Wednesday, September 13, 2006

'Just in Time'-- 'God Wants You Wealthy'

The cover photo in the most recent issue of Time Magazine says it all. It shows a Rolls Royce, only instead of the normal hood ornament there is a cross. What would Jesus say? David Van Bema's and Jeff Chu's article is absolutely worth the read. It is one of his best, and it tries hard to be balanced and fair, although the general tenor of the article makes reasonably clear that Van Bema thinks 'Prosperity Lite' is also theology lite, whether it comes from Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer or others. Here is the link,9171,1533448,00.html.

Since I am quoted in there twice, and my name is not taken in vain, it may be worth a few further remarks.

The health and wealth Gospel is a profoundly American Gospel, especially connected to blue collar Protestant religion, that thrives on the rags to riches mythology of our culture in general. The message is one form of the general message of 'success' or 'progress' and hence prosperity. It really does not preach well in impoverished countries like Zimbabwe where I go to teach and preach from time to time. Why not? Because there are not the social networks or mechanisms to even create the possibility of wealth. If your whole nation's economy is on tilt, your personal one is likely to be the same.

The Osteen or Dollar or Meyer Gospel plays well in places where there is a glimmer of hope of improving one's lot in life, coupled with considerable inequities between the uber-wealthy and the poor. If one see people getting rich quick (or apparently so) then it is natural to think--- "Hey, it could happen to me. This is America, the land of 'opportunity'."

But wait a minute. If it was God's plan and desire for his people in general to be wealthy, why wasn't Jesus himself wealthy? Why did he say "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" and why did he teach us to pray only for necessities like 'daily bread'? Why exactly is the first beatitude in Luke 6.20-21 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God." And then the second one is "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied." Jesus, as it turns out, couldn't even pay for his own funeral. He was buried by a fringe disciple who had space in the family tomb. Did Jesus just miss out on the blessing during his earthly life? Maybe he didn't have enough faith??? Hmmmm.

Why exactly was it that the apostle Paul had to work his fingers to the bone making tents (cf. 1 Thess. 2.9 for example) while doing his missionary work? The disparity between the way Paul lived and describes his own life, when compared to the likes of Osteen Dollar or others is striking-- "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again...Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea...I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." (2 Cor. 11. 23-27).

Not only so, but Paul in this same 2 Corinthians letter says plainly that he asked God to take a source of suffering away from him, a stake in the flesh, and God said NO! (2 Cor. 12.7-9). Paul is of course engaged in mock boasting, and ridiculing those who make the facile assumption that if they are living large it must be God's blessing and will for their lives!!! Did Paul just not get the memo about the prosperity and health God had in mind for him and about the Gospel of conspicuous consumption?

There are in other words, so many problems with the prosperity Gospel just from examining the teaching and lives of Jesus and Paul, that we don't even need to get into James and other diatribes on the dangers of wealth. So perhaps its about time we had a list of ten good reasons why God doesn't want you wealthy!!


1) Wealth is a false god. As Jesus said. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Each involve all consuming loyalities and allegiance. A person should never measure themselves, or the blessing of God on their lives by the abundance of their possessions.

2) We are all fallen human beings with an infinite capacity to rationalize our behavior, including especially our spending behavior. Having wealth leads to rationalizing like that of Joel Osteen, who in the Time article says "well its all relative isn't it?" In fact its not relative-- its absolute. And its a case of our taking care of our poor relatives, neighbors, even strangers, and enemies. This is what it means to love neighbor and even enemy as ourselves. The Bible does not say love your neighbor ten percent as much as you love yourself!

3) As the psalmist says--- "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness there of." It follows from this that we are only stewards, not owners of any property! This being the case we have to justify keeping things, not giving them away. Or as John Wesley put it--- other people's necessities, especially the poor, should be taken care of before we even think about our luxuries.

4) Greed is a serious sin, and the desire for wealth often leads to greed. Try reading the story of Silas Marner, or the even sadder story of King Midas.

5) Having wealth gives the false impression that one can secure one's own life. One then begins to trust in one's wealth as a safety net, rather than in God. "Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart".

6) "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." The desire to get rich, especially the desire to get rich quick, at whatever cost, often causes the abandonment of various essential Christian virtues such as HONESTY, loyalty, self-sacrificial love for example. The question is--- can you handle wealth? Many Christians cannot handle the temptations of wealth. They compromise their trust in God, and so their very faith, justifying an accelerated rate of conspicuous consumption.

7) The desire to be wealthy is a form of narcissism. It is essentially very self-centered, self-seeking behavior. And the most primal sin of all is 'the heart turned in upon itself.'

8) The Bible is very clear that God will hold us accountable for what we do, with what we have in this life. To whom more is given, more is required. See the parable of the talents. Conspicuous consumption in essence results in taking food out of the mouths of the starving, taking dollars away from missionary work, taking resources away from worthy charities. In other words, sins of omission are just as serious as sins of commission. Its also what you are not doing with your resources that God will hold you accountable for. See for example the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk. 16. But even more devastating is the fact that Jesus takes it as a personal affront if we do not visit those in prison, feeed the hungry, and care for the sick and needy. Jesus identifies with the poor and their plight (see Mt. 25.34-40). And just because you may do this once and a while on a mission trip does not give you permission to avoid living a simple life style most of the time.

9) Wealth does not very often make you happy. I used to live in the furniture capital of America-- High Point N.C. Some of those furniture millionares were some of the most miserable, frightened, paranoid people I have ever met. Here's a clue. The more you have-- the more you have to lose, and the more things you fear losing in life when it comes to property. Living in a simple manner obviates these problems altogether.

