A number of years ago at a biblical counseling conference one of the presenters said something like this; “Only in North America could you get away with the prosperity gospel.”
Over the years his words have echoed in my mind on many occasions as I marvel at how many followers a prosperity gospel preacher can gather. The Olsteens are the best bad example I can think of.
Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary described their message to a consumer culture like this:
“America deserves the Osteens. The consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity probably made the Osteens inevitable. The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.” The Osteen Predicament
Mohler explains why the Osteen message only works in North America:
“And that is just the start of it. What about all those who are even now suffering persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? What about the loved ones of the martyrs in Mosul? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria just in recent weeks, or those martyred by Boko Haram in Africa? How does Prosperity Theology work for them? Can anyone look them in the eye and say that God’s plan for believers in this life is to know Your Best Life Now?” The Osteen Predicament
As a certified biblical counselor I can add just a little to Mohler’s observations.
What do you say to the folks who are suffering from Parkinsons or cancer? What do you say to the couple that just lost a child to SIDS? What do you say to the person who is suffering because we live in a sin cursed world? How do those things square with “Your Best Life Now?” It doesn’t and never will.
Some of the most difficult counseling cases I’ve had were with people who had bought into the notion that somehow God owed them happiness and that the gospel was about them and their needs and what God would do for them if they gave a little “seed money.” When things in life go off the rails they wonder why God has let them down or that maybe they just didn’t have enough faith to get God do their bidding.
What I have to offer the people I see in counseling is a reality based gospel and not some touchy-feely, therapeutic, self-help, self-esteem gospel that is no gospel at all.
The gospel has sharp edges but the gospel the Olsteen’s preach could not cut a piece of paper much less convict a sinner of their dire need for Christ. Mohler calls it heresy and he’s right.