Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Prosperity Gospel (Page 1 of 2)

What losing my job taught me about grace

losing my job graceA couple of months ago I lost the job I love, at the organisation I have loved and worked at for 14 years. Needless to say, I was devastated.

Time Magazine ran an article earlier this year showing that losing your job can have worse effects on your mental health than divorce or the death of a spouse. That’s pretty big. The disruption to your inner life, not to mention your external life, can probably best be described as something of an earthquake.

My first reaction to being told was shock. A feeling of hot anxiety worked its way from my abdomen up to my face as I was confronted with the reality of my life being turned upside down.

I’d known of this happening before of course, both in the organisation I worked for and in others. We all know it happens all the time. I was determined to stay rational, and not let my emotions get the better of me.  Continue reading

The Way of meaning

My wife and I saw the movie The Way last night. It’s a wonderful story that portrays the unbreakable fatherly love of Tom (Martin Sheen) for his estranged and just deceased son, Daniel. In learning that his son has just been killed on his first day on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) in France, Tom travels over to collect Daniel’s body. While there though, he is suddenly hit by the magnitude of his loss and decides to make the trek himself that his son had set out to do.

This is a story of redemption and the search for meaning. Richard Rohr says that the soul can live without success but it cannot live without meaning. This is something I have been thinking about a bit recently. If we spend our lives dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, or money, or status, we will be forever coming up short. We will remain in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and never be happy, or else we will become satisfied with a life of mediocrity and never reach the potential we all have.

As Tom goes on his journey he comes across some characters that he would never choose to have as friends in his cosy Californian lifestyle back home. There is Joost from Amsterdam, Sarah from Canada, and the stereotypically Irishman, Jack. What we don’t see so much of in this story is the change in these latter three characters, but we see it in spades in Tom. Older than the others, he gradually thaws from a frozen, aloof and even arrogant man to learning to enjoy the company and care of his three new travelling companions. His journey reveals that he is not only deeply affected by the loss of his son, but also by the love and warmth of these three strangers in his midst.

Meaning is something we all strive for, whether we realise it or not. Most of the time though, we are so satiated by the entertainment saturation of our culture that we don’t recognise the void within our souls. Walter Brueggemann explains this eloquently in his book The Prophetic Imagination. It is often only when we are confronted with the type of terrible loss that Tom is faced with that we see our need for change. As Tom continues on his pilgrimage, the frown on his face softens, and he learns to get into life and smile more often. The real change though comes after an encounter with a gypsy family, one of whom runs off with Tom’s backpack (which contains the ashes of his son). The much-maligned gypsies, defined stereotypically by theft and deceit, show Tom what community and relationship is about. In one revealing conversation between Tom and the father of the boy who stole Tom’s pack, the father explains that up to 2,000 people attend gyspy weddings. Surprised, Tom points out that they couldn’t all be close family or friends. He is shocked however when the father explains to him that they are indeed all close. These gypsies know what community is all about.

As Tom continues on the way, he is occasionally struck with images of his deceased son, and reminded of the admonition his son once gave to him, that you don’t choose a life, you live it. We only get one chance at this thing called life; this is not a dress rehearsal. We are thrown into it at birth and expected to make the best of it, hopefully with all the love and support we need. As my wife pointed out to me, choosing our life is a very Western idea. Most people in the world don’t get to choose their life, and many don’t even get to live it. But our attitudes towards life are something that no one can take from us. It is amazing what those who have been through the most immense suffering can teach us in the West about how to live our lives. I think of people like Viktor Frankl, stuck for years in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Frankl of course didn’t choose that life, but he has much to say to us about it , especially in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

One of my greatest fears in life is that I will end up like Tom’s three new friends at the end of The Way. In the end, they didn’t change. Joost decided he wasn’t going to lose weight after all, Sarah was never going to give up her cancer sticks, and Jack seems to remain stuck in his mediocre life. We are too comfortable here. Australia is the second most wealthy country in the world, yet we seem to have the least in terms of meaning to our lives. Many would dispute this of course, as many find their meaning in their devotion to daily and friends. But beneath all of that we are sold the lie that life is found in more stuff. Advertisers deliberately create a dissatisfaction within us by telling us that we will never be happy until we buy their products. So we walk through life perpetually unhappy and comparing ourselves to others. The sin of covetousness is alive and well in 21st century Australia. That is not an indictment on the Australian public, but I think of Jesus’ warning: “woe to those who cause others to sin.” Advertisers, hear the warning.