10) Jesus extols the poor not the rich! Why would Jesus extol the widow who gave her whole 'living' into the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41-44) if Jesus had really believed the prosperity Gospel? Shouldn't he have chided this poor woman for making herself even more indigent and not going for happiness and the gusto in life? Didn't Jesus say he came that we might have an abundant life? Here's a clue-- the abundant life has nothing to do with abundant possessions. It has to do with having the gift of everlasting life, and having God's loving presence in your midst forever.

There is more, but this is enough for now. Read Gordon Fee's The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel (available on the Regent College in Vancouver website).


Weekend Fisher said...

Go get 'em.

Seems that when we pray for our "daily bread" we're praying not to be too rich (Proverbs 30:8, give me neither poverty nor riches but only my daily bread ...).

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Thanks for the reminder. It is easy to get caught up in "stuff." At one time I was a member of a "health and wealth" church, so I absolutley reasonate with what you say here.

David Johnson said...

While the majority of American churches might not be "prosperity" churches, the American church is so profoundly wealthy that it's difficult to know how much our wealth skews our thinking. The "American Dream" sort of mentality is omnipresent among us, even if most of us would deny that Jesus taught anything like it. In more "democratic" denominations, the leadership of the church is often styled after a "board of directors" model. It seems to often be the case that the men of means are the ones who rise to positions of lay leadership within a congregation, whether spiritually mature or not.

I suppose most people in the world would assume that wealth is a blessing. Many American Christians seem to operate on the principle that wealth is a sign of God's blessing. In light of Jesus statement in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:23-25, and Luke 18:24-25, we might need to see wealth as more of a curse.

D said...

I think that there has to be a balance .. Some of these ministers go to the extreme with such teaching. 1st they must teach people that they need to love God and his word.
Then they should think about getting a car home etc.....

byron smith said...

Thanks once again Ben.

Jeff Raker said...

WOW! What a great reminder, Ben. Thanks for the link and the insights.
I think David is on to something - "it's difficult to know how much our wealth skews our thinking" because we are wealthy in the US, even on welfare we are considered rich. What an impact we could have if we used that wealth the way Jesus taught us!

Mark said...

Thanks for a great post. We all need to hear that message more often. One of my professors used to always say, "Be careful what you call blessings, because they may actually be tests." Financial success is not an accurate measurement of one's 'spirituality'. May we not forget our duty to use what we have for God's purposes; being faithful with little or with much.

James Tippins said...

Dr. Witherington, well put. When I read the article on Tuesday night I couldn't believe that not only the fame and wealth of these that promote this teaching, but the growth in numbers that is happening because of it. Thank you for your work.

Makeesha said...

well said...with one caveat - I do believe that God calls some into wealth, and to those he calls he equips. In other words, a Christian who is blessed financially will be producing mighty Kingdom fruits with that wealth ... they will be using their money for things other than their own "climb up the ladder" of materialism and consumerism. Chances are, they will live simply. and I do believe it's uncommon to be graced for financial wealth. I also don't think it's something we should be striving for, praying for, hoping for, preaching about or working toward.

Unknown said...

I think 1 Timothy 6.17-18 is very much applicable to most American Christians: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

I think we see this attitude in wealthy people like Job and Abraham. I'm not sure we see this attitude in most American Christians. I think "being able to give" is a convenient rationalization for seeking wealth, but let's see it actually being lived!

Although I cannot really comment on other aspects of his life or theology (I haven't even read any of his books), I appreciate about Rick Warren that he appears to have this attitude regarding the enormous wealth his books have brought him (paying back the salary his church paid him, "reverse tithing", etc.)

Matt said...

Dr. Witherington,

Great commentary on a refreshingly balanced article in TIME. One unfortunate thing worth pointing out, though, is that "Prosperity Theology" (in both its "Lite" as well as "Deluxe" versions) often *does* play well in the developing world. Some of those mentioned in the TIME article make regular visits to South Asia, and TBN until recently had a local affiliate ("Miracle Net") in India broadcasting prosperity teaching throughout the country.

As for your comparison of the Apostle Paul's lifestyle with that of those promoting prosperity theology, an personal anecdote worth repeating:

I originally came to faith in Jesus at the age of seventeen through others my own age who were involved in a "Word of Faith" group. The leader of the youth group was teaching that since Jesus died on the Cross and suffered on our behalf, we don't need to suffer, and any suffering on our part now is therefore the result of our own "lack of faith". I innocently asked, "Well, what about Paul?" I was informed that even Paul's suffering was the result of his lack of faith in some areas!! There was also teaching on the Book of Job that Job's suffering was the result of his "lack of faith": His habit of sacrificing on behalf of his children as described in 1:5 was a sign of his fear, and thus the "hedge of protection" around Job was "damaged" -- allowing Satan to attack (obviously, this is pretty much the opposite of what I understand to be a genuine reading of Job, putting those with this view on the same side as Job's comforters).

Thanks for your insights,


Cats and Radishes Art said...

Great article Ben. I often struggle with understanding people's pursuit of wealth. You made some excellent points to think about. Love your blog.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Great stuff. Something all need to hear, but especially those of us here in the United States.

I am reminded too, of the church in Laodicea. Sometimes I think, in general, our spiritual poverty is directly proportioned to our material prosperity. We don't really need God, or the riches of Christ. We are surfeited in worldly wealth, and materialism.

One other thing I'd like to add: This false gospel certainly turns out "Christians" who are a far cry from Pauls and the like in Scripture (like at the end of Heb 11). I've been reading Bonhoeffer. In a different universe.


Brian said...

It's funny sometimes how much emphasis is put on wealth.

Dave Ramsey says that if people all people did was tithe consistatnly like they are suppoed to do, the church would have so much money it woudnl't know what to do with it all. Really.

Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Ben and all,

Another good article. There are many things we can agree on. Much of what I reveal will be a bitter pill to most though, but it will be sweet as honey on your lips, after you digest it. Sound vaguely familiar? Be patient with my long-winded presentations of what I have waited a very long time to be able to say. Also be aware that what I say is intended to make people very uncomfortable with the status quo so we can forge a new path to the future. Your interpretations are close but not wholly accurate. Here’s the chance to truly understand the Creator’s mind and expectations. Remember, patience and humility are wise virtues. One who comes in an unexpected manner often brings surprises...

RE: "Does God want you to be rich?"
How about, does the Creator want some people to suffer and starve while some wallow in luxury and ignore the plight of others? What about "serving mammon" (money and materialism) instead of truth, justice, and your fellow souls? How about the rich man and the eye of a needle? Talking about the blind leading the blind...

To take this a step further, what would the Creator say about forming organizations (corporations, religions, governments, political parties, etc.) that accumulate vast wealth and resources while living people and other lifeforms suffer as the direct result? What does this say about the complete hypocrisy of all religions?

Here's some pivotal knowledge (wisdom) so people can stop focusing on symptoms and obfuscatory details and home in like a laser on the root causes of and solutions to humanity's seemingly never-ending struggles.

Money is the lifeblood of the powerful and the chains and key to human enslavement

There is a radical and highly effective solution to all of our economic problems that will dramatically simplify, streamline, and revitalize human civilization. It will eliminate all poverty, debt, and the vast majority of crime, material inequality, deception, and injustice. It will also eliminate the underlying causes of most conflicts, while preventing evil scoundrels and their cabals from deceiving, deluding, and bedeviling humanity, ever again. It will likewise eliminate the primary barriers to solving global warming, pollution, and the many evils that result from corporate greed and their control of natural and societal resources. That solution is to simply eliminate money from the human equation, thereby replacing the current system of greed, exploitation, and institutionalized coercion with freewill cooperation, just laws based on verifiable wisdom, and societal goals targeted at benefiting all, not just a self-chosen and abominably greedy few.

We can now thank millennia of political, monetary, and religious leaders for proving, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that top-down, hierarchical governance is absolute folly and foolishness. Even representative democracy, that great promise of the past, was easily and readily subverted to enslave us all, thanks to money and those that secretly control and deceptively manipulate all currencies and economies. Is there any doubt anymore that entrusting politics and money to solve humanity's problems is delusion of the highest order? Is there any doubt that permitting political and corporate leaders to control the lives of billions has resulted in great evil?

Here's a real hot potato! Eat it up, digest it, and then feed it's bones to the hungry...

Most people have no idea that the common-denominator math of all the world's currencies forms an endless loop that generates debt faster than we can ever generate the value to pay for it. This obscured and purposeful math-logic trap at the center of all banking, currencies, and economies is the root cause of poverty. Those who rule this world through fear and deception strive constantly to hide this fact, while pretending to seek solutions to poverty and human struggle. Any who would scoff at this analysis have simply failed to do the math, even though it is based on a simple common-denominator ratio.

Here is Wisdom

Doctrine of Two Spirits...


Ben Witherington said...

Thanks so much for all of this. I do agree that occasionally but rarely God equips a saint who is not tempted by wealth, and he blesses them because he knows that they know they have an obligation to bless others with what they receive. Its not all for them, nor should they join the bless me club. So yes, there is a place for such persons in the kingdom--- but God has to personally squeeze them through the eye of the needle--- so to speak! Personally, having ridden camels and having seen needles, I know that the point of that aphorism is that it is not only rare, its humanly impossible.
Only God does those kinds of miracles.


P.S. I am doing a radio show in the morning at 8 a.m. on this very subject on a Detroit station. Tune in.

Chandra said...

I'm reminded of Andrew Peterson's ( "Land of the Free" from his Appendix A bootleg album, a song dedicated to his Compassion child in S. America...

"Cause I'm just a little jealous of the nothing that you have/You're unfettered by the wealth of the world that we pretend is gonna last..."


Psalmist said...

I think Wesley's Covenant Prayer gives a healthy Christian approach to wealth (quoting a modern adaptation):

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will; rank me with whom you will.

Put me to doing; put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you; exalted for you, or brought low for you.

Let me be full; let me be empty.

Let me have all things; let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

. . .

My problem with the prosperity "gospel" is that it is essentially a promise that God is obligated "bless" us with what our affluent society considers success. So if I buy into that, I'm "claiming" that promise. If I "pray" for the wealth that is "promised" to me, is it really anything other than a demand? How different from the Lord telling us to pray for our basic daily needs!

I also think the church is rightly viewed with scorn because some "prosperity" adherents will claim that the reason not everyone gets wealthy is that those who don't, lack sufficent faith. What catches the positive attention of a cynical world is Christians living joyfully and generously on whatever honorable income they earn.

Ben Witherington said...

Who said anything about Jesus calls us to misery? In fact Jesus calls us to joy-- a joy the world can neither give nor take away. Nor did I say anything about suffering being inherently good or redemptive, nor anything that denies the goodness of loving personal relationships between human beings. What I did say is that people are far more important than things. You should love people and use things, not the other way around. Most of the happiest people I have ever met, were very down to earth, simple living Christians. They were not 'so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good'. To the contrary-- they were always out their helping and loving their fellow human beings.

A critique of greed and lust is not a critique of the goodness of creation or being a creature or a critique of real human love.

So cut me some slack evolutionist, you clearly have misread the drift of what I am saying. The call to simple de-enculturated living is not a call to asceticism or even poverty. It is a call to stewardship and to self-sacrificial love.


Cynthia said...

Thank you so much for this post, Dr. Witherington.

