Book Review: God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel, by Costi Hinn
Costi Hinn, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies. Zondervan, 2019. 224 pages.
I was participating in a Q&A session at a pastor’s conference in Africa when an attendee asked an important question: “when the traveling preacher comes to my city with promises of God’s blessing for all those who would make donations to his ministry, should I give to him?”
My response was profound: “No.”
Fortunately, the other pastor speaking at the conference, a Zambian brother, had a more thoughtful response. He said, with kindness in his voice: “If the prosperity preachers were telling the truth, Africa, India, and South America would be the richest places on earth. The only person getting rich through these ministries were the preachers themselves.”
Everyone laughed a little, but his response touched on what seems to be the inherent absurdity that sits right on the surface of the prosperity gospel. The pastors in this movement are obsessed with getting rich, and they are exploiting people’s willingness to believe what they think the Bible tells them.
God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel, by Costi Hinn (Benny Hinn’s nephew), is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the beliefs, priorities, and practices that make up a prosperity gospel ministry. Brought up in the family business (three of his uncles and his father ran faith healing ministries), Hinn was taught that he and his family were uniquely anointed by God, and that their life of excessive wealth and luxury was the Lord’s way of showing favor to his servants. Though doubts occasionally crept in (an uncle whose cancer proved to be prayer-resistant was particularly hard to understand), Hinn was being groomed for a future in prosperity gospel ministry.
But God intervened. God used a faithful baseball coach and a girlfriend (now his wife) to bring Hinn to genuine faith in Christ. This book chronicles his long process of leaving his family’s ministry and training for gospel work as a pastor. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel is an easy-to-read, conversational book that makes a convincing case for rejecting the prosperity gospel.
Six qualities of the book make it particularly compelling.
God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel is, in part, a memoir. It moves chronologically through Hinn’s childhood, disillusionment with the prosperity gospel, conversion, and preparation for ministry. Along the way, we meet a cast of incredible characters (charlatans?) and see what it’s like to live in a world created by the logic and beliefs that make the prosperity gospel plausible to so many people. The narrative provides space for Hinn to discuss important theological changes that he made along the way, but readers who are looking for a deep dive into doctrinal matters probably won’t find this book satisfying on that front.
Some of the stories of greed, arrogance, and deceit in this book will peel your paint. The prosperity gospel’s theology of blessing and anointing provided a pretext for all kinds of outrageous expenditures and behaviors—all excusable because God wanted them to rest comfortably after a hard night of faith healing. With Hinn’s insider status, in the prosperity movement, he has seen, heard, and done a little bit of everything with that tribe. While there are no “bombshell” revelations, it would be hard to walk away from this book with any respect for the Hinn family’s ministries.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Hinn’s book is the respectful tone he maintains throughout. He is relentlessly respectful in the way that he discusses his family and their ministries. Though he is honest and at times quite critical, he never descends into anger or name calling. In the preface, Hinn stresses that he is not pursuing “a vengeful crusade” or even judging anyone’s ultimate spiritual state.
I can easily imagine that the more irenic tone of the book will make its message more palatable to the people who need to learn from it most, but I did find myself itching for the author to come down a bit heavier on these false teachers. I understand that they are his family, but they are guilty of stealing from poor and desperate people. They have peddled a false gospel that will not save, and they have made themselves rich in the process. As I read, I found myself wanting Hinn to be even more critical; it feels like the behavior he chronicles deserves some righteous, angry condemnation (like Jesus’ words for the Pharisees in Matthew 23).
Hinn does a good job of making his case without running the risk of overwhelming the “average reader.” He uses lists and quotations effectively to show that the prosperity gospel is not the same message that the church has believed and taught for the last two thousand years. A fair-minded person would have trouble disputing the evidence that the Bible teaches a different system of faith and salvation than that taught by the prosperity gospel.
Hinn’s book also does a good job of educating and informing readers about the prosperity gospel’s history and teachings, giving them a framework to understand particular teachers and ministries. Readers will walk away understanding the origins of the movement and the reasons for its ever-growing popularity, even if those facts might make you want to pull your hair out in frustration.
Finally, Hinn is upfront about the fact that he hopes that his book will be used by God to cause people to leave the prosperity gospel and reject its teachings. To that end, he provides some very useful sections on topics like:
- A balanced view of health and wealth
- The Bible’s instructions about false teachers
- Ten steps to remember when talking to someone in the prosperity gospel
I imagine that almost anyone looking to help people who have been deceived by the prosperity gospel will find these aspects of the book useful.
God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel is a faithful, helpful, and informative read. I would commend it to anyone looking either to help someone ensnared by the prosperity gospel or simply to understand the phenomenon better.