October 28, 2020

iMonk Classic: The “Real” Prosperity Gospel

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From Sept 16, 2008

A reader sent me a very nice note yesterday, talking about a bit of the scope and direction of my writing on this blog over the years. He mentioned something I want to share with you. Hear his idea and initial direction; then I want the ball.

It’s funny how among some of the religious types you seem to be surrounded by, there is both a deep hatred for the prosperity gospel, and something that at a functional level, is the prosperity gospel. A gospel where although Jesus may not give you a BMW, He will make sure you’re always happy, never struggle with doubt, and most of all, He’ll keep you from feeling like you might need to ask a question of Him. It’s subtle, but I had adopted many of these beliefs into my own life, and as God has been taking those ideas apart over the past few years, yours has been a voice letting me know I’m not alone. Your writing has helped keep me sane.

The real prosperity gospel isn’t the overt appeal to wealth. It is the more subtle appeal to God guaranteeing that we are going to be happy, and the accompanying pressure to be happy in ways that are acceptable and recognizable to the community of Christians we belong to.

The real prosperity gospel is the belief that God will- must?- keep things at a level where it is still possible for us to follow Jesus without overt appeal to rewards in this life. The real prosperity gospel is revealed not in the promises of a yacht or a large home, but in the unspoken approval of a level of prosperity that allows us to live the Christian life on our own terms. It is the ratification of our private, sometimes entirely secret, arrangements with God of what his “goodness” means.

When I was having a tough time a few months ago, and anticipated things might get even more difficult, I shared where I was and what I was feeling with several Christians.

That was a mistake.

I’m not being insulting here. I don’t have any horror stories. It was simply a mistake. I should have anticipated that many Christians don’t have any real idea what to do with a minister who is going through a crisis involving the character and ways of God. I should have known that confessing a crisis in your understanding of God was incompatible with how most people understand what it means to believe in God and to “be saved.”

I found myself deviating from this “real” prosperity gospel’s hold on my fellow believers, and I soon discovered that the response was more to the threat of what I was saying than to the fact of what I was going through.

You see, the “real” prosperity gospel says that all of us ministry types have an inside track on stability, happiness and “being a good witness all the time.” If we have questions, doubts, crises or conflicts, then that raises the issue of whether the whole business is what some believe it is.

How can a church sing the praises of God and allow its members to lament the pain and questions? How can a church advertise their pictures of shiny, happy families if they acknowledge the presence of spouse abuse and/or divorce? How can we say Jesus is answering all the questions if the children of some of our people are becoming atheists? How can our claims about the warmth and attractiveness of our fellowship be sustained if we take account of the church quitters in our history?

What this has opened up for me is something of the reluctance of my evangelical family to be honest or to often even value honesty that goes beyond the code of silence. It explains something of the tacit, unspoken agreement that seems to prevail in all kinds of Christian communions to not speak about the the painful, contrary truths or the terrible, uncategorized realities. It has something solid to suggest about the highly selective kinds of thinking and behavior we maintain in the face of persuasive evidence contradicting our hidden deals with God.

This is, I believe, why so many report that when their worlds fell apart, the majority of the evangelical church did not know what to do, and easily resorted to responses like shaming, blaming and bullying.

We evangelicals apparently need to believe a version of the prosperity gospel where, at the least, none of us are below an understood “line of credibility” in Christian experience. And if we happen to go below that line, don’t expect instant encouragement. You may be surprised at what happens to you when you become walking evidence that not everyone is as happy, blessed, obedient and satisfied as they are supposed to be.

Ask yourself this question: Why is it that so many western Christians find the greatest challenges to their faith are experiences that do not even qualify as persecution or serious suffering? Why will the loss of a a job or the moral failure of a pastor lead to the end of faith? Why do interpersonal conflicts in a church cause so many to abandon Christianity altogether?

Is there something about these experiences that are inherently discouraging to a particular kind of faith experience? Perhaps a faith experience that says things should be turning out right most of the time?

The “real prosperity” gospel especially appeals to the idea that the church is fixing things, people and situations. In this kind of thinking the church has a repository of wisdom and power that can actually cause us to live in a different world than our neighbors, a world with different rules and a different outcome to the usual situations.

