Blessed: A Review

Blessed: A Review

Blessed: A Review 537 586 Andrew Hicks

I recently read Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Published by Oxford University Press, this book is a heavy hitter. It is a detailed and thorough history of the American prosperity gospel. It is my understanding that Dr. Bowler is kind of a pioneer for writing this book and conducting this research. There were many who apparently were skeptical about the benefit of researching and writing a book about the prosperity gospel, but Bowler deftly puts those nay sayers to shame with this tremendous volume.

There are five chapters with an introduction and conclusion. The argument of the books is that the prosperity gospel is not a self-standing movement or denomination, but a transformation of popular religious imagination that is still on going. The book centers around four themes that Bowler summarizes as the primary themes of the American prosperity gospel: faith, wealth, health, and victory.

Bowler makes the helpful distinction between “hard prosperity” and “soft prosperity.” Hard prosperity is a direct one-to-one correlation between faith and prosperity where as soft prosperity has a more roundabout way of arriving at a correlation between faith and prosperity. Basically, the soft prosperity allows for more exceptions whereas hard prosperity has few if any exceptions depending on the case.

Chapter one discusses the three streams of thought that flowed together to create the prosperity gospel. The three streams of thought that intersected to create the prosperity gospel were New Thought, Pentecostalism, and an American gospel of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility (pg 11). Chapters two, three, four, and five each use the four themes of the prosperity gospel as their cohesive center: (in order) faith, wealth, health, and victory.

I strongly recommend this book to any history buffs. This is a fascinating and important strand of the American historical story. I would also strongly recommend this to seminary students and pastors. We need to know the context in which we are ministering or preparing to minister in. This is a major stream of popular religious imagination that is “in the water” of our current context in North America. We will have people in our congregations who will read the books that prosperity preachers write and tune in to listen to the sermons they preach. We will be interacting with people who have soft prosperity theology as we continue to grow into more and more ecumenical contexts in ministry. In order to be better neighbors and effective witnesses for a confusing world we need to be well informed of the kinds of things that are popular and prominent.

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