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Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel Hardcover – June 5, 2013

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199827695 ISBN-10: 0199827699 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The most controversial aspect of the so-called prosperity gospel is “its radical claim to transform invisible faith into financial rewards.” Poverty and illness are signs of spiritual malaise, for God wants us to be wealthy, healthy, and live to our full potential in victory here on earth. Preached by Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and others, the prosperity gospel teaches that Jesus’ death and resurrection overcame not only sin and death but also poverty and disease. Believers, therefore, may claim wealth and health as part of their divine inheritance. Bowler argues the allure is actually optimism, not financial success. The message of the prosperity gospel channels America’s can-do spirit and its belief that the future can be changed for the better through hard work. Her book is an important account of an audacious contemporary religious phenomenon, albeit one that scandalizes many. It also serves as an invitation to reflect upon the relationship of religion and money. --Christopher McConnell

Review


"Very readable and engaging...Blessed is the best history of the development of the prosperity gospel written to date. It is an important addition to the library of pastors or scholars who regularly encounter the prosperity gospel in their ministry."--Southwestern Journal of Theology


"Bowler shows how the prosperity gospel movement has drawn from multiple denominational, racial, ethnic, and even secular subtraditions. She identifies both the dazzling diversity and the common understandings that have given the prosperity gospel coherence"
--Christian Century


"Bowler's respect for her subjects and her ability to locate them in the larger American religious narrative mean that serious scholars dismiss the prosperity gospel at their own peril. Bowler shows us that its deep roots and vibrant future, even after the recent recession, place it solidly in the category of religious movements to watch." --Church History


"Marvelous this is a stunningly empathetic book. By pushing far beyond caricature, Bowler has produced a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the prosperity gospel and how it is, even now, remaking the American religious landscape." --The Christian Century


"An important account of an audacious contemporary religious phenomenon." --Booklist


"[A] riveting historical account." --Publishers Weekly


"The 'prosperity gospel' is as much despised by its detractors as it is embraced by its millions of adherents. Yet until Kate Bowler's Blessed, no one has attempted a balanced, informative, inquisitive survey. Her book is a metaphorical godsend for those with an outsider's curiosity about one of the fastest growing religious movements in contemporary America and a literal one for those inside." -- Mark A. Noll, author of Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction


"Though often maligned and misunderstood, Bowler's comprehensive and exciting examination of the prosperity gospel demonstrates the ways 'health and wealth' has been a staple of American Protestant life since the 19th century. Blessed provides a thorough and nuanced account of the phenomenon, as it skillfully examines varying attitudes toward prosperity which emerged across racial, regional, and denominational lines. This is a grand contribution to the field of American religious history." -- Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Professor of Religion and Society, Harvard University


"This book propels Kate Bowler into the first rank of younger historians of religion in America. The author's keen ear, her perceptive insights, and her command of history make this a remarkable and unforgettable book-and her conclusion that the 'prosperity gospel consecrated America's culture of optimism' rings very true." -- Randall Balmer, author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America


"Blessed is worthwhile reading for what it is-a history of the prosperity gospel and not a theology of the prosperity movement. I've benefited from time spent working through it and would recommend it to those seeking to learn about this topic." --The Gospel Coalition


"Blessed is a good history of the rise and flourishing of the gospel." --The Blade


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199827699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199827695
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Prairie Pal on May 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The prosperity gospel -- the idea that God wants believers to be wealthy and healthy -- has taken much of the Protestant world by storm. Churches professing this belief can be found all across the United States, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Its proponents are media stars, best-selling authors and pastors of urban megachurches. Bowler's "Blessed" is the first comprehensive history of this trend, tracing its complicated beginnings from the late 19th century to the present. To accomplish this task she seems to have read every secondary source on the subject, interviewed its thinkers, attended conferences, watched countless televised services and worshipped in its churches. The end result is a very readable and highly judicious account