I am new(ish) to If there is a track back feature, I haven't yet figured out how to use it, so I'll note here I've posted about and linked to your blog at my own, DoctrineOfCyn.

I will be cross-posting it (with slight modifications) at, as well.

Thanks too, for linking to the article in TIME. I wouldn't have read it, otherwise. Do you know, are Van Biema and Chu Christians? They covered Prosperity Gospel Theology and the opposition to it, with more finesse than I'm used to seeing from the mainstream, secular media.

Ben Witherington said...

David Van Biema is indeed a Christian, and Jeff Chu may well be also. They are also both nice guys who know how to write..


Cynthia said...

Hi Evolutionist,

You asked: "How much of a church's annual income goes to prop up the preacher and his or her family (usually his)?"

A note up front, so that you will understand: Mega-congregations and the Prosperity-Gospel movement are notable (and influential) phenomena in the Church; they're neither the norm nor the whole.

That said, I can't answer for all churches (maybe check with, but I do have a copy of my congregation's annual budget for 2005, at my desk. Our budget for 2005 was just shy of $386,000.00.

Our senior pastor's salary was $38K and some change (not significant enough to round that up to $39K). The bulk of the budget goes toward our buildings (heat, water, light, phone, insurance, equipment, maintenance and repair, and other debts, and investments); and the rest of it is used to pay the rest of the church staff; and for expenses such as Christian Education (Sunday School, adult courses, etc.); transportation; professional expenses; conference dues; music; supplies; and the like. A percentage is pledged annually to outside causes such as the Salvation Army, homeless shelters and rescue missions in the nearby inner-city, and other charities and missions (foreign and domestic).

The median household income in our town is over $70,000.00. Our pastor is on call 24 hours a day, responds to deaths; sick calls; suicide attempts; to people falling off the sobriety wagon and back into their addictions; to people fighting mental illness, including suicide attempts; to marital trouble, and other painful situations. The pastor preaches at two services on Sunday, leads an adult education service during the week, keeps weekday office hours, conducts weddings, funerals, baptisms, dedications, and membership classes; attends monthly council and diaconate meetings, Stephen Ministry meetings, Outreach committee meetings, counsels members and non-members, sometimes sings a solo or one part of a duet in church, and usually performs in our Easter play, as well.

Our pastor works weekends and holidays, and earns scarce more than half of what is probably the median household income of the families in our church (if our congregation's median income isn't higher than that of the town's average household). In addition, our pastor's spouse does the work of a full time employee (or three) for us, for free. I suspect that in many churches, the pastor and family are doing a lot of work the congregation ought to be taking on. I know that's the case in our church (and I'm simply a member, not a pastor's spouse nor kid), where their whole family painted one of our larger rooms in the building.

Likewise, when the daughter of the pastor from a neighboring church volunteered to help out at our church's summer children's program, we delayed the start of our planning meeting, in order to give her time to pick up the sanctuary, empty the trash, and turn off the lights, after the Sunday service in their building. There is propping up going on, but in most churches I've belonged to or known about, it's been the pastor and family propping up the rest of us.

Preachers don't (I hope) want to follow Paul. They want to follow Christ. Paul would want them to follow Christ. Paul devoted his life and sacrificed his freedom in order to point them to Christ. Paul, by the way, affirmed preachers were entitled to a salary, while refusing one for himself (so that his motives could not be called into question). Still, accepting a salary for that job is nothing Paul condemned. Speaking of my own church, no one but the independently wealthy could afford to be our pastor if we didn't pay a pastor, because of the demands we place on our pastor. In my opinion as someone who has attended general meetings and held my breath 'til we've passed the budget, the average modern church is probably better criticized for the money it spends maintaining its buildings, than the money it spends on its clergy.

You said, "[...]simply give my observations on what are apparently Scriptural teachings, that apparent poverty, suffering, and all sorts of other unpleasant things are good and noble (before one recieves their heavenly mansions). I'm not being sarcastic and mean no insult, I'm simply interacting with what I personally see are fallacies inherent in Christian thinking."

Have you read the gospels in recent years? Your response seems, to me, to include generalizations that seem more founded on the pop culture interpretation of Jesus and scripture, than on the teachings of Jesus as recounted by the evangelists.

I recommend them, of course, since they're scripture to me. Still, they are good reading, and are an important part (along with the rest of the Bible) of the foundation of the larger Western canon of literature (both sacred and secular), whether or not you believe. Once you've read them, you might want to read Paul's epistle to the Philippians, to get a better grasp of of the kind of joy to which Paul refers. If you get nothing else from these works, you will at least approach discussions such as this with a fuller understanding.

You said, "Why do Christians pat themselves on the back for "helping the poor" (which is really only putting a band-ain on an open wound) and then criticize the poor for wanting to improve their lot in life?"

There are all kinds of help, not limited to the band-aid style help as you mention above. Like society at large, the church is made up of humans, and humans give all kinds of help. It's the old giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. Of course, some of us (Christian and non-Christian alike) don't want to give fish away, or teach the trade.

Like non-Christians, Christians aren't always helpful, smart, or efficient. Certainly though, not all help given to the poor is but a bandage (by Christians or non-Christians). There are Christian organizations providing disaster relief, detoxification programs, job training and retraining, parenting assistance, counselling, and any number of programs that give people the tools they need to learn to care for themselves and others. There are also, of course, the kinds of help where you hand a hungry man a meal, because he's too weak from hunger to even hold the fishing rod. Sometimes a bandage is necessary, to keep someone from bleeding to death. And like it is with my own children, sometimes a bandage is psychologically necessary to the injured, so that they can be sure someone knows they've been hurt, and is trying to help.

