The Prosperity Gospel And Evangelical Pragmatism

Jan 11th, 2020 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Most US presidents have had a spiritual “advisor” of some sort.  For President Lincoln it was Dr. James D. Smith (when he lived in Springfield) and Rev. Phineas D. Gurley (when he resided in the White House).  For President’s Eisenhower and Nixon, it was Billy Graham.  President Obama turned to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California.  In November 2019, Pastor Paula White-Cain joined the Trump administration as an advisor to President Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.  As a liaison to President Trump, White-Cain has regularly facilitated meetings for conservative pastors and White House officials.  At best, she has been a very controversial figure, but in her new role, many evangelical leaders have embraced her, despite her provocative, some say heretical theology.  In this Perspective, I want to examine Ms. White-Cain, her doctrinal teachings and why many evangelicals have set aside their doctrinal concerns about prosperity theology for reasons of political expediency.  Finally, the nephew of prosperity theology guru, Benny Hinn, offers a salient critique of prosperity theology.

  • First, who is Pastor Paula White-Cain? White-Cain is a prominent prosperity preacher associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, a loosely connected group of Pentecostals and Charismatics.  She represents the tongues-speaking, vision-reporting, prosperity preachers that many evangelicals have historically shunned.  In the words of an offer on White-Cain’s website, sow a $130 “Favor Seed” and reap a “Triple Favor” as money flows back to you.  Indeed, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has classified White-Cain as a “charlatan” and “heretic.”  She is a well-known television preacher, married three times, and lives in a stately Florida mansion.  For years, she was senior pastor of a Pentecostal church near Orlando, Florida called City of Destiny.  She recently stepped down as the senior pastor and announced plans to start a university and plant 3,000 new churches.  She uses the name White-Cain after her marriage to Jonathan Cain, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist for “Journey.”
  • Second, what has her role been as President Trump’s spiritual “advisor?” White-Cain first met Trump in 2002, when he called her after seeing her preach on a Christian TV program.  They stayed in touch and she bought an apartment in his 502 Park Avenue building in New York City.  He had reportedly attended Bible studies she occasionally led in New York City.  Trump invited her to attend the first season finale of his TV show, “The Apprentice,” where she prayed with the cast and crew before the live taping.  “She [also] prayed with him before he went onstage to accept the Republican nomination for president in Cleveland.  She became the first clergywoman to lead an inaugural prayer when he took the oath of office.”  During the 2016 presidential primary campaigns, evangelicals were deeply split between support for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or, at first, a few for Trump.  When it became clear that Trump would secure the Republican nomination, the two evangelical factions met in New York City and agreed to support Trump’s nomination.  After the 2016 election, White-Cain became a key liaison between candidate Trump and the evangelical leaders.  She thus became a regular in Washington D.C., organizing frequent meetings for pastors around the country to meet Trump administration officials.  When Trump meets with the evangelical advisory coalition, she sits at his right hand.  She has also helped coordinate meetings between Hispanic pastors and Vice President Mike Pence.
  • Third, why have so many evangelical leaders embraced Pastor Paula White-Cain? Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham and Franklin Graham have all promoted White-Cain’s new book, Something Greater: Finding Triumph over Trials.  [Graham has since withdrawn his advocacy after receiving heavy criticism for doing so.]  Ralph Reed, leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, has also praised her book.  Not one of these evangelical leaders have ever before lined up behind a prosperity theology leader such as White-Cain.  Why now?  As Leah Payne and Aaron Griffith of Christianity Today argue, “Evangelicals are often embroiled in controversies related to their leaders’ alliances with other Christians who do not share their beliefs, or their willingness to bracket or relax stringent theological beliefs or doctrinal requirements in the interest of extending influence.”   That influence now is of course a political influence with the president.  It is an expression of cultural Christianity in which doctrine and theology play no role.  It is an example of political expediency.
  • Finally, a doctrinal evaluation of prosperity theology from Costi Hinn, nephew of the well-known advocate of prosperity theology, Benny Hinn: Costi Hinn is now pastor of Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert Arizona.  Earlier in his life, he was an integral part of the Benny Hinn ministry, but came out of this ministry and embraced Reformed theology.  His transformation is recorded in his important book, God, Greed, and the [Prosperity] Gospel.  In a recent interview, he made the following points:
  1. Why do some people find the prosperity gospel so attractive? “It appeals to the core desires of human flesh.  We all desire some level of comfort, ease, protection, security, and assurance.  The prosperity gospel trades the eternal security we are supposed to find in Christ alone and elevates temporal security and man above all else.”
  2. What are the most significant errors of the prosperity gospel movement? “First, it’s an assault on the sovereignty of God because it teaches people that they can control God with an offering or positive confession.  People think they are a puppet master and God is the puppet.  Growing up, I viewed Him as a magic genie, thinking that if I asked Him right, I would get whatever I wanted.”  “Second, it’s an assault on the atonement.  Prosperity theology teaches that health, wealth and happiness are earthly guarantees because of the atonement . . . [But] the purpose of the atonement is to provide salvation, not ‘stuff.’”  “Third, prosperity theology does not have a biblical theology of suffering.  God’s Word has answers regarding trials, sickness, pain and loss.” “Fourth, prosperity theology twists biblical teaching about wealth and stewardship.  Money is not evil, but we all must keep an eternal perspective (Matthew 6:19-24).”
  3. What doctrines does the church need to be teaching in order to combat prosperity teaching? “Christology is an essential doctrine that unpacks the atonement of Christ and helps protect people from maligning such important truths.  The inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of  Scripture will give people assurance that they need no other ‘word’ from the Lord . . .  Some other specific topics that could equip people to combat prosperity theology would be accurate teachings on money and stewardship, healing and suffering, and the qualifications for trusted church leaders.”

