A review of Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century. By Hank Hanegraaff.
Thomas Nelson, 2009. (Available in Australia at Koorong books)
This is an updated and expanded version of a book which first appeared in 1993. In the original volume Hanegraaff carefully examined a growing, popular, yet problematic movement within Christian circles. Known variously as the Positive Confession Movement, the Health and Wealth Gospel, the Word of Faith Movement, or the Prosperity Gospel, it raised serious problems deserving a close critique.
Briefly put, these ‘gospels’ emphasise the belief that God wants all his followers to be rich and never in material want; that believers should always enjoy good health, and that any sickness (like poverty) is an indication of sin, unbelief, and lack of faith; and that we have the power to create our own reality by the spoken word.
Thus in similar fashion to much New Age teaching and the Mind Sciences beliefs, we can visualise our own reality; we can name it and claim it; and we can live like kings on planet earth. Not surprisingly, this movement which so much emphasises material blessings, riches and self-improvement, originated in the most narcissistic, greedy, materialistic and self-obsessed culture on earth, America.
In the first edition of this book, leaders such as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts and Frederick Price were discussed. Their teachings and theology were given a detailed examination in the light of Scripture. This revised edition adds newer players, including Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes and John Hagee.
The clearly deficient – and at times, heretical – teachings are carefully evaluated and assessed in the light of sound theology, solid hermeneutics, and the whole counsel of God. Some of the teachings often involve biblical truths which have been taken out of context, or are used in ways the original biblical writers did not intend them to be used.
For example, much is made of the blessings associated with the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as found in passages like Deut. 28. This movement is quite happy to claim these blessings as belonging to Christians today. But there are plenty of problems with this.
These were covenant blessings made to Israel, not the Church. And they were all bound up with the land – Canaan. Material abundance, prosperity and blessing would follow obedience. The crops would yield much, livestock would be abundant, the land would be at peace from its enemies, and so on.
But there is no piece of geography which New Testament saints inhabit. Our blessings are in the heavenlies in Christ. And these teachers never seem to speak about the curses associated with disobedience. There are far more curses than blessings mentioned in the Old Testament texts. Evidently the Positive Confession advocates don’t like to discuss the curses, since that would be to make a negative confession.
But some of the teachings of this movement are downright heretical, as Hanegraaff so clearly documents. Indeed, with an ample supply of quotes from the Word of Faith teachers, he shows how far these teachings have departed from biblical Christianity.
Teachers such as Kenneth Hagin, Morris Cerullo and Charles Capps teach that we are “little gods” and are in fact on equal standing with God. We are reproductions of God, and we are in fact “exact duplicates of God”. Just like the cults, they mangle and twist biblical passages to push their doctrines. In fact, as Hanegraaff points out, they really end up teaching polytheism here.
Not only is man deified in these teachings, but so too is Satan! But worse still, God becomes demoted in such teaching. Benny Hinn for example has said that Jesus in heaven is a mere man, not God. And many of these teachers claim that God himself had a physical body, and they are quite happy to describe what he looks like! They even manage to mangle the traditional understanding of the Trinity.
Like other critics of this controversial movement, Hanegraaff notes how very similar their teachings are to those of the metaphysical cults, such as Christian Science, and the Unity School of Christianity. These cultic predecessors to the New Age Movement have quite similar teachings on a whole range of topics, including creative visualisation, mind over matter, and spiritual healing.
He places quotes from people like Phineas Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy alongside those of the Word of Faith leaders: they appear to be identical. Just like the New Thought metaphysicians, the Name It and Claim It teachers argue that faith will overcome any physical malady, and medicines can be thrown away. Relying on doctors is an indication of sinful unbelief.
Their teachings on prosperity fare no better. One Scripture after another is lifted from its context and twisted into a gospel of greed. They appeal to the very thing the Bible tells us to flee from: the love of money. Creflo Dollar is representative of these teachers when he insists, “I want to know how to live in a mansion now! I want to know how to live in a penthouse now.”
