Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prosperity

For my research assistant job over the summer, I've been doing a lot of digging into all things related to "prosperity" (i.e. prosperity gospel). It's been very fascinating to dialogue with my professor over a topic that I really don't know much about. Before this summer, the only reason I was vaguely even aware of this brand of Christianity was because of these two buildings:


If you're from Orange County (CA), you're probably very familiar with these buildings (even if you didn't know what they were) because both buildings can be seen from two major freeways that run through Orange County. The first one on the left is the Trinity Broadcasting Network, found by Paul (and Jan) Crouch, and a couple other former associates. The second is the Crystal Cathedral, found by Robert Schuller. I think both institutions are intertwined with what's understood as the prosperity movement, which is often highly disparaged by mainstream evangelicalism. Leaving aside the polarizing debate about their theology for the moment, I started thinking about the brand of evangelicalism that I myself have known and experienced.
The churches I know from home are situated in a very affluent, upper middle-class area (a TV show and a movie was named after the general area I'm from, after all), I began to wonder if there is anything practically (I'm not talking about the theological foundations or lack thereof that might undergird each of the two groups) different from prosperity churches and mainstream evangelical churches that I have seen. Most upper-middle class evangelicals seem just fine accumulating vast amounts of wealth (e.g., houses, cars, bank accounts, toys, vacations, clothing, etc.), and from their ivory tower of enjoying every level of creature comfort that man could think of, they quickly turn around and "abominate" any hints of the prosperity gospel (to use John Piper's words, though this present post is not talking about him or his lifestyle: I just think his word fits the vehemence with which we tend to critique the "other side", viz., the prosperity gospel).
To me, it all seems a bit intellectually and theologically dishonest to sing "You are my all in all" on a Sunday morning, while driving away from church in a BMW, checking one's Cartier watch to make sure they're not late for brunch at the new French-American joint that opened up, and simultaneously using Twitter and texts on his or her iPhone4. I apologize for being overdramatic, but the affluent middle-class evangelical appears to me, mutatis mutandis, as a practical prosperity-believer. I don't think possessing wealth itself is the distinguishing marker between being a mainline evangelical or a prosperity-believer, but I do think the manner in which that wealth is viewed and handled makes the difference. One can deny that they dislike (or even "abominate") the prosperity gospel, but I think their lifestyle might tell another story.
Now, don't misunderstand me as one who has successfully negotiated the theological tension that exists between middle-class wealth and Christian discipleship in a world filled with immense poverty. But, as I'm seeing more and more of my Christian colleagues and friends enter into the professional world, earning salaries that will more than provide for all sorts of luxuries, it does worry me somewhat whether we have carefully thought about what role money should play in our individual lives, our families, and the rearing of our children.

5 comments:

Ben said...

agreed

C. Lim said...

This was a good post. I don't agree with everything you say, but you made some good points.

jhlee19 said...

Very interesting, Suh. Always a good read, your blogs are.

jhlee19 said...

Very interesting, Suh. Always a good read, your blogs are.

Mike S. said...

Thanks for the comments!