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.

On the quarrelsome, we distinguish…

In Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person, Kevin DeYoung offers a number of points about what it means to be a quarrelsome person. But, like Turretin, we need to further distinguish here.

Not every argument is a quarrel and not everyone who disagrees is quarrelsome. A quarrel is typically a heated argument over something trivial, and not every argument qualifies as both heated and trivial. Arguments can sometimes be heated for good reasons as much as there are times when we legitimately debate over issues that may at first glance seem trivial. We also can’t forget the fact that our evangelical and even Reformed subcultures generally eschew disagreement in the name of avoiding quarrels when in fact many things remain unsaid and people avoid dealing with the truth of very important matters, typically for the sake of their own comfort or advantage. So, while I agree that there are quarrelsome people and they may reflect some of what you see outlined here in this article, more should have been said. It would be very easy, for example, to use this article to attempt to silence people and to go well beyond what the Bible actually says about being quarrelsome. There is no small amount of irony in a Presbyterian pastor outlining how we shouldn’t be quarrelsome, to be sure. I’ve seen some pretty heavy church conflicts in my day, but none rival the knock-down-drag-out brawls presbyteries and their ministers have had over the tiniest points of church polity. Meanwhile, we also know that abusive ministers have misused the Bible verses quoted in this article to enforce their own personal or even institutional power.

As any fan of My Big Fat Greek Wedding knows, there are also cultural differences that attend to social behavior. Quiet and reserved families are going to express themselves differently than all-out Greek and Italian folks. Shouting at one dinner table may be strictly forbidden while that’s simply what other families do every night of the week. One family might consider that quarreling and another just an expression of what it means to be together. Similarly, individuals are also wired and gifted different than others and express their calling in ways others might not. The prophet Elijah was unique but he was also called to function as he did in a very unique time and place. Elijah’s call isn’t our call per se, but that’s not to say that there would never be others who had similar missions. People like Martin Luther and John Calvin might have been considered quarrelsome if we merely lay DeYoung’s categories on their works without more context. So, we can’t universalize what DeYoung attempts to point out without taking these and many other things in mind. Any maxim that rules out the examples we have in Scripture might be worth a more detailed analysis and perhaps even a rejection of what’s being claimed. As congregations continue to express the diversity of many different people and cultures coming together, failure to consider these ethnic, personality, and vocational differences in a discussion about what it means to be quarrelsome will remain problematic.

All in all, I want to suggest that we think deeper about things like this rather than covering subjects with simplistic bullet point observations especially when many of the points offered are more from the perspective of modern psychology than what the Bible actually says. Although it’s true that great wisdom can be found even in the smallest of aphorisms, there is always more to say and think about when we attempt to apply the principles of the faith to our lives.

Bill Johnson and Kenosis Issues

More from my discussion with the Cultish folks re: Bill Johnson and heresy.

Ok, I have listened to this Bill Johnson excerpt a few times (the couple of minutes from where the video starts below (1hr 49m ff)). I’m a bit concerned that people may be reading more into it than necessary. Let me explain.

First, the “emptying” of Phil. 2:7 is a very complicated theological issue and we have to start at the very least with Bill Johnson’s previous clarification in order to have context:

““Without question Ben I believe that Jesus is 100% God, and Jesus is 100% man. That is the great and beautiful mystery of the gospel. Some people think I believe Jesus isn’t God. It isn’t true. But it probably comes from my emphasis of his humanity. I do that only to encourage the believer – Jesus gave us an example that could be followed. I certainly understand anyone who opposes me if they think I believe Jesus is not God. It would be well-founded. But in this case it isn’t. Jesus is God. He never stopped being God. He is eternally God.”

Note three things, Bill Johnson says that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, Jesus never stopped being God, and he is eternally God. The question that I think goes unanswered here in this video is what Bill means by “emptying.”

Let me tell you why this is complicated. First, differences here are not necessarily (though they can be) a matter of heresy. It would be heretical to say that Jesus stopped being God in order to be human, and it would be at least wide of Chalcedon and classical Christology to say he suspended his attributes as God while incarnate (what functional and other kenoticists more technically argue). The former would be a first order heresy, but I am not sure the latter would be necessarily–it really depends on what’s meant as the Reformed classically put forward what we would call a krypsis view more fully exposited in Turretin (Calvin’s successor at Geneva).

Reformed theology teaches that the Logos never suspended any attributes but rather concealed them in regards to the humanity of Christ. Bill Johnson explicitly denies that Jesus ever stopped being God and doesn’t explicitly make it clear he’s a functional kenoticist. In fact, when he says above that Jesus “never stopped being God” that makes a kenotic view very difficult to prove on his part.

