Saturday, August 29, 2009

The False Poverty Gospel

I could be reaching here, but I'd like to expose a potentially trendy heresy before it becomes a popular one. This is my theory: As is the case with many breakout theological trends, the prosperity gospel is developing an antithetical counterpart which is equally destructive and even more deceptive than the original. I'm calling it the false poverty gospel and it goes like this:

"Because I am saved, all of my treasure is in heaven, and I therefore live like a vagrant. If anyone questions whether I love Jesus, I need only point to my lack of worldly goods as unquestionable proof that I do. Furthermore, anyone who keeps any worldly goods is clearly a rich young ruler who has walked away from Christ."

I have worded this in such a way that it sounds ridiculous, but that's the point. Of course it's ridiculous when you say it out loud. And yet I see this attitude expressed non-verbally on a consistent basis nowadays. I also see people who have had much taken away from them due to economic difficulties beyond their control become quite self-righteous about their new found simplicity. Claiming poverty as proof of God's love is no less ridiculous than claiming prosperity as proof of God's love.

Poverty is not fruit of the Spirit. It is a condition which can allow us to have faith in the provision of God through others. Prosperity is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a condition which can allow others to have faith in the provision of God through us. We are justified by grace through faith in the prosperous poverty and impoverished prosperity of Christ.

9 comments:

Delicious901 said...

I'm sorry, I just don't think that you're showing the full spectrum here. The "false" poverty gospel is of course wrong. But I feel like poverty for the lord's sake should be defended. What you're doing here is putting something that is in essence evil (prosperity gospel) and something that is evil in its common misinterpretation (poverty gospel) on the same level. To me that's like putting satanism and christianity on the same level. True "poverty gospel" would simply say that all that is the lord's should be given to the lord and to those in need. In Acts, no one had anything that was atheir own, but they all shared freely with one another. Some people are rich, they just can't help it. But I think the lord would have them in their lifetime, give every bit of that money away. In real terms, John Wesley would have been super rich but he gave every bit of it away. There IS justification in becoming poor for the Lord's sake. There is no such thing as becoming prosperous for the Lord's sake. Poverty gospel would say to obtain wealth, only so it can be given, which I feel is not the same as the prosperity gospel which claims that we are to receive the "blessings" of prosperity but not give those blessings back to the Lord as an offering. And finally I just feel like the rich man-for whom the bible says it will be harder to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle-puts himself in the way of a whole list of temptations that the poor man-who is poor because the Lord instructed him to sell all that he once owned and give to those in need-simply doesn't deal with. If the only reason that the rich young ruler couldn't inherit the kingdom of God is because he didn't sell his possessions and give to the poor, then I feel like there is something to be said for poverty.

(Sorry. The first time I read this, I felt like you were getting down on poverty in general. Reading it again I can see that you were really getting down on poverty for justification's sake, but I didn't want other people to make my mistake.)

Joshua Andrew Smith said...

That's why I called it the false poverty gospel. When we bring our poverty to God as justification for our sins, we are making our poverty a wealth which which to purchase our salvation. Heresies are deceptive because they are only nuanced in their evil.

Joshua Andrew Smith said...

Furthermore, I should add that the rich young ruler was not rejected because of his wealth, but because of his unwillingness to obey. Zaccheus only gave up half his wealth and Jesus was pleased. Do not be deceived into thinking poverty is a righteous position. Many more poor people than rich people will go to Hell.

Delicious901 said...

"When we talk of materialism and simplicity, we must always begin with love for God and neighbor, otherwise we're operating out of little more than legalistic, guilt0ridden self-righteousness. Our simplicity is not an aescetic denunciation of material things to attain personal piety, for if we sell all that we have and give it to the poor, but have not love, it is meaningless...Simplicity is meaningful only inasmuch as it is grounded in love, authentic relationships, and interdependence."- Shane Claiborne.

I don't understand why you say many more people. I mean... most of the world is poor so it can't be that many more.

I don't think it's a righteous position in itself put even for people who were rich and are now poor because of the recession, good can come out of it. If nothing else, I hope it allows people to stop ignoring the homeless or writing them off as "crazy drug addicts" or alcoholics. Cause I mean... yeah a lot of them are and that's why they're on the street, but they're still humans and as Christians we've got to stop treating them as a "project" so we can feel good about ourselves.

I think we're on the same side here now, but I've just become so passionate about this lately. All I want is that when I get to heaven the lord doesn't just say to me, "When I was hungry you gave me a chickfila coupon" and "when I was naked you donated to the salvation army."

Joshua Andrew Smith said...

Agreed. Also, when I get to heaven, I don't want the lord to say "why should I let you into my heaven" and my response to be "because I gave everything I had to the poor." Because then he will say "that's not good enough."

Delicious901 said...

Right. Exactly. I think the only point I'm trying to make here is that just becuase it's not enough, doesn't mean that it's something we shouldn't do.

Joshua Andrew Smith said...

Of course.

this wanderer... said...

Just re-reading this and the comments that go with...

"Many more poor people than rich people will go to Hell." (JAS)

Really?

CSigler said...

Coming from a guy who has spent quality time with the leaders of the poverty is cool movement. I would just like to point out that not all are called to it... and many who are doing it are the most lazy people you've ever met in your life... being a bum for Jesus is NOT Biblical in ANY sense... Also, why would any one leave the streets to go into a home even more crappy than where they were?.... My wife has had a beautiful understanding of the importance of BEAUTY and EXCELLENCE in the healing process of REDEMPTION...