Lewis Brogdon has produced an excellent work on the prosperity movement, offering more nuance to his evaluation of the movement than most, in that he is both critical and appreciative of the movement.
First, Brogdon challenges the common historical narrative that the prosperity movement has its roots in New Thought metaphysics and Christian Science, and suggests that its origins go back to the Pentecostal tradition, especially to the teachings of healing evangelists A. A. Allen and Oral Roberts.
Second, Brogdon suggests that in many cases Pentecostalism has shifted from emphasizing empowerment from the Holy Spirit to a narrative of success and prosperity.
Third, he surveys critiques of the movement (a helpful resource), including those of visible minorities who caution that “prosperity teachers give an insufficient amount of time talking with their congregations about [oppressive aspects of] economic, political, educational, criminal justice, and religious systems” (70).
Fourth, he asks, “Is prosperity teaching good news to the poor?” Here he both challenges prosperity teaching, but (unlike most critiques of the prosperity movement) also notes ways that aspects of prosperity teaching escape popular critiques of the movement. Where most studies of the prosperity movement focus on famous televangelists rooted in cities, he offers a case study on a small rural congregation of black people to illustrate how aspects of the prosperity gospel hold potential for the poor, particularly the message that “God cares about the poor and marginalized, God can change their situation, God’s work provides the ground for an alternative life, and committing one’s life to God, in faith, can lead to progress and change” (89).
In the final chapter, Brogdon wonders if prosperity could be the new Pentecostal message, arguing that it shouldn’t be, in its popular forms. He suggests that while the prosperity message could hurt global Pentecostalism, if it undergoes change, it has the potential to revitalize it.
Brogdon concludes his final chapter by observing how Prosperity teachers have missed “the importance of shared blessing” (100). He suggests that “Prosperity teaching can become a message about sharing God’s wealth with all creation and rebuking the social tendency of the few who are rich to hoard wealth for themselves” (101).
I appreciate how Brogdon both critiques and affirms (aspects of) prosperity teaching. If, however, prosperity teaching shifts in the way the Brogdon proposes, and drop the aspects that Brogdon critiques, I wonder if we could still actually call it prosperity theology.
Lewis Brogdon, The New Pentecostal Message? An Introduction to the Prosperity Movement (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015).
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