I grew up in a 'burb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. (In fact, I'm still in Tulsa, noding this a half-mile from the Praying Hands of Oral Roberts University.) The town I grew up in, Broken Arrow, is pretty much nondescript. Nothing special about it. About the only thing that is at all out of the ordinary is the Christian college right in the commercial heart of the town. It's called the RHEMA Bible College, and the campus expands almost daily. It's swallowed the local skating rink, the lumber yard, an old Mexican restaurant, a motorcycle dealership, and an apartment complex is now just a glorified dormitory. The main chapel is both the widest and tallest structure in the city.

I've lived around it all my life, so I never notice it anymore, except to note which building has been eaten up next. My only fond memory of it is one night in high school, as we drove by, a friend began singing Janis Joplin's song Mercedes Benz; everyone died laughing. Mah friends all drive Porsches, ah must make amends... Hilarious for reasons none of us could verbalize.

As it turns out, that song is incredibly fitting. The head pastor of the college. Rev. Kenneth Hagin, seems to be best known for creating what he terms the Word of Life theology; most other people throw it under the term prosperity theology. Supposedly, it's the biggest Christian movement since the Charismatics, but there is not any strong evidence I could find. (Plenty of weak evidence, tho. They have affiliates listed in every state and quite a few countries.)

Now, a quick disclaimer : IANATD. Or, I Am Not A Theological Dominatrix. Heck, I'm not even a Christian, although I did attend Baptist church until I was 18. So I'm noding what I don't know, trying to muddle through all of the talk and countertalk. Actually, it's mostly countertalk. Everything I can find about prosperity theology is very much against it. All websites connected to RHEMA or Rev. Hagin only state base beliefs common to any Protestant denomination of Christianity, with no mention of what exactly the Word of Life is. So, not only am I not an expert, but all my sources are biased strongly against it. You have been warned.

Down to business. There appear to be two versions of prosperity theology; the first is the standard televangelist 'Believe in God, and the riches of the world will be yours' creed, and the second is a very interesting offshoot of Christianity.

Most people treat the idea of 'prosperity theology' as just that; How To Be Prosperous, with the answer being 'Believe in God'. A person who has a strong enough faith will be able to get that house in the Hamptons and park an Aston-Martin in the driveway. Simple enough - Jim Bakker and other televangelists banked on that tasty little morsel to fund their enterprises. This is backed up by scripture afer scripture; the most oft-quoted one is Matthew 7:7-8. "Ask and it will be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

There are three main problems that people have with this idea. First off, if someone isn't preposterously prosperous, if they haven't yet bought that third Bugatti, that means that they lack faith. Is that really the case? And what about the people who come to church every Sunday and expect constant rewards? Aren't they putting themselves above God, expecting Him, in all His goodness, to only serve you? And what about the parts of scripture that directly refute the prosperity theory, such as the entire Book of Job?

No one really takes this idea seriously except for the televangelists. So, let's move on.

Now, the only in-depth talk I can find on what is called the actual 'Word of Life' theology claims that it significantly departs from common Protestant belief. Here's a short list of the differences, the real highlights. Be warned that these deal with a follower of Hagin, so this may not be his beliefs.

One consequence of this is that all criticism of the Church by members is not believed; first, you shouldn't mention anything negative, and second, it's probably a demon that causing your disturbing lack of faith.

And, of course, it begs the question of what, exactly, is 'success' in this case. Near as I could tell, 'success' is defined by the person seeking it, which is problematic.

I really don't know how to prove the allegations true; going to RHEMA and asking about people's beliefs will probably only result in showing that students there, yes, believe in the Christian God, and that's it.

On a personal note, I attended the wedding of a family friend who went to RHEMA; the service was held on the campus. I noticed some odd rhetoric, with the word 'success' bandied about quite a bit. Didn't think much of it at the time, but now, I'm curious.

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