Prosperity gospel preaching is a double-barrelled socio-religious phenomenon which is fast becoming one of the most significant expressions of Christianity and is remarkably wielding a pervasive influence within the Nigerian religious space. As a dominant strain of popular spirituality, prosperity gospel has remained a major socio-cultural force in Nigeria. The study generally attempts a comprehensive study of prosperity gospel in Nigeria and specifically, it examines the impacts and conflicting views on the reasons for the shift in emphasis of prosperity preachers from asceticism to materialism. The study is crafted using phenomenological approach for its richness and objectivity. The results show that prosperity preaching is currently the major preoccupation of the Pentecostals and has challenged endemic poverty in Nigeria through its emphasis on spiritual and economic empowerment programmes of the prosperity purveyors which is engendering remarkable social, economic and spiritual transformation in the Nigerian society. But the Pentecostals’ undue emphasis on giving as an investment for future prosperity occasioned by wrong interpretation of Scriptures by prosperity preachers resulting to misinformation and misapprehension of people about prosperity has negatively impacted on a broad spectrum of the Nigerian Christians and churches financially, socially and spiritually. At the moment, there seems to be a gradual paradigm shift in the orientation of people from hard labour to idleness and from holiness to worldliness in Nigeria. In view of the foregoing, the work, in recognition of some positivism of prosperity gospel draws its conclusion that the impacts of prosperity gospel are more damaging than beneficial in Nigeria

1.1 Background to the Study
The emergence of prosperity gospel preaching dates back to the 19th and 20th centuries. It is currently a universal phenomenon that is frequently preached in urban areas especially in churches and on the electronic media. It has commanded scholarly attention, debates and literature on the subject. Historical records abound that prosperity preaching began in the United States of America (USA). This was precipitated through the formative role played by Essek William Kenyon who lived from 1867-1948, and who is said to have initially put in place the cardinal principles for prosperity gospel preaching (Young, 2005; Mumford, 2012). The principles Kenyon develop was probably cultic in origin (McConnell, 2007). However, Kenneth Erwin Hagin (1917-2003) seems to have borrowed heavily from Kenyon’s ideology and developed his own prosperity theology. It is established that Kenyon’s ideologies were also adopted, propagated and popularized by television and faith preachers in the 1950s like William Branham, Oral Roberts and Gordon Lindsay among several others (Okwori, 1995). Prosperity preaching was handed down to posterity under different nomenclatures such as “word faith” or “word of fait h movement”, “positive confession”, “faith formula”, or “faith message”, “hyper-faith”, “health and wealth theology”, “name it and claim it gospel”, “blab it and grab it gospel”, “gospel of success”, and “prosperity gospel” as it advanced down through the ages (Jones, 2006; Achunike, 2007; MacArthur, 1992). For the purpose of this study, prosperity preaching, prosperity gospel or prosperity gospel preaching will be used interchangeably. McConnell (1990) informs that right from its source in the USA, prosperity gospel emphasizes the “Three “Ps”: Power , Prestige and Prosperity” (p. 170).

As a student, the televangelists significantly influenced Benson Andrew Idahosa (1938-1998), a Nigerian, at Christ for the Nations Bible Institute in the USA (Emeka, 2002). History shows that within this epoch, prosperity preaching blossomed and was transported to different parts of the globe by people who contacted the various purveyors of prosperity preaching in the USA (Okwori, 1995). At the turn of events in the 1970s, Idahosa responsively brought and planted his Nigerian version of the prosperity message somewhat slightly at variant to the USA version, giving it an African context (Emeka, 2002). Idahosa, pioneered prosperity gospel preaching in Nigeria and thus emerged its true Nigerian father (Ojo, 2013).

Prosperity gospel certainly is a global subject. It is known that right from the inception of prosperity preaching in Nigeria, many Nigerians are ever enthusiastic about it and are vigorously pursuing it in the same manner that people are captivated about religion and are deeply engrossed in its activities. This desire and search for prosperity probably cuts across all religions and all fields of human endeavour. This seems to account for the reason prosperity churches are proliferating in contemporary Nigeria. In the observation of Iheanacho (2009), the more these prosperity churches multiply in Nigeria, the more “They gradually shift emphasis from spirituality and eternal life to earthly life course, here and now” (p.106).

Without doubt, prosperity as preached in Nigeria has enjoyed great patronage from the masses. Most Nigerians are probably embracing prosperity messages for its promise of wealth and health (Gwamna, 2013). Added to this is the fact that prosperity preaching is probably thriving in Nigeria gloriously because of African worldview on materialism and achievement. It is seen that in Nigeria today, material wealth has become a yardstick for measuring who is prosperous in the society to be accorded respect without which one is neglected or disrespected. It is in view of this that at the moment, there is a crazy desire to acquire wealth whether by fair or foul means irrespective of whose ox is gored. It is in line with this that Okoro (2011) seems to remark that “Unbridled pursuit of material wealth obstructs the mind’s ascent to such lasting values as the ‘after life’, moral standards and the judgement of posterity” (p.50).

