How the Prosperity Gospel Works

The Prosperity Gospel in Practice

Lakewood church, BET gospel Lakewood church, BET gospel
Guests attend the 'BET Presents Super Bowl Gospel Celebration' at Lakewood Church, which seats 16,800, on Feb. 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Rick Diamond/Getty Images for BET

To believers, the true power of the prosperity gospel is that it offers way of taking control of their lives and their destiny. It's interesting to note that the "Power of Positive Thinking" rose to prominence during the incredibly destabilizing geopolitical climate of the early Cold War, and that the prosperity gospel has gained traction during another era of economic and political instability [source: Sinitiere].

As we mentioned earlier, the prosperity gospel teaches that faith is much more than a passive belief. Faith is a type of spiritual "activator" that turns thoughts and prayers into reality [source: Bowler]. The key to putting the prosperity gospel into practice, therefore, is to make your desires known to God and have faith that He will deliver.

One way to do that is through something called "positive confession." Positive confession is like a combination of traditional spoken prayers, reciting verses from the Bible and the New Age practice of self-affirmation. At the beginning of each and every Sunday service at the Lakewood Church, for example, Osteen leads the massive congregation in a simultaneous positive confession. They each hold up their Bible and say:

"This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess that my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I will never be the same. In Jesus' name... Amen."

Positive confession is like a verbalized version of positive thinking. If you desire a specific blessing from God, you call out that blessing by name, quoting verses from the Bible in which God promises to deliver ("ask and ye shall receive"), reaffirming your faith that that He can do all things, and then repeat for as many days, weeks or years it takes for the blessing to arrive.

The expectation, though, is that with enough faith and enough positive persistence, God will indeed deliver. The individual is back in control of their destiny. What this means, though, says Duke scholar Kate Bowler, is that the prosperity gospel has no room for the concept of luck. Instead, she says, it provides a "pragmatic, results-based ... therapeutic set of beliefs that explain why some believers rise to the top and others plummet to the very bottom."

In this light, adherents learn to see even everyday actions as spiritual "work" leading them closer to receiving their desired blessings, or further away. They try to maintain a cheerful, positive, grateful and "blessed" attitude. They post relentlessly positive messages on social media. They buy books penned by their favorite preachers and dutifully donate to the church.

And how do they know if the practice is working? It's obvious — they will be blessed with health, wealth and victory over their trials. But what happens when those blessings don't materialize? We'll come back to that question later when we delve into the (many) criticisms of the prosperity gospel.

For now, let's look at the global reach of prosperity message.