One of the major themes of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) is that sound doctrine produces godly living.  When evangelical leaders lend support to President Trump because he supports certain moral and ethical issues that is one thing.  But when they uncritically support and advocate for a main leader of the prosperity gospel, they need to be called to account.  Sound doctrine does matter and shepherd leaders of their flocks (New Testament language) are to lead with integrity and consistency.

See interview with Costi W. Hinn in Tabletalk (September 2019), pp. 72-75; Jeremy W. Peters and Elizabeth Dias in the New York Times (4 November 2019); and Leah Payne and Aaron Griffith in (22 October 2019).

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3 Comments to “The Prosperity Gospel And Evangelical Pragmatism”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    I can see where the President would have a natural affinity for the prosperity gospel. But, regardless, I still pray for the salvation of his soul. That’s the point for any president of whatever associations. I would like him to give homage to God’s King when they meet in the way. At the same time I am grateful for what he is doing to support Christian causes. It is troubling, however, to see evangelical leaders diluting their positions on the prosperity gospel to, perhaps, get close to him; that is not necessary and confusing for others.

  2. Peter Wiebe says:

    We have a concern that Pastor Paula White-Cain and her prosperity theology twists biblical teaching. The question becomes, what do we do about it? We can condemn President Trump because he is allowing a religious influence with which we totally disagree. We can sit in our judgement seat and judge that all Trump is doing is just political maneuvering. We can feel very self-righteous in our condemnation. Or we can recognize that Trump is searching and apply what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So the question then becomes, we, as Christians, what are we doing to help guide Trump in the right direction? Is condemnation the answer? Is praying for him the right answer? Do we pray for Paula White-Cain that God will reveal His truth to her and then pass that truth on to the President? Do we pray that religious leaders who truly represent God’s Word will have greater influence on the President? Or do we condemn Trump and thereby, actively or passively, support candidates who show very clearly that they resent religious groups and oppose any voice in government that are devoted to issues like defending religious (Christian) liberty? What’s our response?

  3. Ted Veer says:

    I think we need to pray specifically for President Trump to really know and grow in the Lord. He has professed to believe, God knows his heart but I pray that he will understand more and more what it really means to KNOW the Lord. To honor the Lord there needs to be changes in his vocabulary and attitude and with that, discernment as to which voices he listens to for his life and work I am grateful for his open choices that are a help to spiritual causes, God is using him. His opposition is tremendous and one we will never comprehend. I despiser to be faithful in prayer.