The Prosperity Gospel, Radical Grace,
Unconditional Love, and Conditional Blessings
A funny thing happened on the way to 2016. Mainstream Evangelicals have declared holy war on the doctrines of Radical Grace and the Prosperity Gospel. You might not think that this matters to you, but it does. You might even be interested in what this is all about.
- Mainstream Evangelicals are the great big Protestant middle and represent the majority of our Baptist friends, along with our friends in most other traditional Protestant denominations.
- The Prosperity Gospel, also known as the gospel of health and wealth, and represented by media preachers like Joel Osteen and the aptly named Creflo Dollar, is the belief that material blessings (i.e., $$$$) are the will of God for the faithful, even to the extent that faithfulness to God is reflected in health and wealth.
- The Radical Grace movement, led by Joseph Prince, is the hyper extension of the Protestant doctrine of Faith Only and asserts that there is NOTHING that we need to do, not repentance, not godly living, and not anything else, about past, present or future sins because grace erases all.
Why does this matter to you? With a pinch of Norman Vincent Peale's and Robert Schuller's Positivity/Possibility Gospel added for smiles, the Prosperity Gospel and Radical Grace have combined to make the biggest noise in American religion. Chances are that, just a little bit, the noise has entered your head. That's another way of saying that these religious influences are even infecting the Churches of Christ.
Deep in the fantasy imagination of many members of the Churches of Christ is the belief that we are the only ones who experience internal tensions. Our Progressives love to say that there is something unique in our DNA that inexorably leads us to doctrinal rock and roll. Protestant groups are idealized as never being at odds.
Evangelical airwaves – KSBJ out of Houston is an example – are crackling with the sound of war. Shots have been fired with the publication of books and articles like The Prosperity Gospel Exposed, Jospeh Prince: False Grace and the Risk of Millions Falling Away, and The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel (all written by Evangelical authors). These authors are doing the religious talk-radio circuit and circling the wagons against Radical Grace and the Prosperity Gospel.
Evangelicals have taken exception to the to the ideas that:
- Material blessings are more important than spiritual blessings (the Prosperity Gospel), and that
- Godly living, spiritual discipline and spiritual growth are unimportant (Radical Grace).
So what proposition is mainstream Protestantism pushing against the toxic mix of Radical Grace and the Prosperity Gospel?
- Quote: “God’s love is unconditional, but God’s blessings are conditional.”
- Explanation: just as a parent will love their child even if the child has a fender bender in the family car, God loves people even if they sin. But just as a parent takes car keys and will not return them until the child demonstrates responsibility, God blesses only those who obey Him and who remain faithful. Christianity, in other words, begins with an active response and must continue with an active response. Interestingly, this is exactly the argument that our brethren have made all along, that all of God’s blessings are conditional.
Book, Chapter, and Verse
From the Beginning, all of God’s gifts are conditional. Adam and Eve began well but ended worse because they did not respect the conditionality of the garden of Eden. Great Old Testament heroes like Noah, Abraham, and Moses were blessed because they responded actively to God's conditions of building an Ark and journeying to the Land of promise. Similarly, Old Testament goats like Saul came tumbling down because he stubbornly rejected God's conditions.
The same principle - all of God's gifts are conditional - is woven into New Testament salvation. Jesus is "the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb. 5:9). "Man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:24). "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).