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Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

The “Victorious Faith Center” sign blinked red, sandwiched between a nail salon and a payday loan office in a Durham, North Carolina, mini-mall. I chose this neighborhood church for my ethnography, certain that the church’s name signaled its place in the wider Faith movement. After all, the Faith movement offered victorious Faith, the power to imbue believers with spiritual, physical, and financial mastery over their lives. The Pastor and First Lady agreed to meet to discuss my project, and I was eager to discover their formal links with larger ministry networks.1 As I launched into a description of my study, I felt the emotional temperature drop. No, the Pastor stated firmly, his teachings had no historical precedent. They were born from revelation. “What about the church’s name?” I asked. It had come to him in a dream. I began to see that this line of questioning violated his sense of integrity as a prophet. I started to rummage for new possibilities for my research, when a magazine on the coffee table caught my eye. It was the Word of Faith, the official publication of the flagship Word of Faith institution, Rhema Bible Training Center. The sight of the magazine prompted a different line of questioning. The hidden structures of the Faith movement emerged. Pastor Walton spent several years learning from famed prosperity preacher Robert Tilton at his Bible school in Texas, and had sustained the momentum of his ministry with Faith publications and intermittent trips to witness divine healer Benny Hinn’s crusades. The church “sowed into” the ministries of celebrities like Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, and Joel Osteen. While Pastor Walton believed his insights and preaching bubbled up from the wellsprings of Scripture and personal revelation, in song, sermon, and giving, Sunday

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