Prosperity unpacked 5: Challenge

Biblical principlesTheology

How can we challenge ‘Faith’ teaching?

This is the final part of a five-part series by Hannah Swithinbank on how we can engage with prosperity theology. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

Over the last five weeks we have looked at the definition and appeal of ‘Faith’ theology, and have considered what it says about suffering and blessing. In this final post, we consider the important question: how might Christians who disagree with Faith teaching question and challenge its ideas?

I have already written about a couple of the areas where there are disagreements, and now I want to discuss how we might express an alternative theology. I also want to think about how we can do this without pointing fingers at other people and alienating them, because we also want to maintain unity in the church.

I think it is quite helpful to start by acknowledging the areas where we don’t disagree with Faith teaching. Recognising our similarities as well as our differences can help to create a place where we can talk together as fellow Christians. Sometimes this can be hard: it is easy to think that those who disagree with us need to be converted to our point of view, or perhaps even to consider them as not ‘really’ Christian. We need to try hard not to think of people like this.

For example, I think it is really important to agree that material blessings and prosperity are a part of the full life that God has promised us. However, we then need to say that we do not believe these are guaranteed as a result of faith.

We can also then explain that we believe God intends these gifts to be experienced and shared with our communities. We cannot flourish and prosper fully when our brothers and sisters do not. We need to offer an understanding of life in all its fullness that is lived in relationship with others and in which all can participate.

This means it is vital to offer a compelling narrative of biblical hope and blessing that goes beyond the individual. This narrative needs to incorporate our fundamental need for community. It also has to allow for the existence of sin and suffering and hope for the coming kingdom. This is a story that integral mission theology is well able to support and help us tell, in the way that it speaks to the whole life of people and creation.

Finally, I think that it is important to consider the form of church services, as well as the content. Faith churches have distinctive formats, especially in the acts of giving, tithing and prayer for healing that shape the church service. The way we worship together shapes our understanding of God, our relationship with him and the way we live out our faith.

This means that if we are going to challenge Faith teaching effectively, we need to think about how to help churches reshape and rebalance their services. One suggestion could be to make the collection and prayer for healing less prominent than communion, and to ensure that they are talked about in ways that do not connect them to reward and individual blessing quite so closely. 

Some recommended reading: James K A Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press, 2016). This book discusses the way church services shape our faith, and is helpful in thinking about challenging the way Faith services ‘do church’.

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theological Development Manager.