When Costi asked me to review his book, it was a no brainer. Having walked the stage with some powerhouse health and wealth teachers early on in my adulthood, I wanted to hear the story of someone who knew the system inside and out and could speak into it with some Gospel clarity. The prosperity gospel sounds so good. It’s subtle. It shades the edges of so many of our local churches, the songs we listen to, and even the prayers we pray. But I was only a few pages into Costi Hinn’s book when I had to set it down. One deep breath of a sobering realization settled in my chest.
“I know I lived through some of this,” I said to my husband. “But I didn’t realize that this was the gimmick. It’s a whole thing. They all do the same thing. The deception is the same.”
I was only 17 when the traveling ministry from Miami rolled through my town. Rural upstate New York is the opposite of Miami Beach, in every way possible. We were rough around the edges country folk. Blue jeans that didn’t fit quite right. Mid-‘90s Doc Martens covered with late October mud. They, however, were polished. Tailored suits and unscathed high heels. Perfect hair and flawless makeup. Expensive cologne and white smiles.
For weeks he preached and prayed, money flying out of our pockets while we fell to the ground. We, the faithful, showed up to the small church on the hill night after night for weeks on end. The committed ones. The ones who wanted revival. And for weeks on end, he told us how revival was coming. How we needed to believe more. Give more. Sacrifice more. How our acts of faith were the same as the widow’s mite. We needed to give sacrificially. Be willing to take a risk. Maybe then God would show up.
Please, we begged, baggy jeans and country knees to the floor. Show up.
This was the rhythm I would eventually learn. Not long after they arrived in our little church, the man in the suit turned to me and said, “Come with us.” And so I did. Halfway through my senior year of high school and until I was nearly 20, I played piano and sang night after night while we traveled from city to city. The story was the same every night — two sermons. One on money. One on God’s coming revival. That was the one that usually tied to your circumstances. The one that asked if you had bills to pay, rent due, illness in your body, an unsaved family member, that God’s revival would come if you had enough faith. If you believed enough, shouted enough, prayed enough, gave enough.
“Give and it will give back to you,” he’d say. Direct correlations drawn between how sacrificial your giving was and how active God would be. As if His desire to move was contingent on us. On my money. On my faith. On my action and ability, willingness and desperation. On how loudly we’d could shout or how much we had cried. God was a reluctant guest who needed a bit more convincing to actually show up at the party.
We traveled from Miami to New Jersey to Michigan to Alaska. The same message everywhere we went. God was bringing blessing and revival. God also was telling you to fund that mission. Sow a seed to see what God will do. Speak as though you have it. Don’t say you’re sick — say “The doctor may say I’m sick, but I believe I’m healed.”
It didn’t take long for the strings to unravel.
For part of one stretch in Michigan, while the pastor and his wife rolled around town in a Jaguar, the ministry interns were getting our food and essentials off of the local food donation truck. They dined wherever their ministry supporters were taking them. We dined on the dented cans and expired boxes of Chef Boyardee and mac and cheese.
Yet night after night, I sang the songs. Night after night, I counted the offerings. Night after night, we participated in the same cut-and-paste routine. Marriages were struggling. Illness was represented en masse. Homeless guests would come listen. What a spectacle to see. Our door-to-door “evangelism” ministry was led by a slick salesman from Ohio. He taught us how to nod when we asked people questions.
“Before you know it,” he said, “they’re nodding with you. That counts as a salvation. Write it down.”
Stacks of names would be brought in night after night. People who sat next to us on the buses, met us in the streets, nodded with us when we asked if they were afraid to go to hell. Names of people I never saw again. Faces I never knew beyond a number. That stack of names was held up in front of the cash poor crowd each night.
“See?” the man would say. “Revival! Be desperate for a move of God and ask him to show up.” An offering (or two) later, an altar call, and the night repeated itself like a prosperity gospel-fueled Groundhog Day. One day we’d be in front of a laughing, hysterical crowd in Oklahoma City with checks being cut to us numbering in the thousands backstage. Other days, when the veneer wore off, I could barely move out of bed from the depression and hopelessness that weighed so heavy on my soul.
And yet the good news of Jesus was nowhere in sight. No water to drink. We offered handfuls of dust. We took money from people who needed it. We spent money in Manhattan on leather shoes and tailored suits. Money that was to us given by people who needed to pay for medical bills, credit card debt, Christmas.
The prosperity gospel was planted. We reaped no good.
It can be tempting to call it harmless. That it’s just some skewed scripture, people who mean well, people who just want good for you. It seems like nothing more than a slight optimistic bend on faith, money, and sickness…until you pull back the curtain and see that this is no subtle, nuanced song. This is deafening, deadly theology.
In “God, Greed, and the Prosperity Gospel”, Costi Hinn bravely puts the prosperity gospel on notice. As one who lived among it, he is now a man marked with the story of the true Gospel. We listen to those who have the scars. The ones who’ve braved the fires and the wars and live to tell about it. The ones who can point to their limp and say “God won.”
Costi saw the brokenness, the hierarchies, the lies that twist and distort scripture so much that it takes years of undoing. Costi, the nephew of well-known “health and wealth” preacher Benny Hinn, tells his story of what it was like growing up inside the private jet and speak-as-though-you-have-it walls. He wore the clothes and drove the cars but within his chest there was a steady call that compelled him to seek, find, and know Christ.
And while I’m thankful for the exposure of lies that this book addresses, what I’m even more thankful for is Costi’s immense humility and compassion exhibited in his writing. This isn’t a tell-all exposé. This isn’t meant to destroy a person or give some juicy details that will grease the gossip mills. “God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” isn’t meant to simply garner applause for Costi and his bravery.
This book points to a man, a gospel, a kingdom that is far more beautiful, desirable, and worthy than that of the prosperity gospel. Costi points to Christ as a clear bell ringing in the fog of his struggle with what he had grown up with. Where the theology of men fails and the twisting of scripture only contorts our feet, Costi tells how the Lord patiently worked to rescue him and set him on solid ground. He gives scripture, practical wisdom, and narrative throughout to teach and encourage anyone picks up this book. He calls to something better, something truer, something richer. The good news of the Gospel is the best news for those caught in the web of the prosperity theology — God is more faithful than you could possibly imagine, speak, or dream.
“God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” releases on July 9 and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s available for pre-order now!