Concluding reflections to Yong’s Prosperity Theology blog series

The preceding series of blogs on the prosperity gospel has suggested a five-fold typology of various theological postures toward the prosperity gospel. The argument for prosperity is fairly straightforward in its claim that there are biblical reasons for embracing the prosperity message, although the more explicit theological articulations of this may take widely divergent forms ranging from David Yonggi Cho to Kenneth Hagin/Kenneth Copeland and everyone in between. The argument against prosperity inevitably reacts to the excesses of the prosperity theology even if detractors usually highlight the breadth of the scriptural witness regarding lifestyles of simplicity and contentment. The missionary and contextual arguments are two sides to the one coin of defending prosperity either from the perspective of those who feel a vocational commitment to engage with the more affluent in society or from the more holistic perspectives prevalent across cultural contexts especially across the global South wherein divine salvation is often understood to have material and even financial implications as opposed to a merely cognitive or eschatological character. Last but not least, the balanced argument attempts to mediate between the various positions by recognizing the importance of prosperity to the Christian gospel but emphasizing the need for implementation of biblical notions of responsible stewardship in concrete economic initiatives. In all of this, we can see that the prosperity theology is not one idea but many, such that we can and should legitimately think about prosperity theologies.

The other part of our objective has been to explore the economic ramifications of the prosperity message. We have already begun to do that in the preceding but here I wish to focus our concluding reflections on how each of these arguments have been and will be received in different economic contexts. In particular, we will inquire into more developed contexts of affluence and underdeveloped context of more or less poverty. With regard to the former, I would urge that most operate with a prosperity mentality but without a prosperity theology. In other words, in societies and cultures of affluence, most Christians imbibe the prevalent economic presuppositions and embody the dominant economic lifestyles. In such contexts, it is natural that the missional arguments for prosperity will sooner or later emerge, usually following on the heels of an earlier generation of prosperity preachers who proclaim more forcefully the rights of all believers to participate in the wealth of its society.

It is, however, is the more underdeveloped socio-economic regions of the world that we need to press our analysis. To be sure, because of globalization trends, it is predictable that the prosperity messages crafted in the more developed regions of the world will be telecasted and carried into the majority world. On the one hand, the results can certainly be detrimental to the cause of the Christian gospel, particularly if checks and balances are not in places to rein in unscrupulous practices. In such cases, the gulf between the haves and have-nots will inevitably widen, and the purveyors of the prosperity message will be seen as benefitting themselves rather than others. On the other hand, the prosperity theology may also have a galvanizing effect, motivating the transformation of economic habits and practices that gradually result in upward socio-economic mobility. This is particularly in cases involving the informal economy, where many of the urban poor in the global south reside, and among which the global renewal has made significant inroads. In such cases, the prosperity argument provides an overall vision of what might be, while the contextual and balanced arguments both motivate the enactment of the Christian virtues and the implementation of specific economic and even development initiatives with concrete economic consequences. (I would invite readers who are interested in following up the details of such a proposal and analysis related to the informal economy to consult chapter 7 of my recent book, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology, published by William B. Eerdmans in 2010.)