Excerpt from Chapter 4, “The Good News of Health and Prosperity”
Where did the idea come from that there’s something evil about the material world, and we shouldn’t seek to be prosperous or successful in it? Proponents of the “other gospel" often condemn worldliness, by which they mean preoccupation with things of the material world. But if the material world God made is “very good” it’s appropriate to be involved in it, working out our vocation to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:22). In speaking of the “world” (kosmos) the New Testament writers refer not to the earth as a material entity but to world culture with its godless values. It’s of that world that Jesus speaks when he tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Scripture proclaims that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), or commitment to his agreement with us; the Hebrew word is hesed, faithfulness to the covenant; the corresponding Greek word is agape. If we say God puts illness, poverty, or strife of any sort upon us — or willingly permits them — for some reason known only to him, aren’t we then saying that love made us sick or love made us poor or love put us under stress of some kind? If we consider God our Father, as do Jesus and the writers of the New Testament, what parent would wish, or inflict, such things upon his children?
It’s a mistake to claim that, since “God is in control,” bad things that happen must somehow be his doing. Scripture itself indicates that God does not control everything, since he has entrusted the management of this world to people made in his image (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 115:16). Devastating events or hurtful conditions that mar the welfare and happiness of human beings can usually be attributed to the actions and practices of people who refuse to bring their lives into line with the framework of God’s covenant.
The Bible makes it clear that poverty, sickness, discord and the like are not God’s doing, nor his tempting or testing us. They’re the work of the enemy of God’s people and arise from disregard for God and his ways. The New Testament’s “late breaking news” equips the believer to do battle against them.
Indeed, two millennia of history reveal the beneficial impact of Christian faith as a message of healing, prosperity, and justice. Regions of the world dominated by Christian influence have seen the development of hospitals and charitable organizations, institutions for research and learning, and efforts to promote the public good to an extent not seen elsewhere. The rights of the individual, valued by God as a creature in his own image, have become a cornerstone of Western culture leading to such milestones as the abolition of slavery. Industrial initiative and the results of technology have, on the whole, benefited people across the spectrum of society. Poverty has diminished, pestilence has been curbed, and people have been set free to explore their possibilities in life to a degree not seen in parts of the world where the New Testament’s euangelion hasn’t been promulgated. The effect of Christianity through twenty centuries has been to “destroy the works of the devil.”
In a world awash in poverty, illness, injustice, and all forms of oppression one wonders why any Christian wouldn’t choose to preach a gospel of deliverance from these evils. Jesus, our great King, has already undergone the suffering that releases from the grip of evil, taking the curses of the covenant upon himself for the rescue of his people. The “late breaking news” of Jesus’ Lordship over all things is “the power of God for salvation,” the power to set people free from bondage to a corrupt and dehumanizing world culture.