Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest, pastor and author Anton Bosch. Here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Our subject for today is the prosperity gospel, and our guest to discuss the issues with me is Anton Bosch. He’s the pastor of Sun Valley Community Church just north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. Anton, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Anton: Thanks, Tom. It’s a privilege to be with you again today, and just to share with you and with the listeners.
Tom: Yeah. You know, Anton, one of the reasons I value discussing this topic with you - well, in particular is that the errors we’ll be discussing are found mainly, although not exclusively, among Pentecostals and charismatics, and you have some background in that, don’t you?
Anton: Yes, I do, on both scores. I am Pentecostal, grew up Pentecostal, and saw the emergence of the prosperity gospel at the beginning as a young man. I must have been maybe 20 when I was given the book Seed Faith by Oral Roberts, and since then I’ve watched it very, very carefully, and I have had extensive experience in Africa, both in Southern Africa and in West Africa, and so it’s really something that has been right in my face, if you will, for most of my life.
Tom: Yeah, and again, Anton, when somebody comes out or is a part of a movement, whether it be Pentecostal, charismatic, yet they recognize the errors. I like to hear it from you guys, because too often, there’s a broad brush. “Well, they’re this, or they’re that.” But no, wait a minute - folks, there is discernment against our brothers and sisters in Christ who are involved in that, and we’ve had the privilege here on this program of interviewing many of them, and they correct the errors.
So as I said, Anton, this isn’t just those who would call themselves cessationists throwing stones, or throwing things over the fence at others. We want to encourage - and again, this is why I value speaking to you about it. We want to encourage discernment no matter what you call yourselves. Biblical discernment is - that’s the key, right?
Anton: Right, and the Scriptures don’t change. I mean, at first, either way people read the change is depending on their own tradition, but the truth of the Scripture doesn’t change. Yeah, the Pentecostal brethren have been most consistent, and probably the earliest opponents of this teaching, obviously, because it came to their notice first arising - not really in Pentecostal circles, but in the charismatic circles more than Pentecostal. The traditional Pentecostal churches have always been opposed to the prosperity message.
Tom: Yeah. Now, you wrote an article titled “The True Origins of the Prosperity Gospel.” Could you give our listeners a brief overview of what the prosperity gospel is all about, and give us some insight into the origins in the church?
Anton: Yes, Tom, the prosperity gospel is exactly what the name says, and that is that part of God’s design for us - in fact, God’s main design for the prosperity people - is for us to be prosperous financially, but also attached to that is to be healthy, and so to be wealthy and healthy. The whole thing goes right back to Oral Roberts. I’ve researched the roots very, very carefully, and there are two separate issues here - let me just mention that very briefly - and that is the word-of-faith teaching; and the word of faith teaching says…and that’s a “blab it and grab it” message, or “name it and claim it,” so your word is creative. You have the same faith that God used to create the world - and obviously we know God didn’t use faith to create the world, but that’s the message. And so you can create your own wealth, you can create your own reality. That’s the word-of-faith thing, and so it has the same outcome, or promised outcome, of wealth and happiness and health, but that’s achieved through speaking words of faith.
The prosperity message, on the other hand, the principle underlying that is exactly what Oral Roberts called his book Seed Faith; and so you’re sowing seed, and you reap a harvest from that seed. So anything you give to God He gives back to you. And in fact I was just checking my facts yesterday, and Kenneth Copeland in his book The Laws of Prosperity says that anything you give to God is being built up as an account for you, and you can draw against that whenever you want. So whatever money you’ve given to God, you’re going to get back, but you don’t just get it back, you get it back ten times or a hundred times. So that teaching originated with Oral Roberts. The scary thing is where Oral Roberts got that from, and without going into the detail that you can - you know, someone can read the article if they want more information on that - but Oral Roberts came into contact with Napoleon Hill. Napoleon Hill was famous for his Think and Grow Rich series of books, one of the bestselling authors of all time, and there’s a direct connection between Oral Roberts and Napoleon Hill. And in one of the most recent compendiums of Hill’s books The Magic Ladder to Success, the editor says, and I’m quoting, “The likes of Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and Oral Roberts became devotees of Hill.” Now, who was Hill? Well, he obviously was the author of these books, but where did he get his information from? And this is where it gets scary: Hill explains that he had a council or a cabinet - he called it the cabinet of invisible counselors, and this was made up of nine men; most of those were dead at the time, and Hill would have meetings with these men. And maybe I should just quote, if you don’t mind, Tom…
Tom: Sure, go ahead.
