We have mentioned Dave Ramsey and Joel Osteen on this magazine, and I thought it might be a good idea to spend some time on the difference between a minister and a motivational speaker. I think that the line can get pretty blurry. In order to do the subject justice, we have to mention the difference in approaches of the Prosperity Gospel and the Social Gospel. Then we can look at some of the advocates and spokesmen for them and see what the differences really are.
I should note, also, that this subject is not entirely academic for me. It directly affects the way that I live and the choices that I make, I want to be clear that I am aware of surface nature of my knowledge of all of these subjects, but I have an intimate relationship with the kinds of behaviors and lifestyles that they produce.
There are a few versus that are keystones of the Prosperity Gospel. One is from John, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2), and another is from Paul, “Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel are typically Pentecostal and other charismatic faith traditions, and they tend to interpret the Bible literally and have a conservative socio-political orientation. Among them are Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, and Joel Osteen (Osteen being the current gun slinger for the message of prosperity through the gospel).
I haven’t found many specific versus that stand as pillars of the Social Gospel, there are some versus from John the Baptist and most of the Sermon on the Mount, and several versus from Proverbs and Psalms. There are something like 2000 versus that deal with poverty, and that doesn’t include the oppressed, widowed, and orphans specifically, which are mentioned in great lengths. “Give fair judgement to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.” Psalms 82, 3-4. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4. 18 – 19. The term “Social Gospel” was coined by Walter Rauschenbusch, who wrote Theology for the Social Gospel in 1917. Some of the leaders of the Social Gospel movement today are Desmond Tutu, Jim Wallis, Brian Mclaren and Shane Claiborne.
There is a paradigm of individualism that we, as Americans, tend to operate from. The Prosperity Gospel speaks to that individualism and encourages the focus on individual salvation and personal growth, the product of which is wealth and comfort. The Social Gospel seems to deny our tendency toward individualism and push us to consider the greater good in all things. Individual aspirations are not wrong, but when we create a culture where our own comfort and prosperity are primary to the healing and the needs of others, we forsake the message abound in the scriptures of being the least among us, placing ourselves last in order to be first, and seeking out the oppressed in order to lend a hand.
A minister will certainly be evangelical in nature. There is a message in the Christian faith that says that we are not alone, and that there is a loving God who has proved his love by intervening in human history. You will hear about Jesus from a minister, so brace yourself. I think that an painter paints, a writer writes, and a preacher preaches. If youmeet someone with whom you are unsure of their status, a tendency to preach will give you a clue. I am not talking about judging and lecturing, but about the uninhibited spreading of the love of a God that is great, and a tendency to challenge you to accept your place in this world and live out your design. A preacher is not hard to spot.
A motivational speaker, on the other hand, will make you feel good. That is a key element in motivating. You might get some tough love in there somewhere, but overall you are left feeling inspired. That is why it is so hard to tell the difference. A minister can leave you feeling the same way. So what gives? Well, there is a difference in a message founded in hope and faith and a message founded in anticipation. If the message is that things can be OK if you do x and y, rather than things are OK because you are loved and cared for and you are charged with loving and caring for others, then there should be a red flag. In a nutshell, try to avoid spiritual bullet points.
Here is where I struggle. I am an American, Mid-Western born and raised, and I grew up in the culture of prosperity. Not just in prospering economic times, but steeped in the idea that individual success is the key to prosperity. I believe today that salvation is not an individual buyout whereby we are promised something in return for our allegiance, but about a paradigm shift where we realize that the world is a delicate creation of God and that we are charged with its care. If we want to realize the kind of world that Jesus envisioned, then we are to change the foundation of the way that we view ourselves and our fellow man.
A motivational speaker does not challenge paradigms, he or she only gives you tools to be successful within them. Jesus challenged the social and religious paradigm of his day. A good minister will be doing the same thing.
It is truly time to think different.