way, calling into question the authenticity of Mr. Hume's faith nor am I accusing him of purposefully presenting anything other than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I'll also say again that some of Mr. Hume's words were as troubling to me as they were encouraging.

I mentioned in my previous post that we must understand that Christ alone (and not "Christianity") can offer forgiveness and redemption. Now I'd like to take up a subject that I've actually been thinking about a good bit lately. This has come up in at least three different conversations I've had in the last two weeks, and now I find it present also in Mr. Hume's comments:

We all believe the "prosperity gospel" to a certain degree.

I know that when I say "prosperity gospel" then everyone has a different idea. Some will think of the scandals of the TV evangelists in the 80s and 90s, when Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert got rich off of donors before the greed and lust caught up with them. Others will think of more contemporary examples like Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen, whose teachings (mis)lead people to believe that their financial prosperity are inherently tied to their faith.

Some of these are pitched under the guise of Bible teachings, others under the broader blanket of Christianity, while some are related to Christianity only by association. All of them are adulterations of the teachings of the Bible-- and many of us assume that we're safe from them, simply because we don't attend "that kind of church" or listen to those folks on TV or the radio.

But as I said above, we all believe the "prosperity gospel" to a certain degree. So does Brit Hume-- at least, if his comments on the aforementioned video are any indication. Here's how I know: he said two things that are a direct, if covert, result of prosperity gospel teaching:
  • "The extent to which [Tiger Woods] can recover depends on his faith..."
  • "Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery..."
We may not believe, if we send $100 a week to So-and-so's ministry, that God will make us rich. In essence, however, we all believe something close to what Mr. Hume articulated: if we're really Christians, bad things won't happen to us. If we truly turn to "the Christian faith" then our problems will get better or disappear. If we are authentic believers, we won't struggle the way that we do. In other words, our faith might not make us financially rich but it will keep us from being financially poor.

In short, when we face difficulty in life, our knee-jerk reaction is to assume that it is because of our lack of faith-- we've lost the victory, we lack the faith, or we haven't gotten the blessing. We're all prosperity-gospel-believers when we face struggles.

Contrast this, however, to what the Scripture actually says about struggles (emphasis added):
  • "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." ~John 16.33
  • "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" ~Romans 8:35
  • "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4
  • "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." ~2 Corinthians 12:10
  • "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him..." ~Philippians 1:29
  • "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." ~James 1:2-3
  • "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray." ~James 5:13
  • "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." ~1 Peter 4:12-13

And contrast that, too with what Scripture says about blessings, and how they are present realities out of God's grace, NOT out of our acts of faith or obedience, nor are they withheld from Christians because of our lack of faith or obedience:
"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:16
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” ~Romans 4:6-8
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." ~Ephesians 1:3

Friends, watch out for the "prosperity gospel"-- for it is no true gospel.

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