“Will Jesus buy me a double-wide?” is the question Karen Spears Zacharias asks in the title of this book, alluding to her childhood years when a double-wide trailer seemed like the height of prosperity. Another way of phrasing the question is this: “If I do all the right things, will Jesus make me happy, healthy, and rich?” Zacharias’ answer in this book is loud and clear: “No, not necessarily.”
Published earlier this year by Zondervan, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide? is an expose and critique of the Prosperity Gospel in America. Zacharias introduces the subject then tells a series of unconnected life stories, some of them about personal friends of hers, some of them about newly-met strangers, some of them about media-worthy figures. Fraudulent televangelists, missionaries to South America, ministers to the homeless–all of these show up in the pages of this book, as well as victims of cancer, failed bookstore owners, and pursuers of the American dream.
With each of these life stories, Zacharias zeros in on three things: the person’s attitude to God, the person’s attitude to money, and the relationship between the two. She depicts child preachers whose parents exploit their speaking gifts to gain personal wealth. She shows a restaurant owner convinced that if he does all the right things God will bless him with a BBQ turkey restaurant conglomerate.
She also paints a portrait of a kind spinster, tithing faithfully but without expecting anything in return, living under her means so that she can give to others. She shows a former Marine who lives with the homeless to minister to their needs. In the words of the Marine, the essence of Christianity is this:
Go love someone who can’t love you back…somebody who is never going to repay you. They are never going to invite you over to eat at their house. That’s the gospel. Not God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life which includes a Mercedes Benz, a corner office, and a secretary with fake boobs.
Towards the end of the book, Zacharias adds more and more commentary to the stories. She argues that our way of thinking about God and His favor is “warped”:
All too often the way we think about God is based upon our good fortune, or lack thereof, and not at all based upon the character of God or upon biblical truths or even upon rational observation. If good things are happening for us, then God must be doing the happy dance. If not, then obviously God is ticked off and it’s up to us to figure out why so we can get him to do the happy dance again.
Zacharias echoes many of the themes found in Scripture. “You cannot serve God and Mammon,” is a paradigmatic verse for this book. That, in her opinion, is just what the panderers of the Prosperity Gospel are trying to do. They are a bunch of Job’s comforters, convinced that suffering or poverty only comes about because of sin.
Scripture is multi-faceted, however, and there are some clear truths taught there that Zacharias does not deal with in her book. In an attempt to get away from a “consumptionist” view of God, she tends to spiritualize all aspects of God’s favor. To Zacharias, your relationship with and obedience to God seems to have no impact on your health or your wealth. And yet Deuteronomy 28 promises very material rewards to those who are faithful to God.
In one place Zacharias criticizes a Prosperity Gospel preacher for “culling promises from the generalities offered in the wisdom literature of Proverbs.” The criticism is just, but at the same time, Zacharias does not deal with those generalities in her book. In Proverbs 10:4, God says that, “the hand of the diligent maketh rich,” and generally speaking, it does! In Proverbs 13:11, God says that, “he who gathers by labor shall increase,” and generally speaking, he will! Although stories like the Book of Job clearly refute a cut and dried Prosperity Gospel, passages like these in Proverbs show that God has set up certain general principles in the world where the diligent and righteous are indeed blessed materially.
Zacharias has a witty and enjoyable writing style that propels the reader through the book with ease and pleasure. Although I did not agree with all of her conclusions, I thought the overall message was one that our culture needs to hear. Greed is not good. God’s blessing is not a financial formula.