Monday, March 23, 2009

Christianity in Crisis - A Review

Hank Hanegraaf has updated his best seller Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century. In this book Hanegraaf dismantles the theology of many in the faith movement. The most commonly critiqued are Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Crefflo Dollar, Frederick K. C. Price, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, John Avanzini and Charles Capps. So what’s new to this updated edition? A new introduction provides an overview of the issues and shows the “similarities between pop sensations such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now. Another chapter called “Cast of Characters” has been significantly expanded (11 pages in the first edition is now 70 pages) which gives a list of the most prominent faith teachers with a summary of some of their teaching including some rather outrageous statements some have made. Included in this is the statement by Benny Hinn saying that he wish he had a “Holy Ghost machine gun” so he could blow the heads off his critics. Later he apologized for the statement but then came back with warning his critics saying “You have attacked me, your children will pay for it.” (emphasis his, 31) A new section ends each chapter called “Error Begets Error” which shows how “the heresies of original faith proliferators have been not only perpetuated but often exacerbated by the new breed.” (x) Finally, the book as a whole has been “interspersed with quotations from current stars in the faith constellation.” (ix)
Hanegraaf has been criticized in the past for being too quick to judgment and for focusing on extremes. This updated edition would have been a golden opportunity for him to clarify and defend his position against some who have attempted to answer him. His bibliography, extensive as it is, shows no awareness that William DeArtega has updated his own book, Quenching the Spirit, which includes a response to Hanegraaf. This is significant because this work has been identified as “the only scholarly work defending the Word-Faith movement.” (The Word-Faith Movement Controversy by Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Baker Books, 2001, p. 245). If Hanegraaf is truly writing for the 21st century then one might expect that he would interact with those who have come to the defense of those in the faith movement. This is especially so since apparently there aren’t many of them. There isn’t even a mention of Robert Bowman’s book (cited above) which is critical of the faith movement but carefully nuances and corrects much of what Hanegraaf says. In this second edition Hanegraaf simply extends his critique to those who are in the current spot light of the faith movement. The problem is that the more informed readers may conclude that Hanegraaf does not have answers to his critics. Those who have taken the time to interact with Hanegraaf deserve something more than just silence. I’m not talking about the ranting that he documents in his book from on-air critics but the more thoughtful written critics. For those who want to see the faith movement at its worst read Hanegraaf. For those who want a thoughtful critique of the movement read Bowman because, as he puts it, “This way, what is being refuted is not the worst possible representation of the teaching but the doctrine at its best.” (30)

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