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The human soul cannot function without something to live for. And as John Mellencamp sang so many years ago, if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. Our life needs to mean something, and if we are constantly entertained, if we constantly live for the weekends or for the next holiday (as legitimate as these are in themselves), we will remain forever dissatisfied. For real change to take place, we need to be aware of the dissatisfaction in our souls with the way things are. We also need to have a vision for a better alternative, and to have people around us who are yearning for the same thing. This is what Jesus meant when he said that “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions” (Mark 10:29-30). Contrary to what prosperity ‘gospel’ preachers may say, this passage is not at all about Jesus saying that we will gain a fortune in houses for ourselves when we follow Jesus. That is a purely individualistic way of looking at it. Jesus was talking about community. When we follow him, we gain the hospitality of other pilgrims on the way, as the first Christians showed.

Tom found meaning on The Way of St James (interestingly, it is James who has the most dire warnings to those who want to be rich in the early church). He began to know again what life was about. He could relate to the God of Jesus in knowing what it was like to lose a son. His pain drove him to become a better person. He didn’t push it down or try to drown it in short-term pleasures which would only leave him more unsatisfied later on. He found a deeper magic, found the things that really matter like relationship, community, and the joys that come from sharing life and its struggles in true intimacy with others on the rough road that is often life. There is a revealing scene in another poignant movie, Up in the Air, when George Clooney’s character is trying to talk his future brother-in-law out of bailing out of his upcoming wedding. He asks his future brother-in-law to think about the fondest memories of his life, and then points out that the are always ones that were spent with others. Our fondest memories are rarely ones we experienced alone. Our best times are with loved ones, as they would be for a species like us that is wired for relationship. It just makes sense that our most enjoyable moments are the ones for which we were made.

The Way probably wasn’t the best movie I have ever seen, but it definitely had an emotional impact on me. It touched something deeper, something raw, something which we all know deep down is what we are really about. Relationship does that; it resonates with everyone. The saying certainly is true that while we can live without success, we cannot live without meaning. May I further realise that on my continuing journey on the way.

The day the mining magnate met Jesus

Here is a modern Australian reading of Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Western Australia and was passing through. A man was there who was a very wealthy mining magnate. He had heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.

When Jesus saw him he said to him, I must stay at your house today. The mining magnate couldn’t believe his ears and welcomed him gladly.

All the people, especially those who were strong social justice activists, saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a mega-rich mining magnate. If he really cared about the little people, he would know what sort of character this person was.”

But the mining magnate stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my wealth and earnings from my mines to the poor, and if my mines have been detrimental to the lives of people or to the environment, I will close them and pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too has a high place in my kingdom. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus always surprises us. My wife and I have spent the last 12 years in a poor inner-suburban church which is doing well if it has $1,000 in the bank. We are social justice types who also have a passionate concern for the environment. Call us hippie lefties if you like, but I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus who struggles and many times fails to live up to the life that he calls us to.

I get angry when the mega-rich whinge about their rights and how they’ve got it so difficult. When I hear them say such things, I wish they would get a dose of reality. But then I read the story of Zacchaeus and see my own reverse snobbery. We love to pin the rich up against the wall – and most of the time they deserve it – but we have no right to judge them as if we are somehow better.

Jesus never does this. He always pulls the rug out from underneath us and exposes our character flaws. That’s why you can never put Jesus in a box. If you try to paint him as someone who is more left-leaning than most, he reminds you of how he related to Zacchaeus. And if you try to place him amongst the moral majority who decry the declining values of our culture, he reminds you of the woman who knelt at his feet and poured expensive perfume on him whilst those standing around condemned her for not spending the money on the poor.

You see, Jesus is never about issues; he is always about relationship. The kingdom is never about values; it is about relationship. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, has spent 30 years working amongst the poor of that vast land, and he says that the thing he sees the most is that the gospel is about relationships. It is not about causes or values or issues; it is personal in every way, including in its take on social justice. Real justice is personal, it is never separate from relationship.

