Costi Hinn, a former prosperity gospel preacher and nephew to the immensely popular prosperity gospel preacher Benny Hinn, shared his conversion story with PJ Media before the release of his forthcoming book, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies. Hinn first shared his story in Christianity Today two years ago, but his book — and his interview — fleshes out the story of how a man-centered rich kid became a God-centered follower of the humble Jesus.
Famous hucksters like T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and Benny Hinn get rich preaching a health and wealth “gospel” that perverts true Christianity. Costi Hinn’s powerful story illustrates the differences between the prosperity gospel and true discipleship.
Hinn began his conversion story with his collegiate experience of playing Division I baseball. He described his coach as “very discipleship-driven.” One day, his coach quoted Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” His coach urged him to play hard, but noted that “God is in control of our lives,” so whatever happens — if the scouts didn’t notice players or they lost the game — the players should just have a good game and trust God’s sovereignty.
“I remember being so confused,” Hinn told PJ Media. “In our [prosperity gospel] theology, we command God to bless us, to give us blessings of health and wealth and abundance. I was viewing my prayers as things that God had to do. To me, it was just as simple as believing in faith and God would have to do it because being a Christian means God would give me the desires of my heart.”
He brushed off this confusion, but concerns surfaced yet again when he met his future wife.
“I meet this girl, she drives a Yaris. I’m a gas-guzzler cocky prosperity gospel kid and a preacher. And here’s this gal who’s a server at TGI Friday’s, putting herself through school. Her parents are blue-collar, hard-working people,” Hinn recalled. “I meet her and she’s nothing like us, but I just fall head-over-heels for her.”
At first, he took her to the family to “get her fixed up.” The Hinns tried to get her to speak in tongues, but she didn’t. “She was never into fame, she was never into them,” he recalled. “She always thought it was a little weird that we drove Hummers and Benzes and Maseratis … and we were pastors.”
He and his fiancee left the family circle, partially because she had asthma. “In the Hinn family, you’re not allowed to be sick. You hide it. You’re not allowed to say you’re sick, because that will spread bad energy and get other people sick. It’s very mystical and superstitious.”
Leaving the family, Hinn ended up serving as a youth pastor at a different church outside the prosperity gospel movement. The head pastor told him to preach one Sunday on the passage John 5:1-17, the healing at Bethesda. Preparing to preach that sermon would change his life forever.
In this passage, “Jesus approaches a multitude of sick people and he picks out one guy.” This struck Hinn as strange because “we used to say God is going to heal everybody … if you just give an offering, God will give you a miracle.”
“Then I get to the point where Jesus heals the man immediately. Jesus says, ‘Arise, pick up your pallet and walk.’ No music, no fanfare, no special atmosphere. It was absolute and immediate, and I’m thinking that is really wild,” Hinn continued.
“The next section of the text where the man is now walking around carrying his pallet and the Pharisees say, ‘who told you you can pick up your pallet and walk? It’s the Sabbath. Who gave you permission to do this?’ He goes, ‘The guy who healed me,’ because he did not know who Jesus was.”
“That was the moment… where for me everything flashed in my mind and I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! He got healed and he didn’t know who Jesus was. Faith in who? Faith in what?'” Hinn said. “I’m confused but also intrigued.”
He turned to John MacArthur’s commentary on the passage, and read that “no one can control Jesus. Essentially, you can’t make a formula out of his ministry.”
“I kept imagining, that’s what we did. We made a formula,” he said of the prosperity gospel.
While Hinn was reading that commentary on that passage, “The Lord caused the scales to fall from my eyes.”
He quoted MacArthur’s words: “Here we see an example of Jesus as a sovereign healer and one of the cruelest lies of faith healers today is that the people who fail to get healed aren’t guilty of negative confession or a lack of faith.”
“That’s exactly what we thought,” Hinn recalled. “That way, when they don’t get healed, we can blame them.”
Realizing the human source and the corruption of the prosperity gospel, he repented and turned to God. “I said sorry to God, I repented of my sin, I told Jesus that I would serve him faithfully as long as I live,” Hinn said. “That was the moment I believe I was saved and converted. I had turned to Christ as he won victory in my heart.”
The pastor insisted that “the prosperity gospel is not true Christianity. Churches that preach it are not true churches. At the same time, this middle-of-the-road version of Christianity where we tolerate everything and stand for nothing is not true Christianity, either.”
Hinn encouraged true Christians to “form relationships” with those caught up in the prosperity gospel in order to counter the false narrative with Jesus’ true call to discipleship.
“I’m thankful that there were people in my life who spoke the truth and they were willing to risk my reaction because they loved me enough to tell me the truth,” he told PJ Media.
“We have this idea that tolerance is accepting and celebrating other’s ideas. So no one knows how to disagree anymore,” he lamented. “We have to separate our disagreements from the people who are propagating them. We need to remember that we are rejecting ideas but not people. When we discuss these things, that doesn’t mean we accept all we say or that we’re compromising.”
While many today might claim it is mean or hateful to challenge someone else’s “truth,” Hinn insisted that “it is hateful to withhold the truth.”
He mentioned a few key prosperity gospel lies that Christians need to counter with biblical truth.
“The idea that following Jesus will result in no suffering in your life” is a lie, Hinn insisted. “Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, persecuted, and ultimately killed. Peter experienced the same thing. Stephen was stoned. The Son of God himself was killed!”
“So what makes us think that we’re going to get out of this life unscathed, as followers of the man who died for us? That’s unrealistic and unbiblical,” he said. The preacher noted that James 1:2 tells Christians to be prepared not if but when they face various trials.
This does not mean God takes pleasure in the suffering of His people. But “God will always bring purpose to our pain but we’re not going to be without pain in this life. He can take any dark and dire situation and he can turn it out for good. In a loving way, like a true father, He will redeem the pain and bring purpose to it.”
Rather than accepting the suffering that comes with following Jesus (Mark 8:34-38), the prosperity gospel focuses on the individual’s desires and fulfillment.
“The prosperity gospel takes people away from the truth, they make the message all about them. It’s man-centered. It’s all about your comfort, your desires, your dreams, your purpose, your future,” Hinn explained. “God is more of a puppet and we’re a puppet master. We’re the captain of our soul” in the prosperity gospel.
“It appeals to the most selfish and the most human desires of every heart, for me to be the ultimate center of my own life,” he added. By contrast, the [true] gospel calls on Christians to put Jesus at the center of their lives, following His commands and living a life of love and service toward others. “Being a true disciple means loving Jesus, following Jesus, obeying Jesus. If we say we are a follower of Christ and we don’t believe Christ, then we’re deceiving ourselves,” he said, referencing Luke 14:25-35.
Costi Hinn told PJ Media he has had some success in reaching his family with this message.
“We’ve had some healthy discussion and there have been some family members who have come to a greater awareness of the dangers we’ve been propagating,” he said. Others, however, “have hardened their hearts.” Still others “are cheering it on behind the scenes.”
“I’ve had calls from family members who say, ‘We’re praying for you, keep it going!’ It’s a mixture of victories and challenges,” Hinn explained.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.