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How have millions of American Christians come to measure spiritual progress in terms of their financial status and physical well-being? How has the movement variously called Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, or simply prosperity gospel come to dominate much of our contemporary religious landscape?
Kate Bowler's Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today's hugely successful prosperity preachers. Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta's 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as "the smiling preacher," with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine one of America's most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women's empowerment guru; and many others. At almost any moment, day or night, the American public can tune in to these preachers-on TV, radio, podcasts, and in their megachurches-to hear the message that God desires to bless them with wealth and health. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.
The idea that Christian believers are promised wealth and health by faith in God has existed in various permutations throughout American history. In this riveting historical account, Bowler, a professor of religion at Duke Divinity School, deftly introduces readers to major figures and developments since the late 19th century in the prosperity gospel movement. Her rich narrative traces the entanglement of prosperity and the divine in New Thought thinkers, who believed in mind-power to transform heaven-sent blessings; the power of positive thinking in the postwar era, from Norman Vincent Peale to the televangelists of the 1980s; and the rise of the contemporary megachurch, which includes preachers like Joel Osteen, who argue that believers are created to excel. There are fascinating detours into Pentecostalism and the charismatic revival as well as examination of numerous odd and compelling religious figures, such as Father Divine. Bowler argues that the prosperity gospel has become a major theological, social, and political force in America. Refusing to condemn the prosperity gospel as merely a religious iteration of the American dream of individual upward mobility and accumulation, Bowler also explores how some groups, particularly African-American churches, transformed it for liberating ends.