Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me

As part of the family empire, I lived a life of luxury. Then doubts began to surface.

Almost 15 years ago, on a shoreline outside of Athens, Greece, I stood confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ministry trajectory. I was traveling the world on a private Gulfstream jet doing “gospel” ministry and enjoying every luxury money could buy. After a comfortable flight and my favorite meal (lasagna) made by our personal chef, we prepared for a ministry trip by resting at The Grand Resort: Lagonissi. Boasting my very own ocean-view villa, complete with private pool and over 2,000 square feet of living space, I perched on the rocks above the water’s edge and rejoiced in the life I was living. After all, I was serving Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promised.

Little did I know that this coastline was part of the Aegean Sea—the same body of water the apostle Paul sailed while spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was just one problem: We weren’t preaching the same gospel as Paul.

Lavish Lifestyle

Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way—by giving money and having enough faith—would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God’s goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn’t eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel.

My father pastored a small church in Vancouver, British Columbia. During my teenage years, he would travel nearly twice a month with my uncle, …

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The Godness of God

Karl Barth thought we needed to be reminded continually of the obvious, which to Barth was not so obvious.

Nearly 100 years ago, a book was published in Switzerland that, as one scholar put it, “landed like a bombshell on the playground of theologians.” That playground was inhabited by liberal theologians, and the bombshell was Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. His commentary on Romans catapulted Barth onto the scene and sent shockwaves through church and academy. In this commentary, despite its excesses, we first find themes that profoundly shaped Barth’s later theology.

More interesting to me is that the book contains themes that I believe are particularly relevant to evangelicalism today, one of which we’ll consider here: Barth saw in Romans a complete refutation of the human-centered religion of his day. Describing “the characteristic features of our relation to God,” he wrote:

Our relation to God is ungodly. We suppose that we know what we are saying when we say “God.” We assign to him the highest place in our world: and in so doing we place him fundamentally on one line with ourselves and with things. . . . We press ourselves into proximity with him: and so, all unthinking, we make him nigh unto ourselves. We allow ourselves an ordinary communication with him, we permit ourselves to reckon with him as though this were not extraordinary behavior on our part. We dare to deck ourselves out as his companions, patrons, advisers, and commissioners. …Secretly we are the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust himself. . . . Our well-regulated, pleasurable life longs for some hours of devotion, some prolongation into infinity. And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves. …

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After the Storm, Churches and Relief Organizations Don’t Share the Same Call

Congregations shouldn’t go it alone when there are resources across the body of Christ they can leverage.

I’ve always thought pastors have the toughest job in the world. They must shepherd their congregation to become fully devoted followers of Christ. Every week they’re expected to knock it out of the park with a powerful sermon. They also run a complex organization with budgets, staff, facilities, and numerous programs. And let’s not forget the rather challenging missional responsibility to change the world for Christ.

As overwhelming as this seems, it’s all within the scope of leading a church. The trend that’s troubling to me is when church teams believe they should do it all, tackling areas outside their expertise—embracing a do-it-yourself approach to things like international missions and disaster response.

Imagine you’re going to build a new sanctuary. Would you trust all the work to untrained volunteers? While the intent is good and some benefit may indeed still come of it, “DIY humanitarian aid” is similarly ineffective. Meeting the dire needs of disaster victims or people living in chronic poverty is complex business requiring specialized skills.

Churches don’t have to do go it alone when there are resources across the body of Christ they can leverage—Christian organizations with deep experience in poverty alleviation and emergency relief. The benefit is mutual because churches and faith-based organizations want the same thing: maximum kingdom impact.

God created his people with specialization and interdependence in mind, which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?” (v. 18–19). A church’s true …

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No Child Left Behind Comes to Awana

The children’s ministry rethinks the competition at its core.

One of the most important symbols in modern Christianity is a circle inside a square, its sides marked red, blue, green, and yellow, divided by diagonal lines. For some Christians, it is a literal mark of orthodoxy, a subtle indicator that a church teaches Scripture authoritatively and rigorously (and usually from a particular Reformed, premillennial, cessationist perspective).

