Total salvation : the gospel of the abundant life and American culture, 1947-1989
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] My dissertation places the gospel of the abundant life, most popularly known as the prosperity gospel, at the center of American religious and cultural history during the last half of the twentieth century. While many scholars of late-twentieth-century American Christianity have focused on its political contributions, both conservative and liberal, my dissertation suggests that it has also contributed to the growth and development of American therapeutic and consumer culture. Many of the prominent figures in my study -- Oral Roberts, Asa Alonso Allen, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Reverend Ike, and Rex Humbard -- were generally uninterested in politics and instead left their mark on the therapeutic landscape. The abundant life's primary contribution to the expansion of the therapeutic sensibility was its attempt to place it within a theologically conservative framework. The leaders of the abundant life made the central goals of American therapeutic culture -- material comfort, psychic well-being, and self-realization -- the central goals of salvation. God's plan for humanity was "total," they argued. Not only did he offer redemption from sin but redemption from poverty, sickness, fat, and depression as well. The path toward total salvation, then, was the pursuit of mental, physical, and financial well-being. Secular culture offered the same things but they could only be fully realized through a relationship with Jesus Christ. By arguing that the abundant life promoted "total salvation," I am also suggesting that its message was much broader than promises of wealth. Rather, wealth was only one part of its message and not even always the most important. The abundant life evangelists addressed issues of sexuality, gender, mental illness, and weight loss.
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