Last week U.S. Postal Service inspectors and IRS criminal investigators raided the offices of Benny Hinn, the infamous faith healer and “health and wealth” preacher. Here is what should know about Hinn and the prosperity gospel movement.
What is the prosperity gospel?
The prosperity gospel (also known as the “health and wealth gospel” or by its most popular brand, the “Word of Faith” movement) is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus that claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth. As Stephen Hunt explains,
In the forefront is the doctrine of the assurance of “divine” physical health and prosperity through faith. In short, this means that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.
What makes the prosperity gospel a false gospel?
David W. Jones outlines five errors of prosperity gospel teaching:
1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
2. Jesus’s atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God.
4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.
5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.
“In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed,” Jones says. “At bottom, it is a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things. Whether they’re talking about the Abrahamic covenant, the atonement, giving, faith, or prayer, prosperity teachers turn the relationship between God and man into a quid pro quo transaction.”
Where did the prosperity gospel come from?
The prosperity gospel originated as an offshoot of Pentecostalism in post-World War II America. While it started in local congregations and in tent revivals, the movement gained a larger following through the use of radio and television, and became firmly entrenched in the 1980s with the rise of “televangelism.”
While not all prosperity gospel preachers are Pentecostal or charismatic (and most charismatic and Pentecostal Christians are not associated with the prosperity gospel), the movement is still largely connected to revivalist and charismatic churches. This has made it easier for the movement to gain traction in Africa, South America, and other areas of the world where Pentecostalism is rapidly expanding.
Who preaches the prosperity gospel?
The man who could be considered the father of modern prosperity gospel teaching is Oral Roberts. The faith-healing evangelist became so influential that he started his own school, Oral Roberts University (ORU). At the height of his influence, Roberts oversaw a ministry that brought in $110 million in annual revenue.
Kenneth Copeland, a student at ORU who served as a pilot and chauffeur for Oral Roberts, also became one of the most notorious (and wealthiest) of prosperity preachers. These men paved the way for the televangelists who became famous in the 1980s, including Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, and Robert Tilton.
How can we identify a prosperity gospel preacher?
In a 2014 sermon, John Piper outlined six keys to detecting the prosperity gospel:
1. The absence of a serious doctrine of the biblical necessity and normalcy of suffering, the absence of a doctrine of suffering.
2. The absence of a clear and prominent doctrine of self-denial is a tip off that something is amiss.
3. The absence of serious exposition of Scripture.
4. The absence of dealing with tensions in Scripture.
5. Church leaders who have exorbitant lifestyles.
6. A prominence of self and a marginalization of the greatness of God.
Who in America is attracted to the prosperity gospel?
In 2015, YouGov surveyed 1,000 American adults who describe themselves as either “born again” or as an evangelical Christian, and asked their views about particular preachers and whether wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
On the question, “Do you believe that prayer can make you wealthier?” 15 percent of whites, 42 percent of blacks, and 25 percent of Hispanics answered “yes.”
On the question, “Is wealth a sign of God’s favor?” 9 percent of white, 34 percent of blacks, and 24 percent of Hispanics said “definitely” or “probably.”
When it comes to black prosperity gospel preachers, black evangelicals were much more likely than either Hispanic or white evangelicals to have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion. Seventy percent of blacks had a favorable opinion of T. D. Jakes compared to 10 percent for whites and 24 percent for Hispanics. (Most whites and Hispanics answered “not sure”—71 percent and 64 percent, compared to 15 percent for blacks.)
The results were much lower for Creflo Dollar: 28 percent of black evangelicals held a favorable view, compared to 3 percent for whites and 8 percent for Hispanics. (Most whites and Hispanics answered “not sure”—72 percent and 78 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks.)
However, black evangelicals also held more favorable opinions of prosperity preachers who were not black. They were more likely to have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of: Joel Osteen (51 percent, compared to 22 percent for whites and 39 percent for Hispanics), Pat Robertson (41 percent, compared to 17 percent for whites and 14 percent for Hispanics), Benny Hinn (23 percent, compared to 4 percent for whites and 12 percent for Hispanics), and Kenneth Copeland (34 percent, compared to 8 percent for whites and 12 percent for Hispanics).
Additionally, one in four black and Hispanic evangelicals believe it is acceptable for religious leaders to become wealthy through their religious work compared to one in seven white evangelicals.