Between Zacchaeus and Benny Hinn

Between Zacchaeus and Benny Hinn

Some headlines get your attention.

Like, “Florida man has completely uneventful day.”

Or last week, “Benny Hinn is rejecting the prosperity gospel.”

I grew up watching Hinn occasionally on Christian Cable. He was known for his entrancing accent, for punching demons, and for dressing somewhat like a Captain of the Starship Enterprise.

But none of this is essential to prosperity theology. The movement is a mostly American phenomenon that guarantees financial and physical blessing in exchange for unwavering faith and monetary “seeds” sown into the coffers of jet-setting televangelists.

I’ve described it elsewhere as a Christian Ponzi scheme that preys upon the poor, the sick, the desperate.

And I don’t say this lightly.

I have been to parts of Africa where the primary exposure to “American Christianity” is by satellite broadcasts of the most egregious and ridiculous of preachers—all promising faith-formulas to “first-world” wealth and happiness.

And I have seen the effects of the Faith-Healer movement (in its distorted forms) on dying loved ones, to whom it was implied that a failure to get better was because they “harbored doubts”—or worse yet, had a caretaker who must be “speaking death” over them.

These teachings are demonic.

And I say that as a fairly charismatic Wesleyan who believes in miracles and is friendly toward of a wide variety of religious traditions: Pentecostals, Presbyterians, even Pittsburgh Steeler fans.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see Hinn distance himself from prosperity teachings.

“I’m correcting my theology,” he said. “I think it’s an offense to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the gospel. I’m done with it.”

BETWEEN ZACCHAEUS AND BENNY HINN

As I watched, I had two reactions.

First, “Wow!” and “that’s fantastic.” I’m glad he’s had a public change of heart.

But secondly: Renouncing isn’t necessarily repenting (though it is a crucial part of it).

One thing I didn’t hear Hinn say was “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry for the poor and dying people I manipulated into sending me their life-savings (or in many cases, their credit card numbers). Instead, he mostly chided others to applause.

“I’m sorry” is an important part of true repentance.

And repentance requires more than words.

ENTER ZACCHAEUS

Case in point: Zacchaeus.

By befriending the diminutive Jewish tax collector, Jesus showed his love for Zacchaeus even before his “deconversion” from his greedy, exploitative ways.

Zacchaeus also swindled God’s people out of money. And Zacchaeus also recanted. But then he did something else. He ante’d up and put his money where his mouth was.

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

I hope Benny Hinn does that too–at least in some small way.

CELEBRITY > PROSPERITY

Until then, I wonder if some public “deconversions” (in whatever form) aren’t a symptom of a bigger problem. I wonder if the ultimate idol in the televangelist movement (and for many of us) isn’t just “prosperity” but “celebrity”?

In the age of social media especially, we all feel the pull of that temptation (bloggers, preachers, and book writers especially). Celebrity craves sustained attention.

And few things get attention faster (after it has waned) than a deconversion story.

 

“I was a Christian, but now … ”

“I kissed dating goodbye, but now … ”

“I was a Liberal, but now … ”

“I was a prosperity-gospeler, but now … ”

 

That doesn’t mean that all deconversions are phony or meaningless!

“I used to be a persecutor of the Way, but now … ”

But as with Zacchaeus, repenting is more than renouncing.

CONCLUSION

I’m glad for Benny Hinn’s change of heart.

And I hope it’s genuine.

But the lesson of Zacchaeus is that greed and exploitation must be healed by more than words.

Renouncing isn’t necessarily repenting, but it is a crucial part of it. When these two come together, then the saying will be true, not just for televangelists and tax collectors, but for us all:

“Today salvation has come to this house … For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9–10).

 


 

 

Justice without mercy

Justice without mercy

“Excessive zeal for justice always becomes satanic.”

That line comes from Walter Wink’s landmark study of the demonic: Unmasking the Powers. His point is not to disparage our need for justice but to season it with mercy, lest “Lady J” transform into, simply, “the accuser” (ha satan).

“Justice” often turns, like sour milk, to vengeance.

A similar theme exists in this provocative claim by Alan Jacobs:

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness.

The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness.

Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

I’ve written on this before (here); but a similar point has now been made by a third and final figure: the famous atheist/neuroscientist, Sam Harris.

In reference to a recent spate of social media mobs that have called for the names, addresses, and (practically) the firstborn children of perceived offenders, Harris laments the fact that our modern culture has lost its ability to forgive (or even hear the evidence) amid its fervor for “justice.”

“We have to have a way back,” said Harris in a recent interview, regarding how the social media mob descends on certain persons with seemingly no mercy and no possibility of repentance or forgiveness.

Is there a lesson here from these three statements?

If anything, it is that a thirst for “justice” is not always an unalloyed good. We need mercy too. And humility (Mic 6:8).

 


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