Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ

Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ

Paperback(Concise Arguments to Counter False Teaching)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, November 20

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780825445071
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publication date: 07/25/2017
Edition description: Concise Arguments to Counter False Teaching
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

David W. Jones is a professor of Christian ethics, associate dean for graduate program admission, and director of the ThM program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Russell S. Woodbridge is a professor of theology and church history currently employed in missions work in Eastern Europe.

Read an Excerpt

Health, Wealth, and Happiness

How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ

By David W. Jones, Russell S. Woodbridge

Kregel Publications

Copyright © 2017 David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8254-4507-1



In all areas of life, a failure to consider history can have profound implications for the present and the future. History can be a source of instruction and wisdom for the Christian. Christianity is inherently historical, based on supernatural acts in history and on a historical person, Jesus Christ. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, reveals God working out His purposes in history.

History also assists in interpreting Scripture and forming doctrine. When we study what earlier Christians believed, we can learn from their understandings of Bible truth. When it comes to Bible truth, newer is not always — or even usually — better. It is encouraging when we realize our core beliefs are not new — early Christians formulated these same beliefs from Scripture.

Throughout history, novel ideas have given rise to movements that eventually faded but later reemerged in a new, slightly altered form. This is true of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel is built upon a quasi-Christian heresy known as the New Thought movement, an ideology that gained popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Prosperity Gospel consists largely of the ideas of the New Thought movement repackaged with new faces, new technology, new venues, and a slightly altered message.

The New Thought Movement

The New Thought movement began in the 1800s and was known by several other names, including Mind-Cure, Mental Healing, or Harmonialism. In 1895 a New Thought group in Boston defined its purpose as "to promote interest in and the practice of a true philosophy and way of life and happiness; to show that through right thinking, one's loftiest ideals may be brought into present realization; and to advance intelligent and systematic treatment of disease by spiritual and mental methods." While not a church or denomination, the New Thought movement was marked by religious beliefs not found in Scripture — that God is a force, that the spirit or mind is ultimate reality, that people are divine, that disease originates in the mind, and that thoughts can create or change reality. American psychologist and philosopher William James noted in 1905 that New Thought drew not only from the Gospels but also from Hinduism, philosophical idealism, transcendentalism, popular science evolution, and the optimistic spirit of progress. New Thought was a mashup of pagan philosophies. To understand the Prosperity Gospel's errors, let's look at four influential New Thought writers: Emanuel Swedenborg, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, Ralph Waldo Trine, and Norman Vincent Peale. As we summarize the ideas of these figures, it will be obvious that New Thought ideas permeate the Prosperity Gospel.

Emanuel Swedenborg: Grandfather of New Thought

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was an important eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and inventor. He is known for his contributions in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, economics, political theory, and medicine; yet, his most significant contribution was in religion. After a decade of searching for the human soul, he reported that God appeared to him and told him to publish new doctrine for the church, which he did in his work entitled Heavenly Secrets. Swedenborg claimed for himself the title "The Unique Revealer of the Lord." In this capacity he claimed to have dialogued with the apostle Paul for a year, spoken several hundred times with the Reformer Martin Luther, and on at least one occasion had personal communication with Moses. Furthermore, he professed to be a clairvoyant who, over a period of twenty-seven years, possessed the power to look into heaven, hell, and other dimensions of the spirit world.

Along with his claims of extrabiblical revelation, he also rejected orthodox Christian beliefs such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone. A review of Swedenborg's key works reveals that his teachings included, among other things, belief in God as a mystical force, the notion that the human mind has the capacity to control the physical world, and the teaching of a works-based self-salvation scheme — ideas that later became core doctrines of New Thought. At the root of these teachings is the belief that the ultimate nature of reality is rooted in the nonphysical, the spiritual, or simply in the mind. Many of Swedenborg's writings were widely read in America, and over time, his teachings influenced the individuals who founded what became known as the New Thought movement.

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: Father of New Thought

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866), the intellectual father of New Thought, was a clockmaker by trade until he discovered the dubious art of "mesmerism" or hypnotism. Quimby met a man named Lucius Burkmar, who seemed to have clairvoyant powers when hypnotized. Under hypnosis, Burkmar appeared to have the ability to accurately diagnose various diseases. Observing this phenomenon led Quimby to pioneer and develop the idea of "mental healing." The basis for Quimby's theory was the idea that the mind possesses the ability to create and influence. Quimby claimed that he could cause a person to stop walking simply by thinking or visualizing that situation. Eventually, Quimby claimed to have developed his own clairvoyant powers and thereby became a successful hypnotist.