I don’t know of many Christians who want to stand up in front of a room full of unbelievers and say, “I live in the same world as you do; a world with the same problems, the same questions and the same kinds of pain and failure. God doesn’t provide some kind of insurance or protection from this world, and Christians aren’t wise enough to understand or fix everything in this world. In some ways, you (atheists) may be wiser than any one of us. What we have to offer is the gospel of Jesus, and the truth of the gospel isn’t a pay off in this world. Whatever changes the Gospel makes in us, we remain human, fallen and in need of final rescue, redemption and resurrection. There is plenty wrong with us, and some of it is shocking and terrible. In this world, we’re on a pilgrimage to follow Jesus, to love neighbor and to live our lives in an authentically human way.”

What’s scary about that paragraph? It refutes the real prosperity gospel.

That’s why it scares me.

Comments

  1. amen…

    • Mike (the other chaplain) says

      I’m going to lay it out here for you all to see. I’m doing it here because I’m too much of a coward to admit it to my fellow chaplains or even my family. I have doubts. Many of them. I doubt my own salvation. Yes I know it’s by grace and I should rest in his finished work on the cross. Sins that I’ve commited, even post conversion ones, often remind me of how deserving of hell I am. Its a source of depression. The fact that I’m in ministry makes it far worse. I’ve often wondered if I’d have the same kind of anxiety and depression if I had some other vocation where my own falleness weren’t so apparent.

      • I don’t wrestle with the grander concepts of my eternal salvation or the nuances of the theological technicalities that cause others to lose sleep wondering about how they relate to God…

        Some time ago I came to this very freeing conclusion: if God were not truly for me, then yes, I would have no hope in this world. I might as well ‘eat, drink & be merry’ for in short order, I too will die…

        I rely on God’s mercy; His heart motivation, not the less personal concept of grace although there is no reason to separate the two into an artificial dichotomy. I mean really, if God did not want me to be His child & continue a work of transformation that I do recognize, then there is no way I could change His mind. There have been a few obvious situations in my life that to me have God’s fingerprints all over them. Strange other-worldly interventions that actually preserved my life, my sanity, my faith. I know I am insufficient in myself to warrant anything good from God. He is not obligated in any way to do anything so theologically grand as ‘save me’ however that is understood. When talking about the gifts of salvation & forgiveness & inclusion into his family it starts to sound trite if it were not for my own personal experience of what that means to me…

        I think you articulate well that artificial expectation level of those in full-time ministry that must project a more together persona since they are ‘God’s Man’ to those he ministers to. However, I too know that artificial expectation level of Christian goody-goodyness. I know that unspoken conformance from other Christians especially in a church setting. One thing I appreciate about Eagle is his way of explaining his experiences of this so eloquently…

        I quite trying to be the good Christian ~10 years ago. I quite trying to live a life under the scrutiny of other Christians. I simply tossed out their expectations & artificial churchy environment & took up gold on Sundays. Helped out in the Recovery Ministries instead of going to service. Lived amongst the least of these & saw their struggles with severe brokenness & failure & attempts & failure again to see in real life what Jesus can do & was willing to do. It will help anybody appreciate just what lengths God goes to transform the lives of the most dysfunction person.

        Deserving of hell? I am not a strict Calvinist. I do not agree with the concept of the total depravity of man. If that were true, then God did not need to save Noah at all or list his qualifications in the Flood account. If we were really that bad, then He would not have decided to pay the ultimate price to make us so valuable. Just my own perspectives. I think God does take pleasure in me. Not the what I can do, simply the who that I am. He made me to reflect a certain aspect of His character to those I live amongst. Nothing of grand destiny or super-duper ministry or spectacular miracle-maker stuff. He simply takes pleasure in expressing more of Himself thru me in the very real challenges of my life. I like being relaxed in who I am now. Those sins of the flesh? Not overly concerned with them since I do not have any desire to keep doing them. I don’t beat myself up about them. Don’t wallow in guilt or woe-is-me-ism. Heck, God knows I am but dust. But I don’t have any current addictions or things I prefer over the freedom He has gone out of His way to provide to me…

        I stumble. Pick myself up. Dust myself off. Bandage the scrapes. Take another step forward along the narrow way. I notice other saints on paths parallel to mine. They shout out encouragement to me. I do the same to them. I hope you find a group of friends that are like that. No condemnation. No expectation. No bible answer types. No burden adding types. Jesus’ yoke is light. Easy. Enough to carry without anything others add to it or what we add ourselves.

