How the Poverty Gospel is Killing You

You've probably heard of the widely loved and widely renounced take on the Gospel that's taking America by storm. In the "Prosperity Gospel," God wants all the very best for you--"best" being health, wealth, and everything you could possibly desire. This twisted view of God and the Gospel is gaining popularity in today's world of self-focus and instant gratification because it's comfy and easy. 

But there's a counter-movement also happening that sits on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: what I'm going to dub the "Poverty Gospel." I didn't even realize that movement existed until I watched "American Gospel: Christ Alone" the other day.

I decided to watch this documentary, expecting based on the trailer and previews to be shown some things I already know (how many renowned leaders in the "church" are preaching the Prosperity Gospel, which contradicts Scripture) but more importantly to be informed of some things I didn't know but needed to (how many renowned leaders in the church that I thought really had their head on straight apparently don't). Instead, I had to stop the documentary multiple times for my husband and I to either discuss and often disagree with what was being said, hold our head in our hands in frustration, or exclaim, "Did they just say...??"

While there were several good points and even more not so good points in this film, the purpose of this post is not to dissect those. My point is to describe and refute the two glaring issues I found in this documentary that is claiming to wake up today's Christians to faults of the popular Prosperity Gospel.

My response #1: Yes, I am filthy. But I am not worthless.

In no uncertain terms, this film drives home that we as humans are filthy, awful, worthless creatures. We have no hope of anything good, no value, and are totally undeserving of anything but hell. Period. Enter Jesus and His blood and we're saved but still filthy, awful, worthless creatures. And we're "happy" about it, by golly. 

Let me make one thing clear: we as humans are filthy, sin-soaked, helpless creatures. But I have shining proof that we are not worthless: Jesus died for us. He didn't die for us because He "had to." He didn't die for us to unwillingly fulfill some weird prophecy. He didn't do it to make Himself look good, as if His creation misbehaving made Him look bad to the angels. He did it because He a) loves us, b) wants a relationship with us, and c) knew this was the only way to save us from the consequences of our said filthiness. I'm also pretty sure He called us, His creation, "very good," so we're at least worth something from an artistic perspective, right?

Nowhere in that is there room for worthlessness. But this film not only encourages that view but implies quite clearly that we are to soberly walk through life with our eyes on heaven and that all those awful worldly "blessings" like money, health, and happiness are not from God and you will never ever experience any of them if you follow God as you should. That's a great view and all except one thing: if God didn't want us to enjoy life, such as His creations, His gifts, and our fellow humans, we would each likely be living as robots in our own individual dirt-covered blob of a world until we finally die and get to where we, somehow, belong. Instead God plopped us down smack dab in the middle of His creation, armed with talents, gifts, and feelings. I think we're meant to acknowledge, appreciate, and maybe even enjoy those things. 

This worthlessness/no-blessings-in-the-Christian-life view is illustrated in the film with the example of Job: "Look, the devil saw how strong of a Christian Job was, and God let him take away everything. That's what will happen to you when you truly follow God [my paraphrase, obviously]." That's true--the devil is always looking for his chance to do damage. However, they glaringly missed a minor detail in the account of Job and left it out of the film entirely:

"And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. ... And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters (Job 42:10, 12-13)."

Wait... after all that suffering, God blessed Job? Abundantly? No way. 

Which leads me to my second main issue with this documentary: illness and suffering as a Christian. 

My response #2: Your health is your God-given, God-equipped responsibility, Church.

I started the 2 hours and 19 minutes of "American Gospel" partly dreading what I would learn about leaders I thought I could trust to have sound views and ended it straight up angry, because the last place you should see a hands-off, mainstream-medicine-pushing, fear-driven mindset on health is a film about a gospel movement in America.  

Throughout the film, clips of "preachers" who are both widely followed and fairly widely known to be false teachers (think Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and the like) are contrasted with clips of preachers ... preaching the opposite. To me, most notable were clips of the former kind of preachers proclaiming that if you decide to follow Jesus, you'll never get sick because God wants only health for you. Such clips are then contrasted with bits of an interview with a Christian couple who has dealt with illness after illness basically ever since coming to Jesus. And in the very end of the film it is revealed that one of the young pastors interviewed has since died of cancer. The unspoken point they are making is maddeningly clear: "Look, these Prosperity people are lying--if you follow Jesus, you have no guarantee of health. [That is true, but there is much more taught.] In fact, there's a good chance you'll become inexplicably, helplessly sick, as we all do from time to time, and in that case you should be content and accept it because that is the state God chose for you [my summary]."

Here are some actual quotes, though:

"I think it's okay for us to still want to be healed and to still ask to be healed, I just think that we have to be careful not to let it be our priority." (Said by Katherine Berger, a former atheist whose life has been riddled by illness since just before accepting Christ and who has exhausted all mainstream medical options.) 

Health should be a priority. Sick or not. Let me say that again: Health should be a priority. No, not the higher-than-God priority, but the two are not mutually exclusive. To say health should not be our priority is to say that oxygen or food should not be our priority. No one's saying we should value food over God. But we as a society--and even more painfully as Christians--have relegated such a gift as our bodies, health, and our responsibility to be stewards of those things to this idolatrous thing that we must not desire strongly, much less value or cultivate. And the devil is happy with that surrender, I assure you. Because if we can relinquish our say, our part, and our responsibility to our own bodies, if we can deny the made-for-health default God gave us and our innate ability to heal? The devil can much more easily take us down with the simple surrender of our own personal terrain in the name of "God's [unpleasant but happy, by golly] will."

