restricted access Concluding Thoughts
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287 Concluding Thoughts This study of the passages in the New Testament that treat of wealth, wages, and the wealthy leads to one singularly important conclusion, namely, that there is a remarkable consistency among the various authors and their different writings with regard to wealth, wages, and the wealthy. Before summarizing these thoughts as a conclusion to this study, some caveats relative to the use of New Testament texts in developing a contemporary Christian economic ethic are in order. The Prosperity Gospel First of all, something should be said about “The Prosperity Gospel ,” a enticing body of thought that misconstrues the gospel teaching as if material prosperity is the true measure of God’s favor and economic indigence is a sign of divine condemnation. The ideology, sometimes known as “Prosperity Theology,” derives from the faith-healing revivals of the mid-twentieth century. It was popularized by the televangelism of the 1970s and 1980s. Among the founders of the movement are Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Frederick K. C. Price. Its best-known proponents are the televangelists Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, and Joel Osteen. The first-named combined his televangelism with faith-healing. The core message of this “gospel” is that wealth is a blessing from God. Those who possess material wealth are those who have been  288 Wealth, Wages, and the Wealthy blessed by God. The ideology is rooted in an individualistic concept of salvation, a sign of the ideology’s origins in the individual experience of television watching. Nonetheless, the ideology has given rise to many mega-churches that promote professing one’s faith with the expectation that God will respond to whatever they desire. Generous donations are encouraged since God will reward those who give generously. Proponents of the prosperity gospel have a limited list of selected scriptural passages to which they appeal. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the window of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing”1 is one of the most frequently cited passages. A popular New Testament text is a Johannine mission statement, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” notwithstanding the fact that the life of which the evangelist speaks is eternal life, which, in the Johannine gospel, has little if anything to do with material wealth. With the text of Malachi as a virtual slogan, some versions of the prosperity gospel see the relationship between God and the believer as a contract bearing on wealth. In fact, there is little doubt that the Bible does look upon wealth as a gift of God. The story of the righteous Job dramatically portrays this belief and concludes with the Lord’s giving to Job twice as much as he had before his ordeal: fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand donkeys, not to mention his seven sons and three daughters.2 The aphorisms of Proverbs 10:4, “Prosperity rewards the righteous,” and 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich,” articulate this belief in memorable sayings. First-century rabbinic teachers continued to hold that prosperity and material blessings were signs of God’s favor. Without denying that wealth was a gift from God, Jesus’ reform movement had, however, another view of wealth. Wealth was potentially the source of considerable danger for one’s relationship with God. To counter the popular view of wealth, Jesus said, “It is easier 1 Mal 3:10. 2 Job 42:10-13. Concluding Thoughts 289 for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”3 Later, the Epistle of James confronted head-on views later expounded in the prosperity gospel. It is little wonder that preachers of this gospel are no more fond of the book of James than they are of the Gospel of Luke. Indeed, one commentator on the Acts of the Apostles, sympathetic to the prosperity gospel, carefully omitted those passages that described the ideal community of believers as sharing all things in common.4 Proof-texting The development of a biblical and specifically a New Testament understanding of wealth requires more than an assemblage of a few selected passages extrapolated from their biblical contexts, as proponents of the prosperity gospel have done. The practice of proof...


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