esearchers point out that one of the main differences between the U.S. financial crash and others—for example, that of Japan in the 1990s—was that it was households (individuals and families) that became heavily overindebted. This was not the case in Japan, nor the Asian crisis of the late 1990s, nor those in Scandinavia in the early 1990s. There, it was more the actions of companies and governments that led to these crises.
But why in the case of America’s situation, did people became so easily seduced to take on such huge amounts of debt and to accept the vain predictions of perpetual prosperity? Responsibility of stewardship was thrown to the wind.
It may have to do with another main difference: namely America’s major religion—a post-modern, utilitarian aberration of the Biblical Christianity. This may seem a harsh statement, but I believe that the facts well support it. Most definitely, America is the most Christian-professing, major nation in the world. That religious belief and philosophy has an impact on economies and financial markets is a well-established fact. After all, economies are nothing more than human beings acting upon their wants and beliefs.
Why do Chinese households save so much? Could it be that their Confusion culture is predisposed to such behavior? Why did nations inspired by Christianity produce the Industrial Age of the 1800s? Or, why are Latin American countries so often vulnerable to inflationary collapse and corruption? Max Weber (see The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism1), and other social economists such as R. H. Tawney studied this religious/economic connections. Beliefs do drive actions.
Only in North America do we find such a significant influence of the Prosperity Theology. It should not be surprising then that this teaching will have played a contributing (perhaps causal) role in America’s late slide into financial crisis and decline. We want to examine this connection further by investigating some of the doctrinal distortions behind this movement, which merges Christianity and money into the eschatological timeline.
Crucially, it can be shown that it aligns with developments that the Bible indicates will take place in the Last Days, right into the Great Tribulation.
Deeply Rooted False Prosperity Beliefs
While Prosperity Theology tends to be more associated with the charismatic segment of Protestant Christianity, it could be said that virtually all of North American Christianity has been infected with its influences. This perspective co-exists comfortably with the ideology of the American Dream. For centuries, the “Christian nation” of America has been a land of opportunity, espousing upward mobility and success for all who seek it.
Prosperity thinking is therefore subtly imbedded in the psyche of North American Christians. It is almost considered an entitlement in some circles. Of course, most will perhaps not swallow the teachings and techniques of the likes of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Peter Popoff—he of the “divine transfer”—and many others. After all, some of these more extreme teachers in this community even go so far as to claim that if you have much faith that you can “get wealth.” Just send in your seed faith offering and you may get a “divine wealth transfer” or “100-fold” return.
In this bartering system with the Most High, one is taught to expect that God will reciprocate—actually multiply—your seed offering with a monetary or material blessing of some kind. It could be a sizable check arriving in your mailbox from a mysterious source or some other lucky happenstance. If you believe and have true faith, it is a sure payout, backed by a god that has unlimited capability to redirect money and earthy wealth upon Christians.
If this really is the case, then we have discovered a heaven-ordained Ponzi scheme. What is a Ponzi? This fraudulent sham was named after Charles Ponzi, one of the most famous American swindlers of all time. He promised people high returns on their investments by paying them with other people’s new incoming investment money. This is how Bernie Madoff amazingly managed to misappropriate over $60 billion in recent years. As long as people were investing more in his fund than he was paying out, he went undetected.
Let’s conservatively check out the math on the promises of the Prosperity Theology teachers. A favorite verse is found in Matthew 19:29. It reads: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” That is a wonderful promise. However, it does not refer to earthly riches as is taught by the more extreme prosperity promoters, but rather eternal reward.
For the purposes of illustration only, let’s assume that there are 100 million real “in spirit and truth ”Christians on earth (approximately 1.5% of the world’s population) and that they will get a 10-fold return (not 100-fold). Next, if we take these 100 million from North
America, where the average person has about $166,000 in net worth2, we quickly discover that such a promise can only apply to a select few. With this kind of a sure return, everyone would surely give the prosperity preacher everything they have. If they then were all to get a 10-fold return on their contribution, it would amount to a total of $16.5 trillion. How much is that? That is almost as much as all the money deposits in all the banks of the world. How then could this work? It doesn’t.
Think of the consequences if this and other similar teachings were really true. The world would have the greatest money inflation in history and North America would have the most hedonistic Christians imaginable of any nation. Perhaps this result is not so far from the truth. Indeed, hedonism is a susceptible characteristic of this teaching.
Theological Wealth Distortions Everywhere
False gospels are deadly, their heresies distorting virtually every doctrine, worldview and eschatological perspective. In like manner, Prosperity Theology radiates its destruction into many doctrines and perspectives. If the case for its destructive contributions to America’s recent demise is already not incriminating enough, there is yet more to consider.
