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 Critique of “Success Theology”


 Dr. Grant C. Richison






The Alternative is Biblical Excellence.



The usual Greek term for excellence (ARETE occurs only five times in the New Testament: Php. 4:8; 1 Pet. 2:9; 2 Pet. 113,5 (twice)).

REASON, The Greek idea of excel­lence was man-centered.

Excellence meant the perfecting of oneself, based on human ability and achievement.

This idea is the essence of modern excellence: self-originated and man centered.

Biblical excellence points to God Himself as the source and object of excellence; therefore, the more common way to describe excellence is by the Greek term telos.

TELOS describes the END or PURPOSE of something. God has made us for a pur­pose and to move toward this TELOS is to move toward excellence.

Biblical excellence has to do with VALUES & IDEALS rather solely with EXPERTNESS.

This is the fundamental issue in excellence.

This also leads to fundamental questions about the purpose of life.

Aristotle’s goal was to dis­cover man’s essential purpose of existence. The excellence of a thing is related to the purpose for which it exists. Unfortunately, he had a wrong concept of what that purpose Excellence was the development of the private self.

Modern psychology has produced buzz words such as “self-actualization” and “self-realization”

God’s purpose is radically theocentric (God-centered).



The Christian’s standard of excellence is nothing less than the CHARACTER OF GOD.

Congruence between character and per­formance is of great importance to biblical excellence (1 1:14-16).



Three great ambition that produce a life of excellence:

To please God

To praise God

To proclaim God

There is a strong link between spiritual excellence and a desire to please God (Jn 8:29; 4:34; 5:30; 6:30; Ro 15:3; 2 Co 5:9; Eph 5:10; Co 1:10; 3:30; He 11:6; 13:15-16).



Christian character begins at the core purpose of life, not at the circumference.

Excellence of character has priority over excellence of achievement.

If excellence is primarily a matter of superior talents, then most of us are ordained to mediocrity.

Most Christians have opted out of the pursuit of excellence feeling that they are not suited for the pursuit.

Character development is the key to spiritual usefuness (2 Pe 1:2-11).

Excellence of achievement must be directed toward worthwhile goals and guided by moral principles.

Modern culture emphasizes competence without character.

The priority of character for the Christian is due to what person IS. It colors all that he DOES.

An activity-oriented culture is a great challenge to putting who we are over what we do.

Achievement in itself can never be the biblical mark of excellence or greatness.



The excellence of Paul’s life is inseparable from the clarity of his goal, the excellence of that goal and his single-mindedness with which he pursued his goal (Php 3:5-16).

Paul desired/valued the prize not so much for its intrinsic worth, but as a symbol of the Lord’s approval of the service he lovingly had given.

The price Paul paid–there were things Paul did not do, not because they were wrong, but because they were not consistent with his goal (1 Co 9:24-27).

Previous to Paul’s experience in Philippians 3, his values were not revolutionary to his life. He thought God’s approval came on the top rung of the ladder of achievement.

Paul’s new values called for a TOTAL reevaluation of his old view of life—he called them a “loss”.

The COST in radical change of values is a change in relation­ships and viewpoints. Paul ex­changed them for the “SURPASSING VALUE” (Php 4:7) of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Php 3:8).

Paul’s values, therefore, focused on the PERSON of Christ. According to Php 3:8-10 everything was meaningful to Paul, his life and death.

The importance was in the CONTENT of his choice.

Paul lived under the conviction that God had a PURPOSE for his life– ” …that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

D. L. Moody: “I’d rather have a man who says: ‘This one thing I do,’ than ‘These hundred things I dabble with.’”

Philippians 3:14–Paul’s desire was to obtain the APPROVAL of his Lord.

Philippians 3:16–Disciplined continuance is the key to

The Bible requires holding in ten­sion apparently contradictory con­cepts which are in fact mutually dependent.

Human effort is indispensable for human excellence.

Human effort is also inadequate (Christ-likeness is not possible by unaided human effort).

2 Co 4:7--God’s power does not merely match human weakness, but completely transcends it. Because of God’s power supersedes human weakness, human excellence cannot be understood only in terms of either character or ability.

Suffering glorifies God and is a unique form of Christian excellence. It is far more important to manifest Christ than to display skills (2 Cor 4:8-15).

Therefore, excellence for the believer can be understood ONLY in relation to the glory of God.


The American dream is prosperity, suc­cess and power.

This is an obsession with the many.

To make the gospel more desirable, theologies have been invented which guarantee health, wealth, prosperity and power.

Consumer religion—“it is their God-given right.”

Slogans of the prosperity gospel: “God wants you to be rich;” “think mink;” “go first class;” “you a King’s kid.”

 –The ASSUMPTION is that there is a direct relation between spiritual excellence and worldly success. The more success we achieve, the more glory God receives.

These attempts to sanctify the Amer­ican dream are possible only by dis­torting the Bible.