We don’t call Lutherans heretics, though they believe that the attributes of the Second Person of the Trinity were communicated to the human nature of Christ in order to defend their doctrine of the Real Presence, so it’s not like these issues haven’t been discussed in historical theology. Reformed doctrine, through the extra Calvinisticum, would say otherwise and maintain that the Word never suspended any attributes of his divinity or prescribed them to humanity. I would suggest reading Turretin’s Institutes, volume 2, pages 310-332 for more information here as well as Oliver Crisp’s book Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (chapter 5).

Turretin himself says the following of Christ and it sounds suspiciously like what Bill Johnson is saying:

“He who works miracles by a proper and physical virtue ought to be omnipotent. But Christ as man did not work them by his own power, but after the manner of a moral instrument. Therefore he ought to concur to a miraculous work by contributing what is his own, but the infinite virtue by which properly the miracle was produced belonged to the divinity alone (Mk. 5:30). The miracles are ascribed to Christ in the concrete, not to humanity in the abstract.” (Institutes, 2.331)

Now, Bill Johnson, I take it was never saying that God didn’t provide the miraculous power but that Christ as a man performed the miracles with the power of God. I’m not sure how that bare fact alone is debatable given what the Scriptures say.

And, while we can certainly debate whether other men can do similarly even Turretin references John 14:12 (“greater things than these”) in regards to the Apostles and their miracles that we have in Acts (Institutes 2.314). Moreover, we are told to be like Christ and emulate his person and work in our lives and the church has consistently worked with miracles throughout her history. So, while you may not agree with continuationism, it seems to me that the charge of heresy here in reference to kenosis is wide of the mark and extremely difficult to capably prove in Bill Johnson’s case given the above context.

Anachronistic Theological Claims

Unlike paedobaptism, there are explicit examples in the NT of prophetic speech by the church without any Scripture that says such things will stop after the close of the canon. What that means is that the Scriptures provide as much explicit warrant for cessationism as it does for paedobaptism. Given that Reformed Baptists typically believe explicit warrant is required for a doctrine, it’s curious that cessationism is so strongly held in Reformed Baptist circles.

But, even here, no Reformed Baptist goes around calling Presbyterians cultish for believing in paedobaptism. Why attack Pentecostals and Charismatics on a similar secondary issue, especially when there is no explicit warrant for cessationism in Scripture?

Social Media and Discernment Ministry: The Curious Case of Lindsay Davis

Facebook Live and YouTube videos are all the rage these days and a lot of ministries and individuals have been using them to promote their work or their particular points of view. Some time ago, Apologia’s Cultish ministry decided to promote Lindsay Davis and her thoughts on Bethel. Lindsay Davis is an 18 year old young woman who was kicked out of Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry ostensibly for “preaching the gospel.” At least, that’s the reason she gives in her videos. Nevertheless, with the help of Apologia Church Davis has been able to garner a fairly wide following of folks and she now has her own YouTube channel where most recently she did a hit piece on the Pentecostal Evangelist Heidi Baker that has already received some 35,000 views at last count.

What I’d like to do here is not only review some of the content of the video on Heidi Baker but offer some more general comments about social media and how Christians might actually be misusing it. One of the things I dislike most about this YouTube/Facebook live video culture is that topics are considered, but they aren’t often considered with the sort of detail and care they might be in writing. We are doing a disservice to the church if all we ever produce is videos and meme-like material for believers, especially when we’re criticizing others for doctrinal or other errors. We need to remember that the Scriptures were committed to writing for some very good reasons and the best of what we have from previous eras isn’t in fact on any YouTube channel.

Next, of course, is the huge problem of equality that social media presents. Am I really supposed to evaluate an apologetic video made by an 18 year old woman the same way I would a pastor who has been in the ministry for 35 years? In one sense, the answer is very much yes because what should be evaluated is the truth of the matter. However, in another sense, the answer has to be no. Should two widely different voices have an equal say in any matter simply because they both have something to say? Do we need to pretend that each voice is equally informed? I would suggest that social media often levels playing fields in ways that don’t help the church and don’t help us with discerning the truth of a matter. In some cases, this can be a huge advantage for us but it doesn’t come without other risks. Social media has been profoundly capable in allowing people to speak in public forums that would have never had a voice before but that also presents a problem when the voice is uninformed, horribly biased, immature, or not even really telling the whole truth.

