Posted in Faith, Features

Searching for Jesus, finding Krishna

It is Wednesday evening, at around 6:30 pm, and I am sitting on a small mat, my legs crossed into a tight knot. The large doors, the high ceiling and the artwork on the walls evoke a sacred, reverent feeling in me. I am caressing a set of beads between my fingers as I chant and sing just low enough not to disturb the woman seated next to me. She is also singing.

My story today begins where it will end: Inside the Hare Krishna Temple at Ngara, Nairobi.

My name is Jayne Adhiambo Opondo. I am 22, and I am a follower of Krishna. I know “Opondo” and “Krishna” in the same sentence sounds strange, because there is this strong stereotype that some religions belong to certain people.

In the same way people assume every Arab or Somali is a Muslim, the name Adhiambo Opondo is likely to have Christian, rather than Krishna, associations. So how did I end up here? Perhaps the best picture to illustrate the beginning of my journey is that of a box.

Read the full story here.

Posted in Commentary, culture, Faith, Religion

Celebrating the Bigger Picture in Benny Hinn’s Shift on Prosperity Gospel

When I first came across a YouTube clip circulating on social media that Benny Hinn had renounced the prosperity gospel and that he will no longer “ask people for money”, I was reluctant to celebrate.

First, being the skeptic that I am, I thought the clip was had been edited to fit a certain narrative, so I wanted to watch the entire message before forming an opinion. So I looked for the original message. I found it tucked inside a 3-hour long Facebook Live video on Benny Hinn’s page. I even posted the full, unedited transcript on this blog.

The more I listened to his original words, the more I felt my reservations fade.

More questions than answers

However, many questions quickly followed this initial excitement. Does this mean that Benny Hinn is on the path to affirming and preaching the true gospel? What about Benny Hinn’s views on other teachings of the Bible?

Wait, it sounds like he renounced the prosperity gospel, but did he say what the true gospel is? Was he always preaching the true gospel and then adding the prosperity stuff on top or is he now changing his entire understanding of what the gospel is?

Come to think of it, Benny Hinn doesn’t use the phrase “Prosperity Gospel” anywhere in his message. He uses the word “prosperity” a lot, and rebukes those who try to peddle the gospel as a means to prosperity. Is this the same thing we mean when we speak about the prosperity gospel? Are we putting words in Benny Hinn’s mouth?

As far as I know, prosperity gospel is the teaching that Jesus died to make us healthy, wealthy and happy. But the true gospel is about Jesus dying to save us from our sins and restore our broken fellowship with God. Did Benny Hinn make this distinction? Is he even aware of the nuance? What exactly is the gospel according to Benny Hinn?

These are just a few questions that led me back to my previous reluctance to celebrate what many have lauded as a significant shift in Benny Hinn’s theology.

But I am a communications specialist, and I like to think I understand the power of context and environment in determining the effect someone’s words have on another. It is why echo-chambers continue to thrive on the internet and why confirmation bias tends to rule our convictions.

When you’ve already decided that a person is against you and doesn’t want you to succeed in life, you develop filters for whatever positive thing they say. You never associate with them or give them a willing audience, and when you are forced to listen to them, you always expect them to speak against you and you grow suspicious when they say anything positive about you.

This is why, no matter how good your arguments and how compelling your evidence, you will never convince a Jubilee party die-hard to vote for the opposition party.

Bigger picture

This brings me to the point I refer to as the “bigger picture” in Benny Hinn’s latest words. I am celebrating Benny Hinn’s words, not because it says anything about the overall change in his theology (or even a change in the trajectory of his theology), I am celebrating his words because of the people who got to hear them and, for the first time, consider the truth of those words and possibly believe them.

The “bigger picture” is not the man who claimed to renounce the prosperity gospel, the bigger picture is the masses who heard, listened, and believed him.

There are those who have faithfully followed Benny Hinn Ministries who will struggle with this question. Probably for the first time in their life, they will feel the instinct to disagree with their teacher and like the Bereans, they will go back to their Bibles to confirm the truth of these new and strange claims.

