The controversy brings us back to a question that comes up when dealing with preachers like Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and others: are they preaching the gospel, or simply saying what people want to hear while getting rich in the process? One of the best answers comes not from the New Testament, but rather the Old Testament story of Job, a book that seems to be missing from these individuals' Bibles.
When looking at the story of Job, the first thing that becomes obvious is his suffering. Job lost nearly everything, and God allowed it. He lost his flocks, his herds, his servants, his health, and his own children. The only things he did not lose were the two things that by that time he probably hoped to: a nagging wife and his own life.
Yet the Biblical account of Job emphasizes that throughout his ordeal Job did not sin against God by cursing him. God allowed Satan to bring calamity upon Job to prove that Job would remain faithful no matter what his circumstances became. This doesn't fit very well with the prosperity gospel message so many flock to today, a message that says Christians with enough faith will always be healthy and wealthy, and those who suffer in these areas do so because of a lack of faith.
Preachers like Dollar and Osteen love the "name it and claim it" philosophy of the prosperity gospel, and with good reason. In most cases the faithful are required to "sow financial seeds" as a way of demonstrating their faith, and these seeds of faith go directly to the preacher (VISA and MasterCard accepted). It's certainly a gospel of prosperity for the ones preaching it.
In fact, Osteen can do something few Christian preachers in history have accomplished: preach a month of messages on "getting blessed" and "being the best you that you can be" while never mentioning either sin or Jesus even once. Theologian John Piper has rightly said that "the prosperity gospel will not make anybody praise Jesus; it will make people praise prosperity."
So is this prosperity gospel Biblical? Absolutely not. As proof, let's start with our friend Job, not so much because of the trials he faced even though God still favored him, but because of his responses, which Mr. Osteen and Mr. Dollar could learn from. When Job learned of the deaths of his children:
"Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, 'I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!' In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God." (Job 1:20-22 NLT)
Job recognized that everything we have is given to us by God, and that our praise should not depend on our circumstances. Later, his wife had some harsh words for him, and he gives an amazing answer:
"His wife said to him, 'Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.' But Job replied, 'You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?' So in all this, Job said nothing wrong." (Job 2:9-10 NLT)
Joel Osteen has often described himself as more of a life coach than a preacher (he is surely glad that churches hold tax-exempt status, since life coach corporations do not). But a life coach needs to prepare people for the inevitable trials of life, don't they? Teaching that enough faith fixes every financial problem doesn't seem to be very good counsel, especially since this type of faith is centered on self rather than on God. To make matters worse, it tells people who are suffering that their suffering stems from a lack of faith.
Here are a few other verses for the prosperity gospel proponents to consider:
"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)
"Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you." 1 John 2:15 (NLT)
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)
Note that none of these verses condemn having money or possessions; the condemnation is for those who love the things of the world more than the things of God. If you follow a "name it and claim it" theology, then you are by definition storing up treasures on earth and loving the world more than God.
I don't know if either Mr. Dollar or Mr. Osteen are familiar with the verses I've used here. I can only pray that they will someday begin preaching the true and complete gospel to their huge congregations. Until that day, this passage both sums up their "preaching" and the prosperity gospel, and counters their claims as well:
"After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can't take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." 1 Timothy 6:7-10 (NLT)
As for Creflo Dollar's current "ministry need," he would do well to remember that Jesus "had no place to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20), and he certainly didn't have a private jet.