One of the reasons I love Jesus – and one of the reasons I sometimes want to avoid him – is because he can never be pinned down. Whenever we think we know what he is on about, he surprises us. But in doing so he never condemns us, never condemns anyone. That’s why I can trust him, and that when I am challenged by him. I don’t have to run away, because all he wants to do is show me what is best, show me that his ways are not my ways, and that he is ultimately trustworthy. We can read the gospels a hundred times over and still be shocked by the outrageous, counter-cultural, unconditional, life-affirming, comfort-shattering love of Jesus. Our response to such actions of Jesus as is seen in the story of Zacchaeus or its modern equivalent of a mega-rich mining magnate says more about us than it does of Jesus or the mining magnate, or whoever else you want to put in the story.

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, also makes the crucial point that in offering to spend such intimate time with Zacchaeus, a hated Roman collaborator, Jesus turns the hatred of the crowd from Zacchaeus onto himself. This is one of the real points of this story. Jesus always shows his love and grace at his own expense.

Bailey also points out that, once again, the transformation Jesus gives is complete. It is not just about the transformation of Zacchaeus from a wealthy money-grubbing hoarder into a beautifully generous human being; the transformation also has wider implications for the village he lived in. The people there would no longer be oppressed and ripped off by this former Roman collaborator. God’s grace came to everyone that day, not just to Zacchaeus’ house.

Jesus’ love is real; it is costly and it is sacrificial, as real love always is. By calling out to a hated tax collector, Jesus took the crowd’s hatred of this despised person onto himself. In the process, both Zacchaeus and the villagers are all freed. How would we respond today if Jesus wanted to share an evening in the lavish home of a wealthy mining magnate, enjoying their company over a nice meal and a few red wines? Would the social justice types among us question whether or not this was the real Jesus – friend of the poor – or just an impostor? Would others of us be smug in our seeming affirmation that God really is about prosperity? Or would we question ourselves instead, suddenly realising that we assumed we had Jesus all to ourselves?

Jesus caused a crisis everywhere he went. Just when we think we have him right where we want him, he shocks us, and reminds us again that we can never paint him into a corner. If a well-known multimillionaire walked into your church, how would they be received? Would we welcome them with open arms, or would we think, “what are those rich *&%^/*%&%^ doing here?” Jesus loves the mega-rich just as much as he loves you and me and the poorest people on the planet. God help me to be the same.

It’s sort of about you

A few years ago John Ortberg wrote a book called The Me I Want To Be. At first thought, the title sounds like another one of those ‘you need to believe that you’re number 1’ books that so many Christian authors trot out. But this is not about that at all. This book is about being the person God made you to be, and that is something we have a responsibility to do.

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The problem with heretical doctrine is that there is always a grain of truth in it. The fact is that God has made each one of us unique. As Psalm 139 says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. But then we get the prosperity and success preachers coming out and saying that God wants you to be fabulously beautiful and wealthy because after all, you are you, and you deserve the best. Do you see the (not so) subtle twist on a biblical truth? We need to be very very careful that we don’t cross the line from biblical truth into something that ultimately destroys us. Sometimes that line is very thin.

The biblical truth is that there will not, never has been, and never will be, anyone else like you. You really are unique. Just look at your fingerprints. No one else who has ever lived or who will ever live has or will have the same fingerprints as you. This is just one of the wonderful and fascinating aspects of a God who gives us such inherent dignity that we cannot comprehend it.

God has given each of us gifts, and we have a responsibility to use them. Most of my life I have tried to be someone else because subconsciously (and even consciously at times) I have been frightened to show my true self for fear that people wouldn’t like what they saw. For instance, I used to try to walk and talk like my elder brother, and I still try to sing like my favourite singers and sometimes make my mannerisms like my favourite people. But that is not honouring to the God who gave me unique gifts to use for the bringing in of his kingdom. Don’t try to be someone else; it is not honouring God and it is not doing justice to the gifts God gave you to give to the world.

As a child of the ’80s in terms of much of my musical influence, I have recently been getting back into The Pretenders. One of their most beautiful ballads, Hymn to Her has as its opening line, “Let me inside you, into your room. I hear it’s lined with the things you don’t show.” Many people are so driven by fear that we don’t allow others to see the image of God in us, or we don’t want to show it to others. That’s why it’s so serious, tragic and evil when children are abused in any form. The innocence and wonder of a child is taken away and they hide in their shell, possibly for the rest of their lives, trying to protect themselves from more hurt. That’s why Jesus gave such a serious and solemn warning that whoever treats these little ones like this, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.

