I taught today on the Parable of the Sower, and the minister of Journey Christian Church where I was at, Troy Reynolds, also preached on this parable. Although neither one of us addressed this aspect of the parable, I was reminded that the parable has been used by the prosperity gospel preachers as one of the central Scriptures to justify their teaching. I’m sure there are many variations on this (and I will probably hear from some of you who think I am misrepresenting), but the idea is that if we “sow” correctly, we will receive a “hundred-fold blessing.” At its crassest, this is used to say that if a person sends an offering to the ministry of such preachers, he or she will receive back 100x what is given. If I send an offering of $50, I will receive back $5,000. This is accompanied by the seemingly biblical assurance that “God wants to bless you,” and what better way to bless than money?
As I have encountered this teaching over the years, there is always a caveat. These offerings must be given in faith to receive the hundred-fold blessing. This creates a foolproof scenario for those who promote the teaching. If the giver does indeed receive an unexpected windfall of money, the teaching is validated. If not, the fault lies not with the teaching, but with the lack of faith in the giver.
This encourages a rather strange view of faith (in my opinion). Faith is not so much an unconditional trust in God, but a way to please God and thereby be rewarded. This view of faith can be extended to many aspects of life including health situations, relationships, employment, house purchases, etc. When we fail to realize our hopes, it is not because they are unrealistic or ill-conceived. It is because we lack faith.
To be sure, those who want to show this view is Scriptural can proof-text endlessly, piling up verses to make their case. I am not interested in refuting these texts individually, but I want to call into question the nature of faith they seek to portray.
Our faith may be tested, but I don’t think faith is a test that we must pass. It is especially not a test that we personally engineer. Faith, at its core, is a relationship of trust. We either trust God for everything or we don’t. If we trust him, we obey him. This is why we would give to a worthy cause or to our church. It is not because we are seeking to pass a test and win a prize. And it is not because we think it proper to put ourselves in the position of testing the faithfulness of God. Who are we to put God to the test?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his time of greatest distress, finally understood this. He wrote, “wirft man sich Gott ganz in die Arme” [one must cast oneself totally in the arms of God]. That is faith. It is trusting God no matter what. It is like the wedding vow, “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.” That is the faith I seek, that I desire.
Nebraska Christian College