Houstons... we have a problem
Part One:You Need More Money
Tonight (9 Jan 2000) on BBC1 they are showing Apollo 13, the Oscar-winning portrait of the `routine' moon trip that went horribly wrong. It's a gripping piece and contains the memorable line, "Houston, we have a problem." This series of articles seeks to deal with a set of Houstons - Frank, Brian and Bobbie - and to lay out as clearly as possible the problem we as biblically-minded Christians have with their teaching.
By NEIL RICHARDSON
AS with the Apollo 13 mission, all appears perfectly in order at the outset when reading one of their books or listening to their sermons. But, also similarly, beneath the surface there are serious and potentially fatal spiritual malfunctions. So who on earth are they? Frank Houston is a former New Zealand Assemblies of God general super-intendent. In 1977 he went on to plant the numerically successful Sydney Christian Life Centre in Australia. He is a `big noise' in antipodean Pentecost-alism, and author of The Release of the Human Spirit (1999, Destiny Image).
His son, Brian (pictured), is founder of Hills Christian Life Centre in Sydney, home of the fantastically popular Hillsongs Music (you've probably sung their song `My Jesus, My Saviour (Shout to the Lord)' by Darlene Zschech if your church dabbles with anything after 1900!). As the blurb on the back of his books says, he "loves life. As one of Australia's most sought after speakers, he has a passion to see people fulfil their potential in every sphere of life. A respected church leader, popular motivational speaker [Greenbelt in the UK this year] and skilled communicator, Brian travels extensively, addressing leadership conferences throughout the world. His television program Life is for Living is broadcast in over 30 nations, and his natural ability to mix humour with a strong, clear message draws him to people of all age groups and back-grounds". His Christian ministry also includes "dynamic community centres that employ professional doctors, a psychologist and financial consultant". These vocations perhaps indicate Brian's three main preoccupations: health, mental wellbeing and self-esteem, and wealth. In this article we will be addressing the last of these preoccupations, and asking whether the emphasis Brian puts on it is biblical or not.
The final figure is Bobbie Houston, Brian's glamorous wife. She shares in her husband's ministries and they "travel extensively sharing with leaders throughout the world, but the prize is always `home'. They have three brilliant children, Joel, Ben and Laura and are madly in love with life". This life-loving woman has written a book entitled I'll have what she's having: the ultimate compliment to any woman daring to be in leadership (1998, Hillsongs Australia). The particular `she' in question seems to be Bobbie; just in case we want to know what she looks like, we're treated to no less than three photos of this very attractive and successful woman on the front cover (and one on the back). She is certainly conscious of her own status as a Christian "mega-overcomer" and "awesome woman
ready to explode on the earth", as one of the "women who know how to partner for success, and women who are committed to painting their world with such colour and dynamic, that others observing just can't help but say
`I'm definitely having what that woman is having!!'" The mental picture of Bobbie Houston exploding like a giant paintball on the earth, painting the whole world with colour and dynamic is one surely worth dwelling on for a moment. And then, in another moment, think and despair about the death of the proper use of language (and behind that the death of thought and meaning). And then finally, consider a previous CETF article on Roger Ellis, a charismatic also fond of the sound of words rather than their meaning. As he himself said, "This is the flow that unlocks the key." Bobbie Houston's book could well be such a flow.
You Need More Money (1999)
Like it or not, Brian says you do. This book's subtitle reveals its contents: "Discovering God's amazing financial plan for your life." Perhaps anticipating criticism, the blurb gives you the option of regarding him as "presumptuous or prophetic" as he "deals with wrong thinking passed through religious tradition" and guides you into seeing God's "blessing on your life as you become a money magnet".
So that's Brian's message then: you need more money. Is it God's message as well?
I looked up `finances' in a topical concordance. Here are some interesting findings:
* We should give money (firstfruits, tithes) to God according to our ability (Deuteronomy 16:17; Luke 11:41; 1 Corinthians 16:2), and God will "fill our barns with plenty and our presses with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9,10; cf. Malachi 3:10); but this is not as important as pursuing "justice and the love of God" (1 Corinthians 13:3).
* We should lend to the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Romans 12:13), as "God will deliver [us] in time of trouble" (Psalm 41:1), repay us (Prov erbs 19:17; 28:27) and it makes the giver happy, too (Proverbs 14:21) because "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Generosity to the poor is one of the marks of the virtuous woman "whose price is far above rubies" (Proverbs 31:10,20). You can't love God and not give to your brother (James 2:16; 1 John 3:17).