Anton: …from Napoleon Hill on this so we get it straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will. He says: “These mind men were Emerson, Payne, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night over a long period of years I held an imaginary council meeting with this group whom I called my invisible counselors. The procedure was this: just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes and see in my imagination this group of men seated with me around my council table. I had a very different purpose in indulging my imagination through these nightly meetings. My purpose was to rebuild my own character…” Notice those words: “My purpose was to rebuild my own character so that it would represent a composite of the characters of my imaginary counselors.” Take note of the following statement he makes. He says: “I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth through this method. After some months of this nightly procedure, I was astounded by the discovery that these imaginary figures became apparently real. These meetings became so realistic that I became fearful of their consequences and discontinued them for several months. These facts are mentioned preliminary to the statement of facts which I shall now make: namely, that during my meetings with the invisible counselors, I find my mind most receptive to ideas, thoughts, and knowledge which reach me through the sixth sense. On scores of occasions when I faced emergencies, some of them so grave that my life was in jeopardy, I have been miraculously guided past these difficulties through my invisible counselors.”
Now, Tom, that is nothing else than meeting with demons.
Tom: Exactly. It’s divination.
Anton: It’s divination in its most blatant form, and that’s where he got his formula of giving and receiving back in return. He called it the “law of compensation,” and later on Robert Tilton, another famous prosperity preacher, actually used the words “the law of compensation.” But Oral Roberts reframed those words and simply called it “seed faith,” but it was exactly the same principles that Hill was using. Roberts just Christianized it, if you like, and that’s really where it comes from.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now, some of our listeners may be aware of not just the prosperity preachers, but Napoleon Hill, especially if they got into anything related to positive mental attitude, high sales…these things have been promoted, and as you indicated here, Hill is the icon of this. But the sad part is, although at the beginning he thought he was doing all of this in the imagination, this opens the door to contact with demons, as you mentioned. There’s no doubt about it. This is - you know, an analogy would be a seance or a ouija board or something like that, but we find it in the business world, we find it in the New Age, we find it in…you know, as I said, whether it be whatever name you want to pick. You know, Amway, for example, had books that they promoted among those who subscribed to Amway as distributors, all these kinds of books, because they thought they were getting something that would lead to prosperity.
Anton: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: Anton, Dave and I addressed what you’re talking about, as you’re well aware - not just word-faith, healing, prosperity, and so on, but certainly the positive mental attitude and many of these things in The Seduction of Christianity, which was written some 25 years ago. Now, although the book was a bestseller, it did little, it seems, to even slow down the false teachings of this movement; and yet by God’s grace it did rescue a number of people from that distortion of biblical faith. So I think that’s what we have to come back to.
So what does the Bible teach about faith? What is biblical faith, because I think that’s the most destructive aspect of this whole prosperity gospel movement.
