It’s oddly amazing that Christians have spent a lot of time and energy combating the Prosperity Gospel but the question is to what effect. Names like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Paula White-Cain, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, and the entire Trinity Broadcast Network, have been condemned repeatedly by numerous Christian sources. The Babylon Bee takes no prisoners in going after Joel Osteen. And yet Christians find ourselves combating this still, decades later, while Joel Osteen is raking in millions. However in our attempt to theologically isolate the prosperity preachers, Christians have ignored the outgrowth that prosperity preachers have into organizations and preachers more benign than private jet flying megachurch leaders. Perhaps Christians may be afraid to further construct a fence, cutting ties with those who partake in the prosperity gospel or perhaps the body of Christ is a lot narrower than we think.
On social media, Church Leaders compiled their list of the top 100 best Christian accounts, compiled by Brian Orme, the General Editor, back in 2013 ranked Joel Osteen at number one, Rick Warren at number two, TD Jakes at number three, Joyce Meyer at number four. Osteen and Meyer are only beaten in followers by one account and that is Mr. Irrelevant, Tim Tebow, at one hundred, per these dated numbers. The list is full of major discrepancies not only embracing the prosperity gospel, but Shaun King, the guy who thinks he’s black, ranks in at thirty-nine. Andy Stanley comes in at thirty. And James MacDonald is at thirty-seven and John MacAuthor at forty-five, since they have been in the news lately. So Brian Orme and the editorial board at Church Leaders were not just promoting the prosperity gospel, but a number of other dangerous teachers. However, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer would not have large followings if people did not follow them. The current numbers have gotten worse. Where in 2013, Joel Osteen had not even 1.5 million followers, currently, May 2019, he has nearly 8 million, 3 million more than Joyce Meyer and nearly 4 million more than Tim Tebow.
So here’s another seemingly unrelated question: what is the most popular name in Christian music? Hillsong. Hillsong is an Australian megachurch denomination so vast and influential it has its own cable channel. Can you guess who the Hillsong Channel gives a platform to? Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. They each have a show, next to Billy Graham TV and the other theologically sound programs. So the most influential, Vatican aside, church in the world promotes the prosperity gospel. They aren’t the same, perhaps they are similar, but Hillsong graduated from the prosperity gospel, which Brian Houston undeniably peddled in the past. They have a much more subtle trick as seen in there NYC and LA branches here in the United States. And that trick is why the prosperity gospel remains to this day. We are never going to defeat the prosperity gospel if we don’t address its hot sister: the Popularity Gospel. Hillsong is the epitome of the Popularity Gospel that permeates the church to a far greater degree than the prosperity gospel ever could. The tunes are good, many of them theologically passable. The messages are easy to understand oft times biblically passable, without getting into the realms of splitting hairs. But the messages are shallow and do not follow the biblical mandate of making disciples out of the baptized. Their leaders are mushy and straddle the fence so tightly, it’s a wonder that they have genitals or even a diaphragm. They are not Daniel going into the Lion’s Den, they are Cowardly Lions. The mushy ambiguity of Hillsong’s Carl Lentz is well documented. Here. Here. Here.
A church that seeks not to emphasize the dichotomies in the bible for fear of spreading the divisive message, is soft-selling the gospel. Jesus talks about the mustard seeds being cast and growing to be suffocated by weeds. That is the danger of the Popularity Gospel. Jesus sounds good but sanctification is optional. I can name Jeremiah 29:11 but know not Jeremiah 28:12-17 or the context of the verse that makes me feel good. Philippians 4:13 is my life verse. I know John 3:16 but not John 3:17. Reckless Love is my favorite song or is it Oceans? I could not coherently describe hell. The seed gets choked out because it could not survive serious confrontation. The followers gone due to an infantile level of spiritual maturity. This is the distinction between the two false doctrines. One creates false converts and the other creates false or shallow converts.
So what explains the perpetual plight against the prosperity preachers? The largest protestant church in the world uses its platform to promote the Prosperity Gospel. LifeWay sells it. Top “Christian” social media accounts promote the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel is subsidized by the even larger Popularity Gospel that fails to develop disciples who would in turn reject the Prosperity Gospel.