What is the “prosperity gospel” and how did it originate? Why is it considered a dangerous theology? How does its teaching conflict with the concept of God’s sovereignty? How does prosperity theology abuse and exploit people?
Bible Gateway interviewed Costi W. Hinn (@costiwhinn) about his book, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies (Zondervan, 2019).
Explain the term “prosperity gospel” and how it originated.
Costi W. Hinn: Being that the “prosperity gospel” is ultimately the result of twisting God’s Word, it can be accurately stated that this concept goes back as far as the original fall of man. In Genesis 3:1-3 it was the serpent who deceitfully approached Eve and began to undermine and twist God’s Word, culminating his crafty effort saying, “You surely shall not die!” (Genesis 3:4). This is what the prosperity gospel does. This theology says in no uncertain terms, “Sure, Jesus died on the cross to save you from sin and offer you heaven, but what he really wants is to make you healthy, wealthy, and happy on earth.”
In prosperity theology, faith is not about trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is seen as a kind of “force” that makes God do whatever you want. Instead of seeing confession as being about sin (1 John 1:9), prosperity theology teaches that confession is about “stuff.” Teachers tell their followers, “If you want a job promotion, a luxury car, or a mansion, you need to declare it by faith!”
In modern history, this belief system began to pick up steam when popular prosperity preachers began to use large evangelistic events to build their empires. It became a very common strategy (and a useful one!) to draw in a large crowd of people who needed healing, money, or better circumstances, with the promise that Jesus would give them all of those things if they gave an offering or followed the seemingly anointed preacher.
Over time, ministries of this kind also began to use media to spread their message. Their reach went from hundreds to hundreds of thousands in no time at all. Today, prosperity preachers reach millions, even billions, with their message, and often target the third world where some of the most desperate people reside.
Why do you see it as being dangerous?
Costi W. Hinn: This theology is dangerous because it assaults the two more important factors for the Christian and for the lost: The person of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel.
The “Jesus” of the prosperity gospel is not the Jesus of the Scriptures and the “gospel” of prosperity is no gospel at all. Therefore, it’s dangerous because it can’t save anyone. Christians are on this earth to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) so any theology that pulls people away from truth should be considered highly dangerous.
Beyond that, prosperity theology abuses and exploits people. It drains money from the poor; it gives false hope to already hopeless people. Instead of giving people what they need the most—or rather, Whom they need the most—it hooks them to a promise of fulfillment that always seems to be within their grasp, if they’ll give just one more offering.
How is the concept of God’s sovereignty at odds with prosperity gospel teaching?
Costi W. Hinn: Since the prosperity gospel demands God do whatever people want based on what they do, it essentially makes God the puppet and mankind the puppet master. Your faith, your offering, your demands, all make God do what you say he must.
However, this is diametrically opposed to scriptural teaching about the nature of our God. Psalm 115:3 says, “But our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11 that God “works all things after the counsel of his will.” Jesus told Pilate that he would have “no authority” if it wasn’t for the fact that God gave it (John 19:11).
Of course, the prophet Isaiah long foretold of the sovereignty power of God declaring, “For I am God, there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me. Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
From the story of Job, to the story of Joseph, to the life of Christ himself, the sovereignty of God is clear throughout the Bible. God is in control. Man is not. We submit to God. He does not submit to us.
What passage of Scripture made you change your thinking about the prosperity gospel? Why?
Costi W. Hinn: Studying John 5:1-17 one day led to my conversion. I was utterly confused by Jesus’ healing ministry because He did it so differently than I had believed or been taught according to prosperity theology. I always was taught that Jesus will heal everyone if they will just have enough faith to believe their healing. Well, three explosive truths from this passage blew the doors off my erroneous beliefs.
First, Jesus healed one man out of a multitude of sick people at the pool of Bethesda. John writes that there were a multitude of sick people (John 5:3). I remember thinking, why didn’t Jesus heal them all? Second, Jesus healed the man “immediately” (John 5:9). There was no fanfare, no special faith healer, and no offering or money given. He simply healed him with a single command! Third, when the Pharisees questioned the man who got healed because he was carrying his pallet on the Sabbath — this was considered “working” — the man couldn’t answer. John writes, “But he who was healed did not know who it was [who healed him]” (John 5:13). I was shocked at this! How in the world did a man have enough faith to get healed if he didn’t even know who Jesus was? I scurried for a commentary that had been given to me by my pastor and the scales soon fully fell from my eyes as a commentator explained the sovereignty of God displayed through Christ’s healing of this man. More theological dominoes fell from there and my life was transformed by the true gospel.
Briefly unpack your book’s chapter titled, “A Balanced View on Health and Wealth.”
Costi W. Hinn: The best way to guard against error is to know the truth. In light of that, I wanted to not only point out the errors of prosperity theology but teach biblical truths that will equip people. It’s vital that Christians have a biblical understanding of healing, and money. A lack of knowledge on these two topics makes people vulnerable to false teaching. One thing I’ve come to know is that as dangerous as the prosperity gospel is, so too is the poverty gospel. Just because health and wealth are not guaranteed for Christians, doesn’t mean God’s will is always sickness and poverty for everyone either. This chapter in the book keeps readers from swinging to extremes to ensure that we are praising, trusting, praying, needing and giving depending on the circumstances we are facing.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Costi W. Hinn: 2 Timothy 4:1-5 because it serves as a constant reminder that I am accountable to Christ for preaching his word faithfully no matter the preferences of people or what direction the winds of culture may blow.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Costi W. Hinn: I’ve long used Bible Gateway as my go-to Bible App. Two features I have especially enjoyed is the ability to navigate any given passage that I’m studying in numerous different versions, as well the Dictionary of Bible Themes feature.
God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Costi W. Hinn pastors at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona where he resides with his wife and three children. He has a passion for preaching the gospel and serving the church. He’s author of God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies. Pastor Hinn writes regularly at www.forthegospel.org and his work has been featured on media outlets such as CNN, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com.