        I suffered from depression. Too many years it seems. What a waste God. But He did not leave me in that dark grey vortex. It took a long time, but He finished a work stretching back 40 years in one severe nervous breakdown 4th of July weekend 2009. I finally faced my past. Took ownership of my survival mechanisms. God was faithful in preserving me thru that very disruptive episode. I walk now if freedom. Light. Love. Laughter. Joy. Goodness.

        Anyway, I hope you find the peace that does pass all understanding. I hope it is a tangible experience that expels the darkness. Thanx for your transparency…

  2. Is this just a theology of glory instead of a theology of the cross?

  3. I’ve often thought about how much happier/healthier nonbelievers are than believers. Christians have an incredible burden to bear. They have to worry about God watching their every action, thought, word and deed, and having to answer for all those things at the judgement. They are not allowed to by depressed, anxious, or be angry. They must be full of the fruits of the Spirit, which is much easier to do for some than for others just because of personality. They’re never allowed to just relax and waste time, no we must “redeem” every second of every minute. Then they have to save the world by witnessing everyone they meet, or “their blood will be on your hands”. Course you have to have quiet time every day, go to church 3-4 times per week. Give at least 10% of your income to the church, teach Sunday School or lead a Bible study, and a hundred other things. I get depressed just thinking about it. Then of course the Bible is pretty clear on most things, and has an answer for every proble or question that you might have….

    • Oh, I left out the biggest thing. You have to worry about going to hell for eternity. I know you’re not suppose to because you should not have ever the “shadow of a doubt” about it. But most preachers will give you assurance with one hand, and rip it right out from under you with the other. It seems like a lot of them have a deep need to make people feel guilty and doubt their salvation, or they’re not doing their jobs.

      • I remember going to the funeral of my maternal grandfather (approx. 9 or 10 yrs ago). He was a Baptist preacher. There I was, sitting in the church after decades of not stepping foot in one, the rebellious prodigal daughter, and the preacher starts asking, “Are you sure you’re saved?” Like 25 times. I was pissed! Almost walked out! Couldn’t disrespect my mom at the time, so I sat in my angry stew (like I’d been doing for years prior and for years to follow).

        Why his he doing this at a funeral? And to ask so many times to create doubt in people irked me even more!

        Later, at the cemetary, another preacher stands up and starts talking about it being a sin to be proud of your children (mine were pre-teens at the time) and how rock and roll was so wicked. I walked away. I went to my brothers car to get my smokes and took off across the graveyard to smoke behind a tree. God forbid I get caught smoking, right?!?!?! My brother followed me, asked me what was wrong and I started spewing all kinds of anger. Full of tears and snot coming out of my nose.

        I’m much wiser today. I know that salvation is secured. Surely not because of anything I did or didn’t do. But because Jesus Christ secured it for me. And I also know that some legalistic people need their soapbox and they can have it. I’ll stick with Jesus.

        • Wow! Thats a rap.
          Is there a button for post of the year?

        • How/where did you hear the gospel with all that baggage?

        • How/where did you hear the gospel that broke through all that baggage?

          • That’s a loaded question Rob and far too complicated to get into here. But, I’ll give you the short version, k? *smile*………

            I went to the Source. I’ve still got tons of baggage and deal with the mistrust of most preachers, teachers and bible thumpers.

            In my journey thus far I’ve come across some crazy legalistic people. The type I thought died off when I bailed in the late 70’s. But alas, they are still very much alive and well. I don’t fit in the stereotypical box of a conservative Christian. And. I. Don’t. Care.

            I pray for wisdom, guidance and discernment. He comes through. Every. Single. Time.

            It’s radical. It’s rebellious. Atleast in the scope of some religious people. And I follow Him. Because He has given me reason to trust Him.