Quimby believed that sickness follows a disturbance of the mind; therefore, disease is really mental and the cure is to correct false reasoning or error in the mind. Quimby asserted that "if I believe I am sick, I am sick, for my feelings are my sickness, and my sickness is my belief, and my belief is my mind. Therefore all disease is in the mind or belief." Like Swedenborg, Quimby believed that the mind creates and controls reality. With this theory, Quimby helped establish the foundation for New Thought.

Quimby and other New Thought teachers placed little emphasis on the physical world. The idea that the mind is the ultimate power that shapes reality led Quimby to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If the mind or spiritual is good and matter is evil, it makes little sense that Jesus would be resurrected with a physical body. Quimby also argued that Jesus was just another man who had superior ideas. In order to cure people, He simply changed their minds with His teachings — the same method that Quimby himself practiced. Quimby's lasting influence came through his patients and students, who took his basic philosophy of mind-cure and developed it for their own purposes.

Among those influenced by Quimby were Warren Felt Evans (1817–1889), who became a prolific writer for New Thought philosophy; Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scripture, founded the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and birthed one of the largest Christian cults, known as Christian Science; and Julius Dresser, who conducted healing classes based on Quimby's teachings and gave formal organization to New Thought.

Starting in 1899, New Thought groups held conventions around the United States, and by 1914 the International New Thought Alliance was formed in order to serve all branches of New Thought followers, including groups such as Christian Science founded by Eddy and the Unity School of Christianity founded by Charles Fillmore.

Ralph Waldo Trine: Evangelist of New Thought

In the earlier years of the twentieth century, numerous books began to appear that incorporated New Thought ideas with the aim of helping people achieve health and success. Examples include Ernest Holmes's Creative Mind and Success, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and Wallace D. Wattles's The Science of Getting Rich, which opens with, "Whatever may be said in praise of poverty, the fact remains that it is not possible to live a really complete or successful life unless one is rich." In these New Thought works, one can discern some of the key recurring elements of the Prosperity Gospel: speaking the right words, invoking a universal law of success with words, and having faith in oneself.

Of all of the early twentieth-century New Thought writers, Ralph Waldo Trine (1866–1958) was the most prolific. Trine's book In Tune with the Infinite: Fullness of Peace, Power and Plenty, first published in 1897, sold millions of copies and was translated into over twenty languages. Trine's works were very popular, even among many professing Christians. Unfortunately, a survey of Trine's works reveals that his beliefs were not based on the Bible.

First, Trine rejected the uniqueness of Scripture by claiming that Buddha's writings were also divinely inspired.

Second, Trine advocated theological pluralism — he did not believe that faith in Jesus Christ, or any other particular savior, is the only means of salvation. Instead, he held that every religion leads to God.

Third, although Trine mentioned Jesus throughout his works, he was more concerned with the moral teachings of Jesus than with the person and work of Jesus. In his best-selling book, In Tune with the Infinite, there is no mention of sin, repentance, or the gospel.

Finally, the way to peace with God was to become conscious of oneness with the Father. When people came to this point, Trine believed, the force and the laws that govern the universe were within their powers because infinite intelligence and power could then work through them.

Norman Vincent Peale: Pastor of New Thought

Another well-known advocate of New Thought was Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993), pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. He is best known for his popular book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) that popularized New Thought ideas and techniques in America. While the writings of Peale have more of a biblical veneer than the works of some other New Thought authors, it is clear that New Thought philosophy greatly influenced him. Peale readily admits that he read various metaphysical teachers, and he freely quotes them throughout his works. That Peale accepted and became an advocate of New Thought is surprising in light of the fact that his church was part of the Dutch Reformed Church, a historical, conservative, biblically rooted, Calvinistic denomination.

By his own admission, Peale was searching for a "practical and specific message for modern human beings that would really work when needed." Although Peale claims to affirm the teachings of orthodox Christianity, his writings reflect a far more optimistic view of humankind than is presented in the Bible, thus demonstrating a significant problem with the Prosperity Gospel — it dangerously merges biblical ideas and secular thought.

The Pillars of New Thought Philosophy

In part because of the Christian veneer that it was often given by its founders, New Thought experienced success in America despite its nonbiblical roots. Here are five core tenets of New Thought that had an impact on the Prosperity Gospel.

Pillar One: A Distorted View of God

While not all New Thought writers have the exact same view of God, it is certain that the general teachings about God within New Thought philosophy diverge from the biblical doctrine of God. The gap between New Thought ideas about God and the Bible's view of God can be highlighted with three observations.