Is the church doing all it can? No. No. Not at all. I have never seen a Christian, or anyone, for that matter, criticize a poor person for trying to improve his situation in life, though. I'm not sure what you meant by that comment.

You also said, "Indeed, conservative Christians are destined to saying that poverty is and should be a perpetual way of life since Jesus said there will always be poor people."

This is a part of the discussion where, I think, if you were more familiar with the gospels, you would have a better understanding of the context of the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The same can be said of a lot of Christians, too.


Makeesha said...

Ben Said: but God has to personally squeeze them through the eye of the needle--- so to speak! Personally, having ridden camels and having seen needles, I know that the point of that aphorism is that it is not only rare, its humanly impossible.
Only God does those kinds of miracles.

Mak: yes Ben, I would agree with that. Thank you for conceding the point :)

Neil said...

Beautifully said, Ben.

When I saw Time's "God wants you Wealthy" title my first thoughts were, "God wants you to repent and believe. False teachers want themselves to be wealthy."

tdwunder said...

as someone who was once involved in the wof movement, i say amen!

Marc Axelrod said...

Excellent article! I'm sorry I wasn't up in time to hear you in Detroit, it would have been an added blessing.

Craig Blomberg's book "Neither Poverty Nor Riches" is also a sane survey of what the Bible says about possessions. I have a review of it here:


yes2truth aka Charles Crosby said...


You are all missing the point, including Mr Witherington.

If you study the story of the wealthy young man who came to the Lord you must understand that his problem was not the wealth, but his attitude to the wealth.

He was one of those people whom the Lord referred to as serving mammon.

Now Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man and a follower of The Lord so obviously his wealth was not his god.

Any wealthy man or woman who does not worship their wealth can be Born Again.

All the Lord said was "It's very difficult for those who love their wealth" as He will require the giving up of that wealth in these cases in order to follow Him.

In the story of Job he lost everything but in the end it was restored to him in greater measure.

Always remember, Sons of God will eventually inherit the Kingdon of God, live in mansions, rule several cities, and hold positions of high office as Royal Priests.

If we cannot be trusted with wealth here and now, what use will we be in the future!!??

I think you all need to think this Truth through, before you assign yourselves to self inflicted poverty.

The bottom line to this is attitude to wealth, not wealth itself.


Psalmist said...

Oh, I think there's a huge problem, No2, when someone's theology centers around EXPECTING God to provide wealth. Sure, God CAN bless us with wealth, and some of us are blessed with wealth. But the "prosperity gospel" people make that the point, and some of their more famous preachers MAKE THEIR OWN WEALTH by preaching it. The attitude you speak of is also often the motivation for some of these people. And it's very interesting to me, when I hear people like Dollar (he has a TV broadcast I hear when getting ready to go to work on Sundays), they focus so much on how God's supposed to bless those he's preaching to, yet NOTHING--and I mean NOTHING--when it comes to what God expects them to do with those blessings. I've come to the point that I consider it false teaching if I'm hearing "God will bless you" without also hearing "God will use you to bless others." (And I don't mean in the "christian" version of a pyramid scheme.)

David A Booth said...


But I AM rich. My family lives in an 1,800 square foot condo. We have running water, air-conditioning, and two cars! From a human persective, there is zero prospect that we will not have food to eat, clothes to wear, and adequate medical care for the rest of our lives (I am greatful for these "things" and consider them to be blessings; but I am also mindful that they are blessings that most of the world doesn't enjoy).

I don't want to diminish the damage being done by the Joel Olsteen's of the world, but materialism is a problem for all of us "average" Americans as well. One danger is that we can grade ourselves on a curve and discover that we are doing pretty well compared to Hollywood stars (or for that matter - religious celebrities). Such self-satisfaction can keep us from asking "how should Christ's disciples live in a nation where superabundance is often taken for granted?"

In Christ,


Bill Barnwell said...

You naysayers have got it all wrong. God wants each and every one of us to be very wealthy. And not only that, all you have to do is speak faith-filled words and claim your wealth that the Bible promises each believer. I know so because the great theologian Creflo Dollar says so:

All you have to do is beLIEve.

Tim Chesterton said...

Ben, may I poach these 'ten reasons' and post them on my blog? (properly attributed of course)

Tim Chesterton

Ben Witherington said...

One's attitude to wealth is only part of the problem. When one is wealthy and a Christian then one has to justify keeping it and spending on oneself, not justify giving it.

It is a huge mistake to think that having wealth doesn't have an effect on how you think, act, and live. It is a rare person who can live in a detached manner when one has wealth. Having wealth is like having ice cream readily available in massive quantities. Its hard to resist the temptation to over indulge when its so near and readily available.

As for those who want to post my Top 10 --- go right ahead.

Ben W.

Trierr said...

Professor Witherington,

Your post comes at a rather providencial time for me. First let it be said that as an American, I am indeed wealthier than the huge majority of the world. (see Global Rich List) So, I whole heartedly agree with the person above who notes that we who have cars, air conditioning, and large living spaces are rich.

At the same time, I am in the process of possibly changing jobs to a job that will be 30% - 40% more than I currently make. This will come in handy as I get ready to start work on a masters in Theology. However, I am very concerned about the accumulation of wealth. We currently try to give between 12% and 20% of our income and save a similar amount. But wealth is very addicting. It seems that Jesus speak more about the dangers of wealth than just about any other subject (contrary to what we may hear or read in christian circles). What are healthy boundaries for money? What do you do?

Ben Witherington said...