* There should be something of financial equality among believers (2 Corinthians 8:12-15); there should not be some struggling while others are relaxing.
* We should not steal but work so as to be in a position to be generous (Proverbs 10:4; Ephesians 4:28).
* Generosity results in prosperity whereas stinginess causes resentment and even, paradoxically, poverty (Proverbs 11:24-26; Luke 6:38); casting our bread on many waters does not mean we lose that bread (Ecclesiastes 11:1); sowing large equals reaping large (2 Corinthians 9:6).
* Generosity should be cheerfully secret if one is to please God (Matthew 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
* We should enjoy such riches as God permits but not love or trust in them (Proverbs 11:28; 1 Timothy 6:17, cf. Philippians 4:11,12); "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" and a mark of false teachers (1 Timothy 6:5-10).
* Riches can tend to spiritual poverty and vice versa: "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches" (Proverbs 13:7); "Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33); "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24); "let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation
the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits" (James 1:9-11).
False teaching, it seems to me, always takes the form of adding to, or taking away from, the truth (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18) "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6). What an onerous and fearful office it is, then, to be a teacher "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement" (James 3:1). Even as a teacher of English myself, I feel this weight most severely at times. So what of Brian Houston's teaching?
The prima facie case against his thesis"you need more money"is that, amongst all the other things scripture says about money, it doesn't say we need more of it! Indeed, it expressly warns against desiring it or chasing after it, saying what a snare it is, and how unreliable and temporal it is, and how it can corrupt the soul. "Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:5). I very much regret to say that Houston, rather from ceasing from his own wisdom, has written numerous books sharing his ill-advised and unfounded notions. He is adding to God's perfect, sufficient and complete wisdom with his own, rather hackneyed brand of christianised positive thinking techniques. And to add to perfection is to take away from it. So, straight away I can say to you: there is absolutely no point whatsoever reading this book. Ironically and self-defeatingly, it will result in you having less money (around $18.00 less, to be precise), and it can teach you nothing about God or money which you can't already find in the bible. In fact, it will mislead and confuse you, wasting your time and peace of mind, as well as money, like the woman with the flow of blood who "had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse" (Mark 5:26).
My sister picked up You need more money, looked it over, and said, "This has got `dodgy' written all over it". I confess I find it hard, reasonably experienced though I am, to critique such things any further than this! Houston's stuff seems so self-evidently erroneous that if one is not immediately convinced, one never will be. As Houston quotes in his other book, Get a life, there's "none so blind as those who won't see."
But, so as to "redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16) I've spent reading the book and help preclude you wasting any of yours on it, let me try to show you further why Houston-style health `n' wealth doctrine is anti-biblical. I'll pick some points from each chapter and investigate them. If you've read enough to be convinced, I'd advise against reading any more unless you have a particular interest in the area of prosperity teaching (perhaps someone you know is in bondage to it, and you're looking for explanations as to why it's unbiblical). If not, spend the time praying for someone or reading the bible instead!
You need more money
Two statements sum up the opening to the book:
1. "You need more money"
2. "Money answers everything".
1. "You need more money"
It seems astonishing that Houston is so confident that "whoever you are, you need more money". Does Bill Gates, the world's richest man, with a personal fortune of over $1 trillion, need more money? Even allowing for hyperbole and exceptions, this is by no means a convincing statement. Given, too, that the book is largely targeted at Westerners (Yanks, Brits, Aussies and Kiwis mostly), it comes across as even more implausible. There are very few people in the developed world who need more money. We are far too comfortable, and it's not an exaggeration to say that our material prosperity, like the Israelites of old, is connected to our spiritual complacency. And many of those who are poor in the West are so because of foolishness, not because of economic structures. Even the poorest people in Britain spend hundreds and thousands of pounds per capita on the national lottery (popularly termed, The Tax on the Poor). And of those who are poor through no fault of their own do not starve. I've worked amongst the homeless in London, and very few of them are truly destitute materially, though their emotional and personal lives are terrible and unspeakably marred. And even if there are some about whom it would be fair to say that they need more money, it still would never be the thing they need the most. All of us need, surely, more wisdom in handling our existing finances, not more finances to handle. Everyone in the UK opines about public sector workers' salaries, but how much money do we teachers and nurses waste, through lack of discipline, on unnecessary things? