An Exposé and Critique of the Word of Faith Movement

Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009). $23.99, 427 pages.

If Hank Hanegraaff is to be believed, one of the most popular movements in American Christianity is not authentically Christian. Rather, it is grossly heretical. Its gospel is variously known as Word of Faith, Positive Confession, Health and Wealth, Prosperity, and Name It and Claim It (or Blab It and Grab it to critics). The gist of its gospel is that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, that faith is the key to both, and that sick and poor Christians have only themselves to blame.

In 1993, Hank Hanegraaff published Christianity in Crisis, an exposé and critique of the Word of Faith movement. Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a revised edition of that book. Hanegraaff’s core critique is the same, but he has updated the “cast of characters” to incorporate newer Faith teachers (Osteen, Meyer, Dollar, Jakes, and Parsley) alongside the older ones (Kenyon, Hagin, Copeland, Hinn, and Hagee).

Hanegraaff is host of The Bible Answer Man syndicated radio show, as well as president of the Christian Research Institute. Both were founded by The Kingdom of the Cults author Walter Martin. Neither man was a stranger to controversy, being regarded as “defenders of the faith” by their friends and “heresy hunters” by their enemies. (According to William Lobdell, Hanegraaff also engaged in some less-than-above-board financial practices when CRI was located in southern California. It has since moved to North Carolina.)

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is no more likely to endear Hanegraaff to Faith teachers than the 1993 edition did. It identifies five critical F.L.A.W.S. in Faith teaching:

F = Faith in faith
L = Little gods
A = Atonement atrocities
W = Wealth and want
S = Sickness and suffering

As a fairly well read Pentecostal pastor, I was aware of the almost magical view of faith among Prosperity preachers. I was also aware of their biblically deficient understandings of poverty and sickness. I was appalled, however, by their strange views of God and their tortured interpretations of the atonement. Hanegraaff has opened my eyes to these errors of prominent Faith teachers. If Hanegraaff has reported them accurately, they are indeed heretical departures from the historical Christian faith.

However, I also know a few followers of the Faith teachers, and while I think they are in error regarding faith, poverty, and sickness, I’m not sure they go the entire distance with prominent Faith teachers in terms of these other errors. Hanegraaff seems to agree. His target is the Faith leaders, not the Faith followers.

Hanegraaff concludes this exposé and critique with five basics Christians need to focus on:

A = Amen (or prayer)
B = Bible
C = Church
D = Defense (or apologetics)
E = Essentials (doctrine)

On the whole, I agree with Hanegraaff’s exposé critique of the Faith teachers and his prescription for getting back to Christian basics. His exposé and critique is documented with several hundred footnotes, so his claims can be checked against the facts. At best, Faith teachers are seriously in error but within the boundaries (just barely) of Christian orthodoxy. At worst—and Hanegraaff makes the case for the worst)—they have crossed the line of orthodoxy into heresy.

If you are interested in the Word of Faith movement, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a good resource.

One thought on “An Exposé and Critique of the Word of Faith Movement

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  1. I’ve listened to Hank’s Bible Answer Man broadcast periodically and assumed he was exaggerating the statements or at least the popularity of various word-of-faith or prosperity gospel leaders.

    I’m part of an AG church that doesn’t have even a hint of what he talks about, and none of my past churches had any touch either. Then we had a few families join the church who are WoF-leaning people. Like you mention, they aren’t full followers of the entire WoF spiel, but it was an eye-opener that those sort of people do exist and eagerly follow some/many WoF teachings.

    Then I relatively recently found out about how LARGE a following Osteen has! His following is bigger than some whole denominations! Tens of thousands in direct attendance, thousands more at other locations, millions of videos watched every week on his website, and millions influenced through his books.

    Sad and disturbing.

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