Posted by: Damon Whitsell | September 28, 2012

The New Health and Wealth Gospel

The health and wealth gospel, which spread like a plague in the 20th century and continues to spread its infectious theology throughout the world today, erroneously teaches that God always wants people (particularly Christians) to be rich and in good health. After all, if God loves you, why would He want anything else for you? Never mind the fact that Jesus said it is hard for the rich to get into heaven. Even so, God apparently wants us all to be in that very condition in which it is hard for us to get to heaven, and we should all want to be in that condition! Health and wealth are assumed to be God’s two greatest blessings, and if God is blessing you, you will have them. If you don’t have health and wealth, God is obviously not blessing you.(The following is an excerpt from chapter one of a book I recently wrote, “To Eat or Not to Eat? Examining Conventional Nutrition Wisdom In The Light of Scripture.” This book can be purchased from the sermon audio bookstore.)“Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.” 2 Tim. 4:20

What happens if you get sick? You merely need to ask God in faith to heal you and He always will. Or you can speak the word in faith and this will release God’s power to “cast out the demon” of disease. But what happens if you do this and the sickness remains? There is only one possible conclusion: you do not have enough faith, because it cannot be God’s will for you to remain sick.

Within this movement, many “faith healers” have emerged, claiming the power to heal diseases. Hordes of people have come forward to receive healing from cancer, heart disease, back problems, joint problems and a host of other ailments. Usually the maladies are as unverifiable as the alleged healings. Whenever healing supposedly occurs, the faith healer gets the credit and glory (with a token nod to the Lord, of course). The faith healer could never achieve the superstar status that he has if he were considered a lowly and expendable instrument of God. However, though the healer is considered to have great power and gets credit for all successes, he does not take blame for the failures. That cannot be his fault. That is the fault of the sick person, who clearly does not have enough faith.

If God always wants us to be healthy, then it must be granted that the most eminent Christians of by-gone eras, many of whom suffered frequent bouts of sickness, did not have much faith.

This is the essence of the health and wealth gospel. It leads to pride if you have health or wealth, and confusion and depression if you don’t. Furthermore, it encourages people to fix their hope on health, wealth and the things of this world and runs contrary to the admonition of the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:1-3: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Those who are taught that God’s greatest blessings consist of health and wealth will find it impossible to set their minds on things above.

It is my conviction that Nutritianity (the term I have given to describe the religious effort to obtain dietary purity through observing certain food laws) is nothing but a slight variation of the health and wealth gospel, with an obvious emphasis on health. The premise and the conclusion is the same: God always wants you to be healthy. You can be healthy by simply making the right food choices and thereby become your own savior. Faith healing is replaced with nutritional healing, and faith healers with nutritional healers. The focus is things below, not things above. What happens if you get sick? It must be your fault. You must have deviated from the perfect nutrition plan. This is the logical and inevitable conclusion.

Consider the words of Dr. Don Colbert in his book Eat This and Live: “You were not placed on earth to be anemic, feeble, and helpless. God wants you to live ‘more abundantly’— disease-free and in maximum health. Your physical body is precious and was created as a dwelling place for your Creator. Yet most people pollute their temples by eating too much food and eating the wrong foods.”[1]

Without any Biblical proof, Colbert declares emphatically that we were not placed on earth to be “anemic, feeble and helpless.” But how does he know this? Where is it written that God does not intend some Christians, perhaps many, to be just that? If God did not intend Job to get boils, why did he allow Satan to afflict Job with boils? Satan asked permission and God gave it to him. Obviously, this was a specific test for Job, but are we to conclude that God never tests Christians with sickness today? Upon what basis would we draw that conclusion? Did God not intend for Paul to receive a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10)? If not, why did God allow him to get the thorn and why didn’t God remove the thorn when Paul asked him?

Of course, we do not know exactly what the thorn in the flesh was, but we do know this: it was in the flesh. It made Paul weak, Paul wanted to get rid of it, he asked God three times to remove it, and God said no. It was definitely God’s intention for Paul to have a thorn in the flesh so that he would be humbled and understand that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. If this was true for Paul, couldn’t it also be true for many sick Christians today?

