Health, Wealth and Happiness – A Must Read for the Church
“What are you reading?” the man asked as I sat reading during my son’s soccer practice. When I showed him the title, (Health, Wealth & Happiness – Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? – Authors: Jones and Woodbridge – Publisher: Kregel) he quickly exclaimed, “Maybe I should read it. Wouldn’t we all love to have that!” There is certainly a desire among most living, breathing humans to have health, wealth and happiness – in large portions. The questions this book appropriately raises are, Is Health, Wealth and Happiness God’s will for all persons everywhere? And, has God put all of those things within our grasp, if only we have enough faith to reach out and claim them?
In order to answer those questions, authors Jones and Woodbridge (both husbands, fathers, churchmen, scholars and practitioners) evaluate the history and claims of the “prosperity gospel” movement – a movement that not only answers the questions noted above in the affirmative, but also broadly proclaims that message through every available media outlet, both in North America and around the world. Jones and Woodbridge quickly show their hand regarding the prosperity gospel, stating: “The prosperity gospel has an appealing but fatal message: accept God and He will bless you – because you deserve it.” (16) They have set about writing the book in order to “inform [readers] about the prosperity gospel movement and equip [them] to help those who have let the prosperity gospel replace the gospel of Christ.” (21)
The authors begin with two chapters wherein they trace the prosperity gospel back to the “New Thought” movement of the nineteenth century. If there is a negative about the book, it is the fact that these two chapters are not only philosophically and historically weighty, but also somewhat repetitive, making it a challenge to wade through them. For the person that is both historically and philosophically interested, they provide good information. For those who are not, they should probably read the introduction and skip to Chapter three. It should be noted, however, in keeping with the authors’ stated purpose, that it may be helpful to read through Chapter two with someone who has begun to “follow” prosperity gospel teachers, as the authors allow prosperity proponents’ own words to speak for themselves. Numerous original quotes by prosperity advocates such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer and, perhaps most notably, Joel Osteen, make it difficult to deny the fact that these preachers are influenced by, if not completely immersed in, prosperity theology.
Chapter three evaluates the theological (doctrinal) and hermeneutical (how we read and interpret the Bible) errors of the prosperity gospel. This chapter gives believers a straightforward, but fair, evaluation of prosperity gospel teaching. For example, the authors state, “Prosperity teachers not only misinterpret the atonement, but they also abuse the atonement of Christ by stressing the benefits of the cross while ignoring its claims. The cross becomes little more than a means to an end: Jesus died for your sins so that you can be prosperous and healthy.” Additionally, the chapter serves as an example for teaching believers to evaluate critically any self-proclaimed Bible-teaching in the light of Scripture, the Gospel and the person and work of Christ.
The final three chapters offer a biblical corrective for the errors of the prosperity gospel. The discussion within these chapters includes what the Bible teaches on important topics such as suffering, wealth and poverty, and giving. The material in these chapters is not only biblically and theologically sound, but also very practically relevant. These chapters will help believers think biblically about these issues and be better equipped to discuss them with others as well.
Overall, this book is a gift to the church. The caveat regarding the weight and repetitive nature of the first two chapters notwithstanding, this book has something to offer for everyone. Pastors can benefit from this book personally, and by using it as a teaching tool within their church. Church members can benefit from the book by learning to be more biblically discerning in general, and by exercising that discernment with regard to the prosperity gospel in particular. Parents can benefit from the content of this book and, therefore, better disciple their older children accordingly.
The postmodern “both-feet-firmly-planted-in-the-air” milieu in which we find ourselves today demands that believers think Christianly regarding every aspect of life in general. The economic stresses of the day, coupled with today’s overwhelming idolatry of materialism, both inside and outside the church, says believers must all-the-more think Christianly regarding these in-your-face issues of health, wealth and happiness in particular. This book will help and encourage believers to do just that.