It is worth noting that Judaism originally, as described in the Old Testament, was a “prosperity religion.” If Israel abided by the law then Israel would prosper (rain would come, crops would be plentiful, enemies would be defeated). This did not work out in the long run, especially after Rome, hence the ‘other-worldly’ turn of rabbinic Judaism and the teachings of Jesus.
It is a mistake to confuse prosperity with fancy cars and status symbols. Is that what is happening?
Let me add that the otherworldly turn of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity in the time of Rome — indeed the very concept of life after death — was just a way of saying that God’s justice was not visible, at least not in this life on this earth at that time. In other words righteous living was no longer enough. That was something new.
The fact that good behavior is rewarded in large parts of the world today, that if you work hard and are honest and sober you can reasonably expect to enjoy a decent standard of living — this is evidence that something fundamental has changed, visibly changed, at least in those parts. What though? Is it something concrete? Yes it is. A riddle, the answer to which is staring us in the face.
The author of the above article, while trying to maintain a balanced perspective seems not to understand a basic issue: what we call “radical” Muslims are what Muslims consider true followers of the prophet. What we call “moderate” Muslims are what Muslims call slackers or even apostates worthy of death. The search for “moderate Islam” is similar to the search for the Lost Dutchman gold mine. While it may have existed at one time, it is impossible to find at present. In large part the tepid believer is intimidated not only by his own awareness that he does not occupy the high ground morally, but he risks getting his throat cut. Both of these are powerful motives for the tepid believer to at least covertly (and often openly) support the more murderous of his co-religionists. After 1400 years of this how do you expect to solve the problem short of using force?
you are right to bring up the Christian explosion in Africa and Asia, but you get a lot of it wrong.
For example, your photo of Baptist baptism ignores that Baptists aren’t Pentecostals.
Second, you ignore the large Christian communities in Muslim countries, some of which are persecuted minorities (Iraq) and others who are overseas workers (Saudi). Both are proselytizing, and not Baptist at all (Orthodox and Catholic).
As for the prosperity gospel: It’s wrong, but Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust has some interesting theories on how Protestant work ethic is improving the economy of many countries (too long to post here).
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You might want to rethink your comment about the Book of Job. When you read the last few verses of the book, you’ll find that, for staying true to God, Job’s wealth and family were restored — double what ever he had owned before his trials. Not only that, it says that God gave Job more years so that he could enjoy seeing his children marry and start families. How you think this is at odds with what you have called the “Prosperity Gospel” is a bit of a mystery.
Describing a belief as the “Prosperity Gospel” is an interesting way of dismissing a tenent of both Judism and Christianity. Throughout the Bible, it’s easy to see a pattern–God blesses those who trust in Him. (Read Psalm 23)
If you read of the convenants God made with Abram and Moses, you find that God promises that His people will recieve powerful blessings and unusual protection when they obey His commandments. (Read Deut 28:1-11)
Most Christians believe that the Gentile Christians were “grafted onto the tree” as Paul writes in Romans. This would make today’s Church heirs of that covenant with the Jews. Why is it that more Christians do not experience God’s favor? Maybe they don’t really believe what God promised.
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I have always enjoyed your articles, and among the intelligentsia, you seem to have a more clear grasp of the ramifications of my own world view than others. I am clearly a Jacksonian American, according to your definition. And I am also an evangelical Christian who appreciates your grasp of the impact of Pentecostal Christianity on the world as a whole.
But I don’t think you fully understand why Pentecostal Christianity has had such a powerful impact on the world, and will continue to do so. Primarily, it is because it addresses real problems in this life, not just in the life to come. When a child is miraculously healed of a wasting disease, it is an active expression of both God’s love and His power in this world.
When someone has been diagnosed with cancer and given less than two months to live, and you get the opportunity to pray for them (as I have been privileged to do), and then they go back to the doctor and the doctors can find no trace of the cancer, it changes not only the person healed, but the one who prayed the prayer of faith and saw God’s power become more than just a theoretical theological argument. How can you be a witness to the real exercise of supernatural power and go away unchanged? You cannot.
As for Prosperity, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto thee.” Prosperity is not about getting a new Cadillac, and a big house, or even getting your carnal wishes come true. God is not a fairy godmother.
Prosperity is about God changing first your heart so that your desires match His, and then seeing him fulfill those heart changed desires. It is about living in a state of mind where you completely trust God to take care of your daily needs as you seek something beyond your own selfish needs. And knowing that when you do, He fulfills your needs according to the economy of heaven, not the economy of this world.
Lastly, consider this: Jesus commanded us to pray “Thy will be done on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” Exactly how is His will done in heaven? And why would He command us to pray this prayer if He had no intention of answering it affirmatively by causing the power of heaven to be made manifest on the earth for those who truly believe?
And for those who truly believe, it is not the material benefits that are the greatest blessing. It is the intensely personal, vibrant and passionate relationship with a God who loves us more intensely than we can ever imagine.
Even during the cultural revolution, it was never Chinese policy to murder people for their religion – certainly persecution of Christians has never even remotely approached the level of the Soviet Union. Chinese and Soviet Communism shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.
Christendom and Islam had 1400 years of generally good relations. In all that time, less conflict between us than there has been between the USA and Europe during the last 200 years.
You also shouldn’t exaggerate the degree to which America is well-regarded by Pentecostal Christians around the world (I’ve oscillated between Pentecostal and Protestant churches over the years). While we have connections to certain American churches, the USA is also the centre of a great many of the most powerfully anti-Christian forces in the world: and is justly regarded as the world’s leader in avarice, wrath, murder and immorality.
