Books, Christianity, Guest Posts & Interviews, History, Jared Burkholder

The Prosperity Gospel and Historical Legitimacy

For those of us who are children of the 1980s, mention of the Prosperity Gospel conjures up images of fallen televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker or Protestant outlanders such as Benny Hinn. But in recent years, more marketable versions of health and wealth Christianity have been mainstreamed by preachers from Joyce Meyer to Joel Osteen.

Among scholars of American religious history, the Prosperity Gospel has rarely been taken seriously as a movement worthy of legitimate scholarly attention. Enter Duke Divinity School’s Kate Bowler.

Bowler, who grew up among Mennonites in Canada, has published what may be the definitive history of this multilayered movement. Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford University Press) has Kate Bowler - Duke Divinity Schoolcome out this past year and was the focus of the recent Spring Seminar in American Religious History at Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center. The book is a fascinating read and chance for those of us who remember the antics of Swaggart and Bakker to put these antiheros within a larger context of American religious history. Bowler roots her analysis in the 19th century with the rise of New Thought, Mind Cure, and religious figures such as Mary Baker Eddy. The history of the Prosperity Gospel may include the stereotypical low-brow religion, greedy charlatans, and oily preachers with get-rich-quick schemes (as commenter David Ruccio made clear). But perhaps amid this, Bowler argues, the Prosperity Gospel might also represent a religious version of the American dream that connects with the yearning for wholeness, well-being, and American notions of financial success.Bowler, Blessed

Just last night, Bowler’s book became a nice point of connection with historian friends Jeff Webb (Huntington University) and David Schuster (IPFW). Gathering for what we call the Fort Wayne Seminar in American History, Shuster presented part of a larger article he is working on, which focuses on the religious roots of Psycho-analysis. Shuster’s work is as fascinating as Bowler’s and coincidentally, also points to the importance of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science as well as related Mind Cure practices. Freud’s theories about the mind’s power to shape the human psyche by way of childhood experiences and repressed memories could be viewed, Shuster argued, as a secularized version of earlier efforts to realize psychological well-being that captured the attention of theorists like Eddy. While I look forward to seeing Shuster’s work in print, take a minute to give Bowler’s work on the Prosperity Gospel a look!

Discussion

One thought on “The Prosperity Gospel and Historical Legitimacy

  1. The Prosperity Gospel beyond the US was one of the topics addressed in part 2 of a three-part CT interview with Philip Jenkins: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/march/2interview-with-dr-philip-jenkins-distinguished-professor-o.html.

    Posted by Chris Gehrz | March 28, 2014, 9:10 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Follow Me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 186 other followers

The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education

The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons

Coming January 2015 from IVP Academic - preorder your copy today!

The Pietist Impulse in Christianity

Pietist Impulse cover

Now available from Wipf & Stock Publishers!

Copyright Notice

© Christopher Gehrz, 2011-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Gehrz or "The Pietist Schoolman," with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Disclaimer

This blog is not affiliated with any of the organizations or institutions at which Dr. Gehrz is employed and/or with which he is affiliated. Links to any sites are not endorsements of the contents of those sites.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers

%d bloggers like this: