Originally from Winnipeg (with Penner grandparents), Kate Bowler is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Duke University. She is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Her newest book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved reflects on her life after being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. She has been called “the Christian Joan Didion.”
Where does your interest in the prosperity gospel stem from?
I discovered that a large number of Mennonites were attending a prosperity megachurch in Winnipeg and I declared it impossible. And because no one could explain it historically I traveled Canada and the United States visiting prosperity megachurches for years trying to solve the riddle. That became the book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the prosperity gospel?
The most controversial aspect of the prosperity gospel—God wants to bless you financially—is not the primary appeal. It is not simply a get-rich-quick scheme but a theodicy, an answer to human suffering. The prosperity gospel promises that everything can be made right and that God offers a cure for tragedy. That is the most incredible promise of all.
What is the biggest lie you ever believed about yourself?
That I am in control of my life because I work hard and I am plucky as all get-out. As it turns out, hard work and pluckiness don’t cure cancer.
What’s the difference between a Mennonite and a Pentecostal?
Mennonites assume that community will solve most problems, and Pentecostals expect the Holy Spirit to do the heavy lifting. But they both love singing.
Do you understand any Plautdietsch?
I’m amazing at asking for little naps and lunches in Plautdietsch, but my crowning achievement is that I can say: “Nice legs.” Thank you, Red Rock Bible Camp.