The New Prosperity Gospel?

I recently finished a book called Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before, by Jean Twenge. It highlights the chinks in the armor, so to speak, of the culture of those born from 1970-1990. I entered the world right in the middle of the “Me Generation,” so I’m not as bad as the younger ones today, but of course, I’m not so good that I wasn’t taken aback to realize some “Me Generation” tendencies I have myself. Granted, it’s a secular book, so it doesn’t take into account the difference a life of faith exhibits from the rest of the culture; still, though, you’d have to be living under a rock to say that none of Twenge’s observations are true.

Long story short, one of the biggest observations Twenge makes is that today, we are indoctrinated to believe that we can do and be anything we want. Admittedly, this does not have to be a bad thing, but we also more often than not see it played out in more unrealistic scenarios, such as the more deluded American Idol contestants. After reading the book, I thought about what I hear (this applies to what I watch, too, but I’m more specifically thinking about what I listen to). Some of my favorite bands and podcasts have strong themes of setting out with big dreams to change the world, and not letting anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I should qualify all of this by saying that I believe there is a big difference between wanting to be well-known just to be well-known and get the goodies of fame and prestige, and wanting to be well-known so you can have maximum impact to change the world for the better. My question isn’t really taking into account those who are, for all practical purposes, fame whores. I am speaking of those who want to be known for something good.

I am basically wondering: is this push for people in general, but even believers, to create or participate in something great just a byproduct of our generational conditioning? Is it Biblical? I just know I hear it in Christian music, I hear it in Christian podcasts, etc. And, as I said, these are groups I love to hear from. But I am wondering if the Gospel compels us to set out with big things in mind, or if it’s just the world we live in. Thinking over Scripture, I see both points of view acknowledged. In some cases–such as the unnamed people in Heb. 11, people did seemingly small things, and God considered those small things to be pretty important. Other times, people did small things, and God used the small things to bring about something great, like the widow with the neverending oil supply in Kings. And yet other times, like with David and Goliath, the “hero” sets out to do something great, and it happens.

I am just wondering if Christianity has adopted the “you can do anything” mantra to read, “You can do anything (if you serve God/have His purposes in mind/etc.).” It’s the same push, just with God tacked on at the end. I agree with the message of the Eldredges that we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves; it’s an undeniable cry of the human heart. Who knows, maybe that’s part of the reason why fame whores want to be famous: so their own fame can become that larger-than-life thing they want. But should notariety be at the front end of our search? Or should we be concerned with the little things and leaving the part about the impact they have, or how well known those deeds become, to God?

I compare this “You can do anything” mindset to the Prosperity Gospel because the basic message of the Prosperity Gospel is, “God wants you to have good things, and if you don’t, you must not be believing enough.” The GenMe culture says, “You can be anything you want, and nothing can stop you.” The “Christian GenMe,” if you will, essentially says, “God believes in you, so you should believe in yourself, and not let any obstacles stop you from doing what you feel God wants you to do.” And, no matter how you feel about the Prosperity Gospel, there are passages where God says He wants what is best for His people. However, the parts that the Prosperity line of thinking tend to overlook are the fine print that the best is contingent on our obedience, and it may not come until much later, and we may have to suffer on the road to get there.

This question of cultural infiltration honestly has me stumped. I’m not offering an opinion; as I said, there is Biblical support for everyone in that spectrum. I am just confused as to what it all means. Basically, when you boil down the “you can do anything” movement, either GenMe Christians are absorbing these views and projecting them as something Biblical (reading it into the Scripture), or GenMe Christians are clearly understanding Scripture, and we are just now starting to believe in God’s power in us as He does (drawing it out of the Scripture). Is our generation (believers) shaping Scripture or is Scripture just now really beginning to shape our generation (believers)?

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