Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Hank Hanegraaff
|Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author|
|Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth|
The author bases his book on the theme that false prophets are offering a new religion called the "Word of Faith". It is Hank Hanegraaff’s objective to expose them by first exposing their own words to the light of God’s Word. The author uses a simple technique, he quotes the proponents of this religious belief (what the author calls a new religion) and then compares their words and testimonies to the Bible. Along with the quotations and comparisons Hanegraaff adds an ample amount of his own commentary, illustrations, and background sufficient to permit the uninitiated reader to understand the context and importance of the various quotations.
Hangegraaff’s stated purpose is to demonstrate that the practitioners of the "Word of Faith" movement are not preaching biblical Christianity. He contends that while much of the surface terminology sounds similar to orthodox Christianity, Hanegraaff seeks to demonstrate that the core doctrines of "Word of Faith" are based on extra-biblical "revelations", out-of-context Bible passages, and even borrows concepts from witchcraft lore. Through numerous quotations the author argues that central to this belief system are the creeds of hedonism, self-gratification, material prosperity, psychic healing, and authoritarian leadership. Whether the reader accepts Hanegraaff's thesis or not, the book is an interesting read.
Many cessationist and non-cessationist readers will be surprised to find this book does not concern itself with the Charismatic movement. Tongues are not examined at all. Prophecies of the faith movement teachers are examined for biblical content, but prophetic utterances as such are not placed at issue. Central to the entire discussion of this book is whether the "faith movement" is truly a branch of Christian religion or a cultic off-shoot.
Analysis of the Book
Though the use of quotations from "faith" teachers in the book is occasionally repetitive, it does allow the reader to judge for themselves the validity of the doctrines being espoused. The faith movement is said by Hanegraaff to go by many titles related to their core doctrines, including: the "prosperity gospel", "name it and claim it" theology, "word of faith", and the "seed faith" movement.
A hallmark of the boldness of the book is Hanegraaff’s liberal use of the names of the teachers of what he often calls "another gospel". Hanegraaff writes in a quirky style showing a mix of biting sarcasm and gentle love throughout the book. And while he is not shy about using the names of the then-current faith teachers, he readily admits that the list is incomplete as new faith teachers spring up seemingly overnight to take their place at the television studio/church.
While doubtless some will find fault with Hanegraaff’s style and sarcasm, his tone is generally carefully moderated throughout the book. It seems apparent that he sincerely believes he is helping people avoid being deceived by a false religion. In this endeavor he is often uninhibited in calling the "faith movement" a false religion and its teachers false prophets, but only after documenting the alleged heresies and unchristian doctrines that, to his mind, prove the case.
Hanegraaff spends several powerful paragraphs explaining "true faith", which is actually biblical faith. This is in startling contrast to quotes he attributes as being from "faith teachers"; these quotes appear to be mind-numbing inventions for the definition of "faith" which he credits to false teachers. These quotes on the definition of faith which Hanegraaff claims come from the "word faith" teachers offer in glowing terms and flowery speech a definition of faith, but they seem to lack solid biblical grounding.
Here are some of Hanegraaff’s more compelling statements on "true faith".
True biblical faith (pistis in the Greek) encapsulates three essential elements. The first entails knowledge. The second involves agreement. But it is not until we add the third ingredient, or trust, that we end up with a full-orbed, biblical perspective on faith. (Hanegraaff, page 70)
Faith, far from being a magical force conjured up through pat formulas, is the sort of confidence in God exemplified by Job as he persevered in the midst of affliction, trusting God despite the whirlwind which blew his life into oblivion. True faith is perseverance in the midst of the storm. True faith is the trait most demonstrated in the life of the apostle Paul, who not only fought the good fight but finished the race and kept his faith. Paul’s faith, like that of Job, was fixed not on the temporary circumstances of life but on the Author and Finisher of faith, on Christ Himself (Hebrews 12:2). (Hanegraaff, pages 100, 101)
In another sobering section regarding denying self, Hanegraaff cites Paul’s words:
We need to remind ourselves that while we have been promised an eternal inheritance far beyond our wildest dreams, God’s promise for us on this earth sometimes takes on a darker hue:
It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. (1:29) (Hanegraaff, page 228)
One of the most comforting thoughts to a human mind yielded to the will of God is that He who has created us also knows what is best for us. If we walk according to His will rather than trying to command Him according to our own, we will enjoy not a counterfeit panacea, but what He promised: peace in the midst of the storm. (Hanegraaff, page 273)
Gratefulness Is Not an Emotion
Later in his book, Hanegraaff explains the foundational principle of gratefulness:
Nothing is more basic to prayer than thanksgiving. Scripture teaches us to "enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4). Giving thanks is a function of faith rather than feelings. It is an action that flows from the sure knowledge that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need and will supply it. The apostle Paul encourages us to "be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1Thessalonians 5:16-18). (Hanegraaff, page 290)
This book, as much as anything else it seeks to accomplish, is a call to disernment:
While we listen, we must also "test the spirits." As John, the apostle of love, warns, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1John 4:1). It is particularly important to "test the spirits" because Satan’s foremost strategy of spiritual seduction is to disguise himself as an angel of light (cf. 2Corinthians 11:14). His slickest slogan is "Feel, don’t think." (Hanegraaff, page 296)
Redefining Common Words
Hanegraaff makes the strong point that a commonality of many false religious movements is their reliance on using Christian words, but with new or unusual definitions.
