© 2020 Robert Osburn
Two weekends ago, seven of us, representing nations in Africa and Asia (and yours truly, the lone North American) wrestled for much of a day.
No, it wasn’t the kind where muscled bodies compete to pin one another to mats. Nor was it the kind that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Colossians 4:12 when he wrote that Epaphras of Colossae “wrestled in prayer” for Colossian believers.
Instead, we wrestled with Leviathan, the great monster from the deep about whom Job writes and whom political philosopher Thomas Hobbes identified with the strong central state that sometimes brutally imposes its often-corrupt will. Leviathan is also the title of the bleak English-subtitled Russian film about corruption.
So, we grabbed, tussled with, sat upon, and threatened with our pens and our tongues the beast of corruption.
Were we wrestling in vain? The depressing fact is that the American-born Prosperity Gospel is making the beast stronger. It is ravaging, consuming, clear-cutting Africa and elsewhere. American prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Paula White, T D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, and a host of others bask in immense wealth at the expense of millions of lower and middle-income folks here. But, in Africa hundreds of millions of dirt-poor folks are being harmed by this successfully exported heresy.
African prosperity preachers include luminaries such as T. B. Joshua, Shepherd Bushiri, and Chris Oyakhilome, among a much longer list. Reportedly, five of the 10 wealthiest pastors in the world (all except one are prosperity preachers) are from Sub-Saharan Africa, where the per capita income is $1,585/yr. (vs. the USA where per capita income is $60,200/yr.).
Long-overdue critiques of the movement are gaining steam, and look for more in the coming years. Some Africans have pled for the world to listen to their stories of the harm this American-bred movement has inflicted on their continent and its people, and American preachers like John Piper are joining in with their alarm.
Americans will survive the nasty side-effects of this abominable heresy, but poor Africans, Indonesians, and others around the world are being destroyed by the teaching that humans must manipulate the hand of God in order to become wealthy.
Let me be more specific about why this beast (Prosperity Gospel) deserves to be slain, or at least bridled, along with the beast of corruption about which I wrote a few years ago. First, it does nothing to make Africans (apart from a few who preach it) richer. Instead, it further impoverishes the millions who give what little they have in hopes of getting a reward from God. While prosperity preachers buy jets and clusters of big, expensive vehicles and mansions, the masses live hand-to-mouth, searching for the next day’s bowl of food.
Secondly, the prosperity preachers confuse and distort how wealth is actually created. By teaching a magical view of wealth creation, they confuse hundreds of millions who desperately need to understand that wealth is created by producing goods and services that our neighbors need. In other words, wealth creation happens when we love our neighbors enough to find out how to serve their needs. They, in turn, love us by paying us for the products or services with which we serve them. This value creation process desperately needs legs in most African countries, but it is being systematically undermined not only by corrupt leaders and poor infrastructure, but by prosperity preachers with foul messages.
Thirdly, prosperity preachers effectively reinforce the traditional, animistic idea about how to become wealthy: manipulate the spirit world. Many, such as South Korea’s Bong Rin Ro have wisely exposed the link between prosperity teaching and shamanism and witchcraft. This is devastating in a continent already predisposed to animistic thought and practice.
Finally, the prosperity gospel diminishes Jesus Christ, making Him, at best, a divine candy dispenser. Yes, I know that many of these folks claim they give Him glory by conducting healings in His name, but they undermine the veracity of these healings both because of their openly manipulative practices and because their overall message is false. The film American Gospel, for example, highlights the ways this doctrine is a works-oriented gospel. There are so many other ways in which the prosperity gospel also undermines biblical doctrine.
This false gospel destroys lives materially, but also spiritually. As I said when I spoke before a university audience in South Africa in July 2018, I am deeply concerned that the Prosperity Gospel will lead to the first-ever African atheist movement. That this is beginning to happen was evident when audience members, hearing my hypothesis to that effect, yelled out, “It’s already happening!”
What will we American Christians say to God at the judgment when He asks us why we exported this heretical belief system to poor countries around the world? I worry. The beast is devouring our neighbors in Africa and around the world. Do we want that on our conscience?