Hanegraaff finishes this helpful volume with some basic principles of biblical interpretation and Bible study. Proper study of the Scriptures, with awareness of basic theology and a bit of church history should be sufficient to keep most people out of these deceptive movements. But biblical literacy is not a highlight of most believers today, thus the need to correct error continues unabated.
The Word of Faith movement has much to do with greed, selfishness, hedonism and narcissism. It has very little to do with Jesus and his teachings. It seems to know nothing of the command of Jesus to pick up our cross, die to self, and follow him. And while the original promoters of this faith may be on the wane, the new breed of gospel-of-self preachers like Joel Osteen keep this dangerous and unbiblical emphasis bubbling along.
Thus this revised version of his original work is a welcome volume indeed. As long as we have preachers and teachers appealing to those with itching ears, we will need those who will sound the biblical alarm and stand up for orthodox teaching and practice.
26 Replies to “A review of Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century. By Hank Hanegraaff.”
These various teachings have been paraded as “evangelical” by both their promoters and adherents. They clearly are not, but the churches which promote these teachings, i.e. many of the so-called ‘mega-churches’, should be de-listed from the category of evangelical, Bible-based churches and reclassified as cults, for such they are.
I know that such a course would severely reduce the number of faithful churches, but since when has our God been concerned about numbers? Faithfulness is the watchword. God will give the increase.
Yes one has to wonder just how much some of these groups can really be called Christian.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I deal extensively with mental health issues within the Christian community and a dangerous spin off of this heretical teaching is the ’emotional health gospel’.
The ’emotional health gospel’ is a variant on the physical health and wealth prosperity gospel.
This teaching leads to the labelling of Christians suffering with mental illness, as responsible for their own illness and suffering, consequently, their is very little empathy and understanding within the church.
Many (MANY) suffering Christians on our mental health website have been duly informed by the church that they should repent, have more faith, stop their medications and perhaps consider demon deliverance as a result of this wicked teaching.
The wicked damage done to these vulnerable brothers and sisters as a result of this heresy is heartbreaking and many don’t attend church anymore.
We created a Christian mental health website, to combat these ‘teachings’ and to provide a safe forum for Christians impacted by mental illness to gather together and share and encourage one another without fear of being judged.
We have also had to provide teachings to combat this heresy:-
I have never seen such a damaging and wicked teaching as the emotional, physical, heath and wealth gospel. It makes my blood boil with anger.
Stuart Mackay, UK
I thought I would give this a read as it is not something I think about but avoid because of the wishy washy message. It is confusing because despite the seeming new age apostasy they also produce some positive results for the the body. Unfortunately it is another example of our human tendency to swing to extremes. One day we may learn.
I have not read Hank’s book, but similar journals noting the same perspectives.
I have listened to and enjoy learning from the preachers and teachers that the above article defames.
Isn’t God going to reward everyone according to their works (Matt. 16:27). So I enjoy reading and learning from people who get results in life. I ask myself, what are thoughts behind the actions to get the result? Because Charles Swindol says ‘man will never learn to live right until he learns to think right’. In Neil T Andersons writings he mentions that man is intrinsically involved in shaping his own destiny.
So it would be of some benefit if we were shown (by example) and taught a way that was better rather than just belittleling others. Especially some of the scriptures referring to blessings (health, wealth, etc…) and inclusions of a covenant blessing should be contextualised, expanded and applied into current day to day living. This would help give balance to some of the scriptures that these preachers use and would more helpful in showing us how to live (if not by the spoken Word).
Are my thoughts the result of a society that values productivity and is results orientated?
But to quote from someone is not to defame them. As to the claim, ‘yes but it seems to work,’ which Jacob also mentions, let me say a few things. Christianity is based on truthfulness, not pragmatism. That is, Christianity is not true because it works, but it works because it is true.
There are all sorts of cults, New Age groups and non-Christian religions that seem to have ‘results,’ that seem to ‘work,’ and that seem to deliver the goods. But the truth question is ultimately how we judge worldviews, not by supposed results.
