By Richard Feero
This fall Angel and I, along with Abundant Life staff and friends from the community, attended the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Conference in Raleigh. If you’re unfamiliar with CCDA, click here to get your feet wet.
At this conference we joined thousands of people across the country working/volunteering in churches or ministries for worship, fellowship, and reflection. We attended many different shockingly profound/convicting/encouraging plenary sessions, Bible studies, and workshops, but my favorite was the plenary session on the Social Gospel in America. The panel group had many qualified folks with experience and education giving a lot of depth and insight with each answer. One thing that stood out was how we are not immune from some of the faults that we see in this theology. For example, Kate Bowler, a Professor of American Religion at Duke, pointed out how we often gauge if God’s blessings are present when we ask “How many people were saved at your retreat?” or “How much has your church grown over the last year?” It’s not that these questions are always looking for an impressive number to validate God’s work, but in our business driven culture it is hard to avoid. If the numbers aren’t impressive we question, “Are we doing things right?” or “Is God really blessing this?” I know for myself, when someone asks, “How many people are in your prayer group?” I feel a need to give them a big number to impress and convince them that God is present and that what we are doing is right.
Since this conference, I have done more reflecting on how in America we are accustomed to an unprecedented level of wealth and prosperity never seen before in history. America’s consumer culture seduces us into accumulating more money/wealth/resources for the purpose of being the happy and pretty people seen on TV and in magazines. For many of us in America, aspects of the Prosperity Gospel have seeped into our theology as we are constantly inundated with this consumeristic message. Just as the Prosperity Preachers call for their followers to give money in faith to be blessed with more riches from God, many of us Christians in America live (and even speak at times) as if our prosperity were a result or reward from our following God and living good, responsible lives. In this unprecedented time of material abundance we are experiencing in America, the Prosperity Gospel is something we are all prone to fall prey to whether we are with or we are without. We don’t have to look far in Scriptures (Luke 18:18-30, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Matthew 6:19-34, 1 Timothy 6:17-19) to find warnings about how easy it is to live for money/wealth/comfort instead of living for God.
During this season of Advent, I hope we all take time to stop and listen to the One’s life we are celebrating and see if He might have us use our prosperity, whether that be our cash, our investments, our social influence, or our leisure for Kingdom purposes in new and exciting ways. When we seek the Father’s will, I believe He will help begin the process of untangling elements of the Prosperity Gospel that have taken root in our lives and theology.