Dave Williams has written a helpful article on the ‘trickle down gospel’. He outlines the economic trickle down theory and points out that even its greatest advocates didn’t really believe in it. He then goes on to explain that the same theory applied to evangelism and the gospel similarly doesn’t work. You can read his post here.
The title of Dave’s post is, ‘who really believes in a trickle down effect?’ The rhetorical answer he expects is, ‘nobody’. But there is one group of people who both teach a trickle down theory and, to some degree, believe in it. These are the people who buy into the teaching of prosperity preachers.
OK, granted, I suspect the prosperity hucksters themselves don’t really believe in trickle down, it is just a handy means of continuing to line their own pockets. But you can bet your bottom dollar – which, in actual fact, many do – that those who follow the prosperity preachers believe in the trickle down theory. They believe it works financially and they believe it works spiritually.
Why is it that people can watch this sort of thing going on and think it legitimate?
Ultimately, they have bought into a trickle down view of the gospel, a prosperity gospel. As explained in this 9 Marks article:
Prosperity gospel preachers often receive undying support from their members because the people live vicariously through their pastor. If the pastor’s platform and bank account grow, the members of the flock celebrate as if the prosperity were their own. Some congregations want their pastor to have the newest top-of-the-line car, wear expensive name-brand clothing, and live in a large home in order that God’s blessings would trickle down to them. I was once told, “If my pastor is living large, he’s paving the way for me and my family to live large.”
This same thought process is effectively at play in the trickle down gospel. We expect people to live vicariously through the gospel going to those in positions of influence – even expecting the poor and marginalised to applaud our efforts – in the hope that, one day, the gospel (and, by extension, our resources, help and support) may trickle down to them too. But if we rightly consider Prosperity Preachers to be charlatans, surely those peddling a trickle down view of the gospel and mission can’t be seen any differently?
The fact is that the trickle down effect simply doesn’t work. If we look at Acts, we see in the first 5 chapters or so things are relatively easy going. The Christians enjoyed their own setup as a church and they, by and large, enjoyed the good favour of the people around them. One gets the impression that as things were comfortable the Great Commission took a back seat. Sure, they may well speak the gospel to those round about them, but there is no sense in the early chapters of Acts that anybody had any intention of going anywhere. The gospel could stay in Jerusalem where we can enjoy our nice Christian community and the favour of the people around us.
Of course, the Lord had other plans. As we get to Acts 4, though Peter and John are arrested, they are essentially protected from punishment due to the good will of the people. Still, the gospel remains in Jerusalem and, it is reiterated at the end of that chapter, everyone is having a nice time together. By the end of Acts 5, the apostles are arrested and beaten. But still nobody looks like going anywhere, the community is still holding together pretty nicely. It’s only as we get to the end of Acts 7 and the stoning of Stephen that things really kick off.
By the end of chapter 7, Stephen has been killed by a mob, led by Saul, who hated him and his teaching. At the beginning of Acts 8, we see how this redounds upon the Christian community as a whole as Saul embarks on his violent rampage against the faith. Only then do we read that the Christian community was scattered and the gospel began to go out beyond Jerusalem into other regions of Judea and Samaria. It was in Acts 8:4 that, ‘those who were scattered went about preaching the word.’
Had the believers simply relied on trickle down Evangelism, there is no way that the gospel would ever have left Jerusalem. Had the Lord not essentially forced them to flee the city due to Saul’s persecution of the church, the gospel would have stayed where it was and the nations would only hear it should they encounter Christians in Jerusalem.
Trickle down doesn’t work because trickles can only follow the tracks laid out for them. Water will tend to flow down the path of least resistance and so too will our Evangelism if we are just relying on trickles. When we rely on trickle down evangelism, we are effectively relying on the same sort of pyramid scheme employed by prosperity preachers. Everything works for the good of those at the top; the Johnny-come-latelys can all just bask in the reflected glow of the gospel having reached the powerful and influential with the hope that maybe, just maybe, churches and resources that they can tap into might come to them too.
The trickle down gospel is a prejudiced gospel. It favours the rich and influential at the expense of the poor and deprived. It allows the rich and influential to patronise the poor and deprived and, worse, expects them to be grateful for the fact that they have hoovered up all the available resources. It doesn’t work and relies on the same myth-making nonsense as the prosperity gospel. It owes very little to the teachings of Christ and that, of itself, should be a big enough red flag for us to drop it.
Forget trickle down and instead let’s start expecting the rich and influential, the affluent and well-educated to do as Christ commanded and actually care for the poor and marginalised in meaningful ways. There is little more loving than sending their money and people so that churches may be sustained, revitalised and planted in deprived communities. This will help to meet the very deepest need of the poor and deprived; their need of a saviour. And no, for the record, that saviour is not you or your money, it is Jesus Christ. As churches are planted, revitalised and sustained they will do local evangelism and see local people saved in Christ as they hear and respond to gospel.