            That certainly isn’t the whole story, but the story I will share here in this forum.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            In my journey thus far I’ve come across some crazy legalistic people. The type I thought died off when I bailed in the late 70′s. But alas, they are still very much alive and well.

            “Stupidity is like hydrogen; it’s the basic building block of the universe.”
            — either Frank Zappa or Harlan Ellison

            I don’t fit in the stereotypical box of a conservative Christian. And. I. Don’t. Care.

            Why do you think all the rest of us are wandering The Post-Evangelical Wilderness?

            We’re all Bozos on this Bus.

        • I had a similar experience at my dad’s funeral, and my brother and I both said we’d never go to church again. I think my brother died true to that statement. A preacher did the work of Satan and chalked it up to God. It still makes me angry today.

    • This is part of the reason why I think its better to be an agnostic than a Christian. When I was a Christian I had to:

      1. Appear to have all my shit together.
      2. Could not have doubts or difficutlies.
      3. Be decitful in order to fit with the culture.
      4. Could not have any sin difficulty becuase I am a “new Creation” right?
      5. Careful of who I assocaited with and who was a “friend” becuase we have to guard our hearts so you avoid large parts of the world.
      6. You have to be on your guard 24/7 and present an image that is acceptable.
      7. You have to be certain, certain, CERTAIN!! About absolutely everything from salvation, to heaven, to even ridiculous topics such as the rapture.
      8. You have to look at the Bible a certain way, any other way is unacceptable.
      9. You can’t relax and you can’t enjoy God. Why because the Christian who does the most missions, volunteers for “Kids Quest” does the most spiritual programs wins and is the most successful and spiritual.
      10. You have to act like a Pharisee, tow the hard line and deny grace.

      I think Christianity is one of the most unhealthy religions that exists. I used to be involved in Mormonism and a lot of what I see are parallels between the LDS and modern American Evangelicalism. One of the reason why I left Christinaity is becuase I wanted to be honest, I wanted to be “Eagle”. I didn’t want to lie, deceive, and act like “Mr. Perfect” which is how so many evangelicals operate. There were times in the past where I heard people measure their success by how they refrained from drinking, not having sex with theri girffreind or not jerking off, how many people they evangelized to, misison trips being a “prize” to show how committed you were to the “Gospel”, etc… Bottom line if you stay a Christian youw ill lose you characther and integrity in the process because you will be forced to live a double life, or exaggerate your spirituality.

      Its a ludricious religious system and the entire evangelical system is crawling with this line of thinking. It’s part of the reason why I lost friends and why I ended friendships. I couldn’t have difficulty in life and that was unacceptable. Others knew what to say and just piled onto the difficulty. But to be open I find being an agnostic healthier…I can wrestle with doubt, don’t have to be “perfect”, can be more open about my life, and just be myself more and not fit into a preconceived, streotypical, “always happy with no problems” system.

      • I hate to burst your bubble Eagle but I suspect most of us on this site have had similar experiences. I sure have.

      • Glad you feel comfortable talking here, Eagle.

      • Eagle, I’m sorry that you left the evangelical community. Not for your sake but for ours. We desperately need honest people to push back at the monolithic culture of “everything is perfect all the time.”

      • Ken L. (formerly The Seeker) says

        Eagle:
        I can relate to your 10 points.
        And I can add
        11. You need to be a quack when it comes to science and continually deny the validity of anything it states that challenges your preconceptions.

        I grew tired of it and came out of the closet, starting with my mother and father in law, and then all people that I knew. I went through 8 years of doubt and agnosticism.

        Since then I have been able to push aside most of the nonsense and meet Jesus. I have had to admit that I am a rationalist, and many times my own thoughts are god to me. I also have had to have grace and admit my Evangelical community is flawed (as am I) and there is a huge amount of sheer nonsense.
        So is my faith rooted in Christ or the people around me? People fail me, I fail them. I can’t be perfect in meeting everyone’s needs around me.

        Part of my deliverance has been to delve into some of the streams in the Christian fold where they believe one can ‘take the mind and descend into the heart’, that is love God with the heart and mind. I find more in Anglican thought or Orthodox.