Some of these people will share the clip with their friends in the same prosperity and Word of Faith circles. Hopefully, the anouncement will be subject of discussion in Bible Study groups and Whatsapp groups and after-church conversations in those circles.

“Did you hear what Benny Hinn said? What do you think it means? Do you agree? What do we do with this new shift?”

Listening again, for the first time

And in the process, many will Google their questions and they will encounter other people speaking about the same topic. Probably for the first time in their lives, they will dare to examine the words of those “enemies of the church” who have always spoken ill of their pastor and movements.

They will wonder how what these people knew that their pastor did not; what they said that caused their pastor to change his mind and announce it so publicly and so brazenly. Then they will listen to these enemies again, for the first time.

The more I consider all these possibilities, the more I realize that Benny Hinn’s public renouncing of “prosperity” is not about Benny Hinn. It is not about expecting Benny Hinn to go out and sell all he has and give to the poor. It is not about expecting Benny Hinn to now change his circle of friends and denomination and join the “true-gospel” movement.

It is not even about whether Benny Hinn should now apologize and make amends for all the people he ostracized for calling him out when he preached the prosperity gospel; or whether he should now begin a ministry of calling out those he once walked alongside.

For all we know, this may be the last time we hear about it. He will probably do an interview or two about it and then quickly fade back into the movement that he has led and been a part of for decades.

For all we know, he was probably using even this supposed recanting as another opportunity to make himself look good and honorable before human beings. Only God knows what is in Benny Hinn’s heart — It is possible to confess that you used to be a people-pleaser and still do it as another act of people-pleasing.

Of course I want and pray that Benny Hinn will fully embrace and preach and live out the true Gospel. As far as I know, what he has said is worth celebrating. But it is simply to early and we know too little to tell whether this is indeed what it happening. We celebrate the teaser, even as we await the rest of the story.

Yet despite this, I see a bigger and a more immediate cause for celebration. In just 5 minutes Benny Hinn has planted a seed of (or at least a curiosity for) the true gospel in millions of hearts that may never have considered listening to someone who wasn’t Benny Hinn.

Whatever we think of Benny Hinn in this season and afterwards, we cannot deny the fact that God has, in this moment, used him as His instrument. And this is definitely worth celebrating.

For the fame of His name.

Posted in Faith, Religion

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Benny Hinn Rejects the Prosperity Gospel

“I am sorry to say that prosperity has gone a little crazy. And I am correcting my own theology, and you need to all know it. Because when I read the Bible now, I don’t see the Bible in the same eyes I saw the Bible 20 years ago.

Steve Strang from Charisma, whom we go back years, actually he was in my wedding, people don’t even know that Charisma magazine began with my father-in-law. Charisma magazine started with Roy Harthern, and I married his daughter.

So Steve Strang was in my wedding. We go way back. And he’s already asked me “Are you ready to make it public?” and I said “Well, not totally, because I don’t want to hurt my friends, whom I love, who believe things I don’t believe anymore.”

And I will tell you now something that is gonna shock you.

I think it is an offense to the Lord to say ‘give a thousand dollars’. I think it is an offense to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the gospel. I am done with it. I will never again ask you to give a thousand or whatever amount because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it.

Did you hear me? I think that hurts the gospel. So I am making this statement for the first time in my life, and frankly I don’t care what people think about me anymore.

So I had a guy.. well I’ll tell you who, it was Dan Willis and I love Dan with all my heart. I said to him ‘don’t you dare preach that message again.. I don’t wanna hear it, I don’t even want to be a part of it’.

So when they invite me to telethons I think they will not like me anymore. Because when you look at the word of God, I don’t wanna get into it now. Am I shocking you? Good, let’s have a high five on this one.

If I hear one more time ‘break the back of death with a thousand dollars’ I’m gonna rebuke them. I think that’s buying the gospel, that’s buying the blessing. That’s grieving the Holy Spirit. That’s about all I will say.

If you are not giving because you love the Lord Jesus, don’t bother giving. I think giving has become such a gimmick it’s making me to my stomach.

