Updated: Sep 17
Barton Stone on finances, the church, and creating a faulty view of God.
A poll by Times magazine in 2006 showed that 31 percent of American Christians espouse the idea that “if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.” Almost one-third of all American Christians believe in this idea of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel does not always involve money. “Essentially it’s looking at God as a set of measures and weights and as long as I put on the right weight, through my works, then I’ll get in return the things I want,” Barton Stone says.
“At the end of the day, my goal as a Bible teacher is to help students have a view of Jesus that best helps them follow him. Which does involve calling out things that are not true that have been said by others."
Growing up in a Christian home, with parents who were followers of Jesus, Stone realized a need beyond himself at five years old. In his early years, his faith was based on a moral understanding of the gospel. He talks about how his parents instilled right and wrong, and that there were certain ways to behave, and if you didn’t behave correctly then you got in trouble. “I felt the same way about God, as long as I went to church and read my Bible, and didn’t do any of the bad stuff, then I’d be okay. If I don’t do bad things then you won’t get punished for those things, if you do good things then you will be rewarded,” Stone says.
Stone stayed within these boundaries of his faith until he was 17 years old. When he was 17, he attended a conference called Southern Ministries at Bryan College; this was the first time his faith was challenged. The conference unpacked his faith and gave reasons behind his beliefs and this began his journey towards an intellectual faith. “I wanted to understand more about who God was, and some of the ways in which Christianity played a role in social issues, but more of a way to give an intellectual account of the thing I believed in, in response to challenges and questions,” Stone says. Fresh out of college Stone didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life, career-wise. He began to work for many ministries including Southern Ministries and led groups of kids and would unpack lectures with them. He then left, and worked for an inner-city ministry, in Oakley, California, to get a new perspective on life. He then moved to Colorado Springs and worked for Summit Ministries focusing on the family leadership institute. During this time he not only explored his faith intellectually but the Christian view of family and life. He began working as a youth pastor and got to teach a lesson about God's existence and the problem of pain, and was very excited about the questions his group of eighth-graders was asking. “I was frustrated that youth ministries tended to be more fun and games than pursuing the intellectual side of things,” Stone says. Thinking back to his experience with Southern Ministries and Summit Ministries, Stone realized he wanted to teach. Stone traveled to Korea to teach English and realized that he loved to teach but didn’t love teaching English. So then, he thought about what he was most passionate and interested about, and thought about the summit experience, and wanted to teach about the bible and Christian faith. Stone then went to seminary and received his master’s degree in Christian studies at Denver. He then shadowed a Bible teacher at a Christian school and was offered a job to teach Bible; since then he has been teaching for 12 years.
"Any time there is a religious system with a financial investment at stake you are going to have corruption. When you have people in power who are going to try to stay in power and maintain it by spiritually manipulating the people they are supposed to be taking care of."
The prosperity gospel was not a term Stone was familiar with until he heard American pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen use it. Joel Osteen is one of these televangelist/ Mega-Church preachers that preaches the concept of the prosperity gospel. “If you do certain things whether that’s give enough money or do enough good things, then you will be blessed in response, primarily monetarily, blessed with financial gain or some sort of situational gain,” Stone says when defining the prosperity gospel. Got Questions, an online ministry that helps people find answers to their Bible questions, talks about Joel Osteen and his teachings, and says, “God is not our servant, standing by and waiting for us to fire up our imaginations so He can lavish us with material goods” (Home). Looking at God as a servant causes humans to have a faulty view of God because it causes people to use God. Kate Bowler, a writer for Vox and professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School, says, “it explains away misfortune as something that can and ought to be held at bay through faith and prayer” (Bowler). Bowler is criticizing the prosperity gospel by saying that misfortune or hardship is avoidable through faith and prayer.
When asked about the prosperity gospel, Stone talks about how it is important to understand what the people who preach the prosperity gospel are saying. “I do think it is important to be able to discern what are they teaching from the text, how are they interpreting it, how are they understanding what the text is saying, and by text I mean what we have in our Old and New Testaments,” Stone says. When looking at Jesus’ life, he was not in it to gain material wealth or power but was more interested in seeking out the lesser, orphans and widows, the oppressed, etc, and bringing them in to let them know they are loved and known. Through Jesus’ life, He set an example for others to follow. “When you say Christian, really looking at the term, little Christ’s, if you say we are followers of Jesus, there are ways in which I can say the way in which you are living your life doesn’t seem to be the case,” Stone says, “What is it you’re doing to be like Christ.” People who preach the prosperity gospel are more in it for themselves, gaining more for themselves, “need to have your best life,” as Stone puts it. Stone compares this to the corruption going on in the church during Jesus’ time. At the time, Jesus was upset with the religious leaders, and they were abusing the temple system to gain monetary power and influence in their culture by telling people the kingdom of God can only come when certain aspects of the Torah are followed. “Any time there is a religious system with a financial investment at stake you are going to have corruption. When you have people in power who are going to try to stay in power and maintain it by spiritually manipulating the people they are supposed to be taking care of,” Stone says.
As the 11th grade Bible teacher, Stone, a very tall, slender man, helps his students create true and healthy relationships between them and God. He always comes into class with a smile, wearing slim-fit dress pants, a multi-colored button-down, with a waistcoat over. Mr. Stone has this love for his job, not because it makes him money, but because he loves what he teaches. “At the end of the day, my goal as a Bible teacher is to help students have a view of Jesus that best helps them follow him. Which does involve calling out things that are not true that have been said by others,” Stone carefully says. He mentions these things that are not true could be said by pastors, parents, or teachers, “I do my best not to be one of those people.” “As teachers, we have an incredible responsibility to wield the power that we have, wield it with humility,” says Stone. He has a deep care for his students and is interested when they engage and ask deep questions about their faith. “My desire for them (students) is to know that they are made in the image of God and are part of a good world that has been broken and that they are called to participate with God in redeeming that world and they do that by following in Jesus’ footsteps,” Stone says.
If your solution to having no money is to try to get money is through God, then your view of God is tainted significantly and ultimately is going to let you down, and might even cause you to reject God for not getting what you want. When working with teenagers, challenges to their faith, something they might have thought was true their whole life, can cause them to totally reject or not like the true view of God. Teenagers are vulnerable in that it can be hard to hear the truth sometimes, especially when they don’t want to hear it.
Bowler, Kate. “I'm a Scholar of the ‘Prosperity Gospel." It Took Cancer to Show Me I Was in Its Grip.” Vox, Vox, 12 Mar. 2018, www.vox.com/first- person/2018/3/12/17109306/prosperity-gospel-good-evil-cancer-fate-theology- theodicy.