        I think it is easy to point out the flaws and make 10 points (add mine to make 11).
        Much, much harder to actually engage the Jewish Carpenter in my life and listen to his cool, calm voice when the the boat appears to be sinking and it is wet and pitch black.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          11. You need to be a quack when it comes to science and continually deny the validity of anything it states that challenges your preconceptions.

          Let me guess… Creation vs Evolution?

  4. I wrongly believed and taught the more subtle form of prosperity gospel before my own life fell apart. I believed, and taught others, that if you go to church and volunteer for all the programs, hang around the ‘right’ people, finish school, and stay off drugs/alcohol, then God will reward you with a good life. You may not be rich, but you will have a 3 bedroom house with two cars and 2-3 kids and retire at age 65, quietly living out your life with your grandchildren.

    I did all the ‘right things”, yet my life collapsed in a tragic and extremely unexpected way. 15 years later, it is still very complicated, so much so that I cannot tell the story in a pubic forum.

    Yet, in the wilderness, I found God. I hate the stress and pain the collapse caused my family, but for me, I wouldn’t trade the image of God for anything.

  5. I try to ‘go there’, that is, to the ‘non-prosperity’ gospel, in sermons whenever I can. How could anyone ever believe that pastors have an ‘inside track’? Just because they went to seminary? Because they took and almost failed Hebrew? (Oh, maybe that was just me….) We’re all on the same path, and that path contains questions and doubts. We’re all members of the same human race, with the same failings.
    I like this quote from Deb Grant, author of E-Logos Devotions. It’s a good reminder which has helped me quite a bit: ‘It never ceases to surprise me that people still expect the church to operate on a plain higher than our sinfulness allows.’ Which is why we trust in the saving work of Christ.

  6. I miss Michael so much, he could speak to the things that are so deeply embedded in my heart. I wrestle with my faith on a daily basis, I struggle with sin, doubt, worry, and worthiness. After going through the wilderness, shopping all the major protestant faiths, we found Catholicism after a very dark period. More than any other faith we have been involved with, they teach the orthopraxy side of the faith. They do the orthodoxy as well (in fact I wish they would do more), but in talking too especially the sisters (hermitage and others), we have found such practical examples of people willing to share the how of faith.

    For years we fell into this prosperity trap, but it’s an empty shell. And when trouble hits, everything goes south. We struggled for so long that I finally walked away, I couldn’t seem to ever be as happy as I was being told I was supposed to be. I couldn’t find the victorious life everyone was eluding too, and I discovered that those I held as hero’s had as many if not more problems than I did. They just hid it better than I was able too.

    I still struggle, its part of who and what I am. But the Catholic church has two thousand years of practical advice from men and women much greater than I, and as my wife and I learn to emulate them. The pain of being grows a little smaller every day, I will always be a sinner, unworthy of what God has given me. I’m learning that there is incredible depth in the simple routines that I scoffed at for years.

    Michael Spencer, bless you. Someday I’ll get to meet you and embarrass you with how much you have changed my life even after you left us, thank you to the rest of the team here as well for continuing on this work. It’s much needed.

    -Paul-

  7. This site is not the same without Michael. Don’t take it personally.

    • i sure do enjoy reading some of Michael’s more visceral writings. when i agree with him, i find he puts into words much of what i have been ruminating on for many, many, many years…

      yet there are things i do not agree with that in no way skews or misrepresents those things i do agree with. i think Micheal’s motivation was to be a catalyst, not the final word on those things that obviously were his own very passionate perspectives…

      i think his own journey left him with little or no tolerance for the crazy misrepresentation of God he recognized within the global Christian family as diverse as there are members. i do resonate with many things he spoke out against. he put it so, how do i say it, ‘pleasantly’. yeah. i found myself smiling & laughing out loud at the first few articles he wrote. he was one-of-a-kind…

      same with you Vern. and Chaplain Mike. and Jeff. and all the regular posters that help flesh out the framework erected daily by the writers dedicated to keeping Michael’s legacy alive here…

      you know, you got me thinking about my deceased relatives. i miss my mom. wish i could engage with her again in light banter over a glass or two of fine wine. i miss my uncles & aunts. my niece. i even miss my dad although there was some unfinished relational business between us.