The prosperity protagonists are reiterating that it is the will of God for his children to be emancipated from the spirit and shackles of poverty to a life of cross-less abundance of wealth and dominion in Christ because they are worshipping a rich God (Achunike, 2002). In their homily, they seem to interpret the Scriptures out of context as well as water down its message to some certain extent. Even though, the issue of misinterpretation of the Scriptures is something that preachers of the gospel are generally prone to if no careful study and the right method of its interpretation is strictly adhere to. By this, preachers have most times succeeded somehow in making people to have wrong understanding of the Scriptures about the total meaning of prosperity and the way God prospers his children generally.

This kind of message of hope and liberation of the Pentecostals is quite appealing to Nigerians who have all along been under the dungeon of awful lack and sufferings. This teaching appears to present a strong pull to people engendering large responses to prosperity gospel in Nigeria. It is instructive to note that all Christians believe in prosperity. To them, particularly Christians from the mainline churches, God prospers his creatures. But since the 1970, Pentecostals have been emphasizing prosperity gospel differently.

There are moderate and extreme prosperity preachers in Nigeria. It is observed that the extremists among the prosperity preachers especially from the neo Pentecostals emphasize that poverty is a curse, and abundance is equated to God’s approval and blessings (Oyedepo, 2010). Therefore children of God are simply to “Name it and claim it”, “Just have faith!”, “Give a nd you will get!” (Adeleye, 2011). According to Adeleye, catch phrases like these have coerced many Christians to believe that by merely trusting God with positive confession, it will bring about effortless abundance of wealth and health miraculously. But the experience of this type of teaching the world over, has shown that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not promise prosperity without pain or salvation without sanctification (Igwegbe, 2007; Ibrahim, 2013). Iheanacho (2009) paints the ugly picture of the phenomenon better in her words thus:

With catchy and animating words, ministers advertise for harvest of miracles, which turn out to be harvest of money. Using both evil and satanic powers to draw large crowds to their churches, they convince their followers to sow ‘quality seeds’ (special lev y), and wait for their miracles, coming on the way. Followers are told that the more they sow, the more the blessings that will come their way. While the minister and miracle worker smile to the bank, his clients go home in the euphoria of hope for imminent and miraculous socio-economic break-through in life. This phenomenon of materialism and commercial ministry is contrary to the teachings and attitude of Christ and the early church over blessing, and miraculous deliverance of people in affliction (p.3).

Sadly, this message of prosperity in point of fact has made deep in-roads in Nigeria, giving rise to negative orientation towards honest labour, and seemingly producing a generation that abhors the principle of hard labour. This perhaps, disenfranchises the younger generation of seeming progress in all spheres of life’s endeavour. There is now a noticeable shift in the orientation of people from hard work to idleness and from holiness to worldliness, to mention the least within the Nigerian religious arena.

It is against this backdrop that this work, decidedly attempts to objectively investigate deeper into the phenomenon of prosperity preaching in Nigeria. It equally endeavours to carry out a historical survey of the phenomenon of prosperity preaching in Nigeria with a view to reconstructing historically, the origin and advancement of prosperity gospel preaching in Nigeria. The work, it is hoped, is a humble contribution to the ongoing researches on prosperity preaching within the Nigerian religious landscape. It tries to underscore the reasons for the fast expansion of prosperity churches in Nigeria while looking at the general behaviour of the worshippers.

1.2 Statement of the Problem
Prosperity preaching is an urban religious phenomenon that has become so pronounced in Nigeria in the 21st century. As popular as prosperity preaching is, most of the books written on it are not authored by experts in the field. Majority of these literatures are essentially motivational in nature, and mostly seem to be written from a myopic and personal conviction and standpoint of the authors. Such literatures are increasingly flooding the Nigerian religious space. The most prolific among the Nigerian prosperity exponents is David Olaniyi Oyedepo of The Living Faith Church Ota who indeed is currently championing the course of prosperity preaching in Nigeria (Achunike, 2007). It is said that Oyedepo has perhaps authored over 80 books at the moment on prosperity and other related issues. He is equally said to have earned the sobriquet “Mr. Breakthrough” for apparently ove remphasizing the message of open doors and sweat-less success for Christians in Nigeria (Achunike, 2007).

Historical evidence demonstrates that there is currently an acute dearth of comprehensive historical study that is in print on prosperity preaching in Nigeria. The only elaborate academic work in Nigeria known to the present researcher was the one done by Nwachukwu (1995) on “Biblical Evaluation of Prosperity Gospel as Preached in Some Nigerian Churches” which is an unpublished Master of Arts (M. A.) dissertation which is written from a biblical standpoint and seen to have been written from a perspective of a great bias against certain prosperity preachers in Nigeria (Onwu, 2006). This M. A. dissertation has been updated as a doctoral thesis by the same author as “Biblical Evaluation of the C oncept of Economic Prosperity among Preachers in Nigeria” (Nwachukwu, 2012).

