While I had been exposed to the prosperity gospel earlier in life, it was not until I began seminary that I thought seriously about it. I began to serve in local churches during my time as a student, and I was amazed to find so many people under my care consuming property gospel material via different forms of media. Moreover, many people seemed to view their relationship with God as a quid pro quo transaction. He was treated as a celestial sugar daddy who existed to make them healthy, wealthy, and happy on account of service rendered.
Early in my academic career, I published in a rather obscure theological journal an article entitled “The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel.” In it I attempted to synthesize my initial objections to prosperity theology, as well as hopefully to give basic direction to those caught up in the prosperity gospel movement. To my surprise, I received immediate feedback about my short publication—both positive and negative. In fact I continue to receive more feedback about that piece than anything else I have written.
These two experiences prompted me to ask this question: why are evangelical Christians drawn to the prosperity gospel? And why does it resonate with so many people generally? After some reflection and investigation, the answer at which I arrived was surprising: the prosperity gospel resides in the heart of all men; the prosperity gospel is even in my own heart.
Imagine you’re driving to church on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, and to your dismay you get a flat tire. What is your immediate thought? “God, really? I’m going to church. Isn’t there some drug dealer or abusive husband you could have afflicted with a flat tire?” That’s the prosperity gospel.
Or maybe you don’t get that promotion at work, your child gets sick, or you’re unfairly criticized at church. The result? You get mad at God because you were overlooked, troubled, or disparaged. That’s the prosperity gospel.
The very thought that God owes us a relatively trouble-free life, and the anger we feel when God doesn’t act the way we believe he is supposed to act, betray a heart that expects God to prosper us because of our good works. That’s the prosperity gospel.
It may be easy for you to spot the spiritual charlatans on television, selling their modern-day indulgences, proof-texting biblical passages, and promising us our best life now if we just have enough faith in faith. But don’t forget that what makes the prosperity gospel so attractive is that it caters to the desires of the fallen human heart. It promises much while requiring little. It panders to the flesh.
While you may be mature enough to resist the systematized prosperity gospel of the movement’s self-proclaimed purveyors, don’t overlook the latent prosperity gospel that dwells within your own heart. The true gospel says, whatever may come our way, Jesus is enough.
Is he enough for you?
David W. Jones is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 David W. Jones, “The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel: An Exercise in Biblical and Theological Ethics,” Faith and Mission 16, no. 1 (Fall 1998): 79–87.