Prosperity unpacked 4: Appeal

Why is ‘Faith’ teaching appealing to people?

This is the fourth of a five-part series by Hannah Swithinbank on how we can engage with prosperity theology. Click here to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

I have written a couple of blog posts about the things I disagree with in ‘Faith’ teaching – but I think that if we want to engage with it seriously, we need to understand why it is so appealing to people. I can see a few reasons why Faith teaching and churches are popular.

Firstly, Faith teaching, like the evangelical and Pentecostal movements, has always been missionary. Its believers seek to share the good news, and so the teaching spreads. This happens through conferences, conventions and crusades, as well as through Bible college teaching and various media channels. All these avenues are devoted to preaching and teaching – and demonstrating God’s blessing in order to reach more people.

Secondly, the church services are exciting and easy to join in with, and the preachers are usually very good communicators. Like Pentecostal churches, Faith churches make it possible for the congregation to be involved in the services and to have an experience of God.

Both of these things interact with the increasing globalisation we see taking place in the world today. Ideas and teaching resources are able to travel faster. Communities, like churches, are able to grow in ways that transcend national borders. Many church movements, including Faith churches, have become part of global communities that have their own languages, habits, cultures and events. These communities provide support and inspire loyalty – to their people and their ideas – and can generate their own economy through the products and services that the churches create and provide.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the fact that Faith teaching engages with all areas of a person’s life – their physical and material well-being, as well as their spiritual well-being. Faith teaching also incorporates a strong belief in the transformative power of religion. People are not just looking for ‘prosperity’ – they are looking for hope.

Poverty, economic problems and recessions, war, famine and other disasters all make the blessings offered by Faith teaching appealing for both the poor and the middle classes (who are hit hardest by economic problems). Many people are also disillusioned with politics and the lack of change political systems seem to bring. They are therefore more likely to turn to religion and money as alternative ways of gaining power and changing their lives. And finally, these churches provide a community of support and encouragement, which really makes it possible for people who are experiencing difficulties to hope for a better future.

This, I think, is what those of us who are uncomfortable with Faith teaching need to think about: what hope are we offering people, and how does it make a difference to their lives today – as well as to their relationship with God?

Some recommended reading: Simon Coleman, The globalisation of charismatic Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

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Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.