Monday, February 12, 2007

Part 3, Prosperity gospel

Faith as trust v. Faith as a force

One of the primary problems in the world we live in today is a problem of definition. One person has a definition of any given concept and another may have a completely different definition. In context with today’s prosperity gospel, we have a major problem of definition in the Christian concept of faith.

A classic definition of Faith can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism (cir. 1563)

It is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel, that, not only to others but to me also God has given the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work. (Question 23)

Over and against this definition of faith, which is an historic definition, we have today’s “word of faith” teachers proposing a radically different view. Kenneth Copeland, in his book, the Laws of Prosperity7, writes:

“Faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function. When the force of faith is put to work, these laws of the spirit function according to the way God says they will.”

This is the second basis for today’s prosperity gospel. To remind the reader, E. W. Kenyon wrote:

‘When you know that "By His stripes you are healed" and you know it as you know that two and two are four, the adversary will have no power over you. When you know the Power and Authority of the Name of Jesus and that you have a legal right to use it, and the adversary lays siege to you, you will not be filled with fear. You will simply laugh at him and say, "Satan, did you know you were whipped? Leave my body." He will leave.’

When we couple these two teachings together, we begin to see how today’s modern prosperity gospel is constructed. Now granted, they are defining, to some extent, what they see as an attribute of faith, a force that creates reality. The only trouble with this belief is that it’s not found in scripture. In historic Christianity it’s understood that God’s word created the heaven and the earth, and that Jesus is the one by whom all things were made. But in “word of faith” and prosperity gospel teachings it is put forth that it is literally words that create reality.

“Star wars” Theology

This idea of the “force of faith” is reinforced in the pop culture of our day, as well as in what may be the most influential cultural event of our day. George Lucas, in his fifth installment of his movie epic, Star Wars, wrote a scene concerning the mystical energy called “the force”. The scene is in The Empire Strikes Back, and involves one of the lead characters trying to levitate an X-wing fighter. He fails, and his master gives this little dissertation on what “the force” is:

Luke Skywalker: I can’t… It’s too big…

Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me! Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not! For my ally is the force and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

Luke Skywalker: You ask the impossible.

Yoda then levitates the ship himself, and Luke Skywalker exclaims.

Luke Skywalker: I don’t believe it!

Yoda: That is why you fail.
Are we not surprised to find that Yoda’s pep talk sounds resoundingly like the confession of our churches today? Change “the force” to “the Holy Spirit” and read it again. The culture in the Americas is ingrained with this kind of thinking. If you just believe, you will succeed. This is just but one example of how popular culture has picked up on teachings such as those of Norman Vincent Peale, and made them their own.

The quote above also shows how a Gnostic8 worldview is the norm in our culture. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”. The Christian worldview is best summed up in the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,the holy catholic Church,the communion of saints,the forgiveness of sins,the resurrection of the body,and the life everlasting.

The “resurrection of the body” was the default view in the ancient church. In today’s culture this would be interpreted as grotesque, as witnessed by a large number of movies and books devoted to the subject of ‘resurrection’. Definitions are key. In the horror genre we find the norm for bodily resurrection to be portrayed and embodied as zombies (as in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead films), vampires, (any given Dracula movie or book, or Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles) and other evil monsters, (ie, Frankenstein). In this genre, the flesh is portrayed as bad, and particularly in Anne Rice’s tomes, the spirit is seen as good.

Anne Rice’s novel, Interview with a Vampire, presents to us a classic Gnostic view of spirit and flesh, embodied in the protagonist Louis. He spends a large amount of time riddled with guilt over his ‘bodily’ desires, ie, his need for human blood, even to the point of trying to obstain from human blood and lives on the blood of rats. His flesh is presented as his biggest problem, and his spirit is presented as being good in his desire to do the right thing and not kill humans to feed his desires.

Although, to a certain extent, the good/bad dichotomy is a generalization of true Gnosticism, one must keep in mind that the average North American does not know the actual tenants of true Gnosticism, but only knows what his or her hearts tell them and where it leads them. It’s not difficult to see the Gnostic worldview in popular culture once one knows what to look for. The author of this paper believes that if his readers look closely, they will realize gnosticism is not only the default view of the culture, but is many times also the default view of the church.
7 The Laws of Prosperity, 1974 Kenneth Copeland, ISBN 0-88114-952-7. page 20 PDF document available at
8 Gnosticism, a view that holds that all things material are inherently evil and all things spiritual are inherently divine.


the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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