Bowler avoids taking cheap shots at the prosperity gospel's believers. Instead, she explains a sacred world that churchgoers would want to live in. Her distinction between "hard prosperity" and "soft prosperity" helps explain the difference between prophetic salesmen like Mike Murdock (hard prosperity) and the therapeutic feel-good messages of Joel Osteen (soft prosperity.) The result should be helpful for pastors and researchers alike to explain this incredibly varied movement.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lou Heron on September 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Blessed is based on the author's well-researched doctoral dissertation and is a frank but relatively unbiased examination of a modern religious phenomenon emphasizing a realized eschatology achieved via apotropaic utterances and echoing gnostic dualism and insider knowledge. She does not ignore the shortcomings of traditional churches, especially excessive otherworldliness, which contributed to the rise of Prosperity, and she addresses how the movement deals with problems such as lack of Scriptural warrant, bad luck, death, the lavish lifestyle of many of its leaders, and healings that fall apart. While she is sometimes not well organized and while her transitions are often choppy, Ms Bowler's treatment is very rewarding, not only as a study of a particularly American cultus but also of how it illumines the workings of human nature.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. W. Terry Lindley on May 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Drawing upon personal observations after having visited dozens of prosperity churches, listening to scores of sermons, and talking with congregants, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, presents a thorough overview of the origins, development, and beliefs/practices of the prosperity movement. She has mined the writings of its leaders (e.g., Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Sr., and Oral Roberts) as well as grounded herself in the pertinent secondary literature. This is neither an apologia for the movement nor an assault on its legitimacy. While she does not shy away from warts like Jim Bakker and PTL and identifies some of the movement’s excesses, Bowler also points to its positive aspects. For example, she writes, “The assignment to laypeople of all the tasks necessary for a large church to hum along helped them develop skills such as organizational, budgeting, and leadership, which translated well into entrepreneurial virtues.”
After tracing the origins of the movement, which some describe as “name it and claim it” or “confess then possess,” to the New Thought of the late 19th century coupled with early Pentecostalism and the healing movement of the 1940s and 1950s, the author examines the three aspects of the movement—wealth, health, and victory. Bowler correctly asserts that this movement is not monolithic, but varies widely in how each of the three aspects is handled by the various prosperity churches, especially the megachurches. There is no one shoe that fits all.
For example, in the area of wealth, some prosperity leaders guarantee a hundredfold return on each dollar given, while others only promise an increase if one faithfully tithes ten-percent on his or her income. And what is wealth?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Richard Dugan on October 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tracing its evolution from 18th century New Thought, through Pentecostal, charismatic, and Word,of Faith streams up to the present age of fashionable Prosperity Gospel, Bower provides an object history of the movement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Edwards on September 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler is a scholarly yet highly-readable work which deserves to be read slowly and carefully. In this book Bowler unravels the "intertwining roots" of the modern prosperity gospel as they lead back to (1) early 20th century Pentecostalism, (2) New Thought "Right Thinking" metaphysics (and Protestantism), and (3) pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility as valued in the traditional "American Dream" worldview. Bowler then proceeds to shows how this Prosperity Gospel has continued to evolve, both in the United States and (to a lesser extent) internationally. Her narrative centers broadly on the themes of "Faith", "Wealth", "Health", and "Victory" although there is considerable overlap and interchange between themes.

There are so many good points that can be discussed from the material in this book that it is impossible to list them all here. This would be a great book for a club or for extended discussion with a group of friends! Having said that, here are a few thoughts I took from Bowler's observations of the prosperity gospel movement. The first two are positive, the rest not so much so:

* The optimistic spirit which is cultivated and attracts so many people in prosperity gospel movement: It's sad to see and read so many defeatist negative attitudes in society and certain churches today (or read them on social network status updates), and I have sometimes been guilty as well. When someone asks "How are you?" instead of a simple "I'm fine thank you" or a litany of complaints perhaps I can personalize something along the lines of what the book quotes "I'm blessed and highly favored!
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