How does the American prosperity gospel deal with death and suffering? Kate Bowler, the author of this excellent New York Times piece, has much more to say about the subject than most people. Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, is well-studied on the prosperity gospel’s rise to prominence and has spent much of her personal time with its adherents for her book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. But, today, her interest in that phenomenon is a very personal matter: she was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

In contemplating her own suffering, Bowler is more perceptive to how others have attempted to make sense of the same:

The prosperity gospel tries to solve the riddle of human suffering. It is an explanation for the problem of evil. It provides an answer to the question: Why me? […] The prosperity gospel popularized a Christian explanation for why some people make it and some do not. They revolutionized prayer as an instrument for getting God always to say ‘yes.’ It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules, and God will reward you, heal you, restore you.

People want predictability, security, and control – so they forge a system of belief to meet those desires. Of course, Christians are promised reward for obedience, but perhaps not in the way they might imagine. When earthly health and wealth is the measure of faithfulness, how do you answer for the prosperity of unbelievers? Emphasizing prosperity to such a high degree, in fact, demonstrates a shallow understanding of authentic Christian faith. Bowler makes the point abundantly clear:

The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule.

Such a ‘gospel’ isn’t concerned with the lordship of Christ at all but, rather, with a preferential lifestyle. Live it out and you’ll hit a wall and meet ruin. Surrender all, trust Him, and you will find true peace of the kind that Christ promises in John 14.