Blessed and Highly Favored: The Theological Anthropology of the Prosperity Gospel

Walton, Nathan, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Marsh, Charles, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines Prosperity Gospel Pentecostalism, also known as the Word of Faith movement, which is the fastest growing Christian movement in the world. It argues that the theological anthropology of the Prosperity Gospel devalues the poor and physically impaired. Specifically, the Prosperity Gospel promotes a form of Christian individualism that affirms self-sufficiency as an anthropological ideal in ways that undermine a more socially responsible ecclesiology. Promises of personal financial gain are preferred without adequate attention to the various systemic barriers to socioeconomic equality, and approaches to healing quite often lack a framework for affirming the integrity of those with ongoing sicknesses or disabilities. While the Prosperity Gospel promotes self-sufficiency in the areas of wealth and health, this dissertation identifies the implications that this form of individualism has for those who remain financially and physically dependent. In response, this dissertation affirms interdependence as a more ethically responsible value than independence and self-sufficiency.
The methodology of this dissertation draws from both qualitative research approaches and theological frameworks. First, I ground my description of the Prosperity Gospel within ethnographic fieldwork among two Prosperity Gospel megachurch communities in a large southern city. After conducting in-depth interviews, content analyses of sermons, and participant-observation research, I then bring my findings into conversation with the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. By drawing from these sociological and theological resources, I tease out the theological anthropology that is articulated in the distinctive speech and enacted in the practices of this influential and quickly expanding movement. In response, this dissertation then offers a more theologically robust and ethically responsible vision of Christian identity and practice that has implications for both academic discourse and the church.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Prosperity Gospel, Theological Anthropology
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