In his inauguration speech in 1994, Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson in saying that,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When Jesus said to his followers, “you are the light of the world,” he said it in the sense that we are to live as the people God made us to be, so people could glorify God and see how good God is. The Scriptures are full of affirmations about our inherent worth and dignity. It is right and good to rest in that. It is also right and good though that we don’t stay in that place. That is why Jesus said “let your light shone before others, so that…“. God’s affirmations of us are always ‘so that’. We are saved to serve, created for “good works in Christ.”

In their song, Breathe, U2 sing “We are people born of sound, the songs are in our eyes. Gonna wear them like a crown.” Such words can be easily misunderstood. It’s a thin line between using our gifts for God and using them for our own glorification, for our own egos. Another common refrain throughout the Scriptures is simply ‘do not be afraid.’ Jesus said it often, and in saying it he echoes the many times God says it in the Old Testament. Let’s let our light so shine before others that they are drawn to God and the kingdom, and not our gifts for their own sake.

Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

Photo by Tracy OlsonThe feature article in the latest issue of The Atlantic discusses the influence of the prosperity gospel on the financial crisis. It also talks about some of the ideas behind this doctrine and, worse, some of the racist behaviour of banks teaming up with pastors to rip off Latinos and African Americans.

The article makes the point that among the many reasons given for the crash is one “that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture-a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.”

The alarming increase of the prosperity gospel in the United States is seen in the fact that ‘other Christians’ apart from Penetecostals, among whom this doctrine has had its most influence are stung with this virus as well. Pew research has found that “66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”-a category comprising roughly half of all respondents-believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful”

One of the main peddlers of the prosperity gospel is Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest megachurch in the US. The article makes the observation that he uses very little Scripture in his books and sermons. I find this true of most preachers of Osteen’s persuasion. I have also found that when they do use Scripture, it is almost always from the Old Testament. Not that the Old Testamen is not as much the Word of God as the New Testament, but you will very rarely hear one of these preachers quote Jesus – quite ironic for people who claim to be his followers. Osteen’s message is more like positive thinking than Scriptural commands to take up our cross and follow on the road.

As with any heresy though, the prosperity gospel contains grains of truth. The problem is that they’re twisted to be made to say pretty much the total opposite of what they actually mean. Take this comment by Osteen that we should “wake up every morning and tell yourself, “God is guiding and directing my steps.” This is more like a ‘my will, not Thine, be done’ attitude. Rather, a biblical attitude says to wake up every morning and ask God to guide my steps that day. His will, not mine, be done.

In an article last year about the financial crisis, I said that 

“one of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so disastrous is because, when events like this come along, they will turn alot of people away from God as they become disillusioned with what they have been taught about God’s apparent desire for them to be wealthy.”

The hope for these people though is that, as Rikk Watts has said, “if someone is running from a false view of God, are they further from him or closer to him?’ Interesting thought to ponder.

In detailing the influence of the prosperity gospel on the financial crash, the article points out that

“in 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned: Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common … Sermons declaring “It’s your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “what God can do,” little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.”

Continuing this point, it adds,

“Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities-the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending.”

The article also makes the point that “most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along…areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis.” Another researcher quoted in the article, Kate Bowler, “spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.”

Perhaps the most evil legacy of the prosperity gospel is that its adherents will stoop to the most pernicious form of racism to get their dollars, exploiting the poor and non-white Latinos and African Americans. The article says that,

“at least 17 lawsuits accusing various banks of treating racial minorities unfairly were already under way. (Bank of America’s Countrywide division-one of the companies Garay worked for-had earlier agreed to pay $8.4 billion in a multistate settlement.) One theme emerging in these suits is how banks teamed up with pastors to win over new customers for subprime loans.”

The prosperity gospel has its roots in the USA, but its tenticles have spread to all parts of the world, from Africa to Australia. It is not good news; it is a ‘gospel’ which is held captive to a culture in which the dream of material wealth is the highest goal of humanity. It is a nationalist, me-centred heresy. Consider the following from the article:

“In their new congregation, their pastor slowly walks them through life in the U.S., both inside and outside of church, until they become more confident. “In Mexico, nobody ever told them they could do anything,” says Lin, who was himself raised in Argentina. He finds the message at prosperity churches to be quintessentially American. “They are taught they can do absolutely anything, and it’s God’s will. They become part of the elect, the chosen. They get swept up in the manifest destiny, this idea that God has lifted Americans above everyone else.”

The false view of faith that sees their riches as a gift from God is another common form of delusion amongst those held captive. Researcher Tony Lin says,

“I wasn’t very surprised when the whole subprime-mortgage thing blew up. I’m sure a loan officer never said, ‘God wants you to have a house.’ But you’ve already been taught that. Now here comes the loan officer saying, ‘Sign here, and this house will be yours.’ It feels like a gift from God. It’s the perfect fuel for the crisis.”

The financial crisis has done little to dampen the evangelistic fervour of the prosperity gospellers. From the distance, from the sidelines of the noise and glamour of the churches from which this message is proclaimed, whispers the quiet voice of the Man of Sorrows – ‘“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”.

The problem with prosperity doctrine

Well, there are many problems with it actually, but when you hear people like Joel Osteen stating that when you are in relationship with God, you can expect the favour of God, that you can actually expect good things to happen to you, it is a very dangerous (not to mention heretical and unbiblical) statement to make. If Osteen is right then Jesus himself must have been pretty out of favour with the Almighty! The One who is described in Isaiah as a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, is the Jesus of the Gospels, who was born in a trough, was the friend of sinners and of the scum of the earth, the people who no one else wanted to be around, and was constantly in tension with the religious establishment and the powers of His day, and was of course eventually crucified for his efforts. According to Osteen’s theology then, Jesus was a failure (and not just in the worldly sense, but in a spiritual sense as well). When people in favour of this doctrine quote the Bible, notice that they almost overwhelmingly quote the Old Testament, and then in bits and pieces. My pastor once said that a verse taken out of context is a pretext; in other words, you can take a few single verses and put them together to say exactly what you want them to say. Now, I am convinced that the Old Testament is just as much the Word of God as the New Testament. But when these people hardly ever quote the New Testament in defence of their prosperity doctrine, particularly the Gospels which deal explicitly with the sayings and life of Jesus, there is a problem. Christians who don’t talk about Jesus – how’s that for an irony?

Ben Lerner needs to read Max Lucado

A few years ago when I was in a Christian bookstore, I saw a book by Ben Lerner called ‘Body by God’. The premise of the book is that God wants us to be fabulously beautiful, outrageously happy and prosperous. On the shelf below Lerner’s book was a book by Max Lucado simply called ‘It’s Not About Me’. Ben Lerner needs to read Max Lucado’s book.

Fighting the plague of consumer Christianity

A growing number of people are disturbed by the values exhibited by the contemporary church. Worship has become entertainment, the church has become a shopping mall, and God has become a consumable product.

divine_commodity1The above quote is from Skye Jethani on his new book, The Divine Commodity. In the last year or so, more and more Christians have been expressing their concerns about the rabid onslaught of consumer Christianity – the idea that if you come to God everything will be great and you will be blessed and prosper.

I have been in churches – as I’m sure you have too – where ‘worship’ is definitely entertainment. The band has started playing a song, I’m ready to sing, and next minute there are all these dancers on the stage swinging streamers around their heads and stepping around each other in beautifully choreographed harmony. I wasn’t sure whether I should sing or watch. It definitely wasn’t worship for me.

Books like The Divine Commodity however represent a sign of hope. I have already written a review of Mark Sayers’ The Trouble with Paris. Just in the last week I have also come across another book called Enough! by Will Samson. This book looks at the question, “What would it be like to be formed by communities consumed by God and God’s vision for the world?” Smatterings of N.T. Wright and his oft-quoted question, “What would the world look like if God was running the show?” This book seems a lot like The Trouble with Paris, in that it

include[s] cultural, sociological and theological analysis of the dilemmas of consumption and contrasts them with the writer’s vision of God’s call to abundant life in Christ. In the second part, Samson offers detailed, practical ideas on how believers can make lifestyle changes aimed at embracing wholeness in connecting belief and practice as the people of God.

enough!Isn’t it refreshing that many Christians seem to have had enough of the heresy of health, wealth and happiness that a cultural Christianity has foisted upon us, from those of us in the rich west to the poor in Africa? In the latter case, lives have been ruined by the false hope of a Christianity that promises much materially but then fails to deliver, leaving the victim blaming him/herself for a lack of faith.

