Religious scholar Reza Aslan recently made remarks about a growing movement among Protestant evangelicals in America led by celebrity pastors like Joel Osteen — alleging that the “prosperity gospel” isn’t just inaccurate, it’s antithetical to Jesus Christ’s moral teachings.
Aslan has caused controversy before for his writings on Jesus, and around this time last summer, after a controversial appearance on Fox News to discuss his then-new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
At the time, Aslan became somewhat of an internet folk hero for his amusingly unflappable response to Fox News‘ Lauren Green — who continually grilled Aslan about his interest in Christianity as a person of another faith.
Aslan, a credentialed academic who studies religions, patiently attempted to explain his work to Green, who steadfastly refused to have it. He said:
“Well to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees — including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades — who also just happens to be a Muslim. So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus, I am an expert with a Ph.D in the history of religions … “
Some debate ensued over Aslan’s work following the Fox debacle, but his recent comments are sure to provoke more ire from conservative Christians.
Speaking at the University of California Riverside, Aslan took a question about the portrayal of Jesus in film and media, to which he began discussing the tendency to creatively interpret Christ’s teachings to serve one’s own agenda.
“I love all fictional presentations of Jesus. I think they are fantastic, whether it is the Last Temptation of Christ or The Passion — both of which are fiction. But — sorry about that, did I break that to you? — but again for me what is fascinating about those is it is just a representation of what I have been talking about all along, which is the incredible malleability of the Christ story, the way that it can become whatever you want it to become.”
Citing the popular ’70s musical Jesus Christ Superstar as his favorite depiction of the Son of God, Aslan then turned to more modern interpretations of gospel — and some egregious perversions of Bible and scripture.
“The fastest growing Protestant movement in North America is this movement that is referred to as the prosperity gospel. This is the gospel preached by people like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes — and when I say people, I mean charlatans.”
For folks unfamiliar with these ministers, he continued:
“The argument of the prosperity gospel, if I can put it flippantly, is that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. That is basically what the argument is. That what Jesus wants for you is material prosperity, and that if you literally give, you will literally be given tenfold. That’s not a metaphor, as it is in most churches. It is literal. You give me $10 and Jesus will give you $100.”
As a scholar with expert knowledge of Christianity, Aslan condemns the evangelical movement as a corruption of scripture, adding:
“This is as profoundly an unscriptural interpretation of Jesus that exists… I mean, if there is one thing that is just so clear cut and just not open to interpretation at all of any kind when it comes to Jesus’ message, it is His condemnation of wealth.”
“And yet, not only does this version of Christianity exist, as I say, it is honestly the fastest growing version of Protestant evangelical Christianity in North America. That’s because Jesus can be whatever you want Him to be, and the Christian message can be whatever you want it to be.”
Watch Reza Aslan’s remarks on Joel Osteen and the “prosperity gospel” in the clip above.