Furthermore, how can Colbert’s statements be reconciled with Exodus 4:11? “The LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’” Here God declares unapologetically that he makes men dumb, deaf and blind. Clearly, God placed some people on earth to be feeble and helpless.

Colbert’s philosophy presupposes a God who is not really sovereign, even though Psalm 115:3 (along with a host of other verses) declares, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” If God does whatever He pleases, and if He is pleased that everyone (all Christians at least) enjoy maximum health, then why is it that so many Christians do not enjoy maximum health?

The reply is predictable: Because they have free will and are not choosing to eat right. But consider: Is Almighty God able to persuade them to eat right? If so, why doesn’t He? If not, what makes Dr. Colbert think he can? The truth is that there is no evidence that God wants all Christians to enjoy maximum health or that He is frustrated that they aren’t eating right. It is also quite likely that many people’s ailments have nothing do with what they eat.

The second major problem with Dr. Colbert’s statement above is his misuse of Scripture. When he says God wants you to live “more abundantly,” he is putting those words in quotes to trigger your biblical memory. The words are from John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The context of this passage is a contrast between Jesus and false prophets. The false prophet (the thief) comes to kill and destroy the sheep, but Jesus comes that they may have abundant life. What should be apparent is that the abundant life Jesus is speaking of is eternal life, not a long life on earth of maximum health. Colbert is taking these words out of context and misusing them to preach his health message. I wish it were a rare instance among the proponents of Nutritianity.

Jordan Rubin is encumbered with the same peculiar theology derived by the same careless exegesis. He says,

“I believe God designed us to live long and fruitful lives. I believe we can maintain our strength and vigor well into old age by following the Great Physician’s prescription for health and wellness. Think about it: before Moses died, scripture says that his eyes did not grow dim. The Bible tells us that the eyes are the windows of the soul, the light of the body. If the eyes are good, the whole body is good. In fact, when priests were called upon to diagnose the disease of an Israelite, they looked into the person’s eyes. What this means is that Moses did not die of an illness; nor was his body feeble or his mind weak. God was ready to take him home; Moses was simply used up. Joshua passed away at the age of 110, just months after he came off the battlefield. Caleb was going full bore, battling giants in his late eighties, until the Lord called him home. These heroes of the Bible never spent time in assisted living or nursing homes. They drank the last drop from the cup of life because they followed God’s principles of good health found in the Bible. And you can, too…”[2]

This paragraph is fraught with errors. First, Rubin assumes, without biblical proof, that God has designed us to live long lives and is apparently frustrated in His design by our failure to eat the right foods. Rubin’s second assumption—that Moses enjoyed great health by following God’s prescription for health and wellness—is patently false. The “biblical” diet Rubin argues for would not have been the diet Moses ate. Remember, Moses lived in Egypt until age 40 (Acts 7:23), and it is likely that he ate an Egyptian diet, including foods that God would later declare “unclean.” It is highly unlikely that he ate according to the food laws outlined in Leviticus 11, since the Law had not yet been revealed to him. This would be true for all the Israelites, including Joshua and Caleb.

For the next 40 years, Moses lived in Midian, with his wife Zipporah and her family. We don’t know what he ate, but we do know that he had not yet received the Law of God, and so still would not have been eating according to Leviticus 11 standards. His last 40 years were spent wandering through the wilderness eating manna. Consequently, Moses never ate the “Great Physician’s Rx for health and wellness” and his long, healthy life had nothing to do with that diet. Rubin’s premise falls apart and so do his conclusions.

The description of Moses’ good health up until the day he died is remarkable precisely because it is so unusual for the Israelites, not because it is normal. The same is true for Joshua and Caleb. These are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. God preserved them miraculously, not because they ate the Levitical diet, but because they trusted Him and believed His Word, unlike the other ten men who spied out the land and brought back a negative report. Those men died of a plague before the Lord (Numb. 14:37), and all the numbered men of Israel who were twenty years old and older died in the wilderness for their unfaithfulness, instead of living to the ripe old age that Jordan Rubin suggests (Numb. 14:26-39).

[1] Don Colbert, Eat This and Live (Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, A Strang Company, 2009), p. 8.

[2] Jordan Rubin, The Great Physician’s RX for Health and Wellness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. ix.


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