A sure sign of all false gospels is their perspective on money. Every single false teaching or heresy mentioned in the New Testament epistles (and there are many) was associated with greed or an inordinate affection with money and wealth. This is evident today as it was then. If anything is different, it is that some of these heretical perspectives have become much more systemized than they were in New Testament times.
Though beliefs held by certain Christian sects may appear rooted in scriptural teaching, it is disturbing to discover how subjective and unfounded these are. These beliefs simply do not hold up under the scrutiny of all Scripture. However, these do find good company in pagan and New Age religions. An entry on Wikipedia under the topic Prosperity Theology points out that this “somewhat similar (yet strikingly different) belief appears in most ‘New Thought’ religions, Unity, Religious Science, and Divine Science denominations.” It should seem strange that such commonality is found with these other religions. It is not coincidental.
As we have already shown, Prosperity Theology does not even pass the test of common sense. If the promises of Prosperity Theology were legitimate and observable, then it should be discovered that its adherents indeed would be wealthier than the general population. Yet, the opposite is true.
According to the surveys of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life3, the average income level of all Christians is less than that of other faiths. For instance, the percentage of Protestant Christians with incomes over $100,000 per annum is 15%. This is less than Muslims (16%), Jews (46%), Buddhists (43%) and Hindus (43%).
Drilling down into comparisons between Christian denominations themselves, the same non-confirmation is evident. If one assumes that prosperity teaching is most prevalent in evangelical Pentecostal sects, the falsehood of this teaching is even more blatant. The Pentecostal demographic is the poorest of all, with the exception of Baptists in the Historically Black Tradition.4 48% of Pentecostals have incomes less than $30,000; only 7% greater than $100,000 per annum. That compares to 31% and 18% in the Christian population overall, respectively.
Clearly, the promises of Prosperity Theology are a hoax. Much worse allegations could be made. It would be considered a financial sham were its promoters to be seen preying on the hopelessness of its congregants. In that sense, it would not be much different than the consumer credit business. Just which demographic segment of society has historically proven to be the most profitable credit market for financial institutions … at least up until the Global Financial Crisis (GFC)? The poor. It is these people that are required to pay high loan fees and interest rates and tend to run high balances on their credit cards with exorbitant charges. In like manner, this gospel is certainly not “releasing the oppressed” as was Christ’s mission (Luke 4:18).
Why is it that Christians are so gullible? It may be for the same reason that the thickest complaint file of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in America is the category of religiously associated fraud. When con artists or teachers imply a relationship with God or make a purported scriptural reference promising prosperity, the wallets are opened unthinkingly. Why is it that charismatic churches time and again have proven themselves most vulnerable to the flimsiest of Ponzi schemes? It is both astounding and explainable.
This quote from an op-ed article published in the Russian online news portal, Pravda offers a disturbing connection, though somewhat tangential. The journalist, though irreverent of America and an apologist for the official Russian Orthodox Church, does make some connections between America’s slide and liberal Christianity:
“First, the population was dumbed down through a politicized and substandard education system based on pop culture, rather than the classics. Americans know more about their favorite TV dramas than the drama in DC that directly affects their lives. […] Then their faith in God was destroyed, until their churches, all tens of thousands of different ‘branches and denominations’ were for the most part little more than Sunday circuses and their televangelists and top protestant mega preachers were more then happy to sell out their souls and flocks to be on the ‘winning’ side of one pseudo Marxist politician or another. Their flocks may complain, but when explained that they would be on the ‘winning’ side, their flocks were ever so quick to reject Christ in hopes for earthly power. Even our Holy Orthodox churches are scandalously liberalized in America.”5
The Effects Are Subtle But Dangerous
Our review of the more extreme aspects of Prosperity Teaching is not meant to attack anyone personally. Rather, we seek to stand up for truth and to contest dangerous teaching. Yes, many prosperity teachers may preach inspiring sermons, be of good character, and not even realize that they are influenced by Prosperity Theology. But that still would not be sufficient excuse nor render this teaching harmless.
In the physical world, purity is highly prized. Were we to purchase a bar of 24K gold, we expect it to be 100% pure. When we buy gasoline for our cars or are prescribed penicillin tablets, we expect the content to meet the specifications on the label. Anything else is fraud and deliberate deception. The same is true of any teaching that does not meet the exact specifications of the Gospel and the Bible.
Satan, the Bible tells us, is a cunning deceiver (John 8:44) and masquerader (2 Corinthians 11:14). Were we to devise a plan to poison someone with arsenic, we would surely know how to secret its ingestion. We might hide it in a slice of sweet apple pie covered with ice cream. Effective rat poison is designed the same way. It is deliberately manufactured to be tasty and nutritious. Even though only a very small percentage of its content is poison, it is enough to kill the rodent. The fact that the other 99% of its content was life-sustaining food—or that that the other 99% of teaching was sound—does not prevent bad consequences.
