cover image Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

Kate Bowler. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-982769-5

The idea that Christian believers are promised wealth and health by faith in God has existed in various permutations throughout American history. In this riveting historical account, Bowler, a professor of religion at Duke Divinity School, deftly introduces readers to major figures and developments since the late 19th century in the prosperity gospel movement. Her rich narrative traces the entanglement of prosperity and the divine in New Thought thinkers, who believed in mind-power to transform heaven-sent blessings; the power of positive thinking in the postwar era, from Norman Vincent Peale to the televangelists of the 1980s; and the rise of the contemporary megachurch, which includes preachers like Joel Osteen, who argue that believers are created to excel. There are fascinating detours into Pentecostalism and the charismatic revival as well as examination of numerous odd and compelling religious figures, such as Father Divine. Bowler argues that the prosperity gospel has become a major theological, social, and political force in America. Refusing to condemn the prosperity gospel as merely a religious iteration of the American dream of individual upward mobility and accumulation, Bowler also explores how some groups, particularly African-American churches, transformed it for liberating ends. (June)