Until about a year ago, few outside of charismatic circles had heard of pastor and author Benny Hinn. But over the past 12 months, Hinn’s book Good Morning, Holy Spirit has become one of the best-selling Christian books of all time. Published by Thomas Nelson of Nashville, the book has spent several months atop Bookstore Journal’s best-seller list. To date, Good Morning, Holy Spirit has sold over 500,000 copies.

With popularity, however, came the increased scrutiny of scholars and apologetics ministries, who began to raise serious questions about the doctrines espoused by the 38-year-old Orlando, Florida-based preacher. Some critics called his book unorthodox and even labeled some of his public statements “heretical.”

Hinn responded by blasting his critics. But last month he repudiated many of his earlier, controversial statements and said the entire direction of his ministry is in the midst of fundamental reform. In a lengthy telephone interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, which included Regent University professor of theology J. Rodman Williams, Hinn acknowledged that he has made theologically erroneous statements, and that his attitude toward those who have challenged him has left a lot to be desired.

Returning To His Roots

Hinn was born in Israel to a Greek father and an Armenian mother. According to his testimony, he was born again in 1972 and had a profound spiritual experience at a Kathyrn Kuhlman service the following year. Throughout the 1970s, Hinn says, his ministry was molded by the writings of Christian leaders such as D. L. Moody and R. A. Torrey.

In 1983 Hinn founded the Orlando Christian Center, whose weekly attendance has grown from a few hundred to over 7,000. In the early eighties, Hinn says, he began to associate with what he calls the “faith camp,” which followed the teaching and ministries of E. W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and others.

Evangelical apologetics ministries have long criticized the “word-faith” movement on several points, including the teaching that Jesus may have lost his divinity before dying physically on the cross. According to that teaching, Christ was united with Satan in nature, and, like believers today, had to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit Advocates of this doctrine have at times implied that human beings are of the same essence as Jesus Christ. Other trademarks of word-faith teaching include an emphasis on prosperity and or positive confession, or “claiming” healing by faith.

Hinn told CT he drifted in the direction of the “faith camp” from about 1980 to 1990. “It was not really by choice; it was more a matter of being influenced by my surroundings,” he said. “I really no longer believe the faith message. I don’t think it adds up.” Hinn said he still affirms modern manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, especially healing, but added that he has returned to the writings of Torrey and Moody and has sought the counsel of evangelicals such as Campus Crusade’s Bill Bright. Hinn said, “It’s amazing how the Lord usually brings you back to where you started.”

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Shocking The Flock

It was a sermon Hinn delivered in October 1990 on the set of the Trinity Broadcasting Network that prompted apologetics ministries to take a closer look at his teachings. In that sermon, Hinn said that each person of the Trinity was a triune being: “If I can shock you—and maybe I should—there’s nine of them.”

Freelance journalist William Alnor, who works closely with the California-based Christian Research Institute (CRI), had the sermon transcribed and mailed to some 25 Christian ministries and media outlets. Among the organizations that have publicly taken issue with Hinn are the Missouri-based Personal Freedom Outreach (PFO); Alpha and Omega Ministries of Phoenix; the Georgia-based Watchman Fellowship; and CRI, which was founded by the well-known apologist Walter Martin. Last summer, a PFO newsletter labeled Hinn’s teachings a “theological quagmire emanating from biblical misinterpretation and extra-biblical ‘revelation knowledge.’ ”

Asked about the “nine of them” reference to the Trinity, Hinn said, “That was a very dumb statement. I had read somewhere that God the Father had his own personal spirit, soul, and body. I told my church the very next week that the statement was wrong.”

Critics were also dismayed by Hinn’s claims that he received some of his controversial teachings via “revelation knowledge,” or directly from God. Hinn told CT, however, that he wanted to shed the image of a prophet and that he would no longer claim revelation knowledge as the authority for his teachings. Said Hinn, “The only revelation knowledge is already in the Bible.”

Hinn said the days of attacking his critics are also behind him. Last year the audience on the set of the Trinity Broadcasting Network applauded when Hinn said, in reference to his critics, “Sometimes I wish God would give me a Holy Ghost machine gun. [I’d] blow your head off.”

He told CT he now regrets making that and other similar statements. “At one time I felt that my teachings could not be challenged,” Hinn said. “I don’t feel that way anymore.” Hinn added that he would be willing to meet with his critics, such as Bud Press of Watchman Fellowship, who has spent more time than anyone else compiling research on Hinn.

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Hinn attributes part of the controversy surrounding his teachings to a lack of formal Bible training. “The Lord launched me into ministry almost overnight,” he said. Hinn’s next book, The Anointing, is due out from Thomas Nelson next spring. He said he would make sure that trained theologians see it in time to correct any theological errors. He asked Williams, author of the two-volume Renewal Theology, to be among the reviewers.

Flawed Best Seller?

In spite of Hinn’s apparent change of course, the handling of questions surrounding Good Morning, Holy Spirit continues in dispute. Last year Hinn said publicly that three theologians had read and approved Good Morning, Holy Spirit. However, he told CT that he had based this statement on information given to him by Thomas Nelson and that he did not know who the theologians were. At that time, Thomas Nelson refused to name for CT who had reviewed the book.

In an effort to resolve the controversy, Hinn met with officials from CRI last December. Following that meeting, Thomas Nelson released a new version of Good Morning, Holy Spirit, containing several changes that the publishing house called “clarifications.” Thomas Nelson publisher Bruce Barbour told Charisma magazine that CRI had “exonerated” Hinn, a statement that CRI’s Robert Bowman disputed and dismissed as “damage control.” In spite of the revisions, Bowman maintains the second version is “implicitly tritheistic.” Barbour declined to comment further on the matter, but offered to facilitate CT’s interview with Hinn.

Though theologian Williams said he found reading Hinn’s book “very profitable,” he agrees that problems remain in the revised version. He is also concerned about the wide distribution of the first printing. “The first version is full of theological errors,” he said.

Williams said that despite the controversy, he feels apologetics ministries deserve credit for calling attention to deficient theology. And he believes Hinn deserves the opportunity to correct his message, something Hinn apparently is willing to do. “Brother, I am teachable,” Hinn said during the interview, in response to Williams’s questioning.

For his part, Hinn said he regrets any theological confusion his book has caused. His only purpose in writing, he said, was “to introduce the ordinary believer to the Holy Spirit.”

By Randy Frame.

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