Furthermore, how come it's okay to "want" health and "ask" for health but nothing more? Because then that makes it a priority, and that makes it wrong?

The error of illustrating the film's hands-off view of ill health with this next lauded quote complete with fancy on-screen animation about knocked me over, and it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention. 

"Oh how I pray that America would be purged of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel and that the Christian church would be marked by suffering [emphasized verbally and visually] for Christ [added very much as an afterthought, verbally and visually]." (Audio by John Piper.) 

Church... there is a difference between "suffering" and "suffering for Christ." Those are not the same thing. All suffering does not equal suffering for Christ. We can suffer out of ignorance and we can suffer out of negligence and we can suffer out of stupidity. But don't cover any of those in robes of righteousness and call them suffering for Christ, when, Church, much of our suffering today is plain and simple our own fault. Let us not in our self-righteous, apathy-driven piety write off each of our sufferings as sufferings for Christ--and top it off by wishing it on ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

"We're to suffer well, to serve faithfully, and to sacrifice for the Gospel." (Costi Hinn) 

Again, that is true. But be careful what you call "suffer[ing] well" before you glorify all suffering as God-ordained and not take responsibility for the fact that often we suffer of our own doing.

I'm not saying the people interviewed in this film are miserable or lying. I'm not saying the sick people featured lack God-given joy. I'm saying they are all lacking one thing: they, as are sadly the majority of Christians in America, are ignoring the most easily recognized organ we have: our brain. They're ignoring that we have one, that God equipped it with far, far more capacity and capability than they'll tell you in grade school or on the news or at the doctor. And they're completely missing the possibility that God actually equipped us for such a time as this, an age of toxins and poisons--not only literally with the bodily ability to heal but also with the mental ability to reason, think, question, and act like we care about our body. And we're giving all that up in the name of faith and suffering "for Christ."

Allow me to quote a past post of mine on Instagram on this very issue:

God made health our default. And He made us with the innate ability to heal. Chronic illness ... is so common today because our food culture, consumer culture, and health culture have broken the insanity scale. And to dismiss such a dysfunction as an inexplicable, unhealable state or, even worse, as simply God's plan for your life, is an insult to both the gifts that our bodies are and the Creator of our bodies. He made us with the ability and tools we need to heal. So to neglect that gift is to throw His creation back in His face and say, "No, You didn't think me through. You messed up. You didn't see today's illnesses and toxins coming, so you didn't prepare our bodies for them. And since you're not miraculously healing me now, I guess I just have to be this way."

Christians, where did we get this mindset of all "trust" in God, but no responsibility on us when it comes to our very own bodies? That is not trust--that is laziness disguised as faith. And let me tell you, this mindset is pushed in this documentary.

Let me sum up this short novel.

According to "American Gospel," though not in these exact words, there are two takes on the Gospel: 1) The wrong view, which is the popular, culture-driven, comfortable "Prosperity Gospel" and 2) The correct view, which is the unpopular, supposedly Scripture-driven, uncomfortable but joy-giving "Poverty Gospel." And I subscribe to neither. 

Those who subscribe to the "Prosperity Gospel," rightly bemoaned in this film, are wrong by addition. They add guarantees of health and wealth to a God Who never promised that. But the proponents of this film are wrong by omission: they leave out God's grace, God's love, God's creativity, God's ingenuity, and any possibility of good beauty and pleasure on this side of heaven.

God does not call us all to Prosperity. But neither does God call us all to Poverty. And to think either is to woefully underestimate our value, His care, and the Gospel. His will for us all is not to be millionaires who never get sick, but His will is also not for us all to helplessly fall into sickness, out of the blue, and be 0% equipped to play any role in health or healing, like a turtle flipped over on its back waiting for someone to miraculously come along and save it.

God does call us to be stewards. Of the earth, of our families, of what He's given us--and that includes our bodies. And sighing heavenward and calmly accepting that since a man with initials after his name said nothing could be done then simply nothing can be done is not being a steward. Owning your responsibility, your body's ability to heal, and your brain's ability to learn how to get there is.

Let me tell you this: I was chronically ill for six years. I can say for a fact that I know suffering. Even though I and so many other people begged God to heal me, even though I went the mainstream route and tried the doctors and the pills and all those things we assume are our only hope, I remained sick. Essentially bed-ridden or chair-ridden for years.

And then a friend of a friend happened to hear about me and pass along her alternative doctor's DVD on how Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and any other such diagnoses are all just different manifestations of healable autoimmune conditions. I threw caution to the wind and went to that doctor. When I moved states, I went on to continue with the alternative doctor he recommended. That doctor found Lyme, mercury poisoning, and the dozens of issues my body had collected over the years and worked with me to eradicate them one by one. I finally started reading things online about health and toxins and took baby step by baby step toward ridding my life of dangerous products and "food" that's anything but. I saw one person refer to DNRS on Instagram and looked it up, as I knew there was work left to do, and I realized my brain had to be the last puzzle piece. I considered it prayerfully with my husband for a while--and did it. I took charge of my body and my health because by then, after all I had seen, I had learned that the only person who held that responsibility to my body was the one person who lives in it, the one person God entrusted it to.

And now I am thriving. I am healthy. And I follow Jesus. 

Tell me that He doesn't give blessings, that He allows only abundant suffering, that I should have left my health to everyone but myself, and that I. am. worthless. 

Show me where that is in the Bible, chapter and verse, "American Gospel." I'll wait. 
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and nothing I say is to be taken as medical advice. I speak only of my personal experience.

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