Benny Hinn says he is done with the prosperity gospel. But longtime observers are not ready to take his word on faith.
Hinn has been a leading proponent of prosperity gospel theology since the 1980s, teaching that God rewards active faith with health and wealth. But on September 2, during his 3-hour, 50-minute weekly broadcast, Hinn said he had changed.
“I am correcting my own theology and you need to all know it,” the televangelist told his studio audience and those watching online. “The blessings of God are not for sale. And miracles are not for sale. And prosperity is not for sale.”
Hinn said he now believes such give-to-get theology is offensive to God. He specifically repudiated the practice of asking for “seed money,” where televangelists tell people that God will bless them if they give a specific dollar amount. Hinn himself has done this numerous times, promising God will give material blessings in exchange for a gift of $1,000. On Monday, he said he wouldn’t do it anymore.
“I think giving has become such a gimmick,” Hinn said. “It’s making me sick to my stomach. And I’ve been sick for a while too. I just couldn’t say it. And now the lid is off. I’ve had it. You know why? I don’t want to get to heaven and be rebuked.”
Some of the Christians who have watched him closest, however, viewed the apparent renunciation with skepticism. While they want to be open to the possibility of true repentance, and say God could have changed Hinn’s heart, they are waiting for some evidence of his transformation.
“I think time will tell whether this is a minor correction, something for publicity, or the beginning of a new trajectory towards greater maturity,” said Charles Self, a professor of church history at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS). “I’m taking a wait-and-see perspective, because we’ve been down this road before.”
Down This Road Before
Hinn rejected the prosperity gospel for the first time in the late 1980s and again in the early ’90s, and there were reports at the time that he had really changed. He went on to preach prosperity again.
Hinn has also ventured unorthodox descriptions of the Trinity, which critics called “tritheism,” but he corrected his theology when the criticism got to be too much. He joined the Assemblies of God for a while, accepting the oversight of the Pentecostal denomination, but then separated and went back out on his own.
Hinn’s financial practices have also been investigated twice by the federal government. The US Senate launched an investigation of Hinn, along with Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, and Eddie Long in 2007. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was shocked by the lavish lifestyles of American prosperity preachers, and expressed concern the IRS wasn’t doing its job enforcing existing rules against excessive compensation for leaders of religious nonprofits.
Hinn, according to some estimates, was receiving tens of millions of dollars in donations every year. He told ABC’s Nightline in 2009 that his salary was more than $500,000 annually. An exact figure is unknown. Hinn’s televangelist organization is registered as a church, so it doesn’t report any financial information to the IRS.
The Senate investigation faced sharp criticism from a number of evangelical groups, including James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund (now the Alliance Defending Freedom), the National Religious Broadcasters, and Christianity Today. A CT editorial called the investigation an “oversight overstep.”
The investigation ended in 2011 with no definitive findings. Hinn’s ministry, unlike some of the others, cooperated with investigators and was praised for it. Grassley’s office said the investigation was successful, despite its lack of findings, because Hinn was “instituting reforms without waiting for the committee to complete its review.” According to the senator’s official statement, “Self-reform can be faster and more effective than government regulation.”
It is not clear whether there was any self-reform, though. Hinn’s ministry is not accountable to any outside group.
Hinn’s ministry came under investigation again in 2017. The IRS raided the televangelist’s headquarters in Grapevine, Texas. The agents had a search warrant saying there was probable cause to believe they would find evidence of tax evasion and “general fraud against the government” in the ministry’s offices.
A spokesman for the IRS told CT that the agency cannot legally confirm or deny whether that investigation is ongoing.
Neither Hinn nor his spokesman could be reached for comment on Friday.
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Source: Christianity Today