It has been noted before that many Reformed, along with the general population of religionists and non-religionists, seem to have the idea that legalism is about substance use and worldly amusement. But in the same way, Reformed also seem to assume that the so-called “prosperity gospel” ever only has something to do with mansions, moola and bling. But to the extent that prosperity-ism, like legalism, is really just a set of principles, this means it is highly mobile and rather easily applied to just about any set of felt needs.
So while there is most assuredly a crass and sweaty version of prosperity gospel, there are also versions for the more staid suburbanite as well as those in the upper crust regions of human society. Thus, for example, in the sober mid-western suburban world I inhabit, where cash is carried in wallets and “wearing it on one’s sleeve” is reckoned, well, let’s be honest, sinful, true religion helps nice white folks invoke biblical principles to manage their money, children and relationships. And, where the new trinity is “happiness, healthiness and wholeness,” if there is enough left over, inner peace and happiness goes to him who can survey his private kingdom existing in shalom.
But there is also a version of prosperity for those whose felt needs are issues involving statecraft, cultural institution and political enterprise. A good example is, once again, the wrong reverend Bret McAtee, who currently wants to deconstruct R. Scott Clark for suggesting that, while it has no social agenda, the gospel can and does have a social consequence. But what he ends up really revealing is a social version of the more individually oriented prosperity gospel. In the social prosperity gospel it is the institution instead of the individual that becomes the object of disdain for not having invoked the right biblical principles for victory. When it is asked why, after two thousand years, the world is still what it always was when humanity was sent packing east of Eden, rife with all manner of miseries of the flesh, the social prosperity gospelizer will answer in a classic “blame the victim” answer.
Prosperity of any variety is marked by many things. But it seems most recognizable by its rather impatient impatience for having to actually live in a world or skin that is as subject to frailty and failure as it has always been. It seems to have no category for loss or weakness. It cannot explain these things but elects instead to rail against them as proof that indwelling sin is not just the fault of the sinner but also his sole duty to rectify. This is a far cry from the injunction to mortify the flesh and fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. It is a glorified moralism, a theistic pulling up of one’s boots straps. It isn’t a complete mystery, as the imago Dei was originally created with a deeply ingrained impulse to inaugurate paradise. But this is actually the very point of Christianity. To embrace prosperity is to miss that true religion is to confront our original and glorious mandate turned criminal, whether it’s by way of bling, inner happiness or a Christian nation.