Author Greg Koukl
Published on 04/08/2024

How Can I Explain Why the Prosperity Gospel Is Unbiblical to My Friend?

Greg and Amy share key questions you can ask your friends who believe in a health and wealth gospel then remind us why it’s so important that we realize we cannot manipulate God.


Question from Andrew: One of my friends has gotten into health and wealth preaching. How should I proceed?

Greg: Well, I have a simple, quick workaround on that issue. It’s a series of statements, but it could be turned into a series of questions. So, Andrew could say to his friend, what were the circumstances of the Christians that the writer of Hebrews was writing to? “Oh, I don’t know.” The writer of Hebrews was writing to persecuted Christians. What was the circumstance of the Thessalonians? “I don’t know.” 1 Thessalonians, along with 2 Thessalonians, was written to persecuted Christians. What was the circumstance of the Christians Peter was writing to in 1 Peter? “I don’t know.” Peter was writing to persecuted Christians. Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and at least 2 Timothy while he was in prison. Did you know that? “No.” Or you might ask the question, what were Paul’s circumstances when he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy? “I don’t know.” He was in prison. So, if Hebrews was written to suffering Christians, if both Thessalonians were written to suffering Christians, if 1 Peter was written to suffering Christians—and, I think, also, Philippians—and Paul was writing all these letters from prison, where do you get the prosperity gospel from that? Were these all bad Christians, including Paul? Now, to me, that’s just an end around.

It’s like they’re straining at gnats and swallowing the camel. The camel is the condition of all churches and all the Christians in the first couple centuries, all the way up until the time of Constantine, on and off, terrible persecutions. Constantine was the beginning of the fourth century, and Constantine didn’t make Christianity the state religion for another 50 years. That made Christianity a legal religion so Christians were no longer persecuted. So, our first four centuries of Christianity, Christians were characteristically suffering lots of persecution, lots of hardship. There was no health, wealth, and prosperity going on for them. Why? Were these Christians bad Christians? I mean, to me, this is the end. It’s over with. It’s so obvious. You don’t have to be a theologian.

Jesus said, “In the this world you have tribulation. Now I’ve overcome the world.” But that statement doesn’t, obviously, lead to health, wealth, and prosperity, because, if that were the case, Jesus wouldn’t have warned them about the tribulation that’s coming and offered the encouragement that, essentially, in the midst of your tribulation, “I will help you overcome.” So, I think of 2 Corinthians, the thorn in the flesh, and when Paul’s weak, then he’s strong.

Amy: It’s throughout the whole New Testament.

Greg: It’s everywhere.

Amy: It’s hard to believe supporters of the prosperity gospel are reading the New Testament when it’s so integral to this. I’ve been reading in Isaiah, and in the part I’m in right now, Isaiah keeps saying don’t be afraid of them because, in the end, God wins and they will be destroyed. So, he’s not saying, “I’m going to make everything better right this second.” He’s saying, “Your hope is in God’s ultimate victory.” Peter gives the same exact advice in 1 Peter. He doesn’t say, “Oh, well, you’re suffering, and God’s going to fix it all for you when you ask him when you have enough faith.” No. He says, in the end, you will have victory with Jesus, so don’t fear. In fact, he quotes Isaiah in that part. Don’t fear men. Fear God, because he’s the one who wins in the end, and he’s the one who you want to hitch your wagon to.

Greg: In fact, in chapter 5, he says, “And the same experiences of suffering are being had by your brethren who are in the world.”

Amy: You cannot read 1 Peter without seeing that God is working through the suffering and he has specific purposes for it. So, what you might want to ask is, which do you value more? Do you value God? Do you want to know God? Or do you want the wealth and prosperity that God can give you? Are you using God as a tool to get something else—in which case, he’s going to let you down if he doesn’t do it? Or is your goal God? And would you be willing to suffer if he asked you to? I think that they need to think about that. They need to think about if they are seeking God or they’re seeking wealth and using God as a tool, and hopefully that can lead to other conversations about what Peter says and whether or not the New Testament is right that God is worth going through suffering for—knowing him and being with him and being with him in the end.

Greg: Paul says in Romans 8, “I do not consider the sufferings in this life to bear any comparison to the glories that are to follow.” So, notice how he’s acknowledging the reality of suffering in this life, and the payoff is later. He also says in 2 Corinthians 4, “Momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory.” Now, keep in mind the “momentary light.” Paul’s afflictions, in human terms, were neither momentary nor light, and later in the book, he talks about being whipped four times, 39 lashes. He was beaten with rods. He was stoned and left for dead. He was shipwrecked twice. All kinds of hard things happen. Trouble here. Trouble there. He goes on with this litany of difficulties he’s facing. This is the great apostle Paul. Did he adhere to this prosperity gospel? No!

Amy: And one last thing. God does not look kindly on people who use him as a tool to get something else. You can see this in Isaiah, too, because the people were trying to do certain rituals in order to get God to do things for them, and God was saying, “Your heart is not with me. I hate the things you’re doing because you’re trying to manipulate me with your rituals.” So, I would also warn him, if that’s what you’re doing, that is really dangerous.

Greg: That’s the pagan response. In animism—spirit worship or spiritism—it’s all about manipulating circumstances so you can beat the demons at their own game, basically. It’s all about manipulation. And the same thing was true about the pagan Ancient Near Eastern religions. It was manipulating these gods in different ways through a certain series of sacrifices or a certain kind of sympathetic magic, where they were having sex up at the high places so the crops would reproduce better. All of that there, all manipulation. So, when the Jews began doing all of this kind of stuff, that’s when God just put his foot down. “That’s not me. You’re not going to manipulate me.” But the health, wealth, prosperity—the Word of Faith movement—is completely about manipulating the circumstances and baptizing it with spiritual language.