Recently I heard a minister talk rather disparagingly about the so-called "Prosperity Gospel". The official term for this is "Prosperity Theology" which has been defined as one that believes financial blessing and physical wellbeing are always the will of God for His people. Accused of being irresponsible, promoting idolatry, and being contrary to scripture - this teaching has been slammed by many Christian denominations including the Church of England church I heard it mentioned in recently.
I'm not taking sides and I'm not a theologian so I'm very much prepared to be wrong but I suddenly wondered about this teaching and how it differs from the stricter, "stay in line and stick with God" teaching in the C of E services I've attended. The "Prosperity Theology" is often primarily found in black-majority churches mainly in America and certain countries in Africa, with huge emphasis on the good things in life. The "other" type of teaching I've experienced in white-majority churches here in the UK tend to be more balanced in terms of accepting things won't always be great but is heavier on the avoidance of sin and God's wrath stuff.
I've always found it interesting that Jesus used different methods to heal people of the same things. For example, in Luke 5:12-15, He healed a man of leprosy by touching him but in Luke 5:17-25 He told a paralysed man to get up and walk and he did! We aren't told why He doesn't just follow a pattern but I sense that He chooses purposefully, choosing which will be best for each person - and also for the conviction of the crowd watching.
When I think about my ancestors; the many, many Africans forcefully removed from their land of birth and into slavery, I imagine that the message that would have healed them - brought them to God - would need to have been a message of freedom; a message of a God who delights in them and only wants the best for them in physical and material health. For a persecuted group, this kind of message would have highlighted the injustice that God hates while reminding them of the love He has for His people (Psalm 91) as in Psalm 91:14 which reads, 'The Lord says, I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will resuce and honour them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.'
On the other hand, say; we know that lots of white slaveowners used the Bible to justify their horrendous treatment of black people in enslaving them (Ephesians 6:5-7). So a way for them to come back to God, would be through a different route. A route that maybe focused on repentence and accepting the forgiveness that God offers us all (James 4:7-10) as in James 4:9 which reads, 'Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy'. Am I making sense? So for both groups to come to the same God, it seems different aspects of His nature would be the "driving force".
So while current day "Prosperity Theology" may have gotten out of hand, I can see that at one time it would have had its place. Similarly, a stricter doctrine, like the one I grew up in which was heavy on the God of Judgement, may be necessary for a certain group or a certain time. Ultimately we need to learn all aspects of God and as we journey with Him we will be exposed to more and more of His character but that point of "healing" will be different for each of us and for good reason.
Ultimately, while I'm not justifying it, if this really was the innocent reason for the much put-upon "Prosperity Theology", why don't we acknowledge that more?