First, most New Thought teachers reject the historic, orthodox, Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Instead, they embrace God in His oneness and deny that God is three, distinct persons simultaneously.

Second, many New Thought advocates propose that God and the world are of one substance or that the world is simply an extension of God. These ideas are respectively known as pantheism and panentheism, both of which diverge from a Christian worldview.

Third, and most common among New Thought proponents, is the idea that God is an impersonal life force or creative energy that must be harnessed in order to be successful.

These teachings about God more closely reflect the concept of God in Hinduism than the biblical doctrine of God. Since New Thought believes that the world emanates from God and that every created thing is part of God to some degree, it is not surprising that New Thought conceives of God as an impersonal force, substance, creative energy, Infinite Spirit, or Life Giver. Supposedly, this beneficent force is present throughout the universe and establishes universal laws that govern life. These universal laws dictate that there is a force or energy that fills the universe and must be absorbed in order for one to become prosperous and healthy.

Within the New Thought system, once a person allows the omnipresent force of the Infinite to enter their minds, he or she will discover the universal laws that govern the world. The task of the New Thought believer, then, is to harness the universal laws already present for humanity's benefit. These laws or ideas define reality; yet, if ideas are ultimate reality, then the material world is a malleable illusion.

Pillar Two: An Elevation of Mind over Matter

New Thought argues that harnessing one's mind or thoughts is the key to being successful. New Thought defines thoughts as forces that can and do create reality. As a person opens up to the divine influx and begins to recognize the universal laws, thoughts can be focused with the aim of bringing about a desired state of affairs. According to New Thought advocates, this is the great secret of life — if you think a certain way, then you can change reality. Because thoughts, spirit, and mind are what are real, the physical world is an illusion. In other words, your mind is far more important than matter.

Since the mind is the key to success, New Thought writers stress the role of the mind and its mystical powers. According to New Thought, then, the key to success is to think the right thoughts because they dictate the outcome of one's situation. The reason people are not successful or healthy is because they have negative thoughts. They are not in tune with the universal laws or supernatural forces that are available to humankind.

New Thought teachers believe that there are laws in operation in the universe, particularly the law of attraction, and the idea that people attract whatever they think. If humans can become one with the Infinite, understand the laws, and focus their thoughts, then good things will happen. The power to succeed is inside each person. It only has to be directed toward positive thoughts and success will become a reality. In other words, visualize what you want and meditate upon that picture, and you will create it in reality.

New Thought advocates teach that the mind — properly oriented — is the key to tapping into the divine power that is present throughout the universe. By implementing this process, which exalts humanity and demotes God, humans have the power to get whatever they desire — namely, success and prosperity in all realms of life. According to New Thought, the truth of mind over matter is the secret to controlling one's life and even changing the future. The potential powers that New Thought ascribes to individuals make him or her somewhat godlike.

Pillar Three: An Exalted View of Humankind

New Thought literature reveals a human-centered philosophy that asserts that people are intrinsically good, spiritual beings, with the potential for godlike — if not divine — status. People must harmonize with the divine energy or Infinite Spirit through properly oriented thought. Acceptance of the divine nature is a mystical consciousness of being one with God, the life force and power. In New Thought terminology, people must open themselves to the divine influx. Through this encounter, a person not only becomes one with God but also becomes godlike. Within the New Thought framework, there is little to distinguish humans from the Creator. The key to success is to recognize that one is a spiritual being who is able to tap into the spiritual laws that govern the universe.

Of course, along with its teaching that humans can become gods, there is no mention of sin and redemption in New Thought. Since proponents of this philosophy acknowledge neither the deity of Jesus nor the inherent sinfulness of humanity, redemption is both impossible and unnecessary. If people are essentially gods, then what kind of redemption do they really need? In New Thought there is no place for a sinless Savior who died on the cross in order to make propitiation for sin. Humans can save themselves from their circumstances by using the divine energy in the universe. They are, after all, in control of fate.


Excerpted from Health, Wealth, and Happiness by David W. Jones, Russell S. Woodbridge. Copyright © 2017 David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge. Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface, 7,
Acknowledgments, 13,
Introduction, 15,
1 The History of the Prosperity Gospel, 21,
2 The Errors of the Prosperity Gospel, 39,
3 The Bible's Teaching on Suffering, 69,
4 The Bible's Teaching on Wealth and Poverty, 93,
5 The Bible's Teaching on Giving, 118,
6 A Prosperity Gospel Self-Diagnosis, 139,
Notes, 145,
About the Authors, 151,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews