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.