A religion scholar who studies the prosperity gospel argued that Donald Trump represents the “most stunning example” of the success of this theology.
At the Faith Angle Forum in Miami last month sponsored by the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, Kate Bowler, a history professor from Duke Divinity School unpacked the nuances of what is often referred to as the “health and wealth gospel” or “prosperity theology” before prominent religion journalists. Among the many things her book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, explores are the origins and dimensions of prosperity teaching, how such teaching manifests in the United States and around the world, and how it feeds the “self-made American” ideal.
“When I first wrote Blessed, I thought that my job primarily was to explain why one of the most derided Christian movements in American history was not just a punch line. I wanted them to be taken seriously, as we historians like to say, despite its reputation for being maudlin and smarmy,” Bowler explained.
Yet she soon became sympathetic to the movement’s ability to be in touch with the deepest desires of people.
Even with its extensive television presence and the money gained from bestselling books, “the prosperity movement has always coveted what it did not have,” she continued.
The congregations where this teaching is furthered are sometimes known for worship services that have a market-oriented, entertainment bent to them. This brings about some unique incidents, she explained, mentioning a minister who once fought through choking on the emissions from the church fog machine while trying to speak.
Although hard to define precisely because gradations and variations of this theology exist, the mere mention of the “prosperity gospel” is enough to elicit some negative reactions from many Christians. Notable Reformed theologians like John Piper and evangelical blogger Tim Challies have uttered firm condemnations of prosperity teaching and playful worship.
Prosperity gospel churches are the “favorite whipping boy” of critics looking to blast greedy capitalists, Bowler said, but if anyone thinks they are the only congregations with problematic issues regarding the use of financial resources they would be wrong.
“I go to a church with more money in its organ and its stained glass, than it does in its rose garden and the upkeep of its cemeteries, than it does in outreach programs,” Bowler admitted.
“It’s an indictment on us all,” she added.
Politicians and city leaders might look for support from prosperity preachers in certain ways, but because the movement’s public profile is shady, they never looked for ways to openly advocate for their causes, Bowler noted.
Yet all that has changed with the man who now resides in the White House.
“Donald Trump is the first American President whose only religious impulses arise from the American prosperity gospel,” Bowler asserted.
“It is well known that the Trump family attended Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, a variable reformed church in America … whose entrepreneurial pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, preached a theology which also became his personal brand.”
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SOURCE: The Christian Post