an article from the Interview column of the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 6: Number 3, 1993.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
Hank Hanegraaff's new book Christianity in Crisis is a landmark work that exposes the false teachings of some of today's most popular television and radio preachers. In the following interview, Ron Rhodes asks Hank about key aspects of the book and the tremendous response it has generated.
Ron: Hank, let's begin foundationally. Why did you write Christianity in Crisis?
Hank: I wrote the book because the line of demarcation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the cults has been not only blurred but obliterated by the fastest growing movement within the evangelical Christian church. I'm speaking of the Word-Faith movement, a movement that claims to be Christian but upon closer examination is clearly rooted in the metaphysical cults.
Christianity is in crisis today because a counterfeit has entered the church. The kingdom of the cults is not only preying on the church from the outside, it's in the church and it's systematically perverting the essentials of the historic Christian faith. People are being led like lambs to the slaughter because they don't know what the truth is, and they don't know how to determine the difference between truth and error. That's why I wrote the book.
Ron: In the book, you cite the names of many Faith teachers. How do you answer critics who say it is unchristian to mention specific names in a book like this?
Hank: Well, first, I point out in my book that there is a biblical precedent for naming names in a critical way. For example, the apostle Paul specifically mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20.
Beyond this, however, we need to look at this question from a practical standpoint. In everyday life, for example, we recognize that if there is a painkiller on the market and it's been found to be laced with cyanide, it poses a health hazard to people throughout the United States and indeed the world. So, the first thing that happens is that newscasters get on television and specifically identify the painkiller. They don't get on television and say, "There's a painkiller out there and if you take it you're going to die instantly but we can't tell you what it is." Obviously they plainly identify it by name. The same thing needs to be done with people who are dispensing spiritual cyanide by the megadose over the Christian airwaves.
Kenneth Copeland, for example, goes so far as to say that Satan defeated Christ upon the cross. He teaches that upon the cross Jesus took on the nature of a satanic being, experienced spiritual death, went to hell, and there had to be born again. Copeland says redemption wasn't secured on the cross, it was only begun on the cross and was ultimately secured in the caldrons of hell.
Ron: So, it's this kind of poisonous doctrine that leads you to specify people by name?
Hank: Absolutely. And you must keep in mind that we're not just talking about some academic debate here, we're talking about people's lives hanging in the balance spiritually and physically. There are people that die as a direct result of following the faulty prescriptions of the Faith teachers.
Hobart Freeman of the Faith Assembly may be cited as an example. Over 90 documented deaths can be pointed back to his false teachings. He himself died prematurely because of his own teachings.
Another example relates to a woman who recently wrote me a letter about one of her husband's employees. This employee was an epileptic, and he went to a Benny Hinn "miracle invasion" rally.
When this man got up on the platform at the rally, Hinn prayed over him. What happened next? According to the letter, the man had an epileptic seizure and was immediately escorted off the stage.
The letter said the man had been certain he would be healed. But he wasn't. Eventually, the man became so disillusioned that he doused himself with kerosene and set himself ablaze. He sustained burns over 75 percent of his body and is not expected to live. That's the kind of human carnage I'm talking about.
Ron: There are some critics, Hank, who challenge whether the many quotes in your book are in context. How do you respond?
Hank: Well, what I have codified in Christianity in Crisis is not only what is defined by Faith teachers, but also what is defended by them. The fact that this book is massively documented -- with over 700 endnotes and over 400 bibliographic references -- testifies to the fact that I'm not taking the Faith teachers out of context. I have provided detailed endnotes so you can go to the primary sources and check things out for yourself.
Newsletter readers might be interested to know that I've put together a taped version of Christianity in Crisis which is available through CRI and through bookstores. This taped version has been put together for the very reason you asked the question. There are people who say, "Unless I hear them say it with my very own ears, I will not believe." Well, frankly, Christianity in Crisis on tape will forever dispel the notion that the Faith teachers have been taken out of context.
When you listen to that tape, you will hear Faith teachers -- with premeditation and with vigor -- define and defend the cultic doctrines I make reference to in my book.
Ron: It is significant that some of these teachers, prior to making heretical statements, say "the anointing is now upon me," or "the Holy Spirit is upon me," and they get "revelation knowledge" from God. What are the implications of this?
