Remedial pastoral guidance regarding a belief in a "Prosperity Gospel": A Petrine paradigm
Van Emmenes, G.C.
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Over the last few decades the African church has been significantly exposed to a “Prosperity Gospel". These prosperity beliefs propose abundant wealth and excellent health for all believers who have adequate or sufficient 'faith’. In Africa, where numerous challenges like poverty, disease (e.g. HIV/AIDS) and political failures are faced, these propositions seem to have fertile soil, but hold negative consequences for followers who do not experience such promised abundance. A “Prosperity Gospel", its Scriptural validity and its implications for adherents are investigated in this study from a Practical Theology vantage-point. This research is done to assist the pastoral duty of shepherding God’s flock (1 Pt 5:2) amid suffering (1 Pt 2:21; cf. Mk 8:34) to find meaning in God and live in hope again. The methodological approach of the study utilises Osmer’s (2008) four tasks designed for Practical Theology, namely descriptive-empirical, interpretive, normative and pragmatic, to determine the praxis of a “Prosperity Gospel". This is done to determine what paradigm can be found in 1 Peter for remedial pastoral guidance regarding a belief in a “Prosperity Gospel". Research findings on the descriptive-empirical task show that the praxis of a “Prosperity Gospel" can result in negative consequences for its followers. The qualitative empirical research in this study confirmed such consequences and rendered insight into the faith-related problems for “Prosperity Gospel" adherents. Ignorance of the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ and faulty Bible interpretation, which result in various unbiblical beliefs and practices, are the most prominent problems. These empirical results indicate the need for remedial pastoral guidance due to a belief in a “Prosperity Gospel". The interpretive task’s focus is on understanding the possible reasons for the attractiveness of a “Prosperity Gospel" from sociological, psychological and missiological perspectives. The research findings indicate that religion affects people’s social interaction and a “Prosperity Gospel" has influence on societies. Various socio-cultural themes from both the Western World’s influence in Africa, as well as specific African related social themes make a “Prosperity Gospel" attractive to people who are in search of meaningfulness in the midst of dire circumstances. Furthermore, traces of psychological manipulation can be detected in the beliefs and practices of a “Prosperity Gospel" and prosperity preachers, either intentionally or unknowingly, employ these strategies to manipulate parishioners towards the beliefs and practices of a “Prosperity Gospel". Missiologists attribute the successful mission of a “Prosperity Gospel" to Africa’s aspiration to the capitalistic Western World and to specific African related socio-cultural themes. Findings on the normative task yield normative principles from 1 Peter (aided by selected sections from 2 Peter and Mark’s Gospel) regarding pastoral guidance of suffering believers for whom the abundant temporal/material blessings proposed by a “Prosperity Gospel" is not a reality. Peter’s value system for believers opposes what a “Prosperity Gospel" proposes. The believer obtains meaningfulness and hope in the possession of eternal/imperishable blessings provided in the Gospel, rather than in the temporal/earthly blessings. Four specific values emerge out of Peter’s pastoral guidance of suffering believers, namely: * The value of God’s control and compassion. * The value of Christ and being in Christ. * The value of belonging to the new people of God. * The value of God-provided leadership to the people of God. These four values can guide the believer toward meaning, value and hope in God amidst suffering and lack of earthly prosperity. The descriptive-empirical, interpretive and normative principles converge in the pragmatic task. A Petrine paradigm is presented for remedial pastoral guidance regarding a belief in a “Prosperity Gospel" as a new praxis within Practical Theology. The paradigm consists of six nouthetically designed discussion sessions with the aim of confronting pastorants (making themaware of their problem with a belief in a “Prosperity Gospel"), teaching them the Scriptural value system (as presented in 1 Peter) unto meaningfulness and hope in God, and warning them against false teaching and false teachers. The paradigm is designed to guide pastorants away from a dangerous “Prosperity Gospel" milieu into a Gospel-believing, Bible-teaching church with faithful shepherds who care for their souls.
- Theology