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What Trance did (and didn’t) get right about the Bible

What Trance did (and didn’t) get right about the Bible
Posted on April 15, 2020  - By Tobin Mattackal

“Bro, I can’t believe this is what is happening in your churches.”

It was a former schoolmate on the line. Context? He’d just watched the Fahadh Faasil movie Trance and rung me up to express his surprise. As he delved into the plotline, it became increasingly clear to me that the film — which sought to explore the ‘business’ of religion — was tackling what evangelicals know all too well by a different name: prosperity gospel.

You’d never guess it from the film’s billing, which chooses to describe it only as a ‘motivational speaker’s journey’ — but there’s no mistaking what it’s actually about once you watch it.

Now, it’s truly astonishing that a mainstream Malayalam movie would choose to tackle such a subject, exposing the branch of Christianity that claims that much faith (and donations) will win believers much health and wealth. On the one hand, the teaching is a perversion of the gospel that absolutely deserves awareness — but on the other, it also upset me to know that my friend (and, no doubt, many like him) not only thought all churches looked like what he saw in the movie, but that the gospel we preach is foolishness.

For that reason, it’s important to break down what the movie portrayed (rightly) as prosperity gospel — but also why it’s such a far cry from the actual gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scripture, twisted

At the heart of the prosperity gospel is the belief that increased wealth and health is directly tied to your faith in Jesus. In other words, proponents of this teaching tell people that God’s desire for them is not just spiritual but physical and monetary success here on earth — provided they have enough faith. By that logic, any medical illness or financial difficulty is also your own fault, since you (supposedly) don’t ‘have enough faith’ to speak/visualise those blessings into existence.

The sad truth behind many prosperity preachers is the way they twist Scripture to make their point. One such text is Mark 10:29-30. Many preachers use these verses to propagate a ‘law of compensation’, whereby God is obliged to give us “a hundred times” of whatever we give Him — but they conveniently skip the reference to persecution for the sake of the gospel that the same verses mention.

The call instead focuses on verses like Malachi 3:10, which reads: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” Anyone reading that verse in context will understand that God was challenging the Israelites who were being unfaithful in their tithing, according to Mosaic Law. Prosperity preachers, however, interpret it as a contract between God and man — one that hangs entirely on a believer’s measure of faith.

Prosperity preachers interpret Scripture as a contract between God and man — one that hangs entirely on a believer’s measure of faith

“Give much to receive much. Your wealth defines your faith.” These are the standard slogans from advocates of the health and wealth gospel. Ironically, the faith these preachers keep demanding is not the kind the Bible talks about at all; rather, it involves positive confession, visualisation and donations — none of which stand up under proper exegesis of those texts.

One of the final marks — and criticisms — of the prosperity gospel movement is how their proponents inevitably lead lives of opulence and ease, while members of their churches give over and beyond what they are able in the desperate hope of replicating their leaders’ recipe for success. As Kate Bowler says in her book Blessed, what usually happens is that the pastor and his family live in luxury, while the people in the pews have their utilities disconnected. The danger of this theology extends well beyond the realm of charity. By citing OT figures like Abraham and Job to justify themselves, such pastors are essentially telling their flock they’re not “holy enough”, and thereby, dangerously corrupting the message of the cross.

What is the gospel?

The Bible talks about one gospel — the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is as simple as it is straightforward: every human being is a sinner in the eyes of God, and unable to do anything to be righteous or obtain salvation on their own. Ephesians 2 says we are all “dead” in our sin. But God loved us so much that He sent His only Son Jesus to be incarnated as a sinless man, die a substitutionary death on a cross in our place, and rise again on the third day as the Conqueror of sin and death. Those who believe in Jesus and His atoning work on the cross for their sin receive eternal life.

The greatest error of the prosperity gospel is that it completely sidelines God in its pursuit of material blessings. You see, the end of the gospel is life with God or, in other words, God Himself — both in the current world and the world to come. The end of the prosperity gospel is satisfaction of the self in this life.

The greatest error of the prosperity gospel is that it completely sidelines God in its pursuit of material blessings

All the red flags

In Mark 8, when Jesus gave the command to follow Him, He said we have to make two intentional decisions: deny ourselves and carry our cross. That is a clarion call to forget all our earthly desires and give Him preeminence in our lives. It also makes clear that doing so will involve suffering for His Name’s sake. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ever promise that we will become rich by following Him. And though prosperity is not a sin, chasing it and glorifying it is. If you’re pursuing your prosperity more than your relationship with Jesus, that’s the first red flag.

A key truth we need to understand is that wealth and holiness have no correlation. Your ‘degree’ of holiness does not make you more or less wealthy, nor is your wealth a measure of how holy you are compared to your neighbour. Mankind’s problem is sin and it is only by believing in Jesus, that we earn the righteousness of God and the riches of His grace (Ephesians 2:7) — riches that are spiritual blessings in Christ, not a reference to earthly possessions.

Consider the rich ruler in Luke 18:22 who asked Jesus what he should do to be saved. Having kept the Law his entire life, the young man believed himself to be in good standing to enter the gates of heaven. What a rude shock he was in for, when Jesus told him he still lacked one thing: he needed to sell all he had and give the proceeds away to the poor, then follow Him. John Calvin, in his commentary on the synoptic Gospels, notes that Jesus’ response was not a condemnation of the young man’s wealth. Rather, it was intended to show him that grace was necessary for salvation and that he couldn’t earn heaven through his works.

Your ‘degree’ of holiness does not make you more or less wealthy, nor is your wealth a measure of how holy you are compared to your neighbour

It’s quite difficult to comprehend how prosperity gospel preachers can read the New Testament and come to the conclusion that material blessings are the point of this life. Look at the first Christians like Peter, Paul or the early church in those days. None of them lived lives of comfort at all. On the contrary, they all suffered immensely for the sake of the gospel. The early church faced intense persecution and were on the run for their lives. It was to such brethren that James wrote to count their trials as a joy because, through them, they would receive “the crown of life” (James 1:12) — not cheques in this life. James also warns them, in the same chapter, that the rich will fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:11).

The idea of simply ‘thinking positively’ in order for everything to go your way is massively contradictory to the Bible too. If this were true, one has to ask: where are all the prosperity gospel preachers now, given there’s a pandemic ravaging the world? Why aren’t they speaking immediate relief or miracles into existence? Has their faith ‘fuelled out’? The issue with positive confession is that it doesn’t call for faith in God — it calls for faith in what you say. What the Bible actually teaches is for us to trust Him, no matter what difficulty may come our way. The main point of such faith is God Himself.

In the end, the greatest critic of this movement is none other than the Bible itself. Take the time to study the Word — and you will see that there is absolutely no Scriptural support for the prosperity gospel. And because of that, it will not stand.

Tobin Mattackal

About Tobin Mattackal

Tobin Mattackal completed his Masters in Bible Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Raised in the UAE, he spent his university days discipling youngsters and reading Scripture with them. He is currently serving at his local church in Bangalore, India, and is devoted to sharing the good news of salvation with the lost.



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