As a young, eager, immature Christian, I ate it all up.
For some months, before heading off to school each morning, I spent 30 minutes intently tuned into the GOD Channel for Benny Hinn’s ‘This is Your Day.’ Like countless others, I was drawn to the miraculous stories, triumphant prayers and prophetic calls to healing.
But before long I kept hearing the name Benny Hinn from the pulpit and in conversations - and not in pleasant terms. He was a false teacher whose extravagant lifestyle was a reflection of an erroneous gospel - that a happy, abundant, healthy life is promised to those who give generously to God and have enough faith.
I still returned to the GOD Channel on occasion - and never without a pang of guilt - but over time as I tentatively grew in my faith the temptation to watch Benny Hinn disappeared. I wanted nothing to do with a teaching that no longer resonated with the Christ of the Bible who never promised us an easy life. I realised that true joy is found in God - not health or wealth.
Fast-forward some 15 years to 2018, could it be that something similar is now happening to Benny Hinn himself?
“I think I am as guilty as others”
Last week, following Billy Graham’s death, the pastor took to Facebook Live to comment on the inspiration the evangelist had been to him, notably his passion for winning souls for Jesus. A few minutes later he made a stunning admission, saying that while there remains biblical warrant for prosperity teaching, his instruction on the subject had overstepped the mark.
He says: “We get attacked for teaching prosperity. Well it’s in the Bible. But I think some have gone to the extreme with it, sadly, and it’s not God’s Word what is taught. And I think I am as guilty as others. Sometimes you go a little farther than you really need to go, and then God brings you back to normality and reality. The more you know the Bible the more you become biblically based and more balanced in your opinions."
He continues: "When I was younger I was influenced by the preachers who taught whatever they taught. But as I’ve lived longer, I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, you know this doesn’t fit totally with the Bible and it doesn’t fit with the reality.'"
Should he be believed?
While it could be tempting to take Hinn’s confession with the proverbial pinch of salt, it’s worth highlighting two other points made in the broadcast which give some added credence to the transformation he appears to be going through.
The first is the emphasis on sin and our ongoing battle with the flesh. "Our biggest problem is us," he stresses, before reinforcing to supporters that the prayers he needs are not that he will be blessed but "Lord, if he does wrong, let him have it." The more he pressed the point - "Lord you can punish me all you want, [but] never leave me" - the more I got the sense that this seems to be a man increasingly aware of his own brokenness and need for Christ.
The second point is the issue of persecution. Highlighting the trouble facing Christians globally (and the impact it has on uniting and strengthening Christians), Hinn believes that persecution is coming to America and should be embraced for the way it will refine the Church. "We need it," he claims. These are not the words you’d expect to hear from the prosperity pulpit.
Today, the idea is abundance and palatial homes and cars and bank accounts. The focus is wrong…It’s so wrong
His understanding of prosperity also seems to be experiencing a shift. He confidently speaks of how evangelism, miracles and prosperity are all interwoven in the Bible.
I listened sceptically. He says he still believes in 'prosperity' because "it's in the Bible". And yet he adds: "Did Elijah the prophet have a car? No. Did not even have a bicycle. He had no lack…Did Jesus drive a car or live in a mansion? No. He had no lack. How about the apostles? None lacked among them. Today, the idea is abundance and palatial homes and cars and bank accounts. The focus is wrong…It’s so wrong."
For good measure he dismisses claims he’s worth $40 million and says he hasn’t flown a private jet "in years".
Interestingly Hinn’s admission comes soon after his nephew Costi broke free from the prosperity gospel. "I wept bitterly over my participation in greedy ministry manipulation and my life of false teaching and beliefs," he writes, "and I thanked God for his mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. My eyes were completely opened." How has Benny been impacted by this?
Time will tell
Ultimately the coming months and years will show the extent to which Benny Hinn’s theology has changed. After all actions speak louder than words.
But we must be encouraged by the change that looks to be underway in his heart and pray that it continues - not just for him but the many who look up to him.
And with that perhaps there is a challenge for us all. None of us can claim to have the perfect theology. The Gospel is a mystery, we know only in part, and we can’t box God in and pretend to have him all figured out.
There are so many facets to the Christian faith, much of which we love to argue over. But we must stay teachable, approaching Scripture with an open mind and heart, and willing to listen to the opinions of others.
This may result in having our horizons expanded and some of our preconceptions challenged. It’s a journey Benny Hinn looks to be on. Do we need to join him?