      everything changes. times rolls on. people come & go. we know these things all too well the older we get as the issues of our frail existence gets reinforced thru numerous funerals & tearful goodbyes…

      i want to be both blessed & a blessing in this life. even with no guarantees i want to interact with others as a way to knock of lingering rough edges & encourage others i both happen to disagree with as well as agree with. i am not quite as good at it as i envision Michael was. but then, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.”

      here’s to Michael’s example…

  8. Everyone ought look at the life of the apostles, and of Jesus himself.

    And then ask themselves why their lives ought be any more “prosperous”.

    I do know one thing… the prosperity gospel is a bald faced lie. But it packs the joint.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Telling people what they want to hear ALWAYS packs the joint.

      In ancient Israel, “telling them what they WANT to hear” was always the mark of a False Prophet.

      The False Prophet tells you what you want to hear.

      The True Prophet tells you what you NEED to hear.

  9. Dan Allison says

    The evangelical churches I’ve been part of have a really difficult time dealing with single adults over 35, anyone who’s unemployed for any reason whatever, anyone struggling with any kind of addiction. Shiny upper-middle-class bourgeois “family values” rule the day. Doesn’t mean you can’t be a “liberal” on some political issues. But until we can deal with those already in the church, how can we possibly deal with those outside?

  10. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and drove me away, was a sermon given by a young guest speaker at our church. In it, he said something to the effect of “what makes you think that the physical ailment you are suffering through isn’t God busting you in the gut for the sins you are committing?” Of all the things every said, in all the sermons I’d ever heard, the vulgarity of that one statement sticks with me more than any other.

    This is the flip-side of the prosperity gospel: Do wrong and expect God to smite you.

    • Dan Allison says

      Vulgar and cruel, but typical of a lot of young evangelical pastors and speakers. I guess they think they’re not going to ever suffer, ail, or die someday.

      • One more Mike says

        Heard a Baptist preacher over age of 60 say less than a year ago “If you have problems with your marriage, with your finances, with your job, with other relationships it’s because you’re not living in accordance with the Bible.” It’s not just the young and dumb it’s also the old and deceptive. Unless they’ve never have read anything of the lives of the apostles, saints, or Christ, and there’s not much chance of that, they’re lying in boldface.

        • “If you have problems with your marriage, with your finances, with your job, with other relationships it’s because you’re not living in accordance with the Bible.”

          what about King David? the “man after God’s own heart?”

          his relationships were about as dysfunctional as you can get. Focus on the Family wouldn’t even consider him for a spot on their radio program…

          Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Makes you wonder whether the guest preacher ever read the book of Job.

    • “what makes you think that the physical ailment you are suffering through isn’t God busting you in the gut for the sins you are committing?”

      Er- John 9? The healing of the man born blind? “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
      3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

      Granted, if I indulge in gluttony or sloth or anger or any other favourite sin, and I get the medical consequences of drinking my liver into submission or smoking my lungs into ruin or over-eating until I develop morbid obesity, then yes, that’s the punishment of sin. But to turn around and say “Hey, the reason you’re diabetic or have Bell’s Palsy or need dialysis or your new-born baby needs surgery to fix the hole in his heart is God striking you down for sin”? Completely wrong end of the stick!

  11. Michael is dead on right, and it’s embarrassing. I was raised in a devout Christian evangelical home, and I don’t feel that it is right for me to blame anyone who raised me for inculcating the prosperity gospel in me, but I will say that I believed it, and it subtly wore away at me.

    I was able to hold things together through some waves of disappointment, but eventually I broke down and couldn’t hold it off. I mentally checked out of church, though I still went. Inside I questioned everything I had believed. Was it all poppycock after all? If we’re all so screwed up, what’s the point of trying so hard? Why not just eat, drink and be merry?

    I’m embarrassed to admit this because it’s such a wimpy way to leave the faith. It testifies to an inner weeniness that we Americans are privy too. The Early Church and the persecuted Church worldwide, the great martyrs and saints, men like Rev. Richard Wurmbrand — they would never have dreamed of deserting their Lord in the face of disappointments in their lives. Yet we, the weenies of Christendom, often do.

