In my newsfeed over the past couple of days have been critical reports concerning the ministers Donald Trump have invited to participate in his Presidential inauguration, due to take place January 20th and their beliefs. One, titled: “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy” begins: “Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration will include Paula White and possibly other members of his inner circle … They’re all televangelists who hail from the “prosperity gospel” camp. They advocate a brand of Pentecostal Christianity known as Word of Faith”. Another, titled: “Evangelicals slam Trump for inviting prosperity gospel ‘heretic’ Paula White to pray at inauguration” begins: “Many conservative Christians are angry over Donald Trump’s selection of a “prosperity gospel” televangelist to pray …”.
Two main thoughts crossed my mind reading these and similar articles, as well as a result of discussion, mostly critical, on social media. Firstly, there is the matter of what is the prosperity gospel and how should this be viewed. According to Wikipedia: “Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. It is based on interpretations of the Bible that are traditional to Judaism (with respect to the Hebrew Bible), though less so in Christianity. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity”.
While prosperity theology is something one tends to find taught by tele-evangelist types (like Paula White) and those who are well off or in the position of influencing those who are less well off (like when the less scrupulous go to poor countries and promise riches from God in exchange for generous giving), I have come across a number, including among those whose theology is in the main sound, who believe in the narrative put forward by prosperity gospel exponents. While I believe God does bless the righteous, I don’t believe it is necessarily with material abundance. Here I cite my own father-in-law, a poor man, without a regular income, who lives by faith and simply wishes to do the work of an evangelist. Some of the holiest people I have come across have been materially poor yet spiritually rich. Some of the most dedicated people leave behind material comforts in order to serve. As for wealth, I like the approach of John Wesley, who taught: “earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”. As for the “prosperity gospel”, it is a heresy and a dangerous one at that. Here is my understanding of the “true gospel”.
My second main thought is around what has now become a tradition (and some say a cynical ploy): Presidents, irrespective of their faith position, usually invite religious leaders, invariably Christian, to participate in their inauguration, typically to pray. Often the theological position of the person that is invited reflects the Presidents own beliefs and, if the claims about Paula White are true, this is worrying in Trump’s case, although he has also invited one who is closer to preaching the true gospel: Franklin Graham. Interestingly, the previous President, Barrack Obama, whose outlook, Christian and otherwise, is in contrast to Donald Trump, invited Rick Warren to take part, who some see as a sound evangelical (some dispute this) but with a social justice interest.
I am loathe to judge the likes of Paula White (and Franklin Graham and Rick Warren come to that), especially if unqualified to do so. But as a gospel preacher, I am mindful we live in a day when false teaching abounds (maybe it has ever been thus) and so I must warn when it comes to false teachers, as well as urge folk to embrace the true gospel. As for praying at the forthcoming inauguration, that is the right thing to do, and I too will be praying for Donald Trump!