In her book Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? (Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV), Karen Spears Zacharias unpacks the myth of the prosperity gospel with humor and sobering stories of how this “Santa Claus” vision of God who rewards the “good” little boys and girls has corrupted our theology.
In my book From the Sanctuary to the Streets, I share from my own perspective how this kind of teaching is being used to exploit the poor in our city. However, Zacharias reveals how this same thinking has contaminated even mainline theology with less obvious strands of the same false teaching showing up in all our theologies. Zacharias states “If a person’s worldview presupposes this so-called “truth” – that whatever good fortune comes our way is a result of our own calling it forth – then the corollary has to be true as well, doesn’t it? That any bad thing that comes our way is our own dang fault. It’s a perfect theology for people with means. We convince ourselves that we deserve prosperity because we’ve worked hard for it. We deserve it because of our faithfulness to God. We teach our children that we have earned God’s good favor and that’s why we’re so rich, so healthy, so pretty, so smart, and so free to do as we doggone please.”
I love this Merton quote shared by Zacharias, “It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you – try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will for yourself!”
Zacharias writes the hard truth stating “A lot of us want to help the poor on our own terms. We want to give them a home in the burbs and a bit-screen plasma TV. If only they had Jesus they wouldn’t be the way they are, they’d be like us. It never occurs to us that these people aren’t lost. They are just poor!”
One of my favorite characters in this book is the Marine who reminds us that “We don’t feed the homeless so that we can preach the gospel to them. We feed them because that is the gospel.” The Marine sums up Christianity this way, “Go love somebody who can’t love you back. Love somebody who can’t do anything for you. Get off your butt and love somebody who can’t benefit you in any way. Somebody who is never going to repay you. They are never going to invite you over to eat at their house. That’s the gospel. Not God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life which includes a Mercedes Benz, a corner office, and a secretary with fake boobs.”
I love Zacharias boldness, “Listen up all you prosperity pimps. God is not a capitalist. He’s not our broker. He’s not our wizard or personal shopping assistant. His love for us cannot be measured by the number of cars in our garage or how many Jimmy Choo heels are in our closets. To suggest that any of the material blessings we enjoy are the result of our merit or our faithfulness is outright foolishness.” She observes that “It’s almost anti-Christian and un-American to be contented anymore. A whole slew of believers think that faith is measured in dollars and cars. The more faith you have the more consumer good there are to show for it…The Gospel of Entitlement can be summed up as we deserve every good thing that comes our way because we, after all, made it happen by believing in it and summoning it to ourselves through our awesome unwavering faith in ourselves.” She points out that the opposite is also true, “If we’re sick we have no one to blame but ourselves. All of humanity’s ills, including disease and poverty, are the result of our own negative spirits. If we aren’t wealthy and healthy we have no one to blame but ourselves…Our warped way of thinking about God and his favor upon us is insidious and pervasive and downright intrusive. All too often the way we think about God is based upon our good fortune, or lack thereof, and not at all based upon the character of God or upon biblical truths or even upon rational observation. If good things are happening to us, then God must be doing the happy dance. If not, then obviously God is ticked off and it’s up to us to figure out why so we can get him to do the happy dance again.”
She concludes, “We are exchanging relationship for magic. If I have enough “faith” or do enough of the right things (prayer, giving, reading Scripture, attending church, etc.), then God is obligated to perform his part in response. The great Vending Machine God. In relationship you enter a mystery and lose control, two things we are apt to avoid.”
Zacharias sums it up well when she writes, “If there is a secret to living your best life now, it’s this: Stop imagining all the ways in which the universe can serve you and start figuring out how you can serve others.”
For those of you looking for an interesting read that will make you think this summer, I recommend you pick up Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?. It is the funniest theology book I have ever read.