Health, Wealth & Happiness. By David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011. 201 pages.
If you go around and ask people if they know what the prosperity gospel is they might know what you are talking about, but if you simply describe the basic message of their teaching almost everyone will know what you are talking about. In this book, Jones and Woodbridge not only explain how pervasive the teachings of the prosperity gospel are, but they also provide the history of this movement and critique it biblically.
After years of experience in studying the scriptures and observing the growth of the prosperity gospel movement they have concluded that these teachings are no gospel at all. For it is not good news for anyone especially those who are doing the teaching. As James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Jones and Woodbridge wrote this book to reveal these realities and help readers grow in their discernment of this movement.
Are They Really Heretics?
Calling these teachers heretics may seem harsh or judgmental to some people,
but after reading just the first few chapters I find it very hard to come to any other evaluation. One of the great strengths of this book is the amount of research that was put into to studying exactly what the major prosperity gospel teachers are in fact teaching. There are numerous direct quotes from the books they have written, from the sermons they have preached, and the answers they have given during nationally televised interviews. As you read this book it is obvious that these authors want you to see what these ever so popular teachers really believe and are really teaching.
The New Thought Movement
One of the reasons it was important for Jones and Woodbridge to quote directly from “the horses mouth” is because of the way they structured the book. In chapter one, they explain that the modern day prosperity gospel movement is actually an extension of the “New Thought” movement that began with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby in the middle of the 19th century. I’ll admit that I did not find this first chapter that interesting while reading it. When I picked up the book I was expecting to read all about Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, etc… I was not expecting to learn about Phineas Quimby, Ralph Waldo Trine, Norman Vincent Peale, and others. However, after reading the entire book I think this first chapter of historical background is another one of the great strengths of this book. More specifically, the way Jones and Woodbridge organized the book to build off of this first chapter and show with great clarity the similarities between older “New Thought” teaching compared with the modern day teachers I listed above. It is remarkable to see these two movements put side by side and be reminded yet again that there is truly “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
A Balanced Book
One of the unique contributions of this book is the way the authors split the content right in half. The first half gives readers a thorough critique of both the historical and modern prosperity teachings. Yet, this book is not entirely critical and negative in its approach. The second half provides a counter balance to all the critical comments by giving readers a helpful correction of the biblical teaching on suffering, wealth, poverty, and giving. One of my favorite quotes of the entire book is found in the second half of the book.
“The best doctrine against the teachings of the prosperity gospel is a holistic understanding of the scriptural teaching on wealth and poverty” (124).
It reminds me of the sports maxim that says “the best defense is a better offense.” This is one of the great contributions this book makes because it not only tells readers what is wrong with the prosperity gospel it also tells readers what is right and good about the biblical teaching on health, wealth, and happiness. There are many helpful biblical truths in this section that all Christians should be encouraged by even if they have little or no experience with the prosperity gospel.
Free Will Is A Fact?
There is really only one objection I have with the teaching in this section and the entire book for that matter. In chapter 4, Jones and Woodbridge present the biblical teaching on suffering and in this chapter they explained that knowing a few important facts about suffering are vital to a healthy and biblical understanding of suffering. The facts they list are: “everyone is a sinner, everyone possesses a free will, there is value in suffering, God is acquainted with suffering, and God is sovereign” (122). I think this is a great list with one exception. Namely, the fact that everyone possesses a free will does not seem to be an objective, biblical fact to me or the authors. They admit themselves that “the idea and parameters of free will are topics that theologians have debated for centuries” (116). If it has been debated among even orthodox and Protestant theologians for centuries then why would they go on to say that it is a “fact?” I found these statements to be inconsistent at best.
I personally have several questions about whether or not the concept of a “free will” is the most helpful way to describe the relationship between God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s human responsibility. I am just not sure that phrase can be explicitly supported by scripture and I would even argue that what many people mean by the idea of a “free will” actually contradicts biblical teaching of the universal slavery that all people after the fall possess to either sin or Christ found in Romans chapter six. According to Paul, we have a corrupted will that is free to choose between sin “A” and sin “B,” but at the end of the day we are all born slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20). However, I do want to point out that even though I do not think Jones and Woodbridge needed to include free will in the chapter on suffering and they should not have called it a “fact,” I truly see this a very minor issue. In fact, I want to conclude with a glowing recommendation for others to read this book.
A Good Quick Read
I plan to happily recommend this book to anyone I know who is considering the issues that are related to the prosperity gospel. This book is an excellent introduction to these topics and issues. The only book I have read that is similar to this one is Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity and after reading both I would definitely encourage people to read Jones and Woodbridge’s volume first so that those interested or affected by this topic will get both a background of the movement and a balance of critique and correction. Then if someone wanted to do further reading on the subject I would turn them to Horton’s work. In conclusion, it was a quick read that was informative, balanced and biblical in its approach, and a much needed exposé of some of the leading religious teachers of our day.