I do not profess to be a perfect example of how to deal with excess income, but here are some of my principles. 1) de-enculturate yourself. By this I mean do not spend much time reading or watching ads that try to get you to spend money on things you do not need; 2) make a list (and check it twice) of things that are indeed essential for you and your family and for your work. For example, since I live 15 miles from work and there is no bus to Wilmore, I must have a car. But then the question becomes what sort of car? Well as part of my Christian witness I would want one that is as eco-friendly, and as little gas guzzling as possible. Thus I have a Honda Civic Hybrid (51 miles to the gallon on the road, and no fuel emissions at all when the car is stopped or idling).
3) spend time doing things like Habitat for Humanity, Katrina Relief, supporting Bread for the World, and if possible traveling on mission projects overseas, so that you may become a world-minded Christian, and not a parochial American chanting "God bless my standard of living". Once you begin to have a heart for the poor and the lost, it becomes a powerful force in your life. 4) watch a movie like The Constant Gardner to see what we are up against. By this I mean that if we have money to invest, then we must make moral choices in what we invest in. You can't simply go to a broker and say, diversify my portfolio; 5) live simply. In this regard I mean eat healthy, don't take portions out of all proportion to your need. Eat what you are given. I mean dress simply--- you may need a suit for work, and to look clean and neat, but you don't 'need' Gucci, Ucci, and Coucci if you catch my drift. 6) Draw up a list of worthy causes you would like to support if extra income comes in; 7) avoid debt like the plague. Minimize your credit card purchases. Use the debit card instead. Try not to buy things on time, except a house. Pay as you go. And of course--- once and a while cut yourself some slack. Go to a movie or out to eat.


Ben W.

Peter Smythe said...

I believe that your doctrinal position on prosperity is misguided. There is ample scriptural support in the Old Testament that God materially blessed the patriarchs and the Jewish people as a whole. In Hebrews, the writer declares that we have a better covenant with better promises. There is no scriptural support for the position that God desires that his children be poor. Instead of taking the extreme position to contrast what you consider to be error in doctrine, the focus should be more on "let your moderation be known to all." If the prosperity preachers have missed it, that is where they have missed it.

pixel_pusher said...

It's not a matter of wanting wealth for it's own sake. Why then did God Promise Abraham all that He did- including material wealth? Is it because "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness"? Try reading Deuteronomy 28:1-14- it doesn't look as though God expected the Isrealites to be destitute. And Paul tells us that we are heirs to that promise because Christ has made us Abraham's seed- and Abraham's seed has inherited what God has given to Abraham- namely, wealth, healing, protection and ling life.

Jesus clearly says "the LOVE of money is the root of all evil", not the accumulation of money is.

Makeesha said...

pixel pusher. I don't believe in the hermeneutical practice of taking one person or situation found in scripture and applying it to every situation/person. I think that leads to all manner of error. I think when you look at Abraham, and then you look at those who were not wealthy, you find the perfect answer. It's not up to me to beg, plead and confess my way to wealth. It's not something I should seek, it's not something God has promised me and it's no up to me to determine if I'm called to riches. In fact, if I seek anything, it should be simplicity.

peter - there is also no scriptural support for "claiming" the promises of Abraham and there is no scriptural support for the idea that all Christians should be financially wealthy. I didn't hear Ben exalting poverty any higher than Jesus himself did. and I didn't hear him suggesting that we all should live in LACK. poverty and lack are different just like wealth and excess are different. But let's not quibble over semantics, it's clear what Ben is saying when taken in context with the article he's commenting on.

Makeesha said...

I guess maybe I'm reading more hyperbole into Ben's post than he intended or than others are reading. I don't see him saying that lack is more holy than riches. I don't see him saying that poverty inherantly creates in us more righteousness or that money inherantly destroys...he's a smart guy and that would be kind of a strange thing to say.

I see him being critical of a message that teaches that we are to seek God for wealth....that's essentially what that article is highlighting. I'm not ignorant on this point, I grew up in the word of faith movement and currently minister at a "word of faith leaning type" church. I feel that I personally have matured beyond the need to "lay claim" to my own prosperity.

What I got out of Ben's post was that any kind of "prosperity teaching" (seeking God for financial prosperity..having far above and beyond what you need) or wealth gospel is a singularly "American" or "Western" ideal and doesn't even make sense on any level to those beyond our shores. This should automatically bring it to question.

I guess maybe I'm hearing Ben say something different than you so I'll let him respond and speak for himself before I go any further.

pixel_pusher said...

Makeesha, it's not a matter of begging, pleading, etc. Abraham didn't ask for God's blessing- it was given to him as a gift, and God made the covenant promises to include all of Abraham's descendants (which according to Galatians 3:29, we are now his seed as well). Biblical history shows us that the children of Israel enjoyed their prosperity , and that even in times when it was denied them, it was restored to them after a time. Even Job's wealth was restored to him after a time- couldn't it have been easier to just leave him in his broken and destitute position?

Funny that we don't chide our Christian musicians, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. for the wealth they have, or expect them to live poorly. But we'll jump all over preachers or ministers whom God has blessed. As Deut 8:18 says, we've all been given the ability to work to produce wealth. Think about all the people in the Bible that were movers and shakers- Abraham, Job, David, etc. They were all righteous AND wealthy. Sure, they had their faults, but they loved, served and obeyed God in spite of their wealth, not because of it.

And I never advocated that we should go around begging for wealth. But we shouldn't go around rebuking those who serve and honor God, and get blessed abundantly for their service. God blesses us to be a blessing to others, not to ourselves. It's a solid Biblical principle; the more you give to God (showing good stewardship), the more He blesses you (rewarding our faithfulness- remember the parable of the Good Steward?). But, we can also choose to ignore and/or refuse God's gracious gifts, whether it's material blessing or salvation.

The moral? Put God first, and He'll bless you- physically, spiritually, materially, emotionally, etc.

Ben Witherington said...

I would suggest you all read John Wesley's second most preached sermon-- "On the Use of Money".

