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Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel Paperback – March 1, 2018
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"[A] magnificent study."--Heath W. Carter, Journal of Cultural Economy
"Highly entertaining...and deeply human."--David F. Ruccio, Journal of Cultural Economy
"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"
"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
"...[A]n unprecedented historical examination of health and wealth as spiritual subjects in American Christianity by tracing the rise, development, and transformation of the prosperity gospel in the United States." --Religious Studies Review
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Bowler constructs her volume with five chapters in addition to an introduction, conclusion and two appendices. In the first chapter, she begins by describing the origins of the gospel that has been expressed by American prosperity preachers. She finds the origin of the 20th century prosperity gospel in the New Thought movement of the 19th century, demonstrating the heritage of a uniquely American interpretation of the gospel. In Chapter Two, Bowler details the descriptions of faith that is said to be the fuel for the blessings gleaned by adherents of the prosperity gospel. For adherents of the prosperity gospel, “Faith was only faith because it worked” (79, italics original). The third chapter explains the perceived relationship between the believers’ faith and resultant wealth, “Faith operated as a perfect law, and any irregularities meant that the believer did not play by the rules” (92). Chapter Four explains a second key feature of the prosperity gospel, namely health. Believers ought to be healthy at all times: sickness is a result of a lack of faith. In some cases, as Bowler explains, denial of real sickness in the name of faith resulted in premature death in prosperity believers (140). The fifth chapter describes the theme of victory in the American prosperity gospel. Jesus’ victory on the cross is said to have provided a means for victory in the lives of believers. Thus, “No circumstance could stop followers from living in total victory here on earth” (179). In addition to the content in the body of the text, Bowler also provides two information-rich appendices. The first appendix is a detailed list of the largest prosperity churches and their key statistics. The second appendix explains Bowler’s methodology for identifying churches and preachers as part of the prosperity gospel movement.
The key strength of Blessed is that it is exceptionally well researched and cited. Bowler provides over six hundred citations of several hundred sources in addition to her extensive personal accounts of experiences with the prosperity movement. She attended many prosperity gospel conferences and services, even making a trip to the Middle East with Benny Hinn. There is no question that Bowler did her homework and has sufficient support for her claims. In addition to the quality of research, a second strength is that Bowler writes with theological detachment. She is careful to present the claims of the prosperity gospel fairly without selecting only the most embarrassing quotes. She also provides illustrations of many errors in the theology of the prosperity teachers, though she does though without labelling them as error. There is little doubt that Bowler has presented a fair picture of the prosperity movement. A third strength of this book is the careful method that Bowler has developed for defining the prosperity gospel movement. The methodology explained in Appendix B is both balanced and accurate, and it provides a basis for developing and applying a necessary label apart from personal opinion. As evangelical scholars seek to categorize prosperity teachers appropriately without merely calling names, Bowler’s appendix will provide helpful guidance.
Overall, this very readable book is a valuable contribution to the scholarly discussion on prosperity theology. 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.
Because it is basically her dissertation, the book is a bit dry in places and somewhat repetitive as she tracks various groups through different aspects of the movement. However, the word "dissertation" makes me think of reading the phone book and this was anything but a boring, dry, dusty tome. I loved the way she traced the early years of the movement, showing how disparate strands of thinking came together to eventually gel into the Prosperity Gospel. What I liked most, however, was the way she lived, breathed, and drank this teaching and then shared this journey with me via her book. She shared her own experiences, her insights gleaned through close working relationships with members of this movement, even participating in a Prosperity Gospel Church for over a year (not to mention all the churches she visited and/or the trip she took overseas with a Benny Hinn group).
But the thing that drew me to this book most is the fact that she is honest and strives to be fair. She's not mean-spirited or out to belittle anyone - she just really wanted to know what draws people to this movement and how it helps them as well as how it may hurt them.
In short, I felt it was very readable, written not just from an academic view but from an honest, open heart. If you are curious about this movement, I think you will find this book very helpful, well worth the time it takes to read it.