I wonder if this push to rid the church of such false teaching is a result, at least in part, of the global economic meltdown. Good can come out of anything, and maybe the good in this is that many Christians are waking up to the unreality of a Gospel that never promises the good life, but does promise life in all its fullness – a fullness that one can only have when fully sold out to Jesus. John Smith said years ago that if there is anything we can be obsessed about in life, it is Jesus. Plead with God to show you more of Jesus, to have your life reflect his, that you be sent as he was sent, to the poor, the vulnerable, the ostracised and the victim. This is the life that is true life, the abundant life in all its beautiful fullness.

Some thoughts about the financial crisis

I’ve been thinking about the impact this crisis is having on those who have been sucked into the prosperity gospel idea. I wonder what they are thinking now as they lose their investments. One of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so disastrous is because, when events like this come along, they will turn alot of people away from God as they become disillusioned with what they have been taught about God’s apparent desire for them to be wealthy. Hopefully the good that will come out of this will be that people will begin to see the prosperity gospel for what it really is – a heresy and idolatry. Jesus’ words that you cannot serve both God and money have never been more relevant.financial-crisis

Soon after this issue arose, I also felt uneasy about the media frenzy associated with it. Recently one of the commercial TV channels in Melbourne ran a documentary about how to survive the crisis and keep from losing your investments. The response of bailing out the banks in the US (and now elsewhere) with the extraordinary amount of hundreds of billions of dollars is the same. It reflects on our society’s self-interest and priorities. As Bono said recently,

“I find it extraordinary that the US Government can find $700 billion to bail out the banks, but the entire G8 cannot find $25billion to save 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.”

I think the prophets of old would be turning in their graves at the immorality of bailing out the banks with this amount of money. I also think of the rich man who ignored Lazarus. I think this idea is obscene and an insult to the world’s poor.

What this crisis also reveals is the destructive nature of unregulated market capitalism. The idea that the market knows best has always been misguided, especially for the poor. The nature of capitalism is that there always has to be a loser. I reckon this is what Jesus meant when he said “the poor you will always have with you.” He knows what human nature is capable of.

Mention has been made during this crisis of the movie, ‘Wall Street’, where Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, utters the infamous words, “Greed is good.” People have been referring to this because of the reasons this crisis has eventuated. The unregulated market has allowed the greedy to get away with murder, and now may nations are paying the price. In stark contrast to the ‘greed is good’ mantra espoused by many, Gandhi once famously said that there is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.

This is a time when the voice of the church needs to be heard from the mountain tops, a time when part of God’s kingdom coming on earth involves speaking out against greed and excess. Following Jesus and living a kingdom lifestyle involves living recklessly for others. The life of Jesus and the early church give us the best example of how to do this. In Acts we are told that “all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.” (Acts 2:44-45)

Some useful articles about a Christ-like response to the crisis:

Jubilee on Wall Street: Reimagining God’s Vision in Action

Orgy of Greed, Action Without Forethought

The wage of sin is the death of the market

It’s time to ditch GDP

Photo by Jorge Vicente (http://www.sxc.hu)

The problem with prosperity doctrine

Well, there are many problems with it actually, but when you hear people like Joel Osteen stating that when you are in relationship with God, you can expect the favour of God, that you can actually expect good things to happen to you, it is a very dangerous (not to mention heretical and unbiblical) statement to make. If Osteen is right then Jesus himself must have been pretty out of favour with the Almighty! The One who is described in Isaiah as a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, is the Jesus of the Gospels, who was born in a trough, was the friend of sinners and of the scum of the earth, the people who no one else wanted to be around, and was constantly in tension with the religious establishment and the powers of His day, and was of course eventually crucified for his efforts. According to Osteen’s theology then, Jesus was a failure (and not just in the worldly sense, but in a spiritual sense as well). When people in favour of this doctrine quote the Bible, notice that they almost overwhelmingly quote the Old Testament, and then in bits and pieces. My pastor once said that a verse taken out of context is a pretext; in other words, you can take a few single verses and put them together to say exactly what you want them to say. Now, I am convinced that the Old Testament is just as much the Word of God as the New Testament. But when these people hardly ever quote the New Testament in defence of their prosperity doctrine, particularly the Gospels which deal explicitly with the sayings and life of Jesus, there is a problem. Christians who don’t talk about Jesus – how’s that for an irony?

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