And as a footnote to Mr. P. Pusher, it is absolutely not the case that if you give more to God (more what? more time, more effort, more money?) he will necessarily give more to you. There is no such heavenly mechanism, because: 1) God does not promise such reciprocity in the way you describe; and 2) God in no way can be obligated by our actions! God is free to do as God desires.


Makeesha said...

Pixel pusher: the problem I have with what you just said is that it seems to be implied then that those who are not being "blessed" are not getting closer to God.

The starving underground Christian is likely seeking God more than I am and yet they aren't "blessed".

i just don't think it's as simple as all that.

My point in all this is that if God blesses you, it's to bless, not to keep, to become more consumeristic and have a bigger and better everything. So if you are living that way - the classic American dream - then you might want to consider if it is indeed God who is blessing you.

yuckabuck said...

Because God blessed Abraham with many cattle, I should expect God to bless me materially more than my peers as well???

The current trend to this discussion points out to me again just how much theological education current Christians are missing out on. Jesus talked more about "the Kingdom of God" than just about anything else, and yet most Christians have totally missed his point about it. Especially when they try to point to Abraham's wealth or (especially!) to the promises of wealth in Deuteronomy as being promises to us as well. (Must be that "plain meaning" thing again...)

The promises of the Law were given to the Chosen people, IF they would keep their end of the covenant. They did not. God has "transferred" the promises (not really a good term- see Romans 11) to the church, but they are not automatically poured out. Theologians like to say that they are "eschatological," meaning that we receive a foretaste of the promises now, but will not receive the whole Kingdom of God until the King (Jesus) returns.

In this life, some people receive a temporary healing for illnesses, but everyone still eventually dies. When the Kingdom comes, every pain, tear, and limitation will be wiped away.

In this life, some people may receive a temporary blessing of material wealth, BUT the most God promises to us is a basic provision for what He considers to be our needs. The "wealth of Abraham" awaits us on the other side of the Kingdom's consummation, though I daresay it will look a LOT different than many people envision.

Why can't preachers explain this stuff from the pulpit? And why can't theologians describe this stuff on a simpler level, so as to encourage the preachers to preach it from the pulpit?

Sorry, but I even have to criticize Gordon Fee here. In Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Fee relates a time when a student at Regent asked him what he would do if he pastored a church again. He answered something like, "I would get the people to see themselves as eschatological." Wow, that will really preach. I fully agree with his answer, as I sense the same call on my life (see my profile), but I couldn't think of a more boring way to say it. Why can't we passionately communicate this stuff to the people in the pew so that they get it, and won't fall either for the over-realized eschatology of the prosperity teachers or the under-realized eschatology of the cessantionists?

(I need to rip on my own church here as well. Vineyard churches are about the only denomination young enough to include better teaching on the Kingdom in their creed, and yet they also fall way short of the goal here. Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom gets trotted out whenever we want to teach on why not everybody receives healing, which is a good thing. But that's about it. Jesus' picture of the Christian life as one of an all-consuming "seeking the Kingdom" isn't much touched upon here as well.)

pixel_pusher said...

>>There is no such heavenly mechanism, because: 1) God does not promise such reciprocity in the way you describe; and 2) God in no way can be obligated by our actions!<<

No? Then, how about Luke 6:38, from Jesus Himself: "Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." NIV

Or how about the Message version: "Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."

Or, how about the Amplified: "Give, and [gifts] will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will they pour [a]into [the pouch formed by] the bosom [of your robe and used as a bag]. For with the measure you deal out [with the measure you use when you confer benefits on others], it will be measured back to you."

Or maybe the New Life Version: "Give, and it will be given to you. You will have more than enough. It can be pushed down and shaken together and it will still run over as it is given to you. The way you give to others is the way you will receive in return."

And lest you think this is taken out of context- yes, I know that v37 is talking about being judgmental toward others, but the language that Jesus uses here- regardless of translation- is clearly referring to something that is desireable, which receiving judgment from someone is clearly not. Jesus is illustrating that the priciple works for all situations, whether good or bad, spritual or material; but there's no doubt that He's referring to material blessing here. Also, you'll notice that Jesus Himself doesn't specifiy what is being given (time, money, etc), but He doesn't need to, because it is obvious that the principle works anyway, otherwise He would have pointed it out. (Or is it just a nice allegory?)

And notice that all nearly translations use the words "and it will (or 'shall') be given"- not 'might be given', or 'may be given, if God is in a generous mood', or "you might receive it back if it's your turn". Jesus uses an absolute here, and I think Jesus would have it on good authority to declare it as an absolute.

Of course, you might well say that this verse is used too often out of context during offering time- be sure to interrupt the Pastor, deacon or other member of your church the next time they use this verse while they're taking up the offering and point it out to them!

And to Makeesha, I say- do you have a good job in a relatively comfortable environment, that provides you money to stock your fridge, pay your utility bills, keep an adequately furnished home and put gas in the tank of a vehicle that is likely 5 years old or less, then you are far richer that the large percentage of the world population. Do you consider yourself 'blessed', or do you think that these items have been given to you by the devil- and if by the devil, why do you still possess them? The "classic American Dream" you refer to has only been an accepted standard of living for about 50 years or so, and even now that standard is harder and harder to maintain. Be thankful for what you have today, and be mindful that the good gifts you enjoy come from the Father (Mt 7:11; Lk 11:13).

Makeesha said...

Actually, we gave up our house with the big yard and 4 bedrooms so we could live with college students in a 2 bedroom apartment with our 2 young children. My husband purposely took a job that is lower status so he could have time to do the work of the Kingdom. I stopped doing graphic design so I could do more kingdom work. We often live on much less than we have in order to help others less fortunate.

