The “health and wealth gospel” is an error, but it’s easy to understand the draw of it. Who wouldn’t want to be healthy and wealthy?

The “poverty gospel” is an error in the opposite direction but the draw is a little harder to understand. I think it’s a combination of a few things: a desire to appear or feel pious, a desire to bless one’s inaction as good, and a misunderstanding of key Bible passages about wealth.

Jesus was approached by a “rich young ruler” who wanted eternal life and Jesus told him to do all sorts of virtuous things which he had already done. Finally, Jesus told him to give up everything he had to the poor, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The lesson many Christians take from this is that poverty is closer to godliness than wealth. After all, Jesus next says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

But that’s not at all what He’s saying, and we can tell because of what the disciples say next: “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?””

We have certain cultural baggage like the assumption that wealth is bad. “Eat the rich” isn’t just a far-left slogan; we’ve all bought into it and we are suspicious and jealous of wealthy people, whether they’ve earned it or not.

The disciples, on the other hand, saw the wealth as means and as blessing from God and thought “if even this person who is blessed and has all of this wealth and power and virtuous living hasn’t inherited eternal life, who can do it?” If anyone could earn eternal life, it was the rich young ruler. But Jesus says it’s literally impossible for him to earn it.

So what’s the answer? The answer is Jesus:

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””

Jesus earned what we couldn’t and gave it to us. That’s the lesson of the passage. Not the virtue of poverty. Not some shallow worldview that says Christians ought to bury what they’re given rather than investing and building. Not that we should withdraw from public life like monks.

The “health and wealth gospel” is wrong because it treats the material world as all-important. It’s materialistic.

The “poverty gospel” is wrong because it treats the spiritual world as all-important. It’s Gnostic.