I found this book edited by Andrew Perriman to be an engaging read as I’m preparing in re-looking at “Faith, Health & Prosperity”. I found the whole treatment on the history and teaching of the “Word of Faith” Movement to be both informative and insightful. Thus, I munched 5 chapters yesterday.
The discussion on “Prosperity and the law of Moses” had some parts that caught my attention this morning over breakfast cornflakes and coffee :-):
“The basic rule is very simple: if the people kept the law of God, they would enjoy a comprehensive prosperity that included both health and wealth: … (Deut. 7:12-15; cf. Ex. 23:25-26; Deut. 6.-3; 15:4-6; 28:1-14).” (p.158)
“This is not a prosperity to be claimed by faith. The focus is quite different: it is bestowed upon people in response to their obedience to the law. the basic formula is: keep the law, please God, do justice, and you will be blessed. Prosperity is not so much a goal as a by-product. Jesus’ argument about seeking first the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31) is a natural develoment of this principle.” (p.158)
“There is no doubt validity in the argument that the ideal lifestyle consists in an avoidance of both extremes and their concomitant dangers: ‘Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say”who is the LORD?” or shall I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.’ (Prov. 30:8-9), But the more powerful ideal is probably that of the righteous individual who, with his family, is blessed by the Lord with abundance and security and who gives generously to the poor (cf. Ps. 37:25-26; Ps. 112).” (p. 167)
What made me buy this book and read it immediately when I saw it in Evangel Bookstore? The reasons are a mixture of autobiographical-historical factors and pastoral-theological necessity:
1. I recall how much I devoured Kenneth Hagin books when I was a teenager, first, they were more affordable and of course the way he wrote and brought out a more “triumphant” and “victorious” faith was attractive to me then. I even bought some and gave it away as presents. I’ve seen a number of books critique the movement and Hagin’s writings specifically and even though now I shifted away from much of the “word of faith” movement teachings ( “prayerfully” more towards what I believe is the core of Christian faith), I felt it’s a good time to re-look at it with the help of this book.
2. The mere mention of Morris Cerullo in the introduction and the little episodes that ignited the need for this book also drew me in. For at least a year, I used to go every Saturday to MCA hall and sit under Morris Cerullo & friends’ teachings. We had our workbooks ready, we rode two buses to get there. We were younger and we were hungry. And again, I changed due to many factors (cf. some good theological training, practical ministry problems arising from the teachings, personal faith-doubts struggles, fresh reading of the “common texts” used, etc). But, how the Evangelical Alliance of UK handled the situation was interesting …
3. I haven’t seen much of Hagin’s or Cerullo’s books lately … but, there are many who preach on “Faith, Health & Properity” within a wide spectrum here in Malaysia. We still have loads of guest speakers from overseas who carry the mantle of proclaiming this “Word of faith movement”-influenced message. some conciously, other maybe unconsciously … many churches and pastors seem to have a strong “emphasis” on “success” often seen through achieving their desired potential, purpose and of course prosperity. The whole “formula of faith” is also a much emphasised aspect. So in someways especially within those of us who are connected more to the “pentecostal-charismatic” flavour of Christianity here in Malaysia, these dishes are constantly served in our roundtable of spiritual feasting. How shall we deal with this? And do we have a TINA syndrome – There is No Alternative?
4. I’ve been reading and reflected with interest for some time now how some have been “burnt” in churches or environments fed much by this kind of emphasis. They range from individuals (who sincerely want to follow Christ!), to groups of people often leaving existing structures (which they often feel aren’t plugged in enough to God’s purposes and success plan) to form new churches. I found some interesting email conversations and comments on blogs sparked by issued sometimes related to traditional controversies like the place of Charismatic gifts but often to high profile individuals or churches connected to the “Word of Faith” movement. There are some undercurrent “questioning” going on … and it’s real and authentic. But, I haven’t seen much discussed in the public discourse involving the higher folks in power and position. But, then again, I understand, it does appear unkind and rude to raise question about those who are “successful” in ministry – there’s a who am I a small congregation pastor to say anything about a more than thousands of member mega-church practice or teaching kind of reservation. How can we proceed?
5. And of course, as always .. I’m interested in alternatives … and let’s say we get a better grasp of “Faith, Health & Prosperity” as it should be and could be, how can we see all this worked out in concrete forms and models. I was listening and observing to two worship services from two famous churches websites yesterday afternoon – one full one which lasted about 2 hours, another one more of excerpts to 30minutes. The music still moves me here and there, the speakers are “powerful” communicators, technology is used to the fullest, etc. Of course as far as content is concerned, it’s a mixture of what I’d agree with and also a big chunk that somehow doesn’t sound right. So it’s a delicate process and tiring too … It’s obvious that these churches have become a “model” for many here in our country … I was listening to a local preacher online and felt “hey! it’s like a Malaysian copy of what I saw online! wow!”, the tone, the moves, the style … so, like it or not the influence is here to stay … and maybe this kind of Christianity might become the mainstream (I don’t know and also hope not). But sitting with like minded people and complaining is not going to help, more constructive work is needed, good articles and books written, not so much to attack the “Word of Faith” movement (I think there’s quite a substantial balanced critical work done in the Perriman edited book), we need to sit down and reflect .. yes! and then resolve to get on with “excellence” in providing what we perceive to be healthier alternatives which are Biblically grounded, theologically sound, historically informed, reasonably constructed, spiritually vibrant and practically engaging! Phew that was a mouthful .. (often smart people or those with sound theology have a poor way of communicating their thoughts *grin*) we dont have to be fluffy and flamboyant, being faithful doesn’t have to eliminate the fun factor or creativity …
So, this has been another long post …. now back to getting ready for the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”sermon this week …