Hank: Ultimately, God is being blamed for the errors. A classical example of this was when Benny Hinn made the now-infamous statement that there were "nine of them in the Godhead." Now, he had just previously said that the Holy Spirit was heavy on him and that the Holy Spirit was giving him revelation knowledge. Later on he retracted the remark after being called on the carpet by Christianity Today magazine, and he conceded he had made a very dumb statement. Obviously, if you draw all this out to its logical conclusion, the person who made the dumb statement was the Holy Spirit because Hinn said the Holy Spirit was communicating through him. Amazingly, Hinn made a very similar statement about the Godhead some two years after this initial "revelation."
I've said many times that Satan wants us to encounter him and think we are in touch with the living God. Therefore, we need to take everything and test it by the Word of God. "Revelation knowledge" given through the Faith teachers ought to be tested as well. It must not be put on a par with Scripture, but tested by Scripture. Their pronouncements must fall in line with the Word of God.
Ron: One question that constantly comes up has to do with the actual nature of the error in the Faith movement. In other words, is the Faith movement just aberrant? Is it a cult? Or is it cultic?
Hank: First, it's important to recognize that the Faith movement is not a monolithic movement, it's multifaceted. So, in terms of the movement as a whole, you can't call it a single cult but rather must refer to it as being cultic. You can, however, legitimately point to groups within the Faith movement as being cults. From a theological perspective a cult may be defined as a modern-day group that claims to be Christian, but outright denies or contradicts essential Christian doctrine.
Ron: So, what would be an example of a cult within the Faith movement?
Hank: Kenneth Copeland and his followers would be a very good example. Why? Because he denies or contradicts essential Christian doctrine. He takes faith, for example, and he makes it a force. He teaches that words are the containers of the force, and that through the force of faith you can create your own reality.
Biblical faith is not the kind of faith Copeland espouses. While he says faith is a tangible force, biblical faith is a channel of living trust between a man and his creator. Biblical faith is only as good as the object in whom it is placed. And all faith is subsumed under, or subordinate to and dependent upon, the sovereignty of God.
A very important point to make here is that the Faith teachers use Christian terminology and pour their own meanings into those words, which is something all the cults do. They take Christian terminology and pour cultic meanings into the words. Look at Copeland's view of man as an example. He says Adam was an exact duplicate of God when he was created. Copeland takes man and deifies him, and takes God and demotes Him.
Ron: I recall from your book that the Faith teachers also distort the doctrine of Christ to support their prosperity theology.
Hank: Yes! The Faith teachers make Jesus to be something other than what the Bible defines Him to be. The biblical Jesus had no place to lay His head. When some Faith teachers get done with Him, however, He is rich and He wears designer clothes.
The Faith teachers have a clear agenda. "If Jesus was poor," John Avanzini says, "I want to be poor. If Jesus slept under a bridge, I want to sleep under a bridge. But if Jesus was rich, I want to be rich." Avanzini boasts, "I've discovered that Jesus was rich -- He had a wealthy band of disciples, and He had a high-priced advance team. So, because Jesus was rich, I'm going to be rich. Because Jesus wore designer clothes, then I should wear designer clothes. Since He lived in a big house, then I should live in a big house."
Now, I'm not associating poverty and piety here. I believe in a form of Christian capitalism -- which is responsibility associated with wealth. But what Avanzini is saying is that Jesus set the standard for us: Because He was rich, we should be rich, and if we're not it is because we do not have enough faith.
Frederick Price says the reason he drives a Rolls Royce is he is following in Jesus' steps. Scripture, however, says we are to daily take up our cross and follow Him. Now, a cross may not ride as well as a Rolls Royce, but in the end it will take you a lot further. Faith in Christ and what He accomplished on the cross will take you to streets of gold for all eternity. And following our conversion we're called to lay down our lives -- we're called to sacrifice our lives -- because we recognize we are sojourners, pilgrims on our way to another kingdom.
Ron: Hank, comment on the people who attend Faith churches. Do you think these people all buy into the complete package of Faith theology, or are some of them just ignorant of the heretical teachings espoused by the Faith teachers?
Hank: This is one of the points I make in my book. The fact that I have written a critique of the Faith movement and its teachers does not mean I believe every single person within a Faith church is lost and on their way to hell.
