Thursday, August 20, 2009

Christianity in Crisis 21st Century

The original edition of Christianity in Crisis changed my thinking about the Word of Faith movement. I used to believe that these televangelists (Hinn, Hagee, Meyers, Osteen, etc.) believed and preached the same gospel I believe in and preach and that we simply disagreed over whether God wants every believer to be in perfect health and be rich. However, Hanegraaff’s thoroughly documented book helped me to realize that the Word of Faith movement is heretical and that my disagreements are profound. Hanegraaff makes it clear that that his book is not about secondary issues like speaking in tongues, modes of baptism, and millennial views. He argues, “The Faith movement has systematically subverted the very essence of Christianity so as to present us with a counterfeit Christ and counterfeit Christianity.”

There are five overarching theological mistakes that Word of Faith preachers teach. Hanegraaff uses the acronym FLAWS as a mnemonic device to assist in remembering the fatal errors of the Word of Faith movement. Hanegraaff does caution that the Word of Faith movement is not monolithic and that not all of them teach the exact same errors, but all of them teach these five errors to one degree or another.

“Faith in faith” is the first error. Popularly this is known as “name it and claim it.” The basic idea is that words have power to affect one’s life either positively or negatively. Therefore, if one speaks positive things, he will create the positive reality of which he speaks and vice versa for negative confessions. Further, they teach that even God is bound by this “spiritual law”, and he cannot do anything for a person until he speaks positively. Of course, this teaching makes men sovereign and God impotent.

The next error is “little gods.” The Word faith teachers teach that being created in the image of God means that we are gods just like Jesus was. The effect of this teaching is to diminish the uniqueness and deity of Christ. In addition, this teaching deifies man. While one may be able to argue that the “faith in faith” is not a critical error, certainly, this error and the next error are fatal. That is, the Word of Faith teachers teach both a different Jesus and a different way of salvation.

“Atonement Atrocities” is the title for the next error. The Faith teachers teach that Jesus paid the punishment for sin by descending into Hell, suffering at the hands of the Devil, and battling the demon hordes. However, the Bible teaches that Jesus paid the full price for sin on the cross. Further, they teach that Jesus became sin on the cross. Some even teach that Jesus became “one in nature with [Satan].” Then, he was “born again”, that is, he became divine again in Hell before finally defeating Satan. This teaching rests on distortions of Scripture and supposed new revelations. These teachers would have us believe that the second person of the Trinity ceased being God became one with Satan and then turned back into God. This is sheer blasphemy, which if true destroys the work of Christ.

The final two errors are “Wealth and Want” and “Suffering and Sickness.” This is the health-wealth-prosperity gospel. While these views are problematic, they are minor compared to the previous three. Especially troubling is the constant misuse and distorting of Scripture to force it to teach the prosperity gospel.

Two criticisms I have are that the book is sometimes repetitive and the language Hanegraaff uses. One of the new features of the book is a chapter entitled “Cast of Characters.” In this chapter, Hanegraaff gives a short overview and critique of individual Word of Faith teachers. This is generally very helpful; however, much of the material found here is repeated later in other relevant areas. Secondly, Hanegraaff often calls the followers of Word of Faith teachers “devotees.” This word makes me think of a mindless follower of a religion, which makes this word emotionally charged. I know Hanegraaff does not mean it this way because he is careful to make a distinction between Word of Faith teachers and their followers. He says that “there are many sincere, born-again believers in the movement.” A more neutral word choice would have been better.

Truly, the Word of Faith movement is creating a crisis in Christianity. Their views are clearly more than a small difference of opinion. They articulate an alternative Jesus and different gospel. You need to read this book.
Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church

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