And I’ve been sick for awhile too, I just couldn’t say it. But now the lid is off. I’ve had it. You know why? I don’t wanna get to heaven and be rebuked. I think it’s time we said it like it is: The gospel is not for sale, and the blessings of God are not for sale, and miracles are not for sale, and prosperity is not for sale.

I still believe in prosperity but let’s look at what the Bible says. I’m not supposed to say it now but it looks like I’m saying it anyways. You have to read… And I just sent a letter to my people with what I really believe, so I’m kinda jumping ahead of myself, because I am really ticked, in a Holy Ghost way.

Anybody ever been upset in a Holy Ghost way? Maybe ticked is the wrong word, I don’t know why I even said it, there’s some guy years ago said ticked and I just stuck with it. But it’s like holy anger, it’s like, ‘ why do they have to do that?’

If it’s not about adoring, loving Jesus, have nothing to do with it. If it is about self and mullah.. You know what mullah is? Money. If it’s about how to get rich, it is not the gospel. It’s about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why do we give? Because we adore Him, we love Him.  Why do we give? Because His gospel changed my life, and I want to see all the lives changed just like how my life was changed. Now, enough about that.

The message of prosperity is in the Bible, we cannot deny that if we give we’ll receive. We cannot deny God will bless us, that’s in the Bible. You can’t erase it, no way.

God wants to bless His people way more than you want to receive His blessing. But when you put a price on it, never. Because it gets corrupted. That’s all there is to it.”

Excerpted from Benny Hinn Ministries Facebook Live Video: Benny Hinn LIVE Monday Night Service – September 2, 2019 (Timestamp 1:21:00)

Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: Unashamed by Lecrae

I enjoyed reading (or rather, listening to Lecrae read) this book. It is a deeply personal account of the rapper’s journey to faith and his journey through faith. It is an autobiography of sorts, mostly focusing on how Lecrae came to faith and why he does “ministry” the way he does.

The book finally (hopefully) puts to rest why the rapper insists on being referred to as “a rapper who happens to be a Christian” instead of “Christian rapper.” You see, Lecrae’s relationship with rap and hip hop predates his conversion. What happened at his conversion, he explains, was a change of worldview, not a change of trade (or talent).

The best way he knew to express himself was through rap, and just because he became a Christian doesn’t mean he raps because he is a Christian. He raps despite being a Christian. It is a subtle difference, and many might miss it.

I admit that I am one of those people who miss that difference, because I don’t classify music (with lyrics) alongside other neutral vocations such as driving a bus. I believe that with music, unlike driving a bus, your faith is not just expressed in the kind of person you are while you do your work, it is also expressed in what you talk about (or sing/rap about). That’s why there is such a thing as “Christian rap” and no such thing as “Christian driving.”

Being a personal account, Lecrae does not shy from revealing gory details about his past failures. What stood out is the fact that his sinful life does not just precede his conversion, but includes his life after conversion. I was comforted by this, especially considering the many times I have found myself “sinning more” after my conversion than before. I relate to this one, Lecrae.

Even so, I couldn’t help but feel like Lecrae was defending himself in this book. He was succumbing to the pressure to “explain himself” and why he is the way he is. I am no judge of whether this was warranted, but I am grateful he did it.

I also couldn’t help but feel that, for someone whose mantra in life is about not living for people’s acceptance, by writing this book he seemed to still want us to “get” him, and, in a way, accept him.

The only significant doctrinal qualm I had with the book is in Chapter 10: Kicking Down Hell’s Door. Lecrae uses Matthew 16:18 to segue into why he feels called to reach the culture. He infers from Jesus’ words… “upon this rock I will build my church” that this is speaking about Jesus building the church “upon the rock of the culture”. Well, that’s quite a stretch and I didn’t buy it.

I believe the “rock” that Jesus is referring to is either the confession of Peter (you are the Christ, son of the living God) or Peter himself (what he symbolizes as an Apostle who confesses the Lordship of Jesus over and against the claims that Jesus was merely a prophet).

All things considered, this was a good read. I recommend it.

Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: How the Bible Actually Works

I regularly listen to Pete Enns and Jared Byas’ podcast The Bible for Normal People. The two hosts have carved out a helpful niche focusing on why Christians need to put off their overly mystical lenses when approaching the Bible. They acknowledge the difficulties that many Christians encounter when reading they Bible, and they do their best to respect the reservations many people have with the Scriptures.

enns_howbibleactuallyworks_hc_3d-1.pngOne may say that Pete Enns’ book How the Bible Actually Works: How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News is more or less a transcript of the entire podcast. In this book, Enns acknowledges that many people, Christians included, often find the Bible difficult to apply in their lives because it is “ancient, ambiguous, and diverse”.

Enns writes: “The spiritual disconnection many feel today stems precisely from expecting (or being told to expect) the Bible to be holy, perfect, and clear, when in fact after reading it they find it to be morally suspect, out of touch, confusing, and just plain weird.”

The author does not seek to defend the Bible against these apparent accusations. In fact, Enns himself finds and describes the Bible in the same manner. He acknowledges that it is an ancient book depicting an ancient and unfamiliar culture.

He also describes the Bible as ambiguous, with many Christians finding themselves unsure about what to do with some of its commands; and he also finds it diverse, meaning that there are apparent and “actual” contradictions between different parts of the Bible. Enns believes that the ambiguity and contradictions are not reasons to invalidate the Bible, they are a cue for us to take a different approach to how we read the book.

Enns believes that the way of Wisdom was always followed by the people who wrote and read the Bible in ancient times. He uses several “contradictions” in the Bible to show how wisdom dictated different commands for different situations, even making room for commands that contradict one another (e.g. Proverbs 26:4 & 5).

According to Enns, all this ambiguity and diversity should discourage us from the reading the Bible as a rule book set in stone; and we should be willing to adapt and sometimes abandon passages that no longer serve the purposes of Wisdom.

“The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rule book for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” he writes.

I agree with the author’s exhortation to Christians that they should apply Wisdom when reading the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is not a mere rule-book. Neither is it an instruction manual. The Bible is an ancient book and I personally find some of its commands ambiguous, confusing and even contradictory. The Bible may be a light to our path, but it is useless to us if we read it with our eyes closed. We should indeed apply Wisdom when reading the Scripture.

The main thing I struggled with while reading this book is Enns’ definition of this “Wisdom” that we are to apply when reading the Bible. The closest he comes to explaining this “Wisdom” is when he says we are not only to read the Bible, but also to read the culture, read the present moment and then discern how best to adopt, adapt or abandon a given Biblical passage.

The problem I find with this approach is that it is no different from any reasonable approach to any other work of literature.

When I read a book such as The Chronicles of Narnia, common wisdom (and just general reasonability) tells me that lions can’t speak and there are no magical mirrors at the back of wardrobes. Common wisdom tells me that it is bad to judge people by their race or size; it is better to share; and it is sometimes good to give others the benefit of the doubt. These are aspects of wisdom that life and experience teaches all of us — though we are not always attentive students.

So what, then, is the point of the Bible if what is written there is no more trustworthy or authoritative than the limits of my own judgment and Wise reading? And what does the Bible even mean when it distinguishes the “Wisdom of God” from the “wisdom of man” (James 3:13-18)?

When I say that Biblical passages about slavery are no longer applicable today because society has evolved and we now understand that it is wrong to own another human being, isn’t that just the common wisdom of the age? Am I not just aligning with the times? What role has the Bible played in showing me how to think about slavery if the only lesson is that the Biblical writers were slightly more progressive than the surrounding cultures?

After all, there were many other ancient thinkers who didn’t ascribe to the Judeo-Christian teachings and yet proved to be more progressive than their surrounding cultures.

While I appreciate the author’s effort in bringing the Scriptures down to earth and encouraging a more thoughtful and authentic approach to the Bible, I feel he has done little to make a case for why I should give the Bible any more attention than other works of literature. The author has brought the Bible down to earth and left it there.

If “how the Bible actually works”  is how any reasonable person would work in any given situation, then what is the point of ascribing to Scripture? If the Bible is no more than a case study on how to apply the wisdom that we already possess, why should anyone opt to be a Christian instead of simply being a humanist?