Why God causes one and not another to special privilege is totally within His decrees, but the determining factor is not invariably godliness or excel­lence of the believer.

The Christian is to strive for success, but he is not GUARANTEED worldly success or earthly re­wards. Indeed, the results may be the exact opposite.




Hebrews 11:37-38

Therefore, we should not take success as an evidence of excellence; nor does true excellence guarantee worldly success.

An individual of immense skills may never rise to the top. This is not because of failure but because of his character.

 God, however, is not opposed to prosperity.

He is opposed to prosperity as a terminal value. God measures success in terms of Himself and eternity. Worldly success is evaluated only by the present.

Joseph and Daniel were success even with enduring great adversity.

The equation of excellence and success is dangerous because it sounds spiritual to assert that we cannot be sick or fail if we trust God, and that He will re­ward us for faith and giving by making us rich.

Excellence must not be pursued because it leads to success.

Dangers of the Gospel of Success

This doctrine gives the illusion that everyone can be materially or occupationally successful.

It fosters spiritual elitism.

Over against emphasizing the power of God to change lives, proponents of this view focus on superficial changes that only alter behavior patterns, especially those that “get a person ahead in life.”

This doctrine inflates God’s prom­ises to include more than our needs (Php 4).

It reduces God’s blessings to material things essentially.

The “Success Gospel” does not allow for suffering (1 Pe 4:12-14).

The FATAL FLAW focuses attention on our OWN glory and profit as over against GOD’S glory.

Success emphasizes the external rather than the internal.

Success may encourage expedience and compromise, which prompt us to treat people as means to our ends.

Are success and spirituality compatible?

Failure to resolve this issue leads to frustration, guilt and compartmentalize.

Human worldview says: “set goals, confidence, think positively, strive to be great.”

God says: “take no thought of tomorrow, let Christ have control of your life; have no confidence in the flesh; deny yourself; be content with such things as you have; humble yourself.”

What spirituality is and is not:

Spirituality is NOT:

Materialism (Mt 6:19-20)

Selfishness (Mt 8:34-35)

A life without problems (Jn 16:33)

Egoism (Ga 6:3)

Self-confidence (Php 4:13)

Power (Mt 20:24-28)

Pleasing everyone (Mt 20:24-28)

Spirituality IS being the person God wants us to be and the con­tinued ACHIEVEMENT of goals which God helps me set.



Being in the inner circle of spirituality

Growth in the Word

Understanding God’s sovereignty

Loving others

Achieving the maximum that can be achieved in your life with what God has given you.

God is interested in our success PROVIDED  our intension to be successful is proper.


Worldly success is evaluated only by the PRESENT, with no reference to God or eternity. True biblical excellence and success are built on God’s purpose and program for time and eternity.

The Christian may strive for success, but God does not guarantee worldly achievement or rewards. Indeed, the result may be the exact opposite.

There is an inevitable conflict between excellence and WORLDLY suc­cess (Cf. Mat. 6124).

Since God never guarantees success, therefore, it must not be taken as an evidence of excellence. Jesus said that a man’s life does not con­sist in the abundance of posses­sions.

To pursue earthly goals to the ex­clusion of God will detract from God’s call to excellence.

Excellence must not be pursued be­cause it leads to success.



To the prosperity group, mediocrity is a terrible enemy, that the capacity for excellence lies within all of us, and that an individual who is willing to pay the price can achieve it–“Whatever the mind can conceive, a man can achieve.”

There is a great deal that is valuable in this thinking:

The need to establish goals.

The need to reach beyond the status quo.

The importance of attitudes and priorities.

The value of an optimistic view of life.

However, these motivational speakers/ writers have a negative side which negates much of what they believe:

Their anemic and unbiblical view of faith; FAITH IN THE POWER OF FAITH.

Faith is emptied of its biblical CONTENT in this view of faith.

A Christian does not believe in the power of faith nor is he saved because of faith.

Faith has no power in itself: faith must have an OBJECT.



The Christian life takes place in the area of normal life (1 Co 9:24-27)

The Christian can conquer with 2 exceptions (He 12:1):

Competition can be healthy (it can stretch us beyond what we thought ourselves capable); but the Christian life is not based on com­petition (we do not win by causing others to lose).

Competition involves comparison with others. That comparison is appro­priate so long as it is not confused with PERSONAL WORTH (1 Sa. 1816-9).

“Run in such a way as to get the prize, (1 Cor. 9:24).

Paul is not thinking of compari­son to or a competition with others, but of spiritual excel­lence for himself (Php 3:12). We win “by” laying hold of God’s purpose for our lives.

There is a cost to excellence (1 Co 9:25-27):

1st Cost: DISCIPLINE (1 Co 9:25)

2nd Cost: DIRECTION/PURPOSE (1 Co 9:26): To please God.

3rd Cost: DETERMINATION (1 Co 9:26-27).

The rationale for spiritual excellence (1 Co (9:25,27).

Reward (9:25) – God’s approval.

Disapproval (1 Co 9:27)