    But the experience of coming so close to abandoning Jesus altogether over stupid circumstances, recognizing the destructive hold of the propserity gospel on my life, discovering the deep traditions of the Church and going some odd places in my thinking was an invaluable treasure for me. A Gospel that can’t tolerate brokenness, sin, doubt, failure and pain amongst its believers is no Gospel at all.

  12. “A Gospel that can’t tolerate brokenness, sin, doubt, failure and pain amongst its believers is no Gospel at all.”
    Another homerun on this post.

  13. I love the classic iMonk posts. I really hope i get to have a conversation with Michael in heaven someday.

  14. Ben C. said:

    “It testifies to an inner weeniness that we Americans are privy too. The Early Church and the persecuted Church worldwide, the great martyrs and saints, men like Rev. Richard Wurmbrand — they would never have dreamed of deserting their Lord in the face of disappointments in their lives.”

    The early church and the persecuted Church and the great martyrs and saints weren’t being taught the faith the way Job’s friends knew it. They weren’t taught that if you’re right with God, you get pie and cookies and silver spoons in your mouth. The correlary is that if your life isn’t pie and cookies and silver spoons, then you’re not right with God– or God isn’t real. I don’t think it’s “weeniness.” I think Job’s friends’ version of faith has taken over the American mentality, and that wrong idea of what it’s all about encourages us to give up too easily, because reality isn’t lining up with the Job’s friends’ version of what knowing God is about.

    It’s not wimpiness, it’s misinformation. Americans are quite capable of being courageous and tenacious– when we aren’t given the misinformation that we aren’t supposed to have to be.

  15. Thank you for re-posting this. I can very much identify with this mindset among fellow pastors in my evangelical world. In fact, the only place that I have found to be a safe place (even though it’s often uncomfortable) to be honest and authentic about who I am and the struggles I have is with my spiritual director and other fellow spiritual directors in my peer supervision group. It is a rare gift to have another person be attentive to you, to listen to you and not to fix, advise, say a quick prayer or to give you a bible verse. Yes, there is a time and place for all of that, but often what is needed most is the attentive presence of a fellow pilgrim who has no agenda other than to be with you and to remind you that God is present, regardless of the circumstances.

  16. In my church fellowship of about 600, I can’t really find anyone but me who isn’t happy, successful, always on time, always leading a balanced life, always in tune with the latest program going on at church… Once there was this young Goth couple that showed up for about a year, but they drove a really crappy car and their kids weren’t wearing clean clothes from the mall and I’m sure they weren’t tithing much, because they both had really crummy jobs, so we didn’t really miss them when they left. Besides, his hobby was building handmade knives from scrap metal and I don’t think he even golfed at all. Who really wants someone like that in church? I mean, really.

    • wow! Handmade knives? In Oak Park he would be considered an artisan and quite welcome at most religious institutions. If his children were loud or ill-behaved, that might be another matter. I think the tolerances differ but most groups want others to join them that are most like them.

    • Once there was this young Goth couple that showed up for about a year, but they drove a really crappy car and their kids weren’t wearing clean clothes from the mall and I’m sure they weren’t tithing much, because they both had really crummy jobs, so we didn’t really miss them when they left.

      Ouch. Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My roommate “builds handmade knives from scrap metal.” Used to do it for a living until the bottom dropped out of the custom knife market in the Nineties. I’ve seen his work — coffin-handled Bowie and broken-backed Seax made from chainsaw bars, rondel dagger ground down from an old Chinese spike bayonet — walnut and hickory and exotic hardwood grips, brass furniture and trim…

  17. Valerie Arledge says

    I was introduced to this webite by a friend a few months ago. Although this is the first time I have decided to post a comment, I have found myself agreeing with what is said more often than not. This article, The “Real” Prosperity Gospel, was so right on, and puts to words some of my frustrations with contemporary Christianity. There is a flawed center in this worldview, that we are what life is all about, rather than that life is in God. He is the center of all things, not us, and the prosperity we want we never be found without that foundation, my definition of prosperity being “living a life that prospers or flourishes in truth.” When Jesus responded to the woman who had been accused of adultery by the Pharisees, he sat down in the dirt. He put himself into the messiness of life with her. This is a portrait of Jesus we see repeated often in the Gospels – he did not need to “pretty up” the truth. Can we offer any less? Reality does not have to mean despair and the end of hope. We are Christ’s representatives who at the very least have real reason to live in hope and every reason to offer it up to those around us who need it.