Then what are the evil consequences of Prosperity Theology, and why does it fit into the eschatological timeline? There are a number of reasons, some of them deviously subtle. Firstly, Prosperity Theology that overly focuses upon material riches and physical well-being, acclimatizes Christians to feel comfortable in the realm of Mammon. As already explained, the risks and rewards of the material realm are put onto a spiritual level. The opposing kingdoms of God and Money are confused. Monetary fortunes—the ups and downs of the bank account and investment portfolios—are interpreted as the omens of God. For example, if I lose my job, God is punishing me. If I get an inheritance from a distant relative, then I am being divinely blessed. That perspective is not Biblical … certainly not to be found in the New Testament.
Erroneously, this teaching about money promotes the notion that God runs His kingdom on the principle of monetary and material incentive. How crass. God manipulates Christians to love Him and to obedience through the carrot of material wealth and well-being? They confuse the realm of Mammon for the Kingdom of God.
The danger of this perspective is amply evidenced by the recent disastrous Global Financial Crisis. Because stock markets and housing prices were soaring, people that were entranced by the Mammon spirit uncritically received it as a blessing. To them, it was a sign of God’s favor upon America. In reality, it was a deliberate and deceptive trap. Today, therefore, America is weakened.
Prosperity Theology also can lead to slovenly stewardship. Why practice sensible budgeting if I have a few divine lottery tickets soon to pay off with a big win? With a 100-fold return promised, why not spend the money in advance? Or, if a finance company approves an option mortgage with no money down, is this really a blessed intervention by God to provide a house that is bigger than you need and cannot afford? With this kind of undisciplined thinking, we see that personal accountability can go out the window. Such teaching in spirit does not promote sensible stewardship.
Thoughts to Ponder
The deadly mindset of Prosperity Theology promotes at least three other dangers … these the worst of all. Firstly, it greases the slide to the final grand ecumenicism—the perversion that merges the worship of God and Mammon. Did Christ really say that you cannot serve two masters? Yes, of course. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 it says you can only serve either Mammon or God, not both. Yes, but if we redefine wealth and money as the sure manifestation of God’s blessing; and a massive commercialization and globalization of the world as godly because its goal is to free the world of poverty; and “capitalism” and other “isms” as Biblically-endorsed concepts; well then, manipulated global wealth booms must be the sure working of a pleased God. That is precisely the type of world that is shown in Revelation 17 and 18, which depict a worldwide marriage of religion and commerce.
The second disaster of America’s collision with the effortless prosperity pipedream is that the U.S. is now reduced and embarrassed on the world’s geopolitical sphere. This is not a good sign for Israel. Political leadership will not have much difficulty abandoning Israel if this is promised to return our nation to bubbly prosperity.
Finally, we know there will come a time when the entire world falls for the “prosperity teaching ruse.” An antichrist will stand up and deliver what appears to be the promise of prosperity, and perhaps even the eradication of poverty. It will sound good to the mammonish mind. Take the “mark” and you will be assured of a prosperous future.
Turning back to the current economic troubles, what Christian might not be tempted to think that God and country have abandoned them? Instead of the American Dream or the soothing promises of the preacher, disappointing hardships and troubles are being experienced.
What Christian would not be inclined to whine to God, as did Jeremiah: “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jeremiah 15:18). Jeremiah figured that since he was walking with God and answering His calling, that he deserved special treatment. He bargained with God, saying, “I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me, and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?” (Jeremiah 15-17-18).
How did God respond? He didn’t even acknowledge the complaint. He simply said this: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me” (verse 19).
No doubt, all 12 of the New Testament apostles settled this same issue in a satisfactory manner. They were doing the Lord’s will and were all blessed with rich robes and fine foods. Actually, directly to the contrary. 11 of them died an unnatural death. All of them physically suffered for their beliefs. Was this just? Said Paul, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love […]” (2 Corinthians 6:4-6).
1. Weber, Max. The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published 1905.
2. Calculated from Federal Reserve Board Z1 Report, June 11, 2009, reporting March 31, 2009 conditions.
3. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, February 2008, Table: Income Levels of Major Religious Traditions, pg. 60.
4. Ibid, Income Level by Protestant Denominations, pg. 80.
5. Stanislav Mishin, Op-ed, Pravda Russia, June 1, 2009.
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About the Author: Wilfred J. Hahn is a global economist/strategist. Formerly a top-ranked global analyst, research director for a major Wall Street investment bank, and chairman of Canada country’s largest global investment operation, his writings focus on the endtime roles of money, economics and globalization. He has been quoted around the world and his writings reproduced in numerous other publications and languages. His 2002 book The Endtime Money Snare: How to live free accurately anticipated and prepared its readers for the Global Financial Crisis. His newest book, Global Financial Apocalypse Prophesied: Preserving true riches in an age of deception and trouble, looks further into the future and will be in bookstores September 2009.