Name and Place for August 5 (’14)
In our continuing series highlighting gems from David Wells’ book God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World, we bring you today’s extended quote. In regards to the new-ish psychological paradox and rise of health-and-wealth gospels:
The…highly modernized world has produced what David Myers calls the ‘American Paradox’…found throughout the west, and increasingly it is being seen outside the West….What is this paradox? It is that we have never had so much and yet we have never had so little. Many therapists are now finding that this paradox has worked itself into the lives of those who come to see them….Their self-esteem is high but their self is empty. They grew up being told they could be anything that they wanted to be, but they do not know what they want to be. They are unhappy, but there seems to be no cause for their unhappiness. They are more connected to more people through the Internet, and yet they have never felt more lonely. They want to be accepted, and yet they often feel alienated. Never have we had so much; never have we had so little. That is our paradox.
This two-sided experience is probably the best explanation for how so many people, teenagers and adults alike, are now thinking about God and what they want from him. On the one hand, the experience of abundance, of seemingly unlimited options, of opportunity, of ever-rising levels of affluence, almost inevitably produces an attitude of entitlement. Each successive generation, until recently, has assumed that it will do better than the previous generation. It is not difficult to see how this sense of entitlement naturally carries over into our attitude toward God and his dealings with us. It is what leads us to think of him as a cheerleader who only wants our success. He is a booster, an inspiring coach, a source of endless prosperity for us. He would never interfere with us in our pursuit of the good life (by which we mean the pursuit of the good things in life). We see him as a never-ending fountain of those blessings. He is our Concierge.
Purveyors of the health-and-wealth gospel…seem quite oblivious to the fact that their take on Christian faith is rooted in this kind of experience. Had they not enjoyed Western medical expertise and Western affluence, it is rather doubtful that they would have thought Christianity is all about being healthy and wealthy. At least, in the church’s long, winding journey through history, we have never heard anything exactly like this before. What appears to be happening is that these purveyors of this ‘gospel’ have assumed certain goals in life—to have the desired wealth and sufficient health to enjoy it. Faith then entitles them to get these things from God. And where this kind of Christianity has been exported—for example, to many countries in Africa—this is the faith that is being advertised.