Defining Deception

Truth vs Error

It’s not a new problem. Since the fall, when Satan lied to Eve, we have struggled to keep truth pure—divided from blatant falsehood or sneaky error. In a world where truth is relative and each person is left to decide what is true for themselves, we stand in desperate need of an objective standard for truth. Every day I’m thankful for the ruler of Scripture by which we measure every truth claim.

Rewind 9 years, though, and you would find a much different me, floundering in a sea of ideas about Christianity, Christ, and how Holy Spirit living ought to look. Even though Defining Deception wasn’t in print yet, I wish I could’ve had such a resource for 19-year-old me.

I also know that just as it was back then, so it is today; we tread a minefield when we call out erroneous teachers and heretical doctrine. In any case, the apostle Paul instructs the Philippians to grow in knowledge and discernment so that they may approve the things that are excellent. It’s safe to say this instruction applies to us as well, and we dare not neglect the responsibility it entails, regardless of the repercussions.

Defining Deception was written by Costi Hinn and Anthony Wood in 2018. Hinn and Wood, with unique perspective and authority, address the teaching and conduct of the Word of Faith/Third Wave/New Apostolic Reformation—exemplified by Bethel Church, which is pastored by Bill Johnson. The errors they address do not belong to Bethel solely, Bethel is simply the case in study.

The authors state that their goal is “to give readers the information needed to discern whether Bethel’s teaching falls within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy or harms the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[1] This battle for truth is not new. And, with the advent of social media, false teachers now have an unprecedented ability to propagate their beliefs—and we have an equal responsibility to sift what we take in.

In the foreword, John MacArthur writes, “This is a well-written, well-documented, honest, careful, courageous, and biblically sound look at a worldwide movement that threatens to reshape and redefine Christianity.”[2] I daresay, anything that is threatening to reshape Christianity should steal our attention and warrant our investigation.

A Bit About the Authors

Costi Hinn and Anthony Wood co-pastor at Mission Bible Church in Orange County, CA. You may recognize Costi’s last name, which gives away his relation to the popular “faith healer,” Benny Hinn. Costi is indeed Benny’s nephew. He spent many years touring with his uncle, attending and supporting his healing meetings—both as a child and later as an employee. Wood wasn’t “in” like Costi; rather, he had other connections who introduced him to the mystical-miracle movement and saw first-hand the devastation wreaked by it.

Overview

Confession: I often skip reading intros, prefaces, and editors notes. I assure you that you won’t want to do that with this book. In these the authors lay groundwork, detail chapter structure, and reveal their hearts. These are key to how you will read the rest of the book. Knowing the authors’ backgrounds and their purpose gives them the necessary credibility.

Each chapter has an introduction, body, and conclusion, ensuring the reader’s ability to track and summarize the topic and discussion of each chapter. Chapter 1 introduces the subject—the Mystical-Miracle Movement. Chapters 2-6 frame the history of the movement right up to present day. In the final chapter, the antidote to this movement is laid out with clear teaching on the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, and the Scriptures.

The appendixes include testimonies as well as answers to frequently asked questions. While I thoroughly enjoyed the testimonies and responses, I found it hard to not get distracted by various typos. I didn’t notice any throughout the chapters, just the appendixes. Still, don’t skip them.

Evaluation aka Random Observations

I have to agree with MacArthur’s assessment that the book is well researched. Almost every page has footnotes. These men build their case on Scripture, with additional appeals to church history and Christian orthodoxy. They state that “a regenerated life surrendered to the Holy Spirit will always point back to Scripture for faith, theology, and practice. Christianity has held this truth for 2,000 years, and no self-professed modern-day apostle or prophet should lead us away from this foundational truth.”[3]

There are pockets of theological jargon, which may make it less appealing to some, but are nevertheless extremely important. For example, Johnson holds to sonship theology, a doctrine which states that those who are sons of God manifest themselves by performing miracles. The authors trace this doctrine back to a faulty Christology which focuses more on the supernatural works of God than the historic gospel message of repentance and sanctification.[4]

I appreciated their diagnosis and remedy of Biblical illiteracy and discipleship. I saw Biblical illiteracy as the reason I was so confused at 19, so vulnerable to fall prey to misguiding teaching. If we do not saturate our minds with Scripture, we will not be able to identify error. This requires discipleship and dedicated study, but it’s the only way to develop true discernment.

One of the things that caught my attention was Bethel’s Global Legacy Leadership Training. This program sells the opportunity to encounter God, become an apostle, make others an apostle, or have a “breakthrough” (a term left undefined). Packages range from $59-$875, depending on what one desires to accomplish. I couldn’t help but think of Peter’s scathing rebuke to Simon the sorcerer who thought the gift of God could be purchased with money (Acts 18:14-25).

In summary, I found Defining Deception to be both enlightening and heartbreaking. The hundreds of thousands of people who are told they don’t have enough faith to be healed, along with the erroneous theology that is propagated are only two of the strikes against the Word of Faith/Third Wave/New Apostolic Reformation mystical-miracle movement. I’m sure there are other 19-year-olds, as well as Christians of all ages, who would find their eyes opened and their understanding greatly improved by the wisdom Hinn and Wood offer.

And I’m curious.

How do you fight against the truth of the gospel being tainted by error?

How do you remind yourself to stay sharp in this regard?

And how should we interact with those whom we differ with?

 

Ruthie Stoltzfus Ruthie Stoltzfus has been recently transplanted to Elnora, Indiana where she happily resides with her husband, Julian. She enjoys working on projects with Julian – making their house “home,” cooking, sewing, chatting over a good cup of coffee, and hanging out with her nieces and nephews. She is passionate about displaying the gospel, being discipled, and maintaining relationships that impact the next spiritual generation.

 

  1. Costi W. Hinn and Anthony G. Wood, Defining Deception: Freeing the Church from the Mystical-Miracle Movement (Southern California Seminary Press, 2018), vii.
  2. Ibid., iii.
  3. Ibid., 107.
  4. Ibid., 102.

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