Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel
By Kate Bowler, assistant professor of the history of Christianity in the United States
Oxford University Press, 2013
352 pages, Hardcover, $34.95
How have millions of American Christians come to measure spiritual progress in terms of their financial status and physical well-being? How has the movement variously called Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, or simply prosperity gospel come to dominate much of the contemporary religious landscape? Kate Bowler’s Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, Pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through midcentury positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today’s hugely successful prosperity preachers. Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta’s 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as “the smiling preacher,” with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine as one of America’s most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women’s empowerment guru; and many others. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.
Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895–1913
By Lester Ruth, research professor of Christian worship
187 pages, Paperback, $24.00
The Church at Worship is a series of documentary case studies of specific worshipping communities from around the world and throughout Christian history that can inform and enrich worship practices today. In this third volume, Longing for Jesus, Lester Ruth vividly portrays a prominent African-American holiness church in Jackson, Miss., in the early 20th century. Ruth’s rich selection of primary documents presents readers with a vibrant snapshot of this dynamic church and its pastor, Charles Price Jones, caught between factors that threatened the existence of the congregation itself: Jim Crow racism, conflicting visions for the church, appropriate Christian piety, and social aspirations. In the midst of conflicts inside and outside, the church fought to create a space where it could worship Jesus as it saw fit.
Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven and Earth
By William H. Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry
Abingdon Press, 2013
112 pages, Paperback, $13.99
The church uses the concept of Incarnation (from the Latin word for “in the flesh”) to help us understand that Jesus Christ is both divine and human. The Incarnation is the grand crescendo of our reflection upon the mystery that Christ is the full revelation of God: not only one who talks about God but the one who speaks for and acts as God—one who is God. Jesus defies simplistic, effortless, undemanding explications. To be sure, Jesus often communicated his truth in simple, homely, direct ways, but his truth was anything but apparent and undemanding in the living. The Gospels are full of folk who confidently knew what was what—until they met Jesus. In this book, Willimon presents the Incarnation in a clear, understandable way that is appropriate for group study or individual reflection.