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The prosperity gospel continues to plague pulpits and churches around the world. So what is the prosperity gospel? Why is it popular? Why is it dangerous? And why is John Piper so opposed to it? Here’s how he explained it, back in the fall of 2008:

So why do I feel so strongly about the so-called prosperity gospel? There is an easy answer, but before I give it let me define it a little bit. It is on a continuum from the most radical to what would be called soft or light. And the most radical would be basically say God wants you rich and you should partner with him by faith to pursue riches. And the justification would be given: Can’t accomplish much in life without money. And so go for it. Or another rationale might be: You are kingdom kids and kingdom kids don’t wear tattered clothes. They dress like the king and so on.

The light would be simply being more cautious not to say those gross things about wealth, but to minimize sin and minimize pain and only talk about how well things will go for you if you follow Christ.

So why do I abominate this so-called gospel? I think it is another gospel. And the first reason would be simply to go straight to the Bible and see what Paul says about those who want to be rich. It is just ... he says... This is 1 Timothy 6:6. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, in other words, without craving for stuff. For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. If we have food and clothing with these we will be content. That is just amazing. But those who desire to be rich—now here is the key text. This is verse nine. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving, that is this craving to be rich that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

In other words, the very thing that leads people to suicidal piercings of pangs, namely the desire to be rich is nurtured and cultivated by the prosperity preachers. They are encouraging that this suicidal behavior happen. That is abominable.

Or Jesus said: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why would he say that? It is because riches are such dangerous things. They are not a blessing usually. They are usually a curse. People are cursed with riches. They are destroyed by riches. And here, again, a little {?} of qualification. I don’t mean it is sinful to make a lot of money. I just mean it is sinful to want to keep a lot of money. And it is suicidal to want to keep a lot of money, bigger barns and bigger cars and bigger houses and bigger portfolios and finer clothes and everything is growing with your income so that your conscience is getting harder and harder because if you are a Christian at this point, your conscience is having to say: It is ok, it is ok. This is ok. This is the Calvary road. This is what it means to deny yourself. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to die every day. This is what it means to have my treasure in heaven. And it doesn’t. It won’t work. So your conscience has to be lascerated in order to keep from killing yourself. And so Jesus says: It is hard for a rich man to gain the kingdom of heaven. Paul says those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and pierce themselves with many pangs. And along comes a prosperity preacher who says: Yes, the Lord really wants you to be rich. We should pursue riches. Following Jesus is the pathway to riches. Riches are the sign of God’s blessing. I would just say those are in mutual contradiction for each other and, therefore, this is deadly.

Here is another reason I am really upset about this. These prosperity preachers don’t just talk to Americans who are already fairly well off and try to help them, you know, become a little more rich. They get on their jets, their personal jets and they fly to Africa or the Philippines. And they land and they gather a stadium full of 100,000 desperately poor people and tell them if they will believe in Jesus they will get rich and all of their needs will be met and their wives won’t have miscarriages any more, blah, blah, blah. And then they get on their jet with their pockets full and go home. That is wicked, because the Bible is so filled with teachings that in this life this is a momentary affliction here. This light momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. What is Paul referring to there? He is referring to a lifetime. Light and momentary corresponds to the weight of eternal glory in heaven. He means when you come to Christ you come and die and you can count on it. Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of heaven.

Normal Christianity is pain. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing is the pattern. Prosperity preachers do not prepare new converts in third world countries to endure the realities of what it will cost them to be a Christian.

Here is another reason. There are 1568 or so, as we talk, people groups in the world out of 13,000 that don’t even have missionaries engaging them and, therefore, everybody in them is without hope. Most of those 1500 people groups are in very dangerous places, meaning, if you go there your kids might either get disease and die or your wife might be captured and raped or your family might be butchered and killed. Who is going to go? We have to go. Jesus said: Make disciples of every people group, not just the easy ones, not just the comfortable ones. Who is going to go? The product of prosperity preachers? I don’t think so. The people that are going to go are the people that have been taught that to follow Christ is to suffer and it is brief. It is only 80 years. And then comes heaven.

I just read this morning with Noel and Talitha the first paragraphs of Revelation 21. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away and the sea was no more and I saw the new Jerusalem coming down like a bride prepared for her husband. And he will dwell with us and we will be his people and he will be our God. And then every tear will be wiped away and every pain will be gone. For the former things have passed away.”

That is common. The essential biblical problem — maybe that is an overstatement — one of the essential biblical problems with the prosperity gospel is an over realized eschatology, meaning the things that are promised gloriously for us.... We are all going to be rich. We are going to own the world. We are going to judge angels. Paul used that argument in 1 Corinthians three. Don’t you realize that you are going to inherit the world? The world is yours. Apollos is yours. Cephas is yours. Life is yours. Death is yours. And the conclusion he drew was: Why would you boast in men? In other words, why wouldn’t you take that as a means of enabling you to suffer and be lowly and kind and servant like and walk on this Calvary road and take the pain of being a Christian that is coming? But what they do instead of saying we have to wait for that and pour our lives out through many tribulations here, they say: Bring it now. Bring it now. The kingdom is already here, right? Jesus brought the kingdom. And it is the overlap of these two ages. They don’t understand.

The new age is a beautiful age and there are healings that happen in this world. I don’t deny that. I just deny very vehemently everybody is going to be healed. You let these prosperity preachers with their healing talk and their word of faith talk go to the fourth floor of Augustana Home, or go to the emergency rooms, or to the intensive care rooms of hospitals. Go there. Go there, and preach your gospel. No, they don’t. They wear their nice clothes and stand in the lights, money strewn all over the thing with people out here who desperately want someone to tell them how to get rich. And then they make a lot of money that way. They don't go to places where it is impossible to deal with reality unless you have got a theology of suffering.

And so for all of those reasons, and more, it is a tragic thing that one of our greatest exports of America is the prosperity gospel. People are being destroyed by it. Christians are being weakened by it. God is being dishonored by it. And souls are perishing because of it and a lot of guys are getting rich on it.

That was Pastor John Piper back in 2008 on a concern that is still alive and well today. Thank you for listening to the podcast. We will be back very soon with all new episodes, so please email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. Visit us online at desiringgod DOT org to find thousands of books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper all free of charge. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.