The square has changed little from its origins in the 1940s at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Church youth leader Art Rorheim had been having trouble with traditional two-team games as his youth group grew; his four-team court was designed to let 100 play with little downtime. Now more than 10,000 churches in the United States use it as they host Awana programs.

Some of Rorheim’s early games “were unconventional and even illegal,” according to Awana: God’s Miracle, Awana’s official history book. Boys ran out of the building and around the block, then fought in the halls to slow each other down. “That game was short-lived when the church board heard about it,” God’s Miracle notes. Others continue today, largely unchanged since some clubbers’ grandparents’ day. Baton relay races. Three-legged-races. Balloon volleyball. Four-way-tug-of-war. Throwing bean bags to knock over plastic bowling pins.

As Awana leaders have seen it, the game circle is why kids showed up week after week, year after year, decade after decade. “Game Time surely is the drawing card to the gospel presented in Council Time!” in the words of God’s Miracle (emphasis in the original). And both fans and critics of Awana stress that its competitive streak doesn’t …

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Commentary: On ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ After Another Mass Shooting

Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in response to the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

We can say with some confidence that all the following are true.

1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope, severity, and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place.

1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love.

1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts and prayers”—is all that is available to us in the moments after terrible news reaches us. If the tragedy is literally at our door and thus is happening to us rather than just being reported to us, we know that an astonishing number of human beings act with courage and resilience even in the face of the most terrible evil. They also, if given time to speak or otherwise communicate to others not facing their moment …

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NHCLC: Thousands of Puerto Rican Churches Wrecked by Maria

Caribbean Christians try to offer sanctuary while working to repair their own.

Just over a week after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, reports are beginning to reveal its impact on the island’s Christian community, including more than 1 million Protestants.

Approximately 3,000 churches were damaged or destroyed by the Category 4 hurricane, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) estimated. Wanda Rolón, an NHCLC board member and one of Puerto Rico’s best-known pastors, said that she was “not aware of a single church that escaped damage or harm.”

In addition to flooding, downed trees, and buildings ripped apart by 150 mph winds, the storm cut off electricity and communications networks. The Christian TV station, CDM Internacional, as well as several Christian radio stations went off the air. A Bible distribution ministry lost its inventory when its building was hit.

Of about 90 Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico, so far the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has heard from a dozen, all of which suffered limited damage, Baptist Press reported.

As relief efforts make their way out from San Juan, local churches serve as a crucial connection point for spiritual and physical support.

“We don’t have buildings right now to have meetings,” evangelist and doctor Luis Paz told CT in Puerto Rico last Sunday. “We are outside, bringing hope to people, the ones that need the most. We have brothers and sisters who don’t have homes right now, but the church is open to them.”

About half of Puerto Ricans go to church at least once a week, according to the Pew Research Center. (Most of the island’s 3.4 million residents are Catholic, and about a third are Protestant.) But some churches haven’t had power since …

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1 in 3 Protestant Churchgoers Personally Affected by Suicide

Survey also finds one-third of victims were attending church before their death, but few pastors knew of their struggle.

Suicide remains a taboo subject in many Protestant churches, despite the best efforts of pastors, according to a new study from LifeWay Research.

Eight in 10 Protestant senior pastors believe their church is equipped to intervene with someone who is threatening suicide.

Yet few people turn to the church for help before taking their own lives, according to their churchgoing friends and family. Only 4 percent of churchgoers who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide say church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggles.

“Despite their best intentions, churches don’t always know how to help those facing mental health struggles,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

A common tragedy

Suicide remains a commonplace tragedy, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 44,000 Americans took their own lives in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 34, and the fourth leading cause of death for those 35 to 44.

LifeWay Research found suicide often affects churches. Researchers surveyed 1,000 Protestant senior pastors and 1,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers who attend services at least once a month, in a study sponsored by the American Association of Christian Counselors, Liberty University Graduate Counseling program, the Liberty University School of Medicine, and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

LifeWay’s study found three-quarters (76 percent) of churchgoers say suicide is a problem that needs to be addressed in their community. About a third (32 percent) say a close acquaintance or family …

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Think Fake News Is Scary? Try False Teaching

We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth.