Anton: Well, I think that’s a good question, Tom. The problem is the answer is a very, very long one, so let me give it to you very quickly. We’ve come to understand - well, not we, but most Christians today - and you’ll find that a majority of Christians will very overtly, prosperity or not, believe that God basically wants them to be rich, and God wants to bless them in material ways. And so faith has come to mean a tool, a law, a mechanism whereby we can get God to do what we want Him to do, and whereby we can get from God what we want or what we need, and that was never the biblical idea of faith. The Scriptures are very clear that faith really is not the source of miracles as much as simply trusting in God in difficulty. Yes, there are miracles, but if you look at Hebrews 11, the chapter on faith, you find that there are some miracles mentioned there, but you find that Hebrews 11 is about endurance in difficulty, endurance in trials. And this is where the two messages part ways, because true faith gives me the ability to continue to trust God in spite of difficulties and trials, whereas the prosperity message is saying, “No, you must change your situation through your faith.” And you can see that there are two totally different messages - the one says that God is sovereign; God deals with each one of us as He wills. Some of us He blesses financially because, I believe, He knows that we can handle those finances; others He doesn’t for whatever other reasons. And of course the problem is that in the prosperity message, sight is lost of God’s purpose in our lives, and God’s purpose in our lives is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Anton: And the problem is how do riches conform me into the image of Jesus? Do they, or are they a distraction? And by definition, they’re a distraction. They detract from me being shaped into the image of Christ. And so is God going to give me something that is going to work contrary to His will and His purpose in my life? I don’t think so.
Tom: Well, Anton, let’s go back to the distraction thing. You know, you referred to Hebrews 11, which, you know, people call - that’s the “hall of faith” chapter, right?
Tom: Well, in Hebrews:11:6, it says, “But without faith, it is impossible to please him,” that is, God, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek gifts, or treasure, or prosperity.” No! It doesn’t say that, folks. I had to throw that in there. That’s a Dave Hunt idea, too. He taught me that.
But let’s go back to what it says. It says that, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Seek Him. You see? So the distraction is we put anything in the way of that, we’ve really - we’ve gone away from faith.
I’ve got another example for you. You know, I love the books by George Muller, and for some of you, his whole life was about answers to prayer, and he never went to man for anything. He always went to God first, and then through God man would supply the needs that he had, and his whole life was incredible in terms of raising up orphanages all throughout England. But a man came to him and said, “Mr. Muller, you are a man of great faith!”
And his response was, “No, I’m a man of little faith, but it’s in a great God.”
Anton: Right, right.
Tom: That’s the gist here. Biblical faith, as you’ve said, Anton, is trusting Him no matter what the circumstance are.
Anton: Right, right. And you know, if you look at these men in Hebrews 11 - let me just pick it up here - verse 36: “Still others had trial of mocking and scourging, of chains and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise….” Now, if you point these guys to these men, they would say they don’t have faith! They’re spiritual losers because they don’t drive Rolls Royces and they don't live in mansions. They are contrary to the whole image and picture of the modern prosperity preacher. Now, either Hebrews 11 is right and this is what true faith is all about, or the prosperity preacher is right, but they can’t both be right.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Anton, to add to that, you read through the epistle to the Hebrews, and it’s written as an encouragement to those at the time who were going through trials and tribulations, but it’s also for us today. But to present those things, they are an encouragement in terms of what our brothers and sisters that went before us suffered. But it’s an encouragement, and these guys are saying, “No, no, this isn’t an encouragement, this is negative speaking. This is something you have to get out of your mind.” This stuff is so anti-biblical it’s a crime. It really is serious.
Anton: Yeah, it’s extremely serious. You know, just think about this, Tom: Jesus said that - and I think it’s Matthew 19 - it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom, and He says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom - whatever the eye of a needle means, and I don’t want to get into that right now.
Tom: But it’s a tough place to get through, right? […]
Anton: Yeah, it’s hard. And in fact, the disciples’ response was, “Who can get saved?” So Jesus is saying, “It’s hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” But then Peter says that “God is not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance.”
Anton: So God wants people to be saved. But if money is going to make it hard for them to get saved, why would He give them money? Remember, Tom, I’m not against God blessing, and I understand, some people are blessed, and I do believe that God blesses us. But He’s not going to send us stuff that is going to keep us out of heaven. You know, in Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “No man can serve two masters. Either he’s going to love one or hate the other.” And what is He speaking about? He’s speaking about money, mammon.
Tom: Right. Of course, it’s the love of money. That’s the seduction, that’s the attraction that…
Tom: …only walking in the Spirit and only walking according to God’s Word that prevents us from being seduced by that.