There are however, a growing number of academically based journal articles on prosperity preaching which lack adequate coverage on the subject. The ostensible absence of a historical documentation on the Nigerian prosperity preaching necessitates this humble study. This study therefore attempts to fill a historical gap in knowledge by developing a historical document on the subject under investigation. This is done with a view to complementing the already concluded research of Nwachukwu (2014) on the “Biblical Evaluation of the Concept of Economic Prosperity among Preachers in Nigeria” .

1.3 Aim of the Study
Prosperity preaching in Nigeria deserves special study. This is rooted in the fact that there is at the moment a growing interest on prosperity in the academic and religious arena across the globe. Principally, this study attempts a reconstruction of the history of prosperity preaching in Nigeria. That is to say that the study endeavours a comprehensive and concise history of prosperity gospel preaching in Nigeria. It sets out to seek and preserve the knowledge about the eruption and steady growth of prosperity preaching in Nigeria. Specifically, the study intends to wade through the contents of prosperity preachers’ ideologies with a view to critically analyse and articulate the dimension of prosperity preaching in the world especially Nigeria within the period under review. The study x-rays and unearths the positive and negative contributions of prosperity preaching in Nigeria. It goes further to clarify the various accusations of critics that prosperity preachers in Nigeria have strayed like lost sheep in their homilies due to over emphasis on materialism thereby sacrificing the true Gospel of Christ on the altar of wealth and health messages. It is therefore the thrust of this work to advance explanation for the conflicting views on the reason for the sudden shift in emphasis of prosperity preachers in Nigeria from asceticism to materialism which probably favours the mushrooming of Pentecostal churches in recent years.

Added to this, the research tries to stimulate some consciousness in Christendom of the urgent demand to emphatically dissuade the modern day Pentecostal prosperity preachers from the temptation of pursuing earthly treasures to the detriment of their own eternal destinies and those of others. It raises alarm on the indifferent attitudes of some Nigerians to their personal Christian life who in turn place their faith on “men of God” rather than God himself.

1.4 Significance of the Study
This study is very relevant because its findings will immensely benefit the academic community, the Churches as well as the general readers. To be precise, the following points express the significance of the study:

i. This study is a contribution to the knowledge bank of education. It serves as an objective and balanced historical research in Church History that will be added to the already existing body of literature on prosperity preaching in Nigeria. Hence, it is hoped that it will be a reference material for future researchers for the reconstruction of Nigerian Church History.

ii. The study serves as an eye opener that over emphasis on materialism is a recent development in the Nigerian Christianity. It therefore sounds the alarm that most of the neo Pentecostal prosperity churches in Nigeria probably exist to hypnotize, defraud and swindle unsuspecting worshippers of their hard earned resources in the name of “Seed-faith” and other named offertory for prosperity.

iii. The study enlightens and sensitizes all Christians in Nigeria of the crucial need to imbibe the culture of hard labour as enshrined in the Holy Scriptures.

iv. The study will generate awareness and knowledge for all Christian leaders, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Ecumenical Councils on the urgent need to tame the unnecessary rise of Pentecostal’s “Man-must-wack” churches in Nigeria.

v. This study strives to unfold all the meaningful contributions of prosperity preaching in the development of Nigerian state and the citizenry.

1.5 Scope of the Study
The word ‘scope’ is used here to convey three sense s. In the first instance, it denotes the depth into which this work intends to go in investigating prosperity preaching in Nigeria. On this note, the study focuses on the origin, history, developments, emphasis, responses and consequences of prosperity preaching in Nigeria. The work will additionally study every aspect of prosperity preaching within the Nigerian religious environments that could illuminate and broaden more comprehension on the subject matter.

Secondly, scope is being used to connote the land space on which this work proposes to cover. The study therefore intends to cover the entire country, but with more concentration on Southern Nigeria. The choice of this region is informed by the fact that in Southern Nigeria, there is a density of Christian population and activities as revealed by Agi (1998) in his studies on the religious map of Nigeria. Though, this study area may sound too large for adequate coverage, but it needs to be clarified that prosperity preaching is an urban religious phenomenon which is mostly concentrated in major towns and cities in Nigeria almost to the total neglect of the rural areas. This probably accounts for the rapid skyrocketing of Pentecostal churches in Nigerian urban settlements.

Thirdly, it determines the period covered by the study. The study which commences from 1970 covers four consecutive decades. But the study digresses a little to examine events preceding 1970s to provide a coherent and logical flow of historical incidents. The year 1970 has been delineated for conveniency for the study because the 1970s have been the most decisive period of Nigerian Pentecostalism as it revitalizes Pentecostal activities which punctuates the eruption of prosperity preaching in Nigeria engendering the explosion of Pentecostal churches (Ukaoha, 2013). The terminal point for the study is 2014 which covers a period of forty four years of Pentecostalism, its real existence, preachment and influence in all ramifications in Nigeria.

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