The headline hit my Facebook feed at the peak of lake season: “Freshwater Shark Caught in Lake Lewisville.” Purportedly, a shocked fisherman landed a shark in the lake adjacent to my town. By the time the local news debunked the story, it had been shared over 100,000 times.

It is a classic example of “fake news,” complete with a clickbait photo of a child next to a giant shark on a dock. In a sly stroke of comedy, the fisherman’s name was listed as “Ima Lion,” and his granddaughter’s as “Shebe Lion.”

Shared over 100,000 times. The fine residents of Lewisville, minds cuing the theme from Jaws, swore never again to enter the murky waters of Lake Lewisville. My neighbors laughed in hindsight, but the fake news provider laughed all the way to the bank.

Fake news is not always as benign as an improbable shark tale. It can influence elections, defame character, incite unrest, and propagate fear. It has always existed, but digital media has given it momentum and reach like never before.

Growing awareness of its prevalence and potential dangers has reminded us of the importance of gauging the credibility of a story’s source, fact-checking its content, and analyzing its message for bias. It has also renewed our appreciation for time-tested, reliable news sources that have consistently demonstrated journalistic integrity.

Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. The Christian equivalent to journalistic misinformation commits the same kinds of deception with much more at stake. Like fake news, false teaching has enjoyed a long history. The original misinformer appears in the earliest moments of human history, whispering into Eden’s atmosphere, “Did God really …

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God Loves a Cheerful Itemizer

Experts assess how Trump tax plan to double the standard deduction would cost ministries bigly.

If you make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, you’ll probably give less to charity under President Donald Trump’s proposed tax plan.

So says a study commissioned by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs.

Back in May, researchers from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy ran the numbers on the Trump administration’s proposal to double the standard deduction from $6,300 to $12,600 for individuals, and from $12,600 to $24,000 for joint filers.

This week, key Republicans affirmed the plan, which also increases the child tax credit and eliminates most itemized deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

The changes, which still have to get past Congress, would mean less money in the federal government’s pockets—and also mean less for ministries.

“The Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code is just that—a framework,” said Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). “The details”—many of which are left up to Congress to decide—“are what will tell the real story.”

Busby broke down for CT how Trump’s proposals would affect charitable giving:

  • Lowering corporate tax rates and the pass-through rates for small business are pro-growth elements, placing more dollars in the hands of those who support churches and ministries. That is good for ministries, but the impact will tend to be long-term.
  • The elimination of the personal deduction reduces available resources to make charitable deductions.
  • The repeal of the death tax removes the significant incentive for many to make charitable contributions to avoid this tax.

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Interview: Let’s Save the University from Secular Privilege

The academy has lost its pluralism. Here’s how the church can help find it.

This last school year saw a number of incendiary cases related to freedom of speech and freedom of association in the American university. Faculty have experienced what George Yancey calls Christianophobia and student groups, too, have had their fair share of fights on both private and public campuses. At Colorado State University, for example, a Christian organization called Students for Life (SFL) applied for a school grant to bring a pro-life speaker to campus and after their application was denied, filed a federal lawsuit (which they recently settled). SFL joins the growing numbers of Catholic and Protestant student groups struggling to maintain or regain a voice on campuses around the country.

Mary Poplin, who teaches at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, has spent most of her professional career studying education, worldviews, and most recently, the subject of “secular exclusivity,” which in her opinion has played a significant part in the SFL case and others like it. The author of Is Reality Secular?: Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews, Poplin, along with Barry Kanpol, recently edited a collection of essays titled Christianity and the Secular Border Patrol: The Loss of Judeo-Christian Knowledge.

She sat down with CT in Austin, Texas, to talk about the rising secularity in higher education—and what the church can do about it.

How would you define “secular privilege,” a term introduced by David Hodge in one of the essays in your book?

Here’s a great example. When [US Senator] Dianne Feinstein interviews a candidate, Amy Barrett, for a judgeship, she presumes that she herself is neutral and that this candidate is not neutral just because she’s …

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