The controversial, 'prosperity gospel' which has galvanised parts of the Church in UK - is explored and questioned in a new Evangelical Alliance report which throws down a challenge to both its critics and supporters alike to engage in constructive dialogue.
The Faith, Health and Prosperity report recognises the significant tensions which exist between the wealth-affirming ethos of the so-called Word of Faith movement - which asserts that God guarantees health and wealth through faith and an obedience to his Word - and mainstream evangelicalism. It concludes that, at key points, Word of Faith is `sub-orthodoxí and `erroneousí.
The report challenges some of the assumptions made by Word of Faith proponents, particularly in areas such as positive confession, and the over-emphasis on material and physical blessing at the expense of the Gospel message of suffering and self-denial.
It also questions the teaching that the atonement provides not only for the forgiveness of sin but also guarantees the `rightí of all Christian believers to claim their healing from sickness and disease in all circumstances.
Imported from America, Word of Faith is described in the report, edited by Andrew Perriman, as an ìunabashed advocate of material prosperityî which has invited the charge that it ìpromotes a lifestyle and ethos which is fundamentally at odds with the values of the kingdom of Godî.
It questions whether prosperity teaching is ìnot simply a means of excusing the lifestyle and assuaging the consciences of wealthy Christiansî in the West.
The premise that material blessings and physical wellbeing are confirmation of a righteous and holy ideal can also be risky as it places the ministry under great pressure to create an appearance of success and to conceal failure.
There is also a warning about the apparent affluence of many prosperity teachers who have benefited from the generosity of their supporters - creating an ìimage of the prosperous, high- profile, charismatic leaderî which can easily replace Christ as the object of adulation and imitation.
But the report does acknowledge that, at its heart, Word of Faith is all about ìa deep appreciation for what God has done in Christ, a desire to take the Word of God with the utmost seriousness, and, most importantly, a determination to defend the life of faith against the forces of secularismî. It states that there is enough common ground for bridges to be built and calls on evangelicals to be ìready to affirm those aspects of Word of Faith teaching and practice that coincide with their own biblical convictionsî.
Those outside the movement should, the report says, ìtake up the challenge of developing a more positive understanding of the role of wealth within the divine economyî.
There also needs to be a concerted dismantling of the stereotypes and caricatures surrounding Word of Faith which can hinder better working relationships with those more moderate leaders within its circles.
Those within the movement are urged to ìtake steps to engage in serious biblical scholarship in dialogue with other evangelical scholarsî. The report concludes that they ìmust demonstrate a willingness to be heard as one voice among many others within evangelicalism, in dialogue with others, open to reproof and correctionî.
Faith, Health and Prosperity has been produced by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals (ACUTE). It is published by Paternoster Press and costs £8.99.