January 05, 2013

The Postmodern Prosperity Gospel

Has the Evangelical emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ turned sour? Jonathan Leeman thinks so. What used to be a biblical emphasis on the necessity of conversion has now turned (in many cases) into a culturally accomodated emphasis on "having a relationship with Jesus." Here's what Leeman has to say:

The culture these days likes to talk about relationships and community. . . . You don't have to be a Christian to want community and relationship, especially if humans were created for relationships. The Bible uses a concept similar to "relationship," but it's a fuller concept. It's the idea of a holy obedience to God's loving and life-giving authority. To be holy is to grab hold of all one's relationships and change their bearing, their purpose. That's why, as we read through the Bible, we won't find references to "relationship"; we'll find references to obedience, holiness, and lordship. When the theologian or pastor talks the talk of relationship and community rather than the talk of obedience and holiness, he just might be hawking a postmodern prosperity gospel. The poor man's prosperity gospel is: "Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus wants to make you rich and happy!" But many of us today in the West are rich. We don't need the poor man's prosperity gospel. Rather, we suffer from ennui, angst, and media overload. The relationships we do have are shallow and unsatisfying, so the intellectual sophisticate offers a postmodern prosperity gospel instead: "Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus will give you relationship, purpose, and community." [1]
I think Leeman is spot on here. Strictly speaking, what unbelievers need isn't a relationship with Jesus. What they need is a changed relationship with Jesus. Here's Leeman again:
Evangelicals often talk about becoming a Christian by "entering into a relationship with Christ." In one sense, that's true. . . . But I believe it would be more biblical (in light of the command to repent) to say that, upon becoming a Christian, an individual enters into a new kind of relationship with Christ. After all, a non-Christian is in a relationship with Christ. It's merely a relationship typified by rejection, rebellion, and therefore God's wrath. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not most fundamentally a question of relationship; it's a question of authority and love. It's a question of the heart's allegiances. [2]

1. Jonathan Leeman. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love. Crossway, 2010. p. 168
2. Ibid., p. 163

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