In October the international Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue met for the third time in its five-year process, on this occasion in Santiago, Chile. Exploring over the course of its meetings Luke 4:18–19 (cf. Isaiah 61:1–2), this year the dialogue took up the theme “to proclaim good news to the poor.” Following on the previous meetings’ focus on self-introductions and the call to proclaim the gospel, this year turned to a more critical examination of the so-called prosperity gospel.
Often conflated with Pentecostalism, though unjustly so, prosperity theology declares that God has guaranteed material prosperity and worldly success to those who have “real” faith. The troubling aspects of this teaching are numerous: blaming people for their own poverty, denying the faith of those who suffer, breaking solidarity between people, and turning God into a mechanical giver of favors.
In contrast, both Pentecostal and Lutheran speakers emphasized the long legacy of service to the poor in their communities, not to mention the experience of poverty by members on both sides. Both called for a truly evangelical understanding of prosperity as the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that God desires for all people, not for a select few and not for some at the expense of others.
As usual, the dialogue teams made a point of engaging with local churches, Lutheran and Pentecostal alike, and inviting local theologians to sit in on and participate in the conversation. An added ecumenical dimension was that the dialogue met at the Catholic retreat center of San Francisco Javier in Santiago. A visit to the museum of human rights, detailing the brutal dictatorship in Chile from 1973 to 1989, reminded all present vividly of the worst outcomes of failed solidarity and lopsided prosperity.
Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a Visiting Professor of the Institute who currently works in Japan as a pastoral missionary with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, served as Consultant to the dialogue, as she has in the past two years and will again in 2019, when the dialogue meets in Africa, and in 2020, when the dialogue will conclude this process by preparing a public statement. Prof. Wilson also took part in the final two years of the proto-dialogue initiated by the Institute (2004–2010) and wrote A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans, which includes a chapter on prosperity gospel.
For more on the Santiago meeting, see the press release from the Lutheran World Federation.