Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book review: Christianity in Crisis 21st Century

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century
Ok. It's finally time for my review of Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to finally get my thoughts together on this review. It did take a while to get through the book (it is nearly 400 pages). But it took me longer to think of how to review it. I think I've actually been kinda scared to write the review. Not because it's a bad review of the book. I like the book. I think it is because of how Hanegraaff deals with the people in the book. Keep reading and maybe you'll see what I mean.

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is an updated version of Hanegraaff's "Christianity in Crisis" from the late 1980's. The original, as well as the new book, takes the "Word of Faith" movement to task. Hanegraaff has two main points of focus in the new book: exposing the personalities in the Word of Faith movement as false teachers of the Gospel and showing the reader the truth of the Gospels as counterpoint to these false teachings.

The book starts with a "fairy tale" that Hanegraaff has made from taking excerpts from the teachings of many of the Faith teachers. It is fairly preposterous and seems highly unlikely that people actually said some of the things that Hanegraaff is attributing to them. But each and every line is annotated and the references can be found in the nearly 100 pages of end notes in the book. I traced and verified several of the references and found them to be factual. For a peek at the fairy tale, take a look here.

Hanegraaff helps the reader out by listing the "Cast of Characters" in the Faith movement. I was surprised to see some of the names in there. But then again, I've never paid much attention to the prosperity gospel folks before. Some folks in the cast: T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer. They are added to the "old school" characters like Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, and Benny Hinn. In the Cast of Characters, Hanegraaff describes some of the background and origins of each person and also gives some of the more off-the-wall quotes or stories from them. For me, it was disturbing to think that people with followings as large as some of the cast have can teach such things. For example:

God cannot do anything in this earthly realm unless we give Him permission.
Keep saying it-'I have equality with God'-talk yourself into it.
You create your own world the same way God creates His. He speaks, and things happen; you speak, and they happen.
Being poor is a sin.
The believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth.

As I said before, Hanegraaff balances his discussion of the false/incorrect teachings of the cast of the cast of characters with a clear look at what the Scriptures really say. In several parts of the books, the author gives examples of "Scriptorture" being used by Faith teachers and the real Scripture. The differences are sometimes astonishing.

Hanegraaff levels his guns squarely at the folks behind the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) as key perpetrators and accomplices of the false teachings. Citing many quotes from the TBN founders and quotes from regular speakers on their broadcasts, the author backs up claims that the "give to get" mantra of the prosperity preachers only benefits them and not the flock being fleeced.

There are many more examples and quotes and eyewitness accounts that Hanegraaff cites and discusses. For the first 150 pages, my mind boggled that there are people out there saying these things. Even more astounding to me was the fact that they have followings as big as they do. Then I realized that it is human nature to follow someone with passion, a well packaged message, and a promise of benefit. I thought to myself: there but for the grace of God, go I. Kinda scary.

As for the way the book is laid out, it is basically point and counterpoint for the Faith Movement teachings. Here is the overall structure of the book:

  • Part 1 - Turning Truth Into Mythology: Cult or Cultic?; Charismatic or Cultic?; Cast of Characters; Charting the Course
  • Part 2 - Faith in Faith: Force of Faith; Formula of Faith; Faith of God; Faith Hall of Fame
  • Part 3 - Little Gods: Deification of Man; Demotion of God; Deification of Christ; Demotion of Christ
  • Part 4 - Atonement Atrocities: Re-creation on the Cross; Redemption in Hell; Rebirth in Hell; Reincarnation
  • Part 5 - Wealth and Want: Cultural Conformity; Cons and Cover-Ups; Covenant-Contract; Context, Context, Context
  • Part 6 - Sickness and Suffering: Symptoms and Sickness; Satan and Sickness; Sin and Sickness; Sovereignty and Sickness
  • Part 7 - Back to Basics: A = Amen; B = Bible; C = Church; D = Defense; E = Essentials
  • Appendix A - Are "God's Anointed" Beyond Criticism?
  • Appendix B - Apologetics - The Defense of the Faith
  • Appendix C - The Three Universal Creeds
  • Scripture Index; Subject Index; Bibliography; Notes

This structure works well for Hanegraaff's approach for contrasting the teachings with Scripture and doctrine. What doesn't work well is the repetition in the book overall. As noted, the author lists several of the damning statements and teachings of each of the individuals in the Cast of Characters. In the different sections, Hanegraaff reuses many of the quotes and stories again to make his points. By the time I got through the book, I felt like I had read the same thing 3 or 4 times.

In the end, I'm glad I read the book. I got a new point of view on something I didn't know much about ("Word of Faith" movement), I heard from a very knowledgable Bible scholar (Hanegraaff), and I got some things to chew on (point and counterpoint). I would recommend this book to most folks interested in Biblical teaching or who have been or are curious about the ministry and teachings of the people in the Cast of Characters. I would not necessarily recommend this book to people who are very sensitive in nature and cannot either take criticism or watch others be criticized.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. - 2 Peter 2:1-3

Drop me a comment and let me know what you think of the book or my review.

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.