Kate Bowler, Oxford, 2013, 337 pages, 5 of 5 stars
Summary: a lucid, concise and superbly researched historical account of the prosperity gospel—the best in print.
Bowler took years visiting health and wealth churches around the US in research for this book. Ironically, incurable colon cancer struck this young Duke professor as the book was going to print.
She argues the prosperity gospel (PG) centers on four themes: faith (a power turning words into reality), wealth (faith in the pocketbook), health (faith in the body), and victory (faith’s final goal). These topics became four of the five chapters.
The book’s subtitle (‘a history of the American prosperity gospel’) could just as well remove the word “American” since much of the PG round the world pulls from the US anyway.
Pros: (1) She names name by the hundreds. In this regard, she’s Paul-like (1Tm. 1:20). They called Puritan Richard Sibbes the sweet-dropper. Bowler is the name-dropper. She’s coming after you if you’ve influenced American prosperity over the past 100 years (e.g. Jakes, Cho, Lake, Bakker, Roberts, Meyer, Peale). Her favorite target is Joel Osteen. (2) Her tone isn’t polemical. She writes as an objective researcher. I consider this a plus because good arguments don’t need white knuckles and red faces to terrify the reader. (3) The lengthy bibliography on PG/Word of Faith works is invaluable.
(4) She must have researched a million pages of PG literature (cruel and unusual punishment) and then gives the reader the choicest dreck. For example, “Plant the seed of faith and put away the Washington’s” or this gem from Creflo: Dollar “I own two Rolls-Royces and didn’t pay a dime for them. Why? Because while I’m pursuing the Lord those cars are pursuing me” (p. 134). (5) Bowler excels at showing how earlier metaphysical mind-power repackaged itself into positive thinking (‘picturize, prayerize, actualize’) which repackaged itself into the modern prosperity message.
Cons: Besides the occasional Scripture reference, Bowler rarely interacts with the Bible. True, this is a history, but I expected more from a professor of religion.
Conclusion: Most missionaries and pastors should read this because most missionaries and pastors do battle royal against the PG in their ministry. This book gives the historical underpinnings of the deadliest poison within Protestant churches. The daily Christian should consider this hardback as well since “soft prosperity” (think Osteen) is more pervasive in the church and home than they know.
“[Speaking in tongues] became the gateway drug for other gifts of the spirit” (70).
“At Paula White’s Without Walls church, a feminine aesthetic pervaded the sanctuary and encouraged giving through the provision of floppy pink envelopes which tithers were encouraged to wave during the service” (129).
“John G. Lake and his ‘God-men’ theology pumped confidence into the veins of faith believers who called each other ‘overcomers,’ ‘dominators,’ and ‘little gods’” (179).