I really don’t know anyone who is a supporter or adherent of the prosperity gospel (that I’m aware of), and I don’t imagine that many who link to this blog are. It’s easy in the circles I move in to dismiss prosperity gospel thinking as a silly, obviously shallow distortion of the gospel.

Still, I would encourage you to read this piece in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, and to do so without being judgmental concerning those described. Pay particular attention to the story of Billy Gonzales. The prosperity gospel would not be as popular as it is unless it is, in fact, being heard as good news. And it is, by folks just like Gonzales.

There are a lot of infuriating things about the story and about purveyors of prosperity gospel. One of them is the fact that bank mortgage officers used pastors as patsies to reach their congregations, encouraging members to take out mortgages they couldn’t afford. As the article notes, the mortgage crisis can’t be blamed entirely on poor immigrants taking out bad loans. White American greed was just as responsible (if not more so) for the mortgage crisis. But the correlation between particular areas hit hard by the mortgage crisis and areas where prosperity gospel preaching is popular is very troubling.

I’m also troubled by the fact that, if the article is correct, the myth of the American dream—the story that financial success is to be had with enough work—plays such a large part in the potent cocktail of reasons that help to explain the popularity of the prosperity gospel.

What I hope the article does is cause us to reflect deeply on the nature of the gospel and how easily it can be coopted by another agenda or syncretized with another myth. If we’re convinced that the prosperity gospel is not what Jesus meant when he said he came to bring good news to the poor, then what did he mean? If you could proclaim the good news to Billy Gonzales, what would you say? What is the gospel?

(If you’d like to read more of my own thoughts about the gospel, I wrote a six-part series beginning here.)