Friday, September 21, 2007

The God Who Blesses with Wealth and Health!

I just finished reading Gordon Fee's little book "The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel". Fee is a renown exegete and scholar whom I respect highly. His years of expertise have given him a hearing in the scholastic word and his writings have proved to be informative for many in pastoral ministry. The fact that he has Pentecostal roots is an added plus. That is why it pains me to say that here Fee drops the ball- big time. The book turns out to be a critique of what I would call the hyper faith movement and their misuse of Scripture to preach a anthropocentric (man centered) gospel. Fee makes a number of statements that the reader will recognize as untrue in an effort to make his point. (Please understand that I am not in league with the hyper-faith movement here, but a critical examination of their texts cannot be accomplished by sloppy exegetical work on our part. The Biblical position is clear, if unwelcome in the academic world, and those of use who have given their lives to study the Word should hold steady on the doctrine of the Apostles- rather than to accommodate the lastest theological stream.)

The first is his insistence that The New Testament nowhere makes the blessings of God conditional. First of all, this is the kind of nonsense that you would expect to rise from the ivory towered institutions that seek to remove the reality of God from his people. Fee steps into this unbiblical position too smoothly, as if his opinion is more informed by the company he has kept these last years than the Word of God. The Scripture is clear- much blessing is conditional upon the acts of faith of the believer. We need only to look at a passage that Fee curiously avoids.

2 Cor 9.6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

This passage is written concerning the blessing of God on the finances of the believers and Paul is challenging them to dig deep. He specifically links their future blessing with their action. To say that there is "never" any "New Testament"
link of "God's blessing to our action" is untrue. Further, we are told in Hebrews 11 that real faith is defined as believing in that God who "exists" and "rewards those who diligently seek him". Of course the New Testament links some future blessing with our contemporary actions! And Specifically, the financial blessings of God are promised to those who "sow" sacrificially in giving to the needs of others. To define it otherwise is to deny the "plain meaning" that Fee has taught me to heed.

Again-Fee directs us to the passage in 3 John 2 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. Here he says that this is a greeting without much literal import. he says that at best "our prayers" for one another can be informed by this passage but it cannot be used to define the will of God for all believers. Hmmm.. so the inference that Fee would have us derive from this passage is that we should pray for things that are not God's will???? This is illogical. Clearly God does will for all to be healed... because in the place where his will is always done (heaven), there is no sickness, crying, tears, pain, death, etc. Therefore we may desire it for our friends (as expressed in this greeting in 3 John) or we may pray for it for our brothers and sisters. Inadequate interpretation of scripture doesn't make for a strong position- even if you are on the right side of the argument!

Finally, this idea that God is neutral with regard to material possessions is simply false. God judges the misuse of such possessions throughout the prophets in the OT. God uses material blessings in both the OT and NT to affirm and bless the believer. How can he be neutral? It is true that he is not impressed by the material possessions we have amassed. And the church is not suposed to be a place where the rich are favored, either. Fee says that "material possessions are a zero to God", but this is an extra-biblical assertion. It isn't found in the Bible! God cannot be unconcerned about something that he is holding us accountable for AND using as incentive in our lives.

Is the current fascination with health and wealth new? No, certainly not. God must be seen as a God who blesses. Specifically, he does so so that we may be a blessing to others (see 2 Cor 9.8 above). But he also wills our best, and that includes both healing and prosperity. Does this mean that God wants everyone to be rich? NO. Does this demean the NT warnings about those who want to get rich (1 Tim 6.9)? NO. But it does speak to every person in every situation. God does not want your poverty and oppression; he is not interested in working holiness in your life by bringing diseases upon you; he wants to craft in you the best you that can be crafted. Our submission to the will of God and his word demands that we respect him as the one who blesses us- who rewards us- who causes us to reap where we have sowed- who returns to those that give to the poor. This is our God- the God who blesses. He is anything but neutral!

What is my response to God's blessings? To hoard it? NO rather we should use both our wealth and our health to honor God in the lives of others. Giving Sacrificially, supporting the work of the gospel here and abroad, and living a simplistic lifestyle that commands respect among unbelievers. We must be careful to make sure that the flesh doesn't corrupt the blessings of God. This takes spiritual maturity and purposeful living in the Spirit. I am sure that Dr. Fee would agree.

1 comment:

Paul M. Harrison said...

The prosperity gospel is no doubt a product of American optimism, opportunity, and of the American dream. The specific practice of seed-faith giving as a formula or law for financial increase was an invention of post WWII faith healers and televangelists.

This isn't to say there is not a biblical understanding of this, but it has been misshaped by our culture and handling of these texts. We see them as promises and guarantees as opposed to something God graciously chooses in His relationship with others. "What is it to you what I choose to give this guy?" Jesus asks more than once when someone feels he was cheated out of pay or benefit while seeing another prosper.

C.S. Lewis struggled with the idea that the poor were called blessed and people were asked to become poor by Jesus, yet at the same time admonished us to help the poor, and certainly Jesus had no problem eating, drinking, making wine at a wedding, and hanging out in other people's homes. He even told his disicples to ask to stay in people's homes as they traveled.

So where is the balance and how much should we enjoy? When Jesus says we who toil, labor, spin, and store up are of little faith, is he against a responsbile 9-5 job with a pension and savings? When Jesus says not to store up treasure where thief breaks in and where moth and rust destroys, can we not have a TV and a DVD collection?

How far is American Christianity from the Biblical standard I wonder.

A very good book on this issue is "Money, Possessions, and Eternity" by Randy Alcorn.