People of course can experience healings and all sorts of other goods in other religions and even decidedly anti-Christian ones. Does that mean they are of God therefore? Even an entirely secular person can get some limited benefits from a positive mental attitude, and mind over matter thinking. Sure, there is some limited value in all this, which a person can benefit from without even being a Christian.
Indeed, that is the very stuff of books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. So is she in God’s will because she is pushing these ideas? Jesus of course warned about many who would come in his name, even performing miracles, and deceiving the very elect of God. Thus as always we must test all things, use discernment, see how ideas line up with Scripture, and test the spirits. We are not to be gullible, or base our beliefs on pragmatism alone.
And you must not confuse similarity of thinking in certain areas with wholesale acceptance. Neither Swindoll nor Anderson would in any way claim to be part of the Health and Wealth camp. Indeed, they would be quite critical of many aspects of it.
And of course to say that their teaching is off is not to say that everything they teach is wrong or bad. Some of the emphases, such as having strong faith and the like, can be helpful. But it all tends to get pushed to unbiblical extremes, so that having faith in faith becomes the goal, instead of the person (Jesus) who should be the object of our faith, etc.
Much more can be said about this, so perhaps I need to write some more articles on all this. But thanks for your comments.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Your artical reminds me of the verses about leaven, I wonder what the early church would of done with their preachers if they spoke a leaven gospel in the church?
Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. -Luke 12:1
It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. -Luke 13:21
Your glorying [is] not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? -1 Cor 5:6
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump. -1 Cor 5:7
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. -Gal 5:9
Michael you commented “Isn’t God going to reward everyone according to their works (Matt. 16:27)”
Let’s look at that verse and the verse before it.
Mat 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mat 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
What would be the reward for a preacher who gave a leavened gospel or a congregation who believed in a leavened gospel?
On earth I may profit and gain riches and wealth, yet can that gain me enterance into heaven?
Hi Bill, Thank you for your response, keep up the good work!
I’m not meaning to say that you article is ridiculing the above preachers; I can see that you are just doing a book revision. I will have to give Hank’s book a read to really understand where he is coming from…remembering to ‘use discernment, see how it lines up with scripture, and test the spirit’.
In relation to defaming… I believe that Benny Hinn did make that comment very early in his ministry and was quickly corrected and he adjusted his statement. He doesn’t probably appreciate people assuming that this is still his current theological view. (I could be wrong here)
Just don’t want to see the baby thrown out with the bath water, (as you have noted a point of concern also). Some sermons from the above preachers that I’ve heard have been uplifting and exalting the name of Jesus. Then signs follow those that believe (Mrk 16) and Jesus confirms his word after a Gospel message, then I’d be carefully trying to narrow the point of contention.
Truth is the correct measuring rod to use with issues of theology and also practical living. Ultimately God is sovereign over all. We must also take responsibility over all the areas of our lives, and by applying the principles we find in the Word we should ultimately get the biblical results, right? If not, we should still aim at the highest possible order ‘as it is in Heaven so let it be on Earth’ (Matt 6:10).
The truth in God’s word never changes. Shouldn’t we still see the results of Christ Word going hand in hand with our worldview?
I agree that there is some / limited value in mind over matter, visualisation, goal setting, etc… but all this pails into insignificance unless one has accepted Jesus as their Lord (Jn 3:3,7,16). ‘For what profit is it to a man if he gained the whole world, and loses his own soul’ Matt 16:26.
I am with you!
(BTW, my reference to your reference about defamation was referring to Hanks’ quotes of the HWG teachers, not my review)
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I’m going to digress slightly from the opinions expressed thus far. For one, I don’t think most of those involved in the Prosperity movement are cultists and I think they can said to be Christians. I think you’re also slightly unfair to many preachers (e.g. Hagee, Hinn, Joyce Meyer) who express mostly Biblical themes and do not invoke positive thinking, mind over matter and the like. These individuals could be seen to be within the wider Pentecostal/evangelical movement whilst distinguishing themselves in their emphasis on financial prosperity (which they are probably misguided). Some of the other individuals (particularly Jakes and Osteen) could be hardly distinguished from their secular counterparts in the positive psychology/new age movements. Hardly a word about the Gospel and could be interchangeably rotated with Martin Seligman in one of his seminars (surprise, surprise Jakes is a regular guest on Dr. Phil). I’m not sure if you have taken the ‘little gods’ comment out of context – maybe they were referring to man being in the image of God (hence possessing some of the finite attributes of God). I sort of doubt that they were implying equality with God or polytheism for that matter (I may be corrected).
