It is no secret that the prosperity gospel in booming globally. Although many Western Christians may brush off prosperity preachers as fringe hucksters and con artists, anyone who has ministered in churches in the global South is aware that health and wealth preachers are a major force to be reckoned with. They are gaining huge audiences and exerting tremendous influence on shaping the beliefs and practices of large sections of the church worldwide.
Those who love the Scriptures and the orthodox faith once for all delivered to the saints are shaking their heads and many chock up the success to of the prosperity gospel worldwide to the greed of the human heart. What more can we do against this tidal way of heresy except quietly and faithfully preach the Gospel in our own local churches, just as we always have? Those who love the truth will find us, and those who don’t will continue on their road of self-delusion. What more can we do? I want to suggest that we can and should do more, and there just might be something to learn from the prosperity preachers about how to have a global influence.
What?! Faithful biblical Christians could learn something from prosperity preachers? Say it ain’t so! Before you virtually tar and feather me, hear me out. I don’t want to suggest that we learn any theology from these false teachers, but I do wonder if they understand something about getting a message to the people that more orthodox, evangelical Christians have been slower to embrace.
1. Online Sermon Videos
One of the major ways that prosperity preachers are getting out their message is through YouTube and other video sharing sites. Where I minister in Thailand, the majority of online sermon videos in Thai are from prosperity gospel-friendly churches and preachers. Where are the evangelicals? Where are the Reformed? Where are the old-time Bible preachers and teachers? They are there, but in far fewer numbers. In Thailand, like many other places in the world, vast numbers of Christians are getting their theology from watching preaching online more than reading books. I love books, but the reality is that many people are oral-preferred learners and would rather listen or watch than read. We need to adjust to that reality. If we want solid biblical teaching to gain a greater hearing in the global church, we need to work with like-minded churches around the world to help get videos of faithful biblical preaching in local languages online. Granted, there are lots of good preaching videos online in English, but most people in the world will never be reached by an English-language sermon.
2. Literature Translation
Prosperity preachers pump out a lot of lousy books, and they fund the translation of these lackluster (but exciting) titles into foreign languages. In many markets, there is a flood of prosperity-related books, but not nearly enough biblical theological books that are accessible to the common man. Many Christians in the global church are not familiar with the authors of translated books from the West, so when they go to one of the few Christian bookshops in their country they don’t know how to pick out a good Christian book from a bad “Christian” book. And if prosperity books at that book shop out number biblically sound books 5 to 1, chances are they will go home with 200 pages of bad theology in their bag.
Those who care about sound teaching and theology in the global church need to invest more in translation, production, and distribution of good Christian books abroad. This includes not only biblical, theological books for pastoral training, but also basic Christian books for the common man. Think “Pilgrim’s Progress,” daily devotionals, or books on the Christian life (growing in holiness, parenting, dealing with cancer, etc.)
One of the keys to the success of prosperity preachers is that they speak in simple, conversational language, forcefully stated. In many cases, we need biblical truth accessible for the working class, not only carefully-nuanced theology books for aspiring pastors.
Also, in choosing which books to fund and distribute, it is extremely important to listen to faithful local partners and long-term missionaries to learn what kinds of books are needed and will actually be read. What plays in Peoria might not play in Phnom Penh.
3. International Speaking Gigs
One of the amazing things to note about prosperity preachers is how much they travel! It seems like every heretical health-and-wealth teacher is ready to fly to the Philippines or Nigeria at the drop of a hat. They are every place! Year after year, a steady stream of false teachers come to Thailand and put on a big show in cooperation with local churches. The names on the marquee keep changing, but the bad teaching is the same. Maybe solid biblical preachers need to do more international travel, speaking at conferences put on by groups of local churches who invite all the Christians in the city or the country.
I don’t want to over-emphasize the importance of one-time events over personal discipleship and the regular ministry of the local church, but perhaps we need to think about using this strategy more so that the only show in town is not the latest apostle or prophet of what’s-happening-now. Plus, if Christians hear a solid biblical preacher at a big conference or evangelistic meeting, maybe they’ll grab his book next time they visit a Christian bookshop simply because they have heard of him.
In sum, biblical Christians need to do more than just wince at the proliferation of prosperity gospel teaching internationally. False teachers exert a huge influence in many places in part because these preachers, their sermons, and their books are all that is available. If prosperity preachers have figured out how to deliver their message to the common man in the global South, maybe we should take note of how they are doing that… and learn.