Health, Wealth & Happiness - Critical Review
Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? By David W. Jones & Russell S. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011. 201 pages. Reviewed by Charles McCallum.
Dr. David W. Jones and Dr. Russell S. Woodbridge partnered to write Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? Both men obtained PhD’s from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where they have both spent time teaching as well. The preface to the book stated that both men had “longstanding interest, professional training, and vocational experience in ministry and finance” and felt that a book detailing the differences between the Gospel of Christ and the Prosperity Gospel would be beneficial (p. 7).
The thesis of Health, Wealth & Happiness is “to address the failings of the prosperity gospel, as well as give direction to disillusioned followers of prosperity theology” (p.9). The book is divided into two major sections. The first portion provided a critique of the prosperity gospel by: establishing its origin in a history of the New Thought movement; defining the parameters of prosperity ministries; and exposing the errors of the prosperity gospel. The second portion provided a correction to the prosperity gospel by: discussing the Biblical teaching on suffering; wealth and poverty; and giving by way of a Scriptural defense.
Analysis and Evaluation of the Text
Health, Wealth & Happiness supported its thesis by detailing the flaws of the prosperity gospel, and also assisted to identify a solution for “disillusioned followers”. The work is adequately filled with facts and evidence to introduce a churchgoer, or “disillusioned follower”, of the error of the prosperity gospel. This helps to answer questions the reader may have developed.
In the Introduction, Jones and Woodbridge defined the prosperity gospel as one that “omits Jesus and neglects the cross” and one that “promises health and wealth” (p. 14-15). Furthermore, Jones and Woodbridge add that the prosperity gospel claims “God desires and even promises that believers will live a healthy and financially prosperous life” (p. 15). Research included in the book state that 46 percent of self-proclaimed Christians believe that God “will grant material riches to all believers who have enough faith” (p. 16). Jones and Woodbridge built a sound defense against the materialistic prosperity gospel.
Chapter 1 provided a survey of the historical foundation of the prosperity gospel by exposing the reader to a nineteenth-century movement called New Thought. Health, Wealth & Happiness identified the founders of the New Thought movement: Emanuel Swedenborg and Phineas Quimby, and introduced Ralph Waldo Trine and Norman Vincent Peale as significant members of the New Thought movement. The first chapter also set up five pillars that create a distinction between the New Thought beliefs in relation to a Christ centered Gospel. The five pillars are: (1) a distorted view of God, (2) an elevation of mind over matter, (3) an exalted view of humankind, (4) a focus on health and wealth, and (5) an unorthodox view of salvation (p. 34). Also of importance, the book established that “New Thought ideas are often taught using biblical words and are justified by distorting Scripture” (p. 49).
Chapter 2 continued the progression from the New Thought movement, linking it to the prosperity gospel and provided the prosperity gospel’s history. Similar to the five pillars of the New Thought movement, the five pillars of prosperity theology are the same. The chapter also reviewed the teachings of Joel Osteen, who is considered a “contemporary soft-advocate of the prosperity gospel” (p. 80).
In Chapter 3, Jones and Woodbridge examined doctrinal errors of the prosperity gospel by defining the gospel according to Scripture and addressed the prosperity gospel in relation to its misunderstanding of faith, the atonement, the Abrahamic covenant, the mind, prayer, the Bible, and giving. The chapter emphasized the prosperity gospel “has a faulty view of the relationship between God and humanity” (p. 102), making grace obsolete.
Chapter 4 discussed the Biblical teaching on suffering. The authors listed several Biblical characters that experienced pain and suffering: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jesus, the apostles, and Paul. The chapter identified three sources of suffering: the curse on the created order, personal sin, and the sins of others (p. 122).
Chapter 5 provided a great analysis of Biblical teaching on wealth and poverty. Jones and Woodbridge took the reader through Genesis, the Old Testament Law, the Prophets and the Writings, the Gospels, and Acts and the Epistles defining the Biblical view of wealth and poverty. A synthesis of this journey exposed that labor is good, we are to minister to the poor, and wealth can be a stumbling block (p. 158).
The final chapter focused on giving. Jones and Woodbridge established that a Christian should give: because of obedience, to demonstrate love, to bring glory to God, because it is a result of the gospel, and because it results in reward. This chapter further distinguished between giving for physical rewards (prosperity gospel), and receiving future spiritual rewards as written in Scripture. Jones and Woodbridge also directed the reader in how to give faithfully to further the Kingdom, and even list a couple of websites that will help determine the legitimacy of the ministries that the reader may be considering supporting financially.
Health, Wealth & Happiness reached its intended audience in a concise form. Including much more in a book designed for an introductory purpose would be risky. For those who are interested in studying the topic in more detail, there is a 'For Further Study' section in the back of the book. The back also contains a Scripture Index, which allows the reader to find where a particular Scripture verse was referenced in Health, Wealth & Happiness.
Overall, this work is much needed. Jones and Woodbridge have addressed a tricky issue within the modern church and exposed the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Jones mentioned in the preface that he “wanted to write a book about the prosperity gospel that could be used in the church” (p. 9). Health, Wealth & Happiness has successfully conveyed the varied differences between the prosperity gospel and Biblical teaching.
Time spent reading Health, Wealth & Happiness, preparing for this review, was enjoyable and well worth the time. Jones and Woodbridge have created a great introduction to defending sound Biblical teaching, and identifying false teachers. Churchgoers, or even anyone interested in “spiritual things” and “self-help” that are interested in Biblical teaching, should warmly receive this book. In order to protect a congregation from the prosperity teachers that hide behind semi-Biblical teaching, this book is a must have on any pastor’s bookshelf.