On Dying and Reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel

How church historian Kate Bowler's cancer diagnosis brought her face-to-face with the beauty and terror of the popular movement.
On Dying and Reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel
Image: Courtesy of Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler is a Canadian professor at Duke Divinity School who researches the prosperity gospel movement. She’s also 35, a wife and mother, and critically ill with cancer. In a widely shared New York Times piece “Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me,” the author of Blessed reflected on her research and how it informed her convictions on suffering and faith. (Read CT’s book review.) “I’m never very theologically declarative,” said Bowler. “I’ve really tried to hold off on doing that in order to make enough space for people to make up their own minds. But in this case, it was just a lot more personal. I don’t have a lot of pretension anymore.”

Bowler recently spoke with Christianity Today’s assistant editor Morgan Lee about how Americans define suffering, what she would embrace from prosperity gospel theology, and how she copes with the loss of control that suffering brings. “It’s very bizarre to be eclipsed by a disease you barely knew existed a couple months ago,” she said. “It’s been a really intense year.”

In what ways have your feelings changed towards the prosperity gospel movement since your diagnosis?

I’m one of the many people who wants an answer when there is no answer, who wants to demand things of God when God does not always connect the dots for us. Even more, I relate to their desire for certainty.

Prosperity gospel makes everyone feel special. It makes everyone feel uniquely chosen. Every detail of your life is God’s ultimate concern. I’ve seen that do wonders for people.

Getting over not being special has been hard. I have to get used to being as beloved by God as everybody else. You want ...

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