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What was it like growing up in the prosperity gospel movement as a nephew of one of its most prominent leaders and teachers?

It was as lavish as anyone would imagine, but to me it was normal. Every car we ever drove was nothing short of luxury. We drove Mercedes-Benzes, Bentleys, Maseratis, and BMWs. My car of choice was an H2 on twenty-two-inch rims. At one point, we had a Ferrari F430 from a business deal with ministry associates. I’ll never forget driving it with my friends around Orange County while my dad was away on a trip. It was like those movies in which the spoiled rich kids do whatever they want because their parents are powerful. The problem was that I was the son of a preacher and our lives were an embarrassment to the gospel. Every hotel suite was prime minister, presidential, or royal. We flew on private Gulfstream jets that were paid for by ministry donations, lived in multiple multimillion-dollar homes, ate at the best restaurants, and went on shopping sprees to the finest stores around. Perhaps the best illustration of what life was like would be to say that even my undershirts were Versace. Everything was luxury.

 

What prompted you to leave the prosperity gospel movement?

After growing up enjoying the benefits of it through my father and uncle, I worked in the center of it and started preaching it. A series of events over the course of four years and faithful people planting seeds in my life put cracks in the dam of my theology. I do recall having questions throughout my teenage years, but I stayed silent for fear of God’s judgment. We were always taught to never “touch the Lord’s anointed,” and that meant no questions and no criticism. If something like a false prophecy was grossly inaccurate or the behavior of a leader perversely sinful, you said nothing. Eventually, I entered ministry as a pastor at a church plant, and one day I was studying for a sermon on John 5:1–17 (the healing at the pool of Bethesda). The senior pastor of the church gave me a John MacArthur commentary, and in the midst of my study, I broke down in tears, repenting of my sin and committing to preach the true gospel. In that study, I suddenly realized that God is sovereign and Jesus’ healing ministry could not be twisted into some formula for gain. When He healed the man at Bethesda, He did so of His own volition. The man had no prior faith, gave no special offering, and didn’t even know who Jesus was (v. 13). Many other false doctrines fell like dominoes after that moment. I soon entered seminary, began discipleship with trusted mentors, and was completely overtaken by the doctrines of grace. The rest is a long story. There would be too many details to share here for sake of space. I tell the whole story in my new book titled God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel.

We need to maintain a godly posture even when enduring intense disagreement. It’s vital to remember that every person lost in deception has a soul.
What do you think are the most significant errors of the prosperity gospel movement?

There are numerous errors, but let me break down four. First, it’s an assault on the sovereignty of God because it teaches people that they can control God with an offering or positive confession. People think they are the puppet master and God is the puppet. Growing up, I viewed Him as a magic genie, thinking that if I asked Him right, I would get whatever I wanted.

Second, it’s an assault on the atonement. Prosperity theology teaches that health, wealth, and happiness are earthly guarantees because of the atonement. The truth is, Jesus took the full wrath of the Father as a substitute for His people. The purpose of the atonement is to provide salvation, not “stuff.”

Third, prosperity theology does not have a biblical theology of suffering. God’s Word has answers regarding trials, sickness, pain, and loss. People need those right answers.

Fourth, prosperity theology twists biblical teaching about wealth and stewardship. Money is not evil, but we all must keep an eternal perspective (Matt. 6:19–24).

 

What do you think is the best way to talk about the errors of prosperity gospel theology to friends or family who are involved in the movement?

A seasoned pastor once told me, “We can be right, but we don’t need to be ugly about it.” Another once advised, “Preach with wet eyes.” Those wise words have proven helpful over the years. As difficult as it may be, we need to maintain a godly posture even when in the midst of intense disagreement. It’s vital to remember that all people lost in deception have souls. They are the mission field. I’ve found that asking questions and respecting opponents works best for getting through to them. Hammering people with imperatives and aggressive remarks without care usually only triggers a defensive or argumentative posture. Building or maintaining relationships with people for the purpose of sharing truth is a wise and prudent thing for Christians to do. That being said, there are times when we may need to cut off dangerous relationships and avoid those who are brazen in their false doctrines (Jude 23). There have been moments when I have had to confront my family in very direct ways.

 

Why do people find the prosperity gospel so attractive?

It appeals to the core desires of human flesh. We all desire some level of comfort, ease, protection, security, and assurance. The prosperity gospel trades the eternal security we are supposed to find in Christ alone and elevates temporal security and man above all else.

 

Do prosperity gospel teachers sincerely believe the theology they teach, or are they in it just for the money and fame?

The words of 2 Timothy 3:13 can be helpful here. Paul references “evil men and impostors” who “will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” I would say it’s both. Many sincerely follow prosperity theology because they believe it—I most certainly did. Others are just looking to exploit people for greedy gain (2 Peter 2:3). I saw firsthand many moments where things were done or said that were blatantly false and we knew it. Moments like those are usually justified in some manipulative way.

The prosperity gospel trades the eternal security we are supposed to find in Christ alone and elevates temporal security and man above all else.
How have your family members who remain in the prosperity gospel movement responded to your departure from it?

Some are angry. Some have threatened me. Others avoid me altogether. Still, there are a few who’ve begun to come out from that belief system and even others who are cheering on truth behind the scenes. It’s a mixture (as in most families) of victories and challenges.

 

What is the most pressing need in the evangelical church today?

Reformation in the pulpit. We need a new generation of reformation preachers who will unapologetically proclaim God’s Word from every pulpit to every pew. There are so many lukewarm preachers trying to please people and walk the middle of the road on every issue. So few are willing to be dogmatic about anything. They are scared to pay a price for proclaiming truth. I recommend they either pray for the holy boldness of men such as John Knox or put out résumés and support the church from outside the pulpit.

 

What doctrines does the church need to be teaching in order to combat prosperity teaching?

I’ll preface my answer by saying that attending a church that emphasizes expository preaching (verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible) is important because it covers critical doctrines and teachings that equip us with the truth. Specifically, doctrines to teach would include the attributes of God, because they elevate our view of Him to where it should be. This protects people from demeaning Him as prosperity theology does. Christology is another essential doctrine that unpacks the atonement of Christ and helps protect people from maligning such important truths. The inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture will give people assurance that they need no other “word” from the Lord because they have been given the Word of the Lord (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Some other specific topics that could equip people to combat prosperity theology would be accurate teachings on money and stewardship, healing and suffering, and the qualifications for trusted church leaders.

 

Tell us about the purpose and founding of Reformanda and your role as a teaching fellow.

Reformanda exists because the church needs sound doctrine. The name speaks to the core conviction of the Protestant Reformation that the church must be semper reformanda, “always reforming” itself according to God’s Word. We’re a group of pastors and leaders who have a passion for equipping the church with sound doctrine. Over time, our personal conversations and convictions evolved into a collaborative ministry project, and Reformanda was born. My role as a teaching fellow involves creating content that equips believers with truths from God’s Word. Our future plans include video teachings, an annual conference, and training material for pastors and leaders.

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