For 40 years, the Rev. Charles Cowan has been preaching that God wants Christians to prosper. So he’s not about to change the message, no matter how bad the economy looks.
That includes telling his followers that if they are faithful in giving to the church, God will reward them financially.
“We want to be sure that we are taking care of honoring God, because his Word tells us that if we honor him, he will honor us,” said Cowan, pastor of nondenominational Faith is the Victory Church in Nashville.
Despite the economic downturn, the prosperity gospel remains alive and well. Pastors like Cowan or televangelists like the Rev. Creflo Dollar and the Rev. Kenneth Copeland continue to promise that financial blessings will follow donations to their ministries.
But it faces a challenge from a new austerity gospel, which says God blesses those who work hard, save their money and pay off their debts.
Believing in God’s provision is common to most Christians. What makes the prosperity gospel unique is the idea that God’s blessings can be triggered by donations known as seeds of faith.
The idea works this way: A believer sows a financial seed of faith, giving it to a church or a preacher, and God rewards that seed with a monetary blessing.
The austerity gospel
The opposite of the prosperity gospel is the austerity gospel, promoted by radio host and author Dave Ramsey.
In his Financial Peace University program, Ramsey tells people to go back to making money the old-fashioned way — always pay cash, never spend more than you earn and avoid debt like the plague.
Dennis Decker, a missionary with Crown Financial Ministries, said he has seen a growing number of people who are disappointed with the prosperity gospel. Crown is a national group that runs financial classes at churches and offers volunteers who can teach budgeting one-on-one.
Decker says that Crown teaches people to handle money according to biblical principles. It’s similar to the approach that Ramsey teaches — especially in using a budget and avoiding debt. Like Ramsey, Crown also teaches the importance of using money in charitable ways to help others. But unlike Ramsey’s company, which is for-profit, Crown is a nonprofit Christian group.
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