Editors’ note: This series examines the prosperity gospel every Thursday and Friday during the month of June. We explore the theology, sociology, and international influence of this popular but aberrant teaching. The Gospel Coalition International Outreach (IO) is partnering with African authors and publishers to create a resource that biblically examines the prosperity gospel and that will be distributed free across Africa and beyond. In Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel, African pastors Michael Otieno Maura, Ken Mbugua, and Conrad Mbewe are joined by John Piper and Wayne Grudem in pointing pastors and other Christians beyond the deceptions of prosperity theology to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. TGC-IO aims to raise $50,000 by July 1, at which time they will receive an all-or-nothing matching grant to complete the project. For more details or to give to this worthy project, see the relief project page.

Previously:

Conrad Mbewe has pastored in Lusaka, Zambia, since 1987 and has seen prosperity teaching become an unwelcome guest that has taken up permanent residence in Africa. A Reformed Baptist, he hopes to see a revival of the true gospel in his country. He is one of the contributing writers to the volume Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel, which subjects health-and-wealth theology to a biblical examination. He answered several questions on countering the false gospel that has captured the hearts of millions of Africans. 


Why is prosperity theology such an important issue to address for Africa?

We need to address prosperity theology here in Africa because it has replaced the true gospel of salvation with a kind of “gospel” that is no gospel at all. This is happening in what once were mainstream evangelical circles. Everywhere, especially on radio and television, almost all you hear is this message about how God in Christ wants us to be physically healthy and materially prosperous. You hardly ever hear sermons about sin and repentance. So salvation has now become deliverance from sickness and poverty. It is temporal rather than eternal. Prosperity theology is like the Arabian camel that gave the impression it simply wanted a little space in the tent, but now the whole of it is inside and the true gospel is outside. This erroneous teaching is filling churches across the continent with people who have no desire for true biblical salvation or godliness. Sadly, it’s spreading like an uncontrollable bushfire.

In what ways does this teaching negatively affect individual Christians?

It’s like giving children sweets before a meal; you spoil their appetite for that which is truly nutritious. The Bible is primarily about salvation from sin and being sanctified into the image of Christ. We ought to be admiring those among us whose godliness shines like the sun in its noonday strength, but we are fast losing that view. Christians are instead admiring the few individuals with big houses, and flashy cars and clothes, even when such individuals are living in sin. Invariably this emphasis is resulting in churches being rocked with scandals once rare in evangelical circles. Also, prosperity theology makes people think health and wealth are products of a man of God’s prayers (which he performs for you when you plant a financial “seed”), despite the fact that health and wealth are products of good hygiene, nutritious meals, regular exercise, medical treatment, integrity, innovativeness, and hard work. This teaching has become a religious pyramid scam, with the so-called “men of God” reaping a fortune while their blind followers are getting poorer. Every day we have to deal with disillusioned individuals who have woken up when it’s too late. This teaching is wreaking havoc in the lives of many Christians.

How does the biblical gospel bring the truth to bear on this false teaching?

In order to address this scam, we must begin with teaching the biblical gospel. People need to hear about sin as God speaks about it in the Bible. That background is vital for them to appreciate that God isn’t some genie waiting for us to rub the magic lamp so he can come out and prosper us, but that he is a holy being who is offended by our sin. Then there is a need for people to hear about the love of God that causes him to give his Son to pay the price for hell-deserving sinners by dying on the cross. There is a great need for preachers to deal with such subjects as redemption, atonement, regeneration, conversion, sanctification, and glorification. As men and women look into the light of the gospel sun, they will despise the miserable candles being held out to them by prosperity teachers. As they are satisfied with real food, they will discern the worthlessness of the candyfloss that prosperity teachers are giving them. These false teachers promise them much but they deliver nothing that can truly satisfy the soul.

As a contributor to this book, what are your hopes for the impact that it could make?

Many people are being carried away with prosperity theology not because they have rejected the true gospel but simply because they have no idea what it is. If they are truly God’s children, I have no doubt that once they see the true gospel the Holy Spirit in them will open their eyes to the fact that what they’ve had in their hands all along is a lie. Who knows what God can do with such a realization? This is why I am excited by Prosperity? Seeking The True Gospel. It begins with a display of the true gospel and then exposes that which is false. It is my hope that this book will get into the hands of many preachers and teachers of God’s Word in Africa so that it can help to stem the flood that is threatening to sweep away the true gospel that was unearthed by the Reformers and brought to Africa by a great army of evangelical missionaries at great cost to their lives. May God help us to that end, for the health of the church and for the glory of his name!