  18. Last week I received some devastating news. After years of fighting I’d finally had my day in “court:” a video hearing for my appeal of SSDI benefits. I sat with my optimistic lawyer who said my medical record was extremely consistent and sound, I told the truth to the best of my ability.

    And last week I received the “unfavorable” decision. The bottom line: the judge didn’t find me credible.

    This would’ve been difficult, but what made it excruciating was knowing that if I’d had ONE OTHER PERSON in the room with me who had enough actual experience with my life to truthfully testify to my actual conditions and struggles the story might be different. The only one who might’ve been able to is my teenage son, who’s had his own struggles trying to process what’s been going on with his mother and primary caregiver for most of his life, often in the face of ambivalent or hostile reactions from those around. I did get a testimonial letter from a (non-Christian) friend who hasn’t seen me for years now. The only other people who would be remotely able to support me would be my seriously disabled mother who lives a couple hundred miles away and an older middle-aged woman and her elderly homebound mother – whose medical and financial situations preclude them from traveling anywhere unassisted, and who are overwhelmed themselves.

    I’m glad in a strange way that Christ brought me to himself in spite of past experience of the darkness so common in the church, so I wasn’t exactly burdened with high expectations and was well aware that I was walking into a battleground. But my experiences over the last 20 years have been devastating nonetheless. Through poverty and unwanted divorce and single parenthood and deteriorating physical capacity through unemployment I’ve found myself pushed out to the outer darkness, sometimes through inaction or ignorance, some times through judgement and hostility. I’m by turns frustrated and terrified. I trust God – not his people, though still part of the body with them. A rock and a hard place.

    • The “real prosperity gospel” is alive and well, and is accompanied by a real disconnect between faith and action. Over the years I’ve seen some evangelical theological reflection on suffering in general (which is good) but next to none of any real depth on practical love and responsibility within the Body, or on poverty. I feel for a lot of the pastors I’ve run into, even the hostile ones: they can’t teach what they don’t have, and in the face of an overwhelming situation that they are completely unprepared to assess, much less deal with, it’s very easy to pass the burden back to the one suffering and Make The Problem Go Away.

  19. SG, that’s rough. Is there anything we can do to help you?

    • Kristen — thank you :). Prayers MUCH appreciated, as well as patience with my rants. Other than that, it gets complex (unless you know a very generous millionaire or two 😛 — kidding, of course). In all seriousness, if something in my ramblings helps encourage thinking, praying and maybe even connecting in a meaningful way to someone struggling within any Christ-follower’s circle of influence (and believe me, the strugglers are there), I’ll jump for joy :). Peace!

  20. This entire article is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer got at with this oft quoted statement from “Life Together”. It’s one of my favorites and I think Michael may have cited it in “Mere Churchianity”, but I can’t remember.

    “He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and their fellowship in service may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

    • Lori Pollard says

      “We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

      Wow. That’s a bullet between the eyes! We recently left fellowship with a large seeker church (seeped in works-righteousness) for many of the reasons found in the “post-evangelical wilderness” writings of this site. Last night word reached us that the pastor has stepped down from the pulpit because his eldest son (25 years old) was arrested and charged with statutory rape of a 15 year old male. I do not know if that resignation was forced or voluntary, but I can say, with a reasonable amount of certainty, that the congregation was “unthinkably horrified” that real sin is a reality inside the church. I can only imagine what his family is going through. I am praying that there are some within the church that are willing to support him (and his family) through the nightmare. Most of the time life just isn’t what you plan. We as Christians claim to love and pray for our enemies, yet we shoot our own wounded. I know that is cliche, but really so so sad.