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Oprah Winfrey headlines T. D. Jakes’ ‘MegaFest’ today

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Bishop TD Jakes and Oprah Winfrey on a

Oprah Winfrey speaks at 9 AM today in Dallas as part of T. D. Jakes’ “Megafest.”  Joel and Victoria Osteen, pastors of Lakewood Church in Houston, will speak tomorrow afternoon.  More than 100,000 people will attend the three-day conference, which is expected to bring in $41 million to the city.  Bishop Jakes launched MegaFest in Atlanta 11 years ago; it drew 560,000 people and made an economic impact of $125 million.  The event was held in Atlanta in 2005 and 2006, and in South Africa in 2008.

Bishop Jakes, Pastor Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey have all been linked to the “prosperity gospel.”  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat includes the “God-within” theology of Winfrey and what he calls the “pray and grow rich” theology of Osteen in his Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  He accuses Osteen of “the refashioning of Christianity to suit an age of abundance . . . in a marriage of God and mammon.”

Is his charge fair?  Are Jakes, Osteen and Winfrey “prosperity preachers”?

In a 2005 letter to his congregation, Osteen wrote: “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.”  His statement has been quoted widely: “If Jesus were here today, he wouldn’t be riding around on a donkey.  He’d be taking a plane.”  Winfrey’s commencement address at Stanford included the line, “Trust your heart and success will come to you.”  One of T. D. Jakes’ bestselling books grew out of a famous sermon he preached called “Positioning Yourself For Prosperity.”

At the same time, each has nuanced his or her position in interviews.  Osteen told a reporter, “I have taught many times about trials, suffering, being your best when your prayers aren’t being answered.”  Winfrey told the Stanford graduates, “having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person.  What you want is money and meaning.  You want your work to be meaningful.”  And Jakes says that “prosperity” for him involves spiritual wealth and having a good family life, not just money.

My question today isn’t so much about the theological beliefs of Jakes, Osteen and Winfrey.  Rather, it’s about the prosperity gospel they are often accused of advancing.  Why do you think this “gospel” is so popular today?  Why do 61 percent of Americans believe that God wants people to be prosperous?  Jesus was clear: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  How can we help our materialistic culture accept his invitation?

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.  And consider David Livingstone, a physician who gave up prosperity for a missionary career in Africa.  His explanation: “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”