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Although nearly all of the healing evangelists of the 1940s and '50s taught that faith could bring financial rewards, a new prosperity-oriented teaching developed in the 1970s that differed from the one taught by Pentecostal evangelists of the 1950s. This "Positive Confession" or "Word of Faith" movement taught that a Christian with faith can speak into existence anything consistent with the will of God.[29]

While Kenyon's teachings on overcoming international private investment organisation faith laid the groundwork for the prosperity gospel, the first generation of Pentecostals influenced by him and other figures, such as Bosworth, did not view faith as a means to attain material prosperity. In fact, early Pentecostals tended to view prosperity as a threat to a person's spiritual well-being.[13][14] By the 1940s and 1950s, however, a recognizable form of the doctrine began to take shape within the Pentecostal movement through the teachings of deliverance and healing evangelists. Combining prosperity teaching with revivalism and faith healing, these evangelists taught "the laws of faith ('ask and ye shall receive') and the laws of divine reciprocity ('give and it will be given back unto you')".[15]

Most churches in the prosperity movement are non-denominational and independent, though some groups have formed networks.[30] Prosperity churches typically reject Presbyterian polity (or governance) and the idea that a pastor should be accountable to elders; it is common for pastors of prosperity churches to be the highest organizational authority figure.[59] Critics, including Sarah Posner and Joe Conason, maintain that prosperity teachers cultivate authoritarian organizations. They argue that leaders attempt to control the lives of adherents by claiming divinely bestowed authority.[60] Jenkins contends that prosperity theology is used as a tool to justify the high salaries of pastors.[61]

Kenneth Hagin was credited with a key role in the expansion of prosperity theology. He founded the RHEMA Bible Training Center in 1974, and over the next 20 years, the school trained more than 10,000 students in his theology.[30][31] As is true of other prosperity movements, there is no theological governing body for the Word of Faith movement, and well-known ministries differ on some theological issues.[32] The teachings of Kenneth Hagin have been described by Candy Gunther Brown of international private investment organisation Indiana University as the most "orthodox" form of Word of Faith prosperity teaching.[33]

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In the United States, the movement has drawn many followers from the middle class[46] and is most popular in commuter towns and urban areas.[34] In Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan Rose speculate that the movement was fueled by a prevailing disdain for social liberalism in the United States that began in the 1970s.[36][G] Rosin argues that prosperity theology emerged because of broader trends, particularly American economic optimism in the 1950s and 1990s. Tony Lin of the University of Virginia has also compared the teaching to manifest destiny,[34] the 19th-century belief that the United States was entitled to the West. Marvin Harris argues that the doctrine's focus on the material world is a symptom of the secularization of American religion. He sees it as an attempt to fulfill the American Dream by using supernatural power.[62]

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Prosperity theology has been criticized by leaders from various Christian denominations, including within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, who maintain that it is irresponsible, promotes idolatry, and is contrary to scripture. Secular observers have also criticized prosperity theology as exploitative of the poor.

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