Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prof. Ho Yew Kee's nuance understanding of ‘prosperity gospel’

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Prof. Ho Yew Kee, the Head of Department of Accounting at National University of Singapore and an active churchman, has written a good explanation of prosperity gospel. His view ably summarizes Lausanne Theology Working Group's 2009 statement on this matter. With his permission to post it here:
What is this "prosperity gospel" and what is wrong with it or is our understanding correct? Is it because the conservative churches do not believe that God will reward us for our faithfulness and obedience? Or is it because we are jealous of the prosperity and growth of these "prosperity gospel churches"? 
Why is it that a "prosperity gospel church" can raise millions of dollars for a weekend of service while the conservative churches struggle just to raise enough to buy a land and build a church? We claimed that there is something wrong with them but not with us! There is a great need for us to do introspection as to why we are seeing such great discrepancies.

I think the truth in God’s word is somewhere between these two extremes of the conservative and the "prosperity gospel churches". 

Here is an attempt to unravel this seemingly opposite positions on the prosperity gospel. The word of God is very clear.  Having the positional reference in Christ is the starting point and thereafter a life time of obedience and as we are found faithful and in obedience, God’s word says that He will pour forth His blessings on us according to Deut 28. We are not working for our blessings. We are not being obedient and faithful because we work for the blessings. We are obedient and faithful because we have Christ as the centre piece of our lives. Obedience is independent of the blessings as an end goal. We are obedient because God is the centre of our life. If we are not careful, this is where the prosperity gospel can get a hold in our lives.  

The prosperity gospel basically says that we will be blessed when we are obedient and when we do the good works and acts. This is half truth. This understanding means that the basic motivation of our obedience and faithfulness is because we want the blessings in return. The blessing is the ultimate goal of our good works. The obedience and blessings did not come from our desire to serve God as the centre piece of our lives. 

The difference here is very subtle. Take the case of offerings and givings. Under the prosperity gospel's teaching, one gives because he is expecting God to multiply his gift so that he can obtain many more folds in return. He gives because he wanted the returns. The return or blessing is the sole purpose of his giving. For example, a businessman gave a large sum as offering expecting that God will help him to win the contract. If this is the case, then this is no different from religious belief through good works as the outcome of the good works is to obtain a good and blessed life. We do good because we want a good life. Our obedience and good works are not about God but about what we get back in return. This is the prosperity gospel in all its humanity! At least this is what I understand.

The biblical giving is that we give unto the LORD because He is the centre piece and deserving of our gifts. The sole motivation is giving to the LORD. As to how God will give us back in blessings, we leave it unto the LORD as we have discharged our faithfulness and obedience in giving. The sole purpose in biblical giving is unto the LORD and with no expectation as to how God can or will give us back in return. The blessings of God is absolutely and totally His prerogative. God promised that He will bless and how He will choose to do it, He is God and He can decide. Giving is about Him and not about us.

Allow me to use one teaching of Jesus to support my reasoning.  Jesus said in Luke 14:12-14, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."  

Here in lies the practice of the normal people or the normal rich. Jesus is not saying that you should not invite "your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours" to dinner.  In hosting a dinner, Jesus said that the ordinary calculative man did the calculation and invite those to the dinner whom he thinks and believes will be useful to him. The sole intention of the dinner invitation is what he will get back in return – friendship, connections and even business dealings. Jesus teaching here is not literally saying that we should then invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to our place for dinner but we invite those whom God can use us to bless with no expectations that these guests will ever be able to repay us with their influence, power or blessings. We make the invitation because it pleases the LORD. We invite these to our dinner because we believe God wants us to bless them and we are acting in obedience. The dinner and invitation may be the same but the motivation behind the invitation is totally different.

The takeaways from this are two:

1) We need to know clearly the motivation of our works. Why are we doing what we are doing? Why do we remain faithful unto the LORD? 

2) We need to know that as we put God as the centre of our lives and expressed this in obedience and faithfulness through words, thoughts and deeds, we need to know that God promise that He will bless us. We don’t work for the blessings. We work for God and God will repay us in due time.

1 comment:

reasonable said...

Prof Ho Yew Kee said that "In hosting a dinner, Jesus said that the ordinary calculative man did the calculation and invite those to the dinner whom he thinks and believes will be useful to him...Jesus teaching here is...we invite those whom God can use us to bless with no expectations that these guests will ever be able to repay us with their influence, power or blessings. We make the invitation because it pleases the LORD. We invite these to our dinner because we believe God wants us to bless them and we are acting in obedience. THE DINNER AND INVITATION MAY BE THE SAME BUT THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE INVITATION IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT." (emphasis mine)

While I am very much against the prosperity gospel teachings, I think Prof Ho is not making a fair comment on that saying of Jesus. The motivation is NOT TOTALLY DIFFERENT. One group of people were expecting benefits from this life by inviting the rich, the powerful and those who would likely benefit them in this life. In contrast, Jesus seemed to have encouraged his listeners to think of the benefits they would receive in their "next life" after their future resurrection.

Looking at it this way, then Jesus can be (not must be) seen as encouraging his audience to be motivated by the benefit in the far future (after one's resurrection) instead of being motivated by the near future (before one's death). In both cases, these two groups of people are basically selfish - they gave not because because of altruistic reasons, but because of the reward they would get.

The difference lies in whether they are motivated by the benefit of the near future or benefit of the far future. In the biblical passage quoted by Prof Ho, Jesus did not say anything about people are to give with no expectations. Jesus did not say anything about giving just because that pleases the Lord. Jesus did not say anything in that passage about giving merely as an act of obedience.

The passage can be read as: Jesus tangled a carrot in front of his audience to motivate them to give. Just that this carrot is a different carrot favoured by the short-term calculative people.