- 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: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel 1st Edition
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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
"[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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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.
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!" (with the freedom to be authentic with regard to other feelings and without being restricted to "positive confessions")
* Bowler notes the recent emphasis in soft prosperity churches upon cultivating healthy bodies through diet and exercise versus the obesity which has crept into mainstream American society. No, the church doesn't want to blindly follow after the rest of popular mainstream culture in idolizing health, but in too many Christian communities there is little to no emphasis being placed upon our need to be actively cultivating physically-healthy bodies!
* Popular soft prosperity preachers today such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer continue the traditions of hard prosperity leaders and the promoters of Right Thinking of yesteryear, encouraging us to fix ourselves as we discover the champion within ourselves. But this kind of self-actualization requires total commitment (see below).
* Having worked in and been associated for more than 25 years with the denomination founded by the person referenced in the quote below, I was struck by Bowler's observation that late 19th century radical evangelicals like A.B. Simpson likened faith to natural laws harnessed for believer's use. However, she goes on to say that these leaders never envisioned faith as an independent force or law that turned around to bind God himself. That's an important distinction: It was Kenneth E. Hagin and others of his generation who later turned faith into a sure-fire "law" (p. 45).
* The author notes that the emphasis upon prayer and spiritual discipline can lead to a competitive atmosphere in which people struggle to live up to the rigorous expectations set up for them (p. 194). Sadly, people can be guilted into attending meetings whenever the church doors are open (as seen also in churches which have been influenced by the Korean prosperity tradition noted elsewhere in the book).
* It has made me sad to read here and hear from friends in Australia and other places in years past of the flocks exiting prosperity churches (in spite of their great music) who have been wounded and spiritually-abused when told the reasons for their inability to receive healing and wealth arise from their own sin, negative confessions, and improper attitudes. Does not this kind of effort (or lack of effort) miss the point of grace? The source of victory, healing, and wealth lie outside of ourselves and there is nothing we can do to earn or ensure it. And if these are the things which are the focus of our faith, is it really God we are worshipping, or merely the actualization of ourselves through the acquisition of blessing?
* Bowler does a good job in highlighting a disconnect in prosperity gospel churches with the biblical doctrine of suffering (as seen especially on the traditional church holiday of Good Friday, and when leaders or loved ones unexpectedly pass away, experience suffering, etc.). The Christian faith centers mostly on Jesus and His resurrection-- yes, but also His cross.
* At the same time as I was reading this book, I was also reading about the life of Jimmy Carter in Randy Balmer's Redeemer so I was paying particular attention to areas of overlap. For example, in the "Wealth" section of Blessed, Bowler tells us how President Ronald Reagan wrote to Jim and Tammy Faye Baker in 1983 on the opening of Heritage USA to congratulate them for their efforts to help "many Americans endure and triumph." In this America of renewed confidence, says Bowler, America had ditched the president associated with national malaise and humiliation in the Iran hostage affair and replaced him with one whose campaign slogan was "It's morning again in America."... The decade's economic expansion accompanied a market-oriented viewpoint and an ethic proclaiming "greed is good." The galloping optimism and individualism fit well with a decade of growth by the faith movement (p. 101). Prosperity preachers took the advice of Jerry Falwell that "a cheap church makes God looks cheap" (p. 197) and continued to live out even more extravagant personal lives as they ignored the gospel imperatives of social justice.
* The rough equation between individualism and "Victory" ignores for the most part social injustice, as African American prosperity leaders like Frederick Price were to discover. After hearing about a sermon from the son of his white "spiritual father", Price angrily proclaimed: "Don't' shake my hand and give me a charismatic hug and act as if you love me when you really see me as a n...." He then evolved in his thinking to link social injustice to structural racism in the context of a highly individualistic gospel (p. 203; one wonders if Price would have enlisted as an activist on behalf of others if he had not been personally insulted in the midst of his individualized quest for blessing and prosperity). Similar to Price's realization, President William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention observed that the prosperity movement was nothing more than capitalistic devotion to persons of privilege (p. 204).
* Finally, in the Asian culture in which I have lived for the past 17 years traditional religionists worship the gods primarily for what they can get out of them. They live in a mutually-beneficial reciprocal arrangement: "I'll scratch my back if you scratch yours." I have to wonder if the manipulation of God by prosperity gospel adherents and the placement of Him in a box as one extracts blessings and wealth according to the "law" of faith are significantly any different? Perhaps speakers like Bonkke and Hinn are so well-received in that country is because they are merely repackaging and re-clothing traditional beliefs into a syncretistic "Christianized" outer-garment of power which is more acceptable than mere Christianity with its message of both the cross and resurrection.
Bowler's discussion on the church growth movement, Peter Wagner, and megachurches in relation to the prosperity gospel is also enlightening.