All three of these movements have something in common: They have completely redefined essential Christian doctrine. In fact, it is precisely because these essentials have been redefined that millions of people today have a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian.
The Faith movement may use Christian terminology when it comes to essentials, but the meaning it pours into the words is decidedly unbiblical. (Hanegraaff, page 320)
What we believe is demonstrated inevitably in how we live. That is why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1Timothy 4:16). (Hanegraaff, page 321)
Authoritarian Church Rule
While not a practice confined to any specific true or false religious movement, Hanegraaff asserts that Authoritarian Church Rule can easily become an obstacle to dissemination of "the truth".
In addition to certain Faith teachers, such sentiments may be found among various groups involved with shepherding and other forms of authoritarian rule (from diverse "fivefold" ministries to a host of large and small "fringe churches"). The leaders of these groups are commonly regarded by their followers as having a unique gift and calling that entitles them to unconditional authority--sort of a heavenly carte blanche. To dispute any of their teachings or practices is not distinguished from questioning God Himself.
Advocates of such unquestionable authority assume that Scripture supports their view. Their key biblical proof text is Psalm 105:15: "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (KJV). But a close examination of this passage reveals that it has nothing to do with challenging the teachings and practices of church leaders. (Hanegraaff, page 363)
It is my hope that the reader can see from these quotations that Hanegraaff has written a very readable and informative document. It tackles difficult subjects and provides biblical analysis at about every turn of the page along with a great deal of personal insight from the author. Certainly the reader is likely to find areas of disagreement, but that should spur the reader on to a more careful investigation to determine if the disagreement is biblically warranted or not.
This book could well be used as a model for any effective "discernment ministry" in so much that it uses the technique of quoting individuals, comparing that quote to relevant Scripture, and then providing commentary. The message it brings is tempered with love, but the reputed error is exposed to and boldly refuted by the Word of God.
This book strongly asserts that the "Word of Faith Movement" is not a branch of genuine Christian religion. Hanegraaff claims that while using the name of our Lord, the hedonistic foundation of the "faith movement" mocks the very values of servant-hood that took Christ to the cross. If the book is to be believed, denial of one’s self is absent from this movement as is the eternal nature of Christ as God and as sinless man, the One who was the only possible sacrifice for a planet of lost men. The purpose of the book is to point out that when the very nature of the salvation message is modified to accommodate the self-centered philosophy of men, it is time for Christians to "take note" of the men who teach such things and rebuke them in the presence of all so that all may be fearful of sinning.
For anyone who has family, friends, or themselves been introduced to the doctrines of the "word of faith movement" this book is a priority read. Of course, few will read this book and accept as true every word in it. And while reading this book is not a quick fix to all the doctrinal ills of the world, it does allow one to ask relevant questions about doctrine and to pair up those questions with corresponding Scriptures.
This book is a fascinating exploration into modern doctrine. However, some readers will definitely be offended at the denunciation of specific individuals found in the pages of this book. To be sure, it is a bold experiment in discernment. Whether you agree or disagree with the doctrines of the "word of faith movement", this book is very thought provoking and should be considered a "must read" if for no other reason than to evaluate its unique style and approach to discernment.