Tom: You know, Anton, those who promote the prosperity and the healing movement, they’re promoting methods and techniques. They claim that God works under spiritual laws, and Christians - even non-Christians, some of them say…I’m thinking about David Paul Yonggi Cho and the fourth dimension. They talk about that once these laws are learned and applied, anybody can do it. Well, what’s the problem with spiritual laws?
Anton: Well, I think there are two problems, and you’re right - as I mentioned earlier, on my desk I have The Laws of Spiritual Prosperity by Kenneth Copeland. The first problem is that, obviously, as [with] anything else there is some truth to any error, and there are certain principles in the Scripture. The first problem, though, is that those laws that they make up are exactly that - they’re made up. They are not real laws; they are not real even principles; they’re not established in Scripture, so that’s the first problem. But the second problem is that - and they’re blatant about this - is that God is subject to our laws, or to these laws, and they say, “Well, they’re His laws.” No, they’re not His laws, they’re our laws, or the prosperity preacher’s laws. Prosperity preacher makes up these laws, and then he says God is bound by these laws, and therefore God must do what the law says. If I give, He must give back. Now, that robs God of sovereignty, and this is really another core of this whole error is that it begins - everything now revolves around me. I’m the one who controls God instead of me becoming submissive to God and to God’s will. God’s will now comes under my control, and so, you know, “Let my will be done in heaven as it is done on earth.” That literally becomes the prayer. And so is God subject to His own laws? Of course God is subject to His own laws; but the problem is that these laws that they have made up are not God’s laws.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, again, spiritual laws, as you’ve been saying, they generate methodologies and techniques. So finally, as somebody gets into this, they’re (as you said) they’re trying to put God in a cause and effect. But God looks upon the heart. That’s why these things are bogus, these ideas are bogus. Not only are we trying to make God into a - put a genie in a bottle, or you rub Him the right way, or you come up with a mantra or whatever, and He has to effect…no, that’s witchcraft. There’s no way around it. But it’s not a person being in submission to God, wanting His will, no matter what the circumstances are. We’re going to talk about that more. We’ve got just about three minutes left in this program, but we’ll deal with it again next week.
But that’s the point. We’re turning - not we, but those who promote this idea - are turning God into something they can manipulate through supposed laws. As you said, these aren’t God’s laws. So it’s just…as I said, this is occultism. This is witchcraft under the guise of it being spiritual, but it’s not.
Anton: No, it’s not, and in fact, we will hopefully discuss next week how this works in Africa where the connection with witchcraft becomes a little bit more clear.
Anton: But what this does is obviously negates the whole principle of living our lives by faith or trust in the Lord, because we don’t need faith anymore, we now have laws, and so we can control our own destiny, we can control our environment, we can control God by manipulating Him and by applying these laws. And of course, that’s what false religion has always done is set aside faith and living a life of just trusting God, walking in obedience to Him with a ritual, with a tradition, with whatever else that is mechanistic and that’s manmade.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now, as I mentioned, this has been around, and as you’ve talked about, it’s been around for quite a while, but it seems to be growing, and I think probably through the use of the media. You know, I remember - well, you mentioned Napoleon Hill, but for a time there what was big both outside the church and inside the church was the series called The Secret, and this is all positive mental attitude; this is all supposedly using these laws, whether you call them spiritual laws or laws of the universe, the law of reciprocity - you know, you give, you get. Even Pat Robertson had a whole series on utilizing God’s laws and so on; but you know, he’s not the only one. We’ll mention next week - just go through a litany of those who promote this, and there are far more, but these are things that, you know, our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ need to take heed to, and the solution is to be a Berean, to search these things out, no matter who’s telling you this. Is it true to God’s Word? As Isaiah wrote, “To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it’s because there is no light in them,” particularly in this particular subject.
So, Anton, we look forward to next week. We’re going to be dealing with more of this. Certainly it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and I thank you for being our guest, and look forward to next week.
Anton: Thanks, Tom. It’s been a privilege.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for joining us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.