God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel I’ve seen this book by Costi Hinn being passed around in the same circles that oppose Bethel and Pentecostalism in general, and my flights were severely delayed this week so I took to the time to read it at the airport. Needless to say, I was summarily disappointed with the book and here are a few initial reasons why:

1) Arguing by way of anecdote is a logical fallacy. The bulk of this book is a personal testimony and coming of age story of a member of Benny Hinn’s extended family and dealing with an inside look at their ministerial practices. That’s okay as far as it goes, but the book claims much more about Pentecostal and Charismatic movements than it actually provides in the way of actual evidence. Assumptions and conclusions are made about Pentecostals and Charismatics associated with the ‘prosperity gospel’ or ‘word of faith’ movements in this book but there is no real substantive evidence that people are inherently corrupt or that they deviate from the Scriptures except in the most general terms. What Costi Hinn does is notice problems with Benny Hinn (his uncle) and his own father’s ministries and then reasons out that the rest of Pentecostal world is much the same. But, real evidence that such is the case (apart from a few well-known TV preachers) on any wide scale is missing in his work.

2) Sound biblical arguments are not offered, or when arguments are provided they are put forward in proof-texting piecemeal fashion. There is an implicit Baptist and cessationist ecclesiology that undergirds any invocation of Scripture that is reminiscent of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire and in fact MacArthur’s books are provided as recommended reading in Costi Hinn’s book. There is no discussion of alternative views by others like Michael Brown or Amos Yong nor is there any real examination or consideration of the presuppositions guiding Costi Hinn’s point of view. The reader is simply left to assume along with Hinn and his experiences that his perspective is the only biblical viewpoint. The problem here, of course, is that cessationism or something very near to it is not the only available Christian position.

3) To me, the more damaging thing is that this book is merely one in a stream of recent apologetic efforts that attempt to tell a story and elicit sympathy for a particular view rather than seriously grapple with the various issues from the perspective of the Scriptures. In essence, this makes the book a piece of propaganda and not a real or serious treatment of the prosperity gospel and/or word of faith movements. What many people do not realize is that this is a postmodern apologetic approach that we don’t see in the Scriptures, but it’s one we see increasingly used by apologetic ministries. In essence, videos and books that merely tell stories are producing propaganda and not real and substantial argumentation from a biblical perspective.

4) The question deserves to be asked–do we really believe that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) or do we believe that faith comes by video testimonials, podcasts, and scandal-ridden book-length memoirs? Our apologetic method should reflect what the Scriptures tell us and not merely our own postmodern cultural and societal dependence on images, videos, and books telling personal stories.

5) Aside from the postmodern apologetic approach, cessationism itself is a position that is not explicitly present in the Scriptures and that becomes something very difficult if not impossible to prove for Reformed Baptists given their hermeneutical limitations. Oddly enough, Costi Hinn says he believes in miracles and that they occur but he says little more than that in condemning his uncle’s ministry as a con game.

6) Sometimes, the most glaring errors we see in something like the prosperity gospel may not be the most serious ones we need to be concerned about (Matthew 7:3). Is the prosperity gospel really a more damaging error than what we have seen with premillennial dispensationalism, revivalism, a focus on individual salvation, and the sort of spirituality that ignores this present world? Hinn provides little to no evidence that he’s even aware of these issues and in fact his book betrays the fact that he’s very much influenced by errors like this in his critique of the prosperity gospel. More importantly, Hinn provides no real evidence that prosperity gospel or word of faith preaching is more dangerous in our society than the other errors mentioned above.

7) Costi Hinn downplays the importance of today and lifts up the importance of eternal life in standard dispensational fashion. However, in doing so, he resolutely ignores much of what the Bible says about wealth and blessing in living a life in obedience to God. He also, typically, universalizes passages about suffering that the New Testament presents about first century Christian life. As such, he really doesn’t present a positive view of wealth and living for consideration by fellow Christians or anyone who doesn’t already share his rather limited point of view. This is a huge miss when speaking to the errors of a prosperity gospel and it displays how unbalanced his criticism really is. Biblical peace (shalom) and the abundant life is not only about eternal life and an overly baptistic ecclesiology doesn’t do Costi any favors in developing a proper position on what it means to be wealthy. Costi doesn’t deal with statements Jesus made like “greater things than these” (John 14:12) or the many other passages we could point to in talking about kingdom life in the now.

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