I think before you start calling people to the mat you might want to examine their lives first. No, I'm not impoverished and I do not lack the basic necessities of life. I certainly have more than I need and I examine this often to see if God wants me to give up more than I already have for the benefit of others and the work of his Kingdom.

I think you continue to miss the point. I'm not saying God wants his people living in lack. I'm suggesting that "claiming" promises that aren't yours regarding wealth is foolish and antibiblical...which AGAIN, is the point of the article on which Witherington commented.

I'm not at all suggesting that all wealth is from the devil. I consider myself very blessed and thank God daily. The American dream has nothing to do with being thankful to God for what we have. It has to do with working harder to get more. It has to do with aquisition of more and more and more....THAT is not of God - no matter who you are.

I can't tell someone what to do with their finances. All I'm suggesting is that we examine our situation in light of God's Kingdom and I AM suggesting that any kind of prosperity gospel is NOT from God.

David Johnson said...

The problem I see with all these prosperity gospel peddlers is that they seem to take the Old Testament more seriously than the actual Person and work of Jesus. He was, after all, the One who showed us that, in God's view, it is the poor who are blessed. Do we really think that the poor are blessed for no other reason than that they are poor and that the rich are blessed for no other reason than that they are rich? Jesus never says anything about the rich man being blessed--rather, he emphasizes the tremendous responsibility and accountability that comes with possessing wealth--but he brings to our eyes repeatedly that "blessed are the poor."

Tim said...

The warnings are good, but I don't think wealth is, all things considered, bad. I think wealth provides some interesting opportunities. How many of us would be freer to engage in more redemptive activities if we didn't have to work 40+ hrs a week?

Makeesha said...

I think maybe it all comes down to this for me: I have yet to see a Christian who has "great wealth" who has not been completely sucked into consumerism and materialism. I think that everyone has good intentions going into it. "I will give my money away, I will do amazing things with my wealth."

But the reality often looks more like this.

Someone has little, so they work to get more, the more they get, the more money they need to maintain what they have, then they have to work more to make that money, the more they get the more they want, then they get more, then they have to make more to maintain it, then their time is more and more consumed with having to make more to maintain more to get more....and on and on it goes. Before long, their good intentions have gone the way of the dinosaurs. They probably DO give more than the non wealthy person - but the truth usually is that they are MUCH MORE consumed with this lifestyle than they are consumed with giving and serving.

that is the truth in my world. Jesus was not an idiot when he said the things he did. He elevated the poor and gave GRAVE warnings to the rich for a reason. For us to think we're immune to the lure of riches is the height of hubris.

I do believe God graces some to be wealthy, but my feeling is that we would not know they are wealthy because they live modestly and give the rest of their money away or use it in other ways for the advancing of the Kingdom. IMO, if any Christian has the appearance of great riches, he's missing it and probably is not gifted or graced for wealth.

RC said...

this situation is so sad on many levels.

--RC of

kystorms said...

You would not believe me if i said to you that I have been searching for this info for some time. I am born again, a mom of eight kids, five of which are young enough to be at home, and be homeschooled be me.My husband was injured while on the job over a year ago and can no longer work. I live in a very rural area, with no possible means of finding work.So, my question to you * and of the Lord if i may* is, does the Lord wish for me to stop praying for a better home, one that has non leaking walls, to stop praying for some type of work that I can do at home, am I wrong to be praying for that? I want truly to make Him the main point of my life, but I am not sure what I can ask for? Who can I ask these questions of? I dont have a church, and so do what learning I can with Joyce Meyers, and Creflo Dollar on TV. Can you tell me where I can learn what God thinks about my having or not having? About what is correct to pray for, and to learn why he might be not answering my prayers?

kystorms said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kystorms said...

I have tried once before to ask a question of you all here, i hope that this one gets through...
You all seem to have such a stable idea of what God thinks of being wealthy, I hope you can help me in my search.
I have been looking for a place that had this discussion for along time now, with no sites I could believe was being honest. Then I find this blog, and I truly believe God has sent me here to ask this of you, what do you say to the person who lives in a rural area of the US, has children at home, no car, and an imjured husband? Can she ask God in her prayers for relife from thelife she is living? Can she ask God to please bless her, to help pay bills she has no way to pay, can she ask that HE give her a job she can do from home, since she has no car, nor training to get one on her own? These questions are not in anyway meant to be argumentative, I have been searching and seeking the answers for some time. I have tried to believe that my God, my father wants to take care of me, like they say on the tv showes, and I use these shows daily for my spiritual guidance since I cant go to a real church. I am at the very end of my rope, and if I am asking God and beliveing in God for things he has not said I can ask for, then I dont know where else to turn for the peace I seek. I respectfully thank each of you for your thoughts on this matter.

Makeesha said...

Jesus himself said to pray for our daily bread. And the very character of God is such that he wants your basic needs taken care of. As I mentioned above, there is a difference between asking God for needs you lack and asking God to make you more rich than you actually need to be.

God knows you and your situation and he knows your heart. Cry out to him, seek his face, ask him for the things you need and ask him for direction and wisdom, discernment and also help in the form of other people.

kystorms said...

thank you for your post, it was worrying me greatly that maybe everyone thought i was indeed wrong. I still have trouble hearing from Him, but I so dearly want to. I think my greatest wish, beyond most everything, is just to sit with Jesus, and get a hug. Sounds silly coming from an adult, but sometimes it is a very lonely place here in this world.
God bless you all

Cruth said...

This really changed my day for the better. Thank you so much! It's such a breath of fresh air to read something to coherent and faithful.

Ric Booth said...

thank you. I cannot believe how much has been written on this subject and I am only now just reading. Check out my poem on my blog, "The Rich Young American" when you get a chance.