The Prosperity Gospel is a Tofu Burger
I’ve never understood the concept of a tofu burger. It’s not actually meat – it can be made to look like meat, it can even taste like meat. But the whole point of a tofu burger is so you won’t realize that what you’re swallowing is completely different than what you’re actually digesting. No matter how you dress it up and present it, it’s still just an imitation.
We’re surrounded by Christianity-imitating tofu. Best-selling authors, talk-show hosts and internationally broadcasted, stadium-filled conference speakers make up much of America’s religious media. And many of these popular and published personalities are dynamic and inspiring women. Unfortunately, while they may sound like they’re teaching genuine Christianity and look like true followers of Jesus, the main entrée they’re serving is tofu. It’s called the Prosperity Gospel, and before you and I swallow everything we hear in mainstream Christian media, we need to be aware of its ingredients.
A Self-Exalting Recipe
The low view of Jesus and the high view of humanity are common themes among many of TV’s top female preachers. One woman taught that the Bible calls us, “little Elohims…it says that you are ‘little gods’…your spirit is God.” Here it is another way: “Jesus is not the only begotten Son of God – I am a son of God!” Like most incorrect teaching, it has a grain of truth – Jesus was the firstborn of the resurrection (Col. 1:18) and we are adopted as God’s children and made co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). But unlike you and I, who are adopted and born into God’s family (Eph. 1:5, John 1:13), Jesus is the only begotten Son who was born as a human being but always existed in Eternity Past – because Jesus is God (John 1:1-3, 14). And while you and I have been made “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Pt. 1:3), we’re still God’s creation – redeemed creation but still creation. While we are being made like God, we’re not “little gods.” It might sound subtle on the outside – it might even have some Bible verses attached to it – but its substance is made up of completely different ingredients than the message of Scripture.
As John MacArthur writes in his book, Hard to Believe, “in this new reformation of self-esteem, the first thing required is to pull God down from His supremely elevated place so you can then lift yourself up, replacing God-exalting theology with man-exalting self-esteem psychology.” Combine the stringing together of verses that are out of context with a low estimation of our own sinfulness and a cheapening of Jesus’ deity and you’ve got a recipe for ruin!
The Gluttony of Earthly Ease
Another common ingredient in this “imitation-Christianity” is that it’s always God’s will that we are physically and financially prosperous. If we’re sick, then ultimately we’re to blame. If we’re having troubles, it’s because we weren’t speaking positive things into our lives. For instance, one popular author said that Job brought all of his troubles upon himself because of his negative self-talk. We may lack faith, have some secret sin, need to give more money or, possibly, just not even be saved.
Here’s what one woman told her listeners to do: “If there’s anything in your body that’s not working right…put your hand on the part of your body…whatever it is…and I’m going to speak to it in the name of Jesus…In Jesus name, I command you to be healed from the top of your head to the soles of your feet!” The Gospels give story after story of how Jesus physically healed people and He continues to do medical miracles today. But as the account of the paralytic man in Luke 5 shows, Jesus did physical miracles to demonstrate his spiritual authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:23). Physical healing is because of God’s grace, not His obligation.
This view also claims that Jesus’ work on the cross overcame “the curse of poverty,” not the curse of our sin and judgment (Gal. 3:1-14). Sounds like a different recipe for success than Paul’s perspective: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6:7-10) The belief that God’s will is for us to be healthy and wealthy is little more than the gluttony for earthly ease. It’s tofu masquerading as meat.
The Distorted Diet of a Greedy Gospel
By far the most damaging and deceptive aspect of the tofu-talk in popular Christian media is that it peddles a false gospel. No matter how many books she writes, TV shows she produces or conferences she hosts, you’re not likely to hear a woman preach a prosperity gospel along with the biblical meaning of the cross of Christ. Why did Jesus have to die? And what are we saved from? Here’s how one female Prosperity Preacher would answer it: “It’s a wholeness package – it means your relationships are going to be fully functioning…your finances are going to be whole…your body is going to be full of health.” Total. Tofu.
What’s the real reason Jesus came to die? To reconcile sinners to God: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith.” (Rom. 3:23-25) Here it is again: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1). And just in case it wasn’t clearer, here it is again: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
While God still heals people of physical problems and promises to provide for our needs, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make us rich or pain-free. He died to be our substitute for God’s rightful wrath against our sin, the Righteous King for Unrighteous Us (Rom. 5:9, Col. 1:15-20, 1 Peter 3:18). God rescued us in Christ from the consequences of His own justice that we deserved. The false gospel of greed is a distorted diet of half-truths and empty hopes.
Feeding on the Truth
No matter how it’s dressed up and presented, the Prosperity Gospel is an imitation to true Christianity. 2 Peter 2:1-3 warns us, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words…” Not only do you and I need to have discerning ears, we also have to see to it that no one takes us captive by philosophy and empty deceit (Col 2:18). None of us are above veering away from the faith. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8). Turn off the Christian tofu-talk and dig into the meat of God’s Word.
Katie McCoy is the editor of BiblicalWoman.com and is pursuing a PhD in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not reading for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and shopping with her mom. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her Twitter!