However, your remarks about Islam also vying for souls is a good one. Islam is a powerful faith, close to Christianity in many ways, that offers much of the same solace for souls damaged by the world. In a ‘quasi-capitalist’ sense it’s good for Christians to have some competition in this area.
Good comment, Dr. Mead. I’m both a former seminarian (conservative Presbyterian) and a former foreign service officer (1989-95), and I can only say that the people the State Department hired to inform us about both American religion and religion overseas exhibited a shocking mix of condescension and cluelessness.
Now, I’m not so sure that Pentecostalism is the best thing that ever happened to Christianity, for it is often a hotbed of credulousness, hamfisted authoritarian leaders, and spiritual blackmail. But I agree that it is a force to be reckoned with.
BTW, I now teach English to Speakers of Other Languages in an American High School. One morning, our school broadcast a statement by Archbishop Romero, supposedly to inspire everyone. Well, my roomful of young Salvadorean immigrants (mostly Pentecostals, Adventists, and Baptists) erupted in a near-riot of anger and dismay! Apparently, Romero is as admirable to many of his countrymen as he is to liberal Americans.
The failure of our secularized to understand the importance of religion disables them in many ways, and enfeebles their capacity to deal with he actual reality of the normal human response to radical disruptive change — the turn to the spiritual. This can be a progressive force, or it can take deeply negative forms.
This scary article gives just one example of the dark side.
The Book of Job, though, is not hard to reconcile with prosperity. Read the last section. It is short.
Also, a secular humanist may see no difference in kind between various religions all invoking baseless superstition, but a super-naturalist sees irreconcilable doctrines. Of many examples: God instructs in the Muslim religion that a woman is half the value of a man, but in the book of Acts in the Christian New Testament we are taught that god loves all equally.
The secular humanist and similar thinkers are often ill equipped to discuss some areas of conflicts between religions because they are loath to inform themselves in what are to them baseless topics.
Thank you for astute observations on an important policy issue.
Another reason that, contrary to popular opinion, the next Modelskian long cycle will likely be dominated once again by the US. (See also Mark Haas, A Geriatric Peace? In Int’l Security [Summer 2007]).
This article needs to be turned into a book.
1. the baptism photo seems to be baptism by pouring the water. Few Baptists do that.
2. Baptists can be charismatic which darned close to being pentecostal.
3. Kepha: as a former anticatholic, I can understand the suspicion and vitriol of those who have bought into the whole ‘catholic is evil’ schtick. so no big surprise.
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“however, when preachers tell their congregations in cities like Lagos that God doesn’t want them to stay poor and marginalized, that God yearns to see them well housed, well fed and well cared for, that God wants their children to have an education and a better life — who among us would dare to call them wrong?”
Me. They are wrong. It matters not a whit what God yearns for and wants, as He is not housing, feeding, caring, or educating anyone in Lagos or anywhere else on His green earth. What are these prosperity preachers telling their flocks to do? Pray and give money to them. Neither accomplishes any of God’s supposed yearnings, and the second one is a direct harm to those giving the money away. They are morally wrong to promise prayer and donations will lead to prosperity.
Judaism was originally, and still basically is, a community prosperity religion, not an individual prosperity religion like some of today’s popular Christian preachers. The whole community would prosper or fail based on the whole community’s following of the law. There were also Jubilee years to negate debts and free indentured servants.
An apt comparison of the left-wing old-guard mainline Protestant version of Christianity would be like an engineer who has never ridden a roller coaster giving a dissertation on the structural integrity and safety record of such amusement structures. The corollary is comparing the Evangelical Christian with the rider of the roller coaster, who although he does not possess the scholarship of the engineer, nonetheless has a much more dynamic and experiencial knowledge of the roller coaster that the theoretician cannot know until he decides to exercise his faith and ride.
Thanks for the thinking. I have worked in SE Asia as a Christian missionary (medica)l for over 40 yrs. VN and Nepal mainly. I have seen the Nepali Church grow from 200 to 1,650,000 in that period. There is nothing in what you have mentioned as Pentacostal that I could not ascribe to as a good Lutheran. What these churches are attempting and imitating in Asia in far less Pentacostal than it is the basic Christianity of the NT as we (and they) know it from the Book of Acts. It differs very little from the faith I grew up in in USA. I have been imprisoned for this faith over there as I expected in Nepal from what was formerly a Hindu kingdom. Nepal will very likely become as you hint a Christian nation in one or two generations. But you have to have seen and lived thru thye transformations social, religious and cultural changes that have occurred. They have recognized that the Christian Church has always been the world’s most amazing and beneficial institution for those who have adopted this NT life and perspective, The change in Nepal in the lives of ordinary people has been astounding; people recognize a good and inestimable blessing when they see it.
In Vietnam I did biweekly sick call for a cluster of the enemy”s (VC) villages deep in the jungle where you best not ever go – but they knew my purposes and the monument of surgical expertise I did for them all. And when after the VC completely lost its ability to function, losing all their leadership to the masterful putdown the US Army did on them, they appointed a 17 yr old indoctrinated but woefully stupid boy to revitalize VC control in the area I served. First thing he did was hold a kangaroo court (with mandatory attendance for all) and personally put the 6 RC nuns who did the village triage for me on their knees and gave each one of them a bullet in the back of their heads. You know, religion is the curse of humanity tripe. The Viet Cong lost ALL authority in the area and I think the village women would have killed any VC that came back to the area. You think there was ever any question about what I was doing versus VC promotions after that? Tertullian, 210 AD, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Was it ever!!
Radical Islam is true islam, they are doing exactly what the Koran under the Doctrine of Abrogation tells them to do and exactly what Muhammed himself was doing at the end of his life in conquering the Middle East via Jihad
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