Prosperity doctrine: Changing views on money

The emphasis on 'prosperity' that began in the Pentecostal movement after its origin was not something new. Doctrine promising riches in the form of wealth from God were being formalised in the 1800s and earlier.

Alain de Botton, commenting in Status Anxiety on the shift from aristocracy to meritocracy that occurred towards the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, observed that public perception on the relative virtues of the poor and the wealthy underwent somewhat of a reversal:

"An increasing faith in a reliable connection between merit and worldly position in turn endowed money with a new moral quality. When wealth had been handed down the generations according to bloodlines and connections, it was natural to dismiss the idea that money was an indicator of virtue besides that of having been born to the right parents. But in a meritocratic world, where prestigious and well-paid jobs could be secured only on the basis of one's own intelligence and ability, it now seemed that wealth might be a sound sign of character. The rich were not only wealthier; they might also be plain better." [1]
It's at this point that the relationship between Christianity - specifically, Protestantism - and the rise of meritocracy in America and the consequent explosion in prosperity become relevant. De Botton continues:

"Over the nineteenth century, many Christian thinkers, especially in the United States, changed their views of money accordingly. American Protestant denominations suggested that God required his followers to lead a life that was successful both temporally and spiritually; fortunes in this world were evidence that one deserved a good place in the next - an attitude reflected in the Reverend Thomas P. Hunt's bestseller of 1836, The Book of Wealth: In Which it is Proved from the Bible that it is the Duty of Every Man to Become Rich. Wealth came to be described as a reward from God for holiness. John D. Rockefeller was unabashed to state that it was the Lord who made made him rich, while William Lawrence, the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, writing in 1892, argued: 'In the long run, it is only to the man of morality that wealth comes. We, like the Psalmist, occasionally see the wicked prosper, but only occasionally. Godliness is in league with riches.'" [1]
These were the signs of the newly emerging prosperity gospel in the middle of the nineteenth century. But the origin of modern-day prosperity doctrine heard in Pentecostal churches now all over the world are traced back further to the end of the eighteenth century and earlier. What is the origin of the prosperity movement, and how can we understand it? This will be the subject of discussion in articles coming up.

More on this topic

The origin of the prosperity doctrine - Part II

The origin of the prosperity doctrine - Part I

What Pentecostals believe about prosperity

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[1] De Botton, Alain. Status Anxiety, Camberwell, Vic. : Hamish Hamilton, 2004, p. 85. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.