Thursday, October 08, 2009

Book Review - "Christianity in Crisis - 21st Century"

Title: Christianity in Crisis (21st Century)
Author: Hank Hanegraaff
Published: Thomas Nelson, 2009 (428pp).

In a nutshell, this book is written to say that the Christian landscape has taken a turn for the worse, by a lot more. Based on an old formula of his best selling 1993 book, Christianity in Crisis, Hanegraaff attempts to update his old book with new data. Without removing the old superstars of deviant theology, he adds in people such as Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes and compare them with spiritualists such as Rhonda Byrne and mythological ramblings occurring all around us.

The author writes both books addressed to 3 audiences;
1)    Those who has been misled by these faith preachers;
2)    Those who are concerned or curious about them;
3)    Those unsure if these preachers are biblical.

Book Structure
Filled with memorable acronyms, there is a distinct three-part format. Firstly, it states his proposition that the modern Christianity landscape is continuing to remain in crisis due to the astronomical deterioration of truth into mythology. Secondly, the author reused his F.L.A.W.S methodology in his sweeping denunciation of the whole faith movement he calls ‘cultic.’ The following captures the reason why these faith and prosperity preachers are erroneous.
F – Faith in Faith
L – Little Gods (*)
A – Atonement Atrocities
W – Wealth & Want
S – Sickness & Suffering

(*) In the 1993 edition, the L refers to “Little gods or little frauds.” It seems like Hannegraaff decides to tone down a little on his rhetoric in the 2009 edition.

Thirdly, Hannegraaff repeats his solution by getting people to return to their ABCs of biblical Christianity, namely

A - Amen
B - Bible
C - Church
D - Defense
E  - Essentials

The Appendix section provides additional information on the various faith and prosperity preachers, on basic tenets of the defense of Christianity and the common universal creeds adopted by the Universal Church.

Why You Should Read This Book
Based on the author’s declared audiences, if you are caught within the ‘cultic’ faith movement mentioned, and are asking questions about the authenticity of the message preached by the Osteens, Meyers, Jakes, Hinn and others, you ought to honestly put their message to the test. If you belong in this group, perhaps you will be the best judge of what is going on.

The Plus-Points of this Book
Acronyms: The author’s manner of putting the message across through FLAWS, the many alliteration phrases as well as clever use of communicative skills. It is easy to understand, and simple to remember.

Citations: One of the strengths of Hannegraaf is his dedication to ensure that he did not accuse the ‘cultic’ preachers without proof. Using printed and sources available publicly, he lists the erroneous claims and explains them with biblical reasoning.

Reminder: The author gives us a helpful collection of material that reminds us that error is still prominently preached. He warns us that we need to remain vigilant to stand up for the truth, even when our views are unpopular. In fact, some of the most revolting errors tend to be popularly held without guilt.

Wealth Tips: This is the part I find most helpful. (240-244)
  • God owns everything; we deserve nothing;
  • Our purpose on earth is not to accumulate wealth;
  • Our attitude toward wealth ought to mirror Paul's state of contentment (Phil 4:12-13);
  • We need to use wealth in ways that honor God;
  • We need to distinguish between future eternal inheritance VS present immediate gratification;
  • To be responsible stewards of what God gives us.
"It's your bank statement in heaven that counts. If your hope is fixed on the one you have down here, you're bankrupt no matter how many digits you count next to your name." (244)
The Minus-Points of this Book
Anger: I sense that this book is written by someone who is angry. This might explain the page after page of sensational and ridiculous quotes made by the 'cultic' preachers.

Lopsided: Even though I do not support these faith preachers that Hannegraaff lambasts, there is still a need to understand the contexts which the faith preachers were quoted. It is easy to take a small piece of evidence and make it the main gist. While I am not questioning the intent of Hannegraaff, I want to remain fair to all, both the author as well as the accused ones.

Hard to Read: I am not referring to the language used. I am simply put off by the pages after pages of non-stop criticism and revelation of the wrong-doings of the people mentioned. At some point, I was even wondering if these people are 100% evil. While it is true that these preachers often tend to be subtle in their deviant teachings, there is still a risk that when we overemphasize certain things, it becomes stale.

Final Comments
I read both books over 2 days; Christianity in Crisis (1993) first, then Christianity in Crisis – 21st Century (2009) second. A notable figure absent from his latest book is Paul Yonggi Cho of Korea. Perhaps, even as Hannegraaff reprimands and adds in updated figures, he is also careful to remove persons who no longer are as deviant as he writes. How's that for fairness?

Even as I compare the two books, I cannot help but feel that the author has not budged from his original convictions. Rather, the Christianity at large has shifted their stance more than Hannegraaff.  For example, Hannegraaf’s 1993 book is a Gold-Medallion Book winner for excellence in Christian literature. The author was catapulted to fame back in the 90s, and welcomed with open arms by many churches. In his 2009 edition, he reveals that he has been ‘censored’ by Christian media, ‘shut’ out by churches, and discouraged by ‘Christian statesmen’ who were ‘shamefully silent’ about the new ‘cultic’ movement. I doubt if the 2009 edition will win Hannegraaff any medals. His latest book did not even have any blurb of support from established professors or prominent evangelical leaders. (Remember that his 1993 edition was positively endorsed by Dr Norman Geisler.) Why is that so? There are two ways to look at this. The first way is that Hannegraaff is wrong for sticking stubbornly to his convictions, that he fails to keep up with changing times of pluralistic acceptance, and be more moderate and fair. The second way is that Hannegraaf is right, that Christianity is indeed in a greater crisis than ever. Both answers are not ideal. If I am forced to choose the lesser of two evils, I will plump for the latter. While I will not recommend the book to most of my theological colleagues and friends. However, there is one exception. For those who are completely in the dark about Osteen, Meyer, Jakes, Hinn, Copeland, Hagin, Hagee and others, pick this book and read it well. You may probably benefit from the shock treatment.

My Award: 1.5 stars out of 5.



Rosie Perera said...

The cult watchers like Hanegraaff are has-beens in the 21st century (at least in the Christian circles I inhabit these days), and that's why they are getting more desperate. I used to be intrigued by such books. But if one spends all one's energy focusing on the people who are detracting from what God is doing, and denouncing them, one won't see what God really is doing. Once I got to Regent and started focusing on the amazing things God is doing, I lost any sense of despair about where Christianity was headed. It's not up to us or preachers to steer Christianity in the right direction. As Eugene Peterson would say, we just need to be attentive to where God is at work and join in on that.

YAPdates said...

Isn't it an interesting phenomena, that after going through a Regent experience, we learn to appreciate the wider spectrum of worldviews?

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