The first thing I would say is that I have no right to judge anybody. I can't judge a person's heart. What I can do, however, is test Faith teachings by the Word of God. And that is exactly what I have done in Christianity in Crisis.
Since I can't judge anyone's heart, I can't say whether somebody is or is not a Christian. I will say that if someone in the Faith movement actually believes the teachings of Faith leaders like Kenneth Copeland, then they have a different gospel and a different Jesus. If they embrace such teachings with their heart, mind, and soul, the natural conclusion -- since they believe in a false gospel and a false Christ -- is that they are not saved.
However, I have met some of the most committed Christians who are followers of Copeland and Hagin, and never really fully understood what these leaders teach. They didn't even believe what I said about Copeland and Hagin's teachings until they read my book. So, in view of this, it would be reckless for me to say that there are not true Christians within the movement.
Ron: Are you aware of individuals who have left the Faith movement as a result of reading the book?
Hank: Yes. As a matter of fact, that is the greatest joy we have had -- not only me individually, but the staff of the Christian Research Institute as well. We have seen virtually hundreds of people come out of the Faith movement and they have written letters of testimony. They typically say they knew something was wrong in the Faith movement but they couldn't put their finger on it until they read the book.
Interestingly enough, the book has been banned on many radio and television stations, and it has been banned from a number of bookstores. And yet, there is a grassroots movement that is large enough and strong enough that this book has sold through word of mouth and is presently the top-selling Christian clothbound book in the United States and Canada.
Ron: How about leaders within the Faith movement? How have they responded, and have any of them retracted any of their ideas?
Hank: Some of them, such as Kenneth Copeland, respond in a very sarcastic, belligerent manner. Others have taken it very seriously. For example, I received a call from evangelist James Robison. He said that as a result of my book he called Benny Hinn and told him he had better repent. If he didn't repent, his ministry was in jeopardy.
Hinn, as a direct result of that, confessed some of the errors he had been teaching. He distanced himself from the unorthodox and cultic concept of faith that is espoused in the Faith movement. He distanced himself from his former tritheistic concept of God and embraced an orthodox Trinitarian concept of God. He said he no longer believes that Jesus Christ had a transformation of nature on the cross, that He went to hell, was born again, and so forth.
With regard to wealth and want, Hinn said he no longer believes that being poor is a sin. And with regard to sin and sickness, he renounced his position that if your body belongs to God it cannot belong to sickness. So, essentially, he appeared on national television and rejected Faith theology.
Now, that could cause us to want to applaud and say, "Isn't this wonderful, isn't this great, shouldn't we be happy?" The acid test as to whether Hinn is serious, however, is: will he pull out of circulation his books and tapes that articulate Faith doctrine?
Remember Zaccheus? When Christ came and called Zaccheus, Zaccheus repented and made restitution. This is the exact same thing that needs to happen in the Faith movement -- not just damage control, but sincere repentance. That means pulling books such as Lord I Need a Miracle and The Anointing which are causing significant spiritual and physical carnage.
Ron: What kind of response has there been to your book from Christian leaders? Have they gotten behind you, or are they afraid to touch the issue like a hot potato?
Hank: There's been a variety of responses. You have great Christian statesmen like Chuck Colson who have come out very clearly and endorsed what I've said in the book. You have apologists like Norman Geisler who have come out and endorsed the book. There are also those who are now sticking their heads out of the foxhole to see which way the wind is blowing.
And then there are those who applaud me privately, but publicly will not stand behind the book and endorse it. Why? I can only speculate that it is because the cost of standing for truth is too great.
For example, there are preachers who have television ministries aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) -- an incredibly powerful platform. These men are not willing to endorse Christianity in Crisis because if they do it might well cost them that platform.
I think that's a very sad commentary on Christian leadership today. If you look at the New Testament church, you find that men and women were willing to face death in standing for truth. Why? Because they knew that when mortality put on immortality they would be in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. They did not love their lives even unto death.
That same sort of attitude desperately needs to prevail today. It's time for us, like Martin Luther in 1517, to nail the thesis to the castle door in Wittenberg and take a stand for truth, regardless of the cost.
End of document, CRN0058A.TXT (original CRI file name), "Christianity In Crisis" release A, July 15, 1994 R. Poll, CRI
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