The Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel (PG) is a fast-growing theologically conservative movement frequently associated with Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, and charismatic Christianity that emphasizes believers’ abilities to transcend poverty and/or illness through devotion and positive confession. The PG is popular among impoverished communities, where at best it is considered to offer the poor a means of imagining and reaching for better lives (at times accompanied by sound financial advice), and at worst is criticized as predatory and manipulative, particularly when churches or pastors require heavy tithing. Members of the socioeconomic elite may also be drawn to PG messages, which affirm the religious and spiritual legitimacy of wealth accumulation and reinforce a worldview in which financial success is an indicator of moral soundness.

The “health and wealth” gospel has been prominent wherever Pentecostalism has flourished, beginning in the United States (represented by figures such as Kenneth Hagin, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Rod Parsley), and spreading over the past three decades to Latin America, Africa (Enoch Adeboye, Ray McCauley), and Europe (Ulf Ekman). Its roots lay in the American Pentecostal movement and in the post-World War II healing revival movement. Ideas about financial prosperity were introduced by Oral Roberts, whose “Blessing Pact” asked subscribers to contribute funds to his preaching. He later introduced the “Seed-Faith” model, in which the faithful made a donation to the televangelist preacher with the expectation of receiving a blessing, as in, planting the seed in his ministry with expectations of material return. Television and Internet media have been instrumental in the wide reach of the Prosperity Gospel, as well as large-scale events and “megachurches.”

Sources:

Simon Coleman, The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity: Spreading the Gospel of Prosperity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).