Millions of Americans believe God wants them to be rich.
I am a historian who loves to solve puzzles hidden in plain sight. The first time I heard about a pastor who had received a motorcycle from his congregation (and rode around the stage on it) I was hooked. I knew a little about slick TV preachers in the 1980s, but what I didn’t realize was that there was a much larger movement that speaks about health, wealth, and total victory for believers within their lifetimes. So why are Christians suddenly so interested in being “blessed”?
I spent a decade traveling the United States and Canada visiting megachurches, archives, television studios, revivals and Christian theme parks interviewing leaders and followers to understand the history of the “prosperity gospel.” What I discovered was a tangled history of ideas about faith and blessing.
Why are some people healed and some are not? Why do some people succeed and others languish? The prosperity gospel offers straightforward answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.
This book is the first comprehensive American history of one of the most popular Christian movements in the world today. Introducing readers to its most famous faces—celebrities like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and Benny Hinn—this book gives a framework for understanding the theology and everyday lives of people who tune in to hear its familiar message: God desires to bless you.
Each chapter centers on a major theme of the prosperity message: gospels, faith, wealth, health, and victory. While the movement’s most controversial claim is its promise of wealth, the prosperity gospel must first be understood as an appeal to a special kind of faith. The book begins with an exploration of the various traditions that went into creating this new vocabulary of faith. Faith was defined not as hope or trust but as a spiritual power that guaranteed that God fulfilled the desires of the Christian heart.
How would a faith-filled Christian know their prayers were heard? The prosperity gospel earned its name because of its focus on wealth and health as tests of righteousness. But it was also more than that. It promised a whole life prosperity that included happy families, peace of mind, joyful marriages, and a total sense of victory. In short, the prosperity gospel preached an all-conquering message that faith would unlock the vaults of heaven and unleash a torrent of blessings.
Words about Blessed
“This is a stunningly empathetic book. By pushing far beyond caricature, Bowler has produced a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the prosperity gospel and how it is, even now, remaking the American religious landscape.”
-The Christian Century
“This book propels Kate Bowler into the first rank of younger historians of religion in America. The author’s keen ear, her perceptive insights, and her command of history make this a remarkable and unforgettable book-and her conclusion that the ‘prosperity gospel consecrated America’s culture of optimism’ rings very true.”
– Randall Balmer, author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America
“Very readable and engaging…Blessed is the best history of the development of the prosperity gospel written to date. It is an important addition to the library of pastors or scholars who regularly encounter the prosperity gospel in their ministry.”
–Southwestern Journal of Theology
“Bowler shows how the prosperity gospel movement has drawn from multiple denominational, racial, ethnic, and even secular subtraditions. She identifies both the dazzling diversity and the common understandings that have given the prosperity gospel coherence”
“Bowler’s respect for her subjects and her ability to locate them in the larger American religious narrative mean that serious scholars dismiss the prosperity gospel at their own peril. Bowler shows us that its deep roots and vibrant future, even after the recent recession, place it solidly in the category of religious movements to watch.”
“[A] riveting historical account.”
“The ‘prosperity gospel’ is as much despised by its detractors as it is embraced by its millions of adherents. Yet until Kate Bowler’s Blessed, no one has attempted a balanced, informative, inquisitive survey. Her book is a metaphorical godsend for those with an outsider’s curiosity about one of the fastest growing religious movements in contemporary America and a literal one for those inside.”
– Mark A. Noll, author of Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction
“Though often maligned and misunderstood, Bowler’s comprehensive and exciting examination of the prosperity gospel demonstrates the ways ‘health and wealth’ has been a staple of American Protestant life since the 19th century. Blessed provides a thorough and nuanced account of the phenomenon, as it skillfully examines varying attitudes toward prosperity which emerged across racial, regional, and denominational lines. This is a grand contribution to the field of American religious history.”
– Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Professor of Religion and Society, Harvard University
“…[A]n unprecedented historical examination of health and wealth as spiritual subjects in American Christianity by tracing the rise, development, and transformation of the prosperity gospel in the United States.”
–Religious Studies Review
“Blessed is an extraordinarily satisfying book. It is elegantly written, full of wit and humor.”
– Fides et Historia