While it’s certainly true that any matter of disagreement between Christians should be looked at in light of the Scriptures in the spirit of Acts 17:11, that does not mean we do away with all of the proper distinctions and considerations a righteous judgement (John 7:24) might bring to the matter. So, that said, here are some things that bear consideration in terms of Lindsay Davis’ commentary on Heidi Baker and her ministry.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that Lindsay Davis says that Heidi Baker is not qualified to lead or be an evangelist in the church. I’m not really defending Heidi Baker here and really have only a passing familiarity with her ministry. But, has Heidi Baker even claimed to be a pastor sufficient to warrant the quoting of 1 Timothy 3? Does she have a church? I don’t know. But, why does an 18 year old feel qualified to speak to Baker’s qualifications when she doesn’t even know her or have any real qualifications of her own? There’s a problem here with how these criticisms come down. First, Lindsay Davis admits she doesn’t even know Heidi Baker so how she feels qualified to evaluate her is a mystery. But, more importantly, this belies another danger present in social media criticism like this. Is Lindsay Davis qualified to give anything more than her own personal opinion here? Yet, she invokes God’s name and the Scriptures in denouncing someone like Heidi Baker and accuses her of being demonic and imparting demonic spirits into the lives of those who listen to her. Furthermore, Davis explicitly claims that she personally has a duty to protect and warn the sheep — a pastoral duty. How is it Davis has this duty and when was she commissioned to do such a thing by her church? To me, this is a fair question to ask when you’re busy questioning the pastoral credentials of someone else in front of 35,000 people.

About five minutes in, Lindsay Davis begins to recount Heidi Baker’s testimony in terms of how she became a Christian and started her ministry work. When I watch her speak, it seems as if she tells the story in disbelief and with a fair amount of skepticism as the story moves along. I don’t understand the need to be implicitly critical here and wonder why the story can’t speak for itself without the obvious negative inflection present in its telling by Davis. What I believe this really signifies it that this critique is one that proceeds from particular biases already present because of Davis’ interaction with Bethel and her negative experiences in that regard. Or, at least, her tone opens Davis up to charges in that regard. It also strikes me as uncharitable. Is it really necessary to assume or imply that Baker has been lying about these experiences in recounting her story?

Of course, we learn later in the video that Davis thinks any kind of supernatural manifestation is more properly demonic or the result of demonic impartation. So, it’s no wonder that she recounts Baker’s testimony and subsequent ministry with the greatest of skepticism. But, the arguments she marshals against them are empty. One of the worst arguments offered is that manifestations are never seen in Scripture. This is, of course, an argument from silence and it also ignores the clear fact that the prophets and other biblical figures often used methods or engaged in behavior that today most would call extreme and discernment ministries would condemn (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 13:21, Luke 8:43-48, Matthew 14:34-36, Acts 19:11-12). I’m not concerned to defend Toronto revival-like manifestations or Heidi Baker here, it’s just clear that Davis doesn’t prove anything arguing from silence and ignores the reality of religious experience as a result.

Equating the same sort of experiences of today’s Christians in so-called manifestations to demonic activity is also something that isn’t mentioned in the Scriptures so if Davis can criticize Baker via an argument from silence, why can’t others do the same with her own rather extra-biblical opinions? The Bible doesn’t teach that ministers of evil go around imparting evil spirits in people or even provide examples of such a thing. It’s almost like Davis has been watching too much Harry Potter. Her commentary here is simply theologically uninformed. Davis would be much better off just charitably admitting that Christians have notable differences of opinion on secondary matters of faith rather than claiming anything demonic is involved without warrant. I personally have no idea how Lindsay Davis can divine that spiritual manifestations are demonic when they have been found historically in different Christian revivals all across this planet, including the Second Great Awakening. I could buy the idea that manifestations are the physical and other outworkings of extreme religious enthusiasm, but the run to call them demonic seems out of place and wholly unnecessary.

I can certainly appreciate Lindsay Davis’ own religious enthusiasm in being so young and willing to spend so much time and energy producing videos on her experiences and how she views certain Christian figures in ministry. But, this is yet another place where I believe ministries like Apologia need to exercise some amount of judgement and care in making celebrities out of people in evangelical subcultures using social media. Lindsay Davis really needs time to process the experiences she’s already been exposed to and much more in the way of theological training and discipline before capable criticisms of the Pentecostal movement can be offered. For Apologia and other ministries, the capability to reach ever more numbers of people through social media and the Internet increases our responsibility to use that technology both graciously and with great care as to the truth of the matter. We certainly need watchmen on the wall to guard the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” and to keep people from error. But, we need to make sure our soldiers are capably trained and working with the real truth of the matter. Much as I think social media has huge things to offer the church, we still have to use it wisely and responsibly.

The nature of theology

Doctrine thus arises and is formulated on the basis of biblical exegesis—the dogmatica or didactica, the doctrina, is the right teaching: an assembling of the parts and meaning of the biblical text. The third approach to theology is the refutation of opponents, though he counsels that controversies should not be sought, and should not be revived, when they are already “dead and buried.” In fact, though Mastricht sees the elenctic part of theology entailing the refutation of teachings that do not accord with Scripture and Reformed orthodoxy, he also maintains that it should lead to a positive statement of orthodoxy that strengthens piety. Finally, theology should lead to the praxis pietatis. The true nature of theology is not knowledge in itself, but is directed to God, in Christ.

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 1: Prolegomena