By reading this book, I found myself less confident in the faith I have in Christianity, even as my approach to the Bible became more enlightened. I am not sure whether this is ultimately a good or bad thing for someone who confesses to be a Christian and strives to be faithful to the God revealed in the Bible. Wisdom leads me to believe that it is not.

Posted in Book Reviews, Faith

Book Review: Am I Truly Saved? by John Musyimi

I have been a Christian for almost 15 years now, give or take. The thing is, I am not always sure I am a Christian. I am also not sure if the first time I raised my hand and “gave my life to Christ” was really the time I got “born again.” I am not even sure if the second time I did it was the one… or the third time I did it.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have doubts. Something tells me that most of you are doubters too, secretly. Yet that does not worry me as much as the fact that many of us can be so sure that we are saved.

But should we be so sure? Can we?

John Musyimi believes we should, and w can. But he also believes that not everyone who is sure they are saved, is saved. Our certainty must have the right basis, and Musyimi sets out to show us that basis.

In his second book (or his first booklet), John Musyimi, a pastor at Mamlaka Hill Chapel (when he wrote the book), lays out a six-point diagnostic tool that Christians can use to check “whether you are in the faith”. He appeals to his namesake, the Apostle John, for a guideline on how we may gain assurance that we are “really” and truly born-again.

Now, I think what Musyimi is attempting to do in this booklet is quite dangerous. It may easily go either way. Many teachers who have set out to assure Christians of their salvation have ended up increasing the doubts of those Christians, and those who’ve sought to reduce those doubts have ended up shipwrecking the faith of their hearers.

There’s no denying that this is a dicey topic, and one that must be approached with utmost care and wisdom. Fortunately, John Musyimi does just that, to the best of his ability.

The six tests mined from 1 John are real gems:

  1. Obedience – if you are truly saved, you will keep God’s commandments.
  2. Affection– if you are truly saved, you will love the brothers.
  3. Separation – if you are truly saved, you will have decreasing love for the world.
  4. Faith – if you are truly saved, you will believe in Jesus Christ.
  5. Holiness – if you are truly saved, you will experience increasing victory over sin.
  6. Spiritual – if you are truly saved, you will show evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t make the cut. Not on all the six tests. I seriously flunked on test number 2 (affection). I struggle with affection for the brethren. Most of the time, I just don’t like to be bothered. I really have to “push myself” to care, and that is just how it is… at least for now.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Furthermore, it’s not that I am doing so well on the other tests anyway. And this is where Musyimi’s booklet proved quite helpful. What if we fail the test? What if we realise that we don’t always obey, we don’t love as we ought, and our battle against sin often seems like a losing one?

Thankfully, Musyimi anticipates those questions, and that is why he is careful to approach the tests with a subtlety that might be missed by most. Throughout the manual, you will find such statements as “inclined to” (help brothers)”, “decreasing love” (for the world), and “increasing victory” (over sin) just to name a few.

These are POSTURE phrases, not POSITION phrases.

The author, like the Bible, is aware that he is addressing men, not machines. We change, and the best change is a growth kind of change. The proof of our salvation is not in where we are in the journey but in which direction we are facing (heading), and Musyimi is careful to point this out.

One last thing, what if we find out that we are facing the wrong direction? What if our love for the world is increasing while our love for the brethren is decreasing decreasing? Is this a valid reason to throw in the towel and say goodbye to this “salvation thing”?

Absolutely not! It turns out that this realization is one of the best news you could have received all your life! As Musyimi puts it, realizing this deficiency in your life is actually “a sign of God’s mercy upon you!”

Get your hear examined today. Your life may just depend on it.

Apart from Jesus, the people in the Bible are no more worthy of being our examples than the people outside the Bible. A person is not worth emulating simply because they had the “privilege” of being a character in Scripture.

There’s nothing special about having a “Christian” or “Biblical” name.

God has surrounded us with relatives, friends and neighbours far more worthy of emulating than most Biblical characters could ever be. So look around. Pay more attention to your fellow church members, not just as peers but also as inspirations.

You may just discover that Dave from Accounting is just as holy as King David

Be like Dave from Accounting