The tithe can be good in the right context (e.g. near my home an AoG church was able to purchase a former high school building whilst a Baptist congregation has to hire out a school building across the road). The tithe in this context is used to further the Gospel. Where the Prosperity people go wrong is to say that “if you give us money, God will financial reward you” – the people of God are meant to tithe without regard to personal gain (Mike Murdoch is particularly bad in this in this respect). A few months ago Benny Hinn on a TBN give-me-money-thon seemed to be heading in the right direction in preaching a ‘tithe-for-the-gospel’ message.
The Prosperity folk waste a lot of money in having four channels (TBN, Inspiration, Daystar & God TV) which basically broadcast the same stuff. Though I have to say God TV is probably the most Biblically sound and have had some programming which has been a blessing to me.
I do agree that the folk are misguided but I’m not prepared to say that they all lay outside of the faith to the point of their being damned.
That’s my two cents.
F. Trpimir Kesina
Yes, of all those who might be associated with this movement, there would be some variation, with some being closer to orthodox theology and biblical Christianity than others.
As to the ‘little god’ teaching, it is far more pernicious and pronounced that you imagine, but you can look it up yourself in their writings.
I actually have box-loads of their material, since I have been researching them over the years. I have 185,000 words written on the movement, which I need to turn into a book some day. Add it to my to-do list.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Catholics don’t have this problem as the prosperity gospel is not part of our tradition.
Catholic priests and Catholics generally are average money managers as money is not our primary consideration.
If a Catholic parish gets volunteers to repair things or sound equipment etc on the cheap, then that is like winning the lotto to us Catholics.
I lost a dear friend who was a “namer and claimer”. He refused to take his B.P. pills.
Touching on the Biblical Illiteracy of many of these prosperity preachers and their devotees; I couldn’t believe my eyes opening a Koorong catalogue a few months ago and noticing Joel Osteen’s wife had written a book with the title “Love Your life”!
Clearly John 12:25 had not rung any alarm bells!
Yes the theology of the Osteens is quite simple: Me, Me, Me.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Bill, a book that I found of much interest regarding the curses was “Swear to God – the promise and power of the sacraments” by Scott Hahn.
I heartily agree with these condemning comments regarding the greed and selfishness and different gospel etc.
However, I find myself in one of these churches. The reason why I am still there is because the senior minister usually majors on the topic of Regeneration – how a Christian ought to live: ie. pray, evangelise, be without sin etc. – and actually models it himself.
It has been only recently with a leadership and emphasis shift that it has been going downhill.
How do you combat such arguments as:
1. God wants you to be the best (read:most successful, or, richest) in your workplace so that you can be a good witness–a poor businessman is not a good witness; and
2. God wants to make you rich so you can bless others; and,
3. God doesn’t make you suffer to test you – it’s a devil.
Good questions which I am happy to address either in a long comment or a short article. So I will get to it real soon.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Christians in charismatic churches read the Bible through the ‘word of faith’ lenses and so they cannot differentiate between the different gospel and the one the apostles taught. (Gal 1: 6-9) The different gospel they adhered to is a product attributed to Kenneth Hagin, the father of the word of faith teachings. It’s an ‘all about me’ gospel and Jesus dying to give everybody a better life (health and wealth etc) if we will only claim and appropriate that right as our own. Like the world, many are just concerned about the body, the here and the now. It’s just not Christian positive thinking or confession that is attracting Christians; today we even have Christian Yoga in the form of Christian mystical meditation and other mind and visualisation practices. But the good news is that many are being set free from the teachings of this different gospel and returning to the pure word of God and sound doctrines.
Thanks again Nathan
Here are some quick replies to your three points.
Success in the Bible is not marked by how much money you make or how high you rise on the corporate ladder, but on how faithful you are. As Paul says in Colossians, we are to do all for the glory of God. Indeed, we are not called to be successful, simply to do what the Lord has told us to do, and leave the results to him.
Do we really believe a poor person cannot be a good witness? Often it is Christian integrity that prevents people from getting ahead in the business world. And who decides what a ‘poor businessman’ is? Simply one who does not generate a lot of profit? Is that God’s test of those who are or are not fully in his will?
Can we not bless others apart from being rich? There are in fact plenty of warnings in Scripture about being rich. Plenty of rich Christians are not blessing others, but are just being greedy, and are often choking their own spirituality as a result.
The third objection is simply silly. There are numerous passages which speak of God using and implementing suffering, hardship and trials to do just that – test our faith, make us more Christlike, to refine and purify us, and so on. Start with Job, and move throughout Scripture. People are reading the Bible with blinders on to make such reckless remarks. Try just a few texts here: Psalm 119:75; Isa 48:10; Isa 53:10; Rom 5:3, 4; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6,7.
But as I say, I will need to write more articles on these important issues.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Hi Bill. Thank you for your book review.
I know many conservative, mature Bible believing Christians who show they are well grounded in the Scriptures and of sound theology yet love reading and hearing Benny Hinn. I cannot understand it. The man has made outrageous statements; these people must know he is wrong but yet give of their meagre savings to keep him in a multi-million dollar lifestyle. Why?
Michael says, ‘I believe that Benny Hinn did make that comment very early in his ministry and was quickly corrected and he adjusted his statement.’ The problem with Benny is that he withdraws the statement when challenged but repeats it some time later. It shows that they are core to his theology.
It is very sad when Christian bookstores need only stock a handful of copies of books by sound biblical authors and yet have whole sections of their store dedicated to authors mentioned in your article.
Hey, don’t get me started on what we find – or don’t find – in most Christian bookstores today!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I found your website over a week ago and have been looking for this particular article and would love to see more on this topic. Especially about Healing Seminars and Prayer healers.
Also, thank you to you and others on here who recommend so many great books that follow the scriptures and not ‘Self’.
My list of books to read is quite long and growing- keep them coming.
Kerri-ann Perkins, NSW
On the issue of the health and wealth gospel, or the name it and claim it theology, I have written other articles, including:
And more will be forthcoming.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
OMGosh – Thank you for this, Bill. I was in a certain popular line of churches all my Christian life and always felt every other church was wrong.
Until, I got sick – suddenly the people who were supposed to look after us, walked away. A pastor once came to visit me in hospital and said ‘I have been wondering why YOUR family has so many problems, ie – health & disability’ – in other words – There must be something wrong with you all.
He was trying to convince us that we all needed some serious prayer. The only time his wife ever talked to me was to ask where I got my children’s clothes from? And I was going through big-time chemo and disease.
I also once heard a church worker tell everyone to throw their anti-depressants away. Anytime, I spoke of my illness, I was shunned and told never to speak about it. Yet, here I was visiting hospital twice a week, don’t talk about it? It was my life at the time.
Then again, they hated my advocacy and they way I spoke about key social problems within our health system. Important changes we needed to make to save others from getting a delayed diagnosis, like me. They would not speak of any of it, even though I was making great strides.
When we finally left, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders and going to another line of churches was like walking out of condemnation and into the light. I feel for everyone else trapped in that lifestyle. You could have both legs chopped off by a tractor accident and be told that your sin caused the tractor to roll over you.
Illness, disease and disability is simply a part of life and we must face it head on with no condemnation to the person with the monkey on their back, but just love, compassion and prayer. That’s what Jesus would do.
I here from hundreds more going through this condemnation and it is shattering….we need to stop it.