I’m afraid a look into popular Christianity in America reveals teachings of a religion far from what the early church would have recognized. This Christianity worships a god who wants us to achieve worldly happiness, make our dreams prosper, and reach our fullest potential. We have largely set aside dated “prosperity gospel” preachers in fancy suits and gaudy television studio sets, yelling into a camera with a phone number to call at the bottom of the screen to receive a special blessing or prayer cloth. This kind of instant health-and-wealth teaching is now a fringe movement, more broadly mocked than followed. But in its place is a new prosperity gospel carried into the mainstream by trendy, attractive, compelling speakers.
This new teaching (which I call “pop-Christianity” or “new prosperity theology”) is not centered on overnight rags-to-riches stories or immediate physical healing, but rather on the idea that God is “in my corner” waiting to give me my “breakthrough.” The new prosperity gospel comes with the message of “God-sized dreams” and a “vision” that God has for your life, which includes finding your “destiny” and “reaching your true potential.” No longer is our depravity the actual tragedy. Now, the cardinal sin is failing to achieve “God’s best” for oneself. Instead of standing on the character of God, the focus is now to lay claim to “greater things,” because if God really loves us and if He’s as powerful as He claims to be, then “the best is yet to come.” It’s not difficult to see why it is so appealing!
There’s truth to some of these platitudes, which is why we have to be careful. And that’s what makes them so dangerous. If we’re not careful, we can turn legitimate confidence in our victory in Christ into the idea that God wants us to walk in earthly victory as we define it for ourselves. It’s certainly true that God cares greatly about our well-being and wants to give us abundant life (John 10:10). But so often the way we perceive blessing and victory is not the same as the Bible’s definitions of blessing and victory. And the American church has largely fallen prey to the idea that God being “for our good” means God is for our worldly good.
From the first pages of Scripture, we see God’s people fail to live in light of God’s sovereignty and provision. In the book of Exodus, the recently rescued Israelites crave the comforts of captivity in Egypt over the hardships of freedom in the desert. New Testament churches had bouts with false teachers, and churches throughout the modern era have fallen into various traps as well. This one is our generation’s trap – a fully-fledged “me-focused” faith of which I’m afraid we haven’t even yet seen the long-term effects. And we shouldn’t be complacent. Throughout Scripture, God never applauds or excuses His people’s idolatry. He corrects it. Consistently. Painfully.
Pastor Ray Ortlund is quoted as saying, “Christianity shows us something profound. Moment by moment, we are either centered on God or we are centered on ourselves. There is no alternative.” To follow Jesus is to deny oneself (Matt. 16:24) rather than seek one’s personal elevation. The easiest litmus test I can think of for evaluating the competing messages heard in churches nationwide is this: Is the message promoting or rejecting a “for you” theology? While I certainly hope and believe that all orthodox theology is for us, in terms of receiving the truth of Scripture and its significance for our lives, the “for you” message is an unofficial theology that functions as if God’s reason for existence is…you.
Excerpted from Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-In-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity Dean Inserra (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
DEAN INSERRA holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is pursuing a D. Min. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, FL.