The Rev. William Cripe Sr. of Waterville has a bone to pick with the ministers he calls the “purveyors of prosperity.”
The senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Free Church in Waterville felt so strongly that they were turning the almighty into a “vending machine God,” who dispenses wealth and good times in exchange for prayer, tithes and regular church attendance, that he spent his sabbatical writing a book about it.
“I was also noticing how invasive the message was becoming from my own community to the far reaches of Africa as I would hear stories from our missionaries,” Cripe said about why he wrote the book.
“The Proper Pursuit of Prosperity: Balancing the Promises of Heaven with the Experiences of Earth” was published late last year by Tate Publishing & Enterprises, a Christian Publishing Firm in Mustang, Okla.
“The prosperity gospel is the message that God exists primarily to fulfill all of our wishes and dreams for our lives,” Cripe said in an email. “Its foundational hallmarks are material success, physical health and emotional well-being if one just exhibits enough ‘faith.’ The prosperity gospel is all about ‘me’ though and how God can serve ‘me’ today.”
That is not what the Gospel of Jesus is about, he said.
[His Gospel] is about God and how I can serve him today, the minister said. “Jesus says [in Matthew 6:33], ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.’”
The book combines Cripe’s own spiritual and earthly journey with his detailed, thoughtful and, sometimes, emotional debunking of what he sees as a false gospel. Raised a Christian Scientist in a Chicago suburb, he had a profound conversion to evangelical Christianity while a young soldier based in Fort Campbell, Ky., in the 1970s.
“Jesus assuring his followers that he came to give ‘life abundant’ is no promise of a trouble-free life, a life of material grandeur, or a life free from pain and suffering, as the prosperity peddlers sell” Cripe wrote in his book.
“Rather, it is a promise that no matter what we go through in this life in spite of the circumstances rather than because of them.”
Cripe said the book is intended for people struggling with the frustrations of life. He made clear that there is nothing about financial success or extraordinary wealth.
“Many of the faithful people of the Bible were wealthy,” he said in his email. “This is not another book that bashes the rich nor does it maintain that poverty is next to godliness. There are in fact promises of ‘blessing’ in this life for the one whose priorities are God-centered rather than self-centered.
“But material wealth and perfect health are not guaranteed to anyone no matter how faithful they are,” he continued. “Some of the most faithful people in the Bible and throughout history were dirt poor or suffered horrible diseases or experienced great tragedies. We all know examples of very wealthy yet very nasty people and we probably all know some very wonderful people who experience crisis and calamity. Poverty and wealth are both poor indicators of God’s favor on a person.”