In a new edition, Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century, the host of the Bible Answer Man broadcasts and head of Christian Research Institute makes it really clear it’s the excesses of “Word of Faith” theology under discussion, not issues with the wider Pentecostal, Assemblies of God or Charismatic doctrine. As such, Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff (Thomas Nelson) is probably the best tool we have to confront those who espouse the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” fringe of Christianity. The doctrinal flights of fancy are simply too numerous to list here; and the Christian blogosphere is thankfully home to people whose beliefs — for the most part — are a litte more stable.
But what a visible “fringe” this is, accounting for a huge percentage of the airtime purchased for religious broadcasting, not to mention entire networks. Why is that? That question is beyond the scope of this work, though I wish Hanegraaff had waded into the question, “What is it that draws these evangelists to one particular medium — television — while remaining almost entirely absent from radio and having only a minimal presence on the internet?” It does make you appreciative of the doctrinal balance to be had on Christian radio.
Word of Faith theology is the entire focus of this work. In a world where critics obsess over the current emerging/Emergent church; where a new Dan Brown movie reminds us of the gullibility of the public when it comes to Biblical truth; where Jesus Seminar practitioners such as Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong undermine the validity of the gospel accounts; and where atheists are become more militant in their attacks on faith; in all of these situations, a book called Christianity in Crisis could address a variety of battlegrounds for Christ-followers. It doesn’t. But its single focus is sufficient to fill all its 400-plus pages and Hanegraaff is wonderfully restrained in expressing his outrage over what gets broadcast, 24-hours a day, over so called “Chrsitian” networks.
If the new edition of Christianity in Crisis were a research paper, it would, at first, score an A- for actual research and a D- for organization of material. Since this book is a little longer than ones I normally review, I want to take a bit more time to qualify both ratings, beginning with the D-.
Despite a penchant for alliterative and acrostic outlines — some of which are borrowed from the author’s other writings — which appear to show superior organization, much of the material in the book is repeated, over and over and over again, in different sections. Transcriptions of television broadcasts are used as a kind of proof-text for multiple points, instead of beginning from the transcripts themselves and then fleshing out their various implications. Honestly, I’m not sure where the greater efficiency is to be found, but the latter would eliminate the possibility of reading a quotation for the fourth or fifth time, as is presently the case. The main points of the book might be said in half as many pages, though some of the finer nuances of each TV personality’s beliefs would be lost. This should not distract from the importance of each individual argument, however.
But I have to qualify the A-, also. Because the author heads a group called Christian Research Institute, there are immeasurable hours of compiling transcripts of religious television represented here. Nobody does it better. But wait a minute, look again at the second half of the updated edition’s title: “…The 21st Century.” Despite this reference to the 21st Century, there’s very little internet citation here; there is little commentary from other critics — which abound online — and many of the citations and statistics are from the period in the late 1980’s when the original edition was written.
Contrast that with the other updated title I’m reading now, The King James Only Controversy by James White (Bethany House) where you see dozens and dozens of internet references per chapter as White gives fresh information and renders his re-make of a 1994 title appear to be “hot off the press.”
White’s book also highlights a flaw in Hanegraaff’s update inasmuch as entire sections of the original edition are imported wholesale; so a section on recommended Bible translations and study Bibles refers to The Living Bible, not the New Living Translation and there’s no mention at all of the biggest thing in Bibles to happen in the last decade, The English Standard Version. Readers counting on the book for advice would be hard pressed to even find a copy of The Living Bible, though Tyndale keeps a single edition in print.
But you might say, “Internet links are fleeting and the groups under discussion might modify or remove offending pages if Christianity in Crisis were to cite them.”
True. But as it stands, the seventy-odd pages of bibliography and footnotes contain references to transcripts to Christian television broadcasts that absolutely nobody has access to, unless they also are recording every single thing that airs on TBN and other networks. Also, without more internet citations, the book has very little relevance to next generation or postmodern readers, who expect the web to form part of modern scholarship.
Still, one doesn’t wish to overdo the criticism because we do owe a great debt to both Hanegraaff and his organization for all that they are doing to keep TV preachers accountable. This book makes its point and makes it well: The theology being broadcast daily on Christian television is, for the most part, nuttier than a fruitcake.
Based on what I read here, I wouldn’t let Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer, or Myles Munroe or Creflo Dollar or Joel Osteen walk my dog, let alone watch my kids for five minutes. It’s not that they aren’t “rightly dividing the Word of God,” but given financial and marital evidence, it’s more like they can’t properly handle anything. And that includes the trust and responsibility that they’re given when they invade the homes of the unsuspecting on a daily or weekly basis. Thankfully, Hanegraaff resists the temptation to do any more than allude to character issues, keeping his focus squarely on the contrast between errant doctrine and Biblical truth.
So if there’s someone in your sphere of influence caught up in the world of Paul Crouch, Rod Parsley, Juanita Bynum, Paula White, John Hagee, or any of the other aforementioned scripture twisters; ignore all of the above critical comments and buy the book. Read it all, and then loan it out to people who need to see the contrast between Christian television and orthodox Christianity.