Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: Christianity in Crisis

My next review is of Hank Hanegraaff's book, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century. This is not the first book that Hanegraaff has produced with the main title of Christianity in Crisis. He wrote a book published in 1993 simply titled Christianity in Crisis. Both books, not surprisingly, deal with the same subject.

Hanegraaff expresses in the introduction his desire to see this book contrast the truth of Scripture with the Word of Faith movement and its teachings. His hope is that this book will help people see the difference between the two, and prevent new people from following in the Word of Faith movement, and to persuade people to depart from its teachings.

I think that Hanegraaff has written a book that will acheive this first purpose. He opens with a 6-page summary that he feels reflects the Word of Faith (WoF) view of Biblical history and theology. He backs this up with citations of various WoF teachers and preachers, and presents this not as the view of one single teacher, but of a sweep through all of the varied teachings. It's enough to say that his overview is phrased to differ greatly from the Biblical presentation, and therefore no one who truly accepts Biblical teaching would accept the ideas presented in these first pages.

The book then moves on to develop the supporting evidence for his views. As he progresses through each of the following chapters, he continually undermines various preachers in the WoF, contrasting their own quotes with Biblical truth.

Taken on its own, this book would adequately persuade someone who has simply seen a few sermons on TV, perhaps wondered at a book or two in Wal-Mart, and has considered looking further, to take two steps back and think twice. In this, Hanegraaff has accomplished the purpose of stopping his reader from drifting into the WoF movement.

His second purpose, to draw participants out of the WoF movement, however, falls short. His opening story is structured to be a broad sweep, but it is doubtful that any adherent to Benny Hinn, John Hagee, or Joyce Meyer would see themselves or their beliefs in this story. So, his opening looks overly caricatured in this light.

Additionally, his quote selection throughout the book could be viewed as 'cherry-picked' for his own purposes. Since his readers do not have the context of the quotes, it will be difficult to determine if Hanegraaff has accurately reflected the sense of what the speaker or author has intended. I doubt that any current participant in the WoF movement will be persuaded by these arguments, as the teachers in the movement can easily dismiss his logic and structures.

He did expound on a third purposes, and that was to show people who have already left the WoF movement that they didn't see true Christianity. He does this adequately, though I find his tone slightly sterner than would be helpful. If his purpose is to show that the frustration from the WoF movement was not true, loving Christianity, a book-long rebuke is not the solution. In this, I think he has written a book with one too many targets. It is written with the rebuke due to false teachers, the correction to followers of false teachers, and the warning to avoid the trap of false teaching. It's difficult to also speak with the words of restoration for those who need a hand up at the same time.

As an Evangelical pastor, I found this work somewhat helpful. It's not short, but does a good job working through the Word of Faith movement. I have not checked all of his references, but if I had time to run them all down, I wouldn't need this book. I would have liked, for my purposes, to see fewer examples, with more details. I think it would be more helpful in that structure. However, I understand his purpsoe of illustrating each chapter of the book with actual quotes from WoF teachers.

Overall this is a good work. I will make the assumption that Hanegraaff has done the research, that the quotes given are correct and appropriately. Some people will no doubt question his motives and his conclusions. In this, Hanegraaff needs to be prepared to response with grace and even temperment, lest he behave like those he is criticizing. I think that this book will be well received and touted by critics of the Word of Faith movement, but totally drubbed by participants. Moreover, his directness can come across as overly attacking, and his stern tone mistaken for harshness. As such, I wouldn't recommend picking up this book for your Word of Faith friends and hoping they'll read it and change their minds. They'll more likely responds with defensiveness. However, for the Evangelical Christian, this is a worthwhile read that can give some discussion points for engaging members of the Word of Faith movement.

I would close with a thought for all of you who worry about counterfeits of the true Gospel arising in Christianity. I was once told of how the Secret Service trained bankers to detect counterfeit currency. Now, this may not be true any longer, and it may have been urban legend all along, but the story was basically that to train people to detect counterfeit currency, the Secret Service has them to spend hours upon hours with real currency. Studying it, handling it, getting to know all aspects of what the real stuff feels like. Then, near the end of the study, testing is given by introducing counterfeit currency. The counterfeits stand out, not because the students have learned about counterfeit currency, but because they are so adept at knowing true currency. Now, even if that's not what is done anymore, it makes for a good point:

It would behoove us as Christians to be adept with the truth. It will take less effort to detect the counterfeits.

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