Death and The Prosperity Gospel

burning_money_symbol_picture_2_165377In the mid-nineties I enjoyed a rare privilege. With the help of an Afrikaans journalist I had traced the whereabouts of a man who was, at the time, the most notorious Christian in all of Southern Africa. I showed up on his Capetonian doorstep one sunny afternoon, and he kindly invited me in. What followed was one of the most memorable conversations of my life.

My fascination with him had begun many years before, whilst attending a week-long seminar where he spoke about the cross of Christ. He was by far the best Bible teacher I had ever heard, and remains so to this day.

In fact, his clarification of sin and salvation changed the course of my life.

But for a number of reasons his ministry nosedived soon after I met him, leading to an extremely public media crucifixion by the ecclesiastical establishment in South Africa. The whole affair ruined his reputation to such an extent that the remnant of his teaching ministry went underground, mostly in the form of cassette tapes. There it remains to this day.

Naturally, I was befuddled. How could a message of this profundity, this calibre, simply be wiped off a Christian landscape riddled with so many radically inferior versions of the same truths?

I was determined to find out, and hoped that my visit would reveal an answer.

It did. From the very lips of the man himself. Oh, we spoke for hours, and enough was discussed to fill a book, but a single statement stood out – one that has never left the back of my mind.

Over the two decades since then, it has both haunted and helped me countless of times.

It was simply this, and even now I can recall the moment when he uttered the words:

“I hate religion too much.”

I got it. And in that moment I knew that I was attracted to his teaching for more reasons than its sheer brilliance. I had the same problem, and it threatened to damage my work for the Lord in the very same way. I hated religion (perhaps I should say “religiosity,” to distinguish it from the true religion spoken of by James) too much. And I especially hated certain types of religiosity more than others.

Those words saved my life, for without them I would have fulfilled what I thought was God’s calling on my life: To become a crusader for the truth.

It sounds noble, doesn’t it? But we were never called to lay our lives down for the truth. We were called to lay them down for Christ, and the difference is monumental.

Note that I am speaking for myself here, and not for my friend who taught me this lesson. His hatred of religiosity came with its own hazards, and I respect him too much to speculate about them. But in my case it manifested as a dangerous substitute for God’s actual calling on my life: To forget about myself and my own offenses, and to proclaim his immeasurable greatness and the incomparable delights of losing and finding our lives in him and him alone.

So why am I going on about all of this?

Simply because I read a New York Times article this morning that stirred up all of those old emotions. And, like an old recovering addict, I had to subdue them by applying my golden line in a calculated, cognitive, emotionless manner, coupled with the closing of my eyes and a very deep breath:

“You hate the prosperity gospel too much.” 

If only you knew what it takes from me not to expound on this statement, not to explain why I hate it so much, not to at least leave you with some shred of information that may inspire you to also… you know?

The intoxicating potion is beckoning, as always, but I will refrain, albeit it with shaking hands. The glow of exposing the hucksters, of naming names, of storming into the fight… Alas, it is no longer for me. To quote Nietzsche (of all people), I fought the dragon, and in the process I became the dragon.

But I am quite happy to provide the link to the article (bet you are relieved!), for I think it is magnificently written. Also, the author has clearly, and graciously, been spared the dark offense that turned me into a poor apologist for this particular cause.

And so I heartily recommend Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Kate Bowler.

 

 

10 thoughts on “Death and The Prosperity Gospel

  1. errollmulder February 15, 2016 / 1:39 pm

    First, a confession. I too am a great sucker for hating ‘religion’ too much, so grateful thanks my dear brother for the reminder not to be swallowed by the same dragon myself, plus giving me some tips as to how to go about things in times of temptation ahead.

    I loved your distinction between laying down our lives for the truth and laying them down for the Christ. A gem to remember.

    Grace and peace!

    • Tobie February 15, 2016 / 1:50 pm

      Thanks Errol! Perhaps we can be the founding members of the first RHA branch (Religion Haters Anonymous)…

  2. donnaleebatty February 22, 2016 / 10:40 am

    This is a very humbling post – I agree and concur with our brother Erroll’s words and would like to enlist in the club!

    • Tobie February 24, 2016 / 6:38 am

      Hi Donna – thanks and welcome!🙂

  3. Jaco Truter February 23, 2016 / 4:56 pm

    Hi Tobie..the Cape brother you are refering to isnt Lester Bloomberg by any chance ? Regards..Jaco Truter.

    • Tobie February 24, 2016 / 6:40 am

      Hi Jaco – I am not at liberty to reveal his identity, but I am sure people who sat under his teaching will know who I am talking about.

  4. Michael November 23, 2016 / 2:59 pm

    Tobie, I sure could relate to your article. I like what you wrote here,

    “God’s actual calling on my life: To forget about myself and my own offenses, and to proclaim his immeasurable greatness and the incomparable delights of losing and finding our lives in him and him alone.”

    Oh, my brother! This is so profound! I also have hated religion too much. The gospel of Christ is not the anti-gospel of hating organized religion, but it has taken me so many years to understand this and just “live and move and have my being” IN HIM! I am still His work in progress.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog,

    Michael

    • Tobie November 23, 2016 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. I was delighted when I found your blog earlier today, and cannot believe that I did not know of its existence. There is so much on there that I cannot wait to indulge in. I started reading The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy as it touches on an issue close to my heart. (I even wrote a short blog post on it years ago: https://naturalchurch.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/god-does-not-speak-christianese/).

      Thanks for stopping by and many blessings on your work.

      • Michael November 23, 2016 / 5:21 pm

        Tobie, Your open honesty has been a blessing to me, my brother. I am glad you not only found my blog, but also found our website. Our book, “The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy,” has probably got more hits than anything that George Davis and I have ever written.

        Funny about the timing of all this. I was sitting here feeling quite alone and praying that I would hear from Jesus and I received this reply from you on your blog and almost immediately afterwards I got a letter from a brother in a Muslim country who had also read GEC and was blessed by its message of our freedom which we have IN Christ who is our sufficiency in all things.

        I read your short article and yes, you have touched on some good examples how the so-called “Bible translators” have not done so, but rather have given ecclesiastical terms to as many of the Greek words that they could. As we pointed out in our book, the KJV translation team were under orders of that despot king to do so. Sad to say, that “translation” has been flowed by those who came along later with their versions when it comes to inferring ecclesiastical authority in the scriptures instead of the brotherhood we all have IN Christ as His siblings.

        BTW, my wife and I took a trip to East London, Eastern Cape a couple years ago to visit a Christian couple down there. I see that you are only a few hours drive from there. Sad to say that all the Christians who have contacted us in South Africa are about evenly scattered across your country. Least you get the wrong idea, we are not world travelers. This was a one time occasion. Those long airplane trips are a killer on my poor 72 year old body, but it was good to get to see the wild life and the Indian Ocean with those miles and miles of white sandy beaches.

        May the Lord bless you and your wife and those in Christ whom you gather with,

        Michael

  5. Tobie November 24, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    Michael, I cannot believe that you were in this part of the world. Would have been so great to meet you! As for the scattered South African believers: I know exactly what you are talking about. Thankfully, some of us are slowly but surely starting to form connections, and have had some wonderful fellowship. Your analogy of the spokes and the bicycle wheel explains it all. When we get closer to our Lord, we get closer to one another.

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