Mention the Prosperity Gospel among Christians and get ready for a fight. Despite huge attendance and massive popular appeal of Prosperity preaching, books and broadcast programming, few movements in Evangelicalism face such consistent, heavy criticism.
In her new book Exploring Prosperity Preaching, preaching professor Debra Mumford offers a sympathetic ear to Prosperity preachers, but brings the careful, critical mind of the Academy.
The result is an accessible, helpful book that clearly presents the strengths and weaknesses of the core tenants of the Prosperity Gospel.
Mumford leads with a fair, clear definition:
Prosperity gospel, also known as Word of Faith preaching, is a Christian theology whose signature teaching is that God wants believers to be rich and enjoy good physical health. To realize wealth and good health, believers need only believe in the promises of God and be obedient to God’s word.
Mumford reviews the history of the Prosperity Gospel movement, from its roots in New Thought philosophy through its development by men like Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts to the current embodiment in black Word of Faith communities such as Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church.
As an insider, Mumford laments the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel in contemporary black communities. Mumford charts a dramatic shift in the tenor of black preaching in the wake of Civil Rights:
[Black preachers] became inspirational speakers rather than prophetic preachers, offering a formula for tapping into divine power and accruing financial wealth. But they never discussed self-denial, personal sacrifice, or social justice.
Though Mumford is speaking primarily to and for Black Prosperity churches, her work is clear and fair enough to apply beyond her intended audience.
After outlining the history, Mumford outlines the basic claims of the movement, beginning with its most problematic, “The Word of God Means Exactly What It Says”.
With each claim, Mumford “separates the wheat from the chaff” – evaluating both the strengths and weaknesses of each tenant. These are Mumford’s most inspired contribution to the debate over the Prosperity Gospel.
While it’s clear that Mumford finds Prosperity Preaching dangerous and harmful, she refuses to vilify those who practice it.
Mumford’s presentation allows her to critique Prosperity Preaching without criticizing those who practice it. Her clear, readable style and kind but firm evaluation leave no doubt as to the ultimate inability of the Prosperity Gospel to cultivate a faith that is truly world-changing.
Ultimately, Exploring Prosperity Preaching is a love letter to the Black Evangelical Community from a woman shaped by some of the best preachers in a tradition long known for its powerful, prophetic preaching. So it’s no surprise that this book is itself a powerful, prophetic word to that same community, calling them – and by proxy all of us who read – to those powerful, prophetic roots.
Bottom Line: An accessible, excellent evaluation of an emotional and explosive topic. This book moves the conversation in a helpful, necessary direction.
YOUR TURN: What’s your experience with the Prosperity Gospel? Do you like it or not? Why?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”