“Prosperity theology is a false theology. ... TBN has been a huge embarrassment to evangelical Christianity for decades.” --R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
It’s a drama fit for reality television: Larger-than-life characters, familial infighting, private jets, mansions, pink poodles, and of course contentious litigation. Sadly, it’s not the Real Housewives of Orange County or the Shahs of Sunset at the center of this drama, but the first family of Trinity Broadcasting Network. Brittany Koper, granddaughter of TBN founders Paul and Janice Crouch, alleges that her grandparents are scamming the public with their prosperity gospel message and using the contributions of their viewers to sustain a lavish lifestyle that would make a hip-hop mogul blush. Mama and Papa Crouch counter that granddaughter Brittany is merely attempting to distract attention from her own wrongdoing. They’ve accused her of misappropriating ministry funds while she served as finance director for the organization.
While the truth of the various allegations is yet to be determined, one thing that’s indisputable is that the Crouches' opulent living makes the extravagancies of our congressmen and women look like child’s play. As advocates of the “prosperity gospel,” the Crouches teach that the more you give to God, the more you get. And of course, since they are self-proclaimed agents of God’s kingdom they would suggest that the best way to “give to God” is to give to them. According to a recent article in the New York Times, this message is working quite out nicely for the pair, whose TBN brought in $93 million in donations in 2010.
A key question that the Times article doesn’t address is whether the so-called prosperity gospel (which is closely bound up with the gospel of “health and wealth” trumpeted by so many televangelists) bears any resemblance to the Gospel taught by Jesus Chris as recorded in the New Testament. Jesus’ Gospel teaches that there is good news for sinners living under the weight of condemnation for their sins. Through Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father and His sacrificial death on a Roman cross, the gap that exists between sinful man and the one holy God is bridged, and reconciliation is possible. Faith in Christ and in his “finished” work is all that is required for eternal life. And, lest we deceive ourselves, even that saving faith is a divine gift; it is not something we conjure up for ourselves.
And yes, the Bible does teach the “sowing and reaping” principle by way of encouraging generosity toward the poor and oppressed. It suggests that Christians will be blessed by such giving and provided with more so that they will be able to give even more to those in need. And yes, it also teaches that by the power of God and the sacrificial suffering of His son we can be healed from our infirmities. However, the Gospel also teaches that we are to deny ourselves, that the meek will inherit the earth, and that the poor in spirit and the mournful are blessed by God. In other words, the Bible tells us that there is a place for suffering in the universe and that God’s people are not immune from it. No story illustrates this principle more than the story of Jesus’ own betrayal and execution at the hands of one of his own disciples, an establishment clergy threatened by the Messiah’s teaching, and an unruly mob. Through faith in Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit, however, Christians are equipped to deal with whatever comes their way, whether it be prosperity or poverty, blessing or suffering.
Just as important, the Bible also teaches that human beings are to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by our Maker, and that we will all be called to give an account for our use of His blessings here on earth. This includes Paul and Janice Crouch, and while they would insist that their stewardship of TBN’s resources are honoring to God, they would likely benefit from some serious, Biblically-rooted soul-searching. Do multiple mansions, luxury hotel suites for poodles and clothing, and $300,000-per-year fine dining budgets illustrate a ministry geared towards service to others or one designed for self-gratification and self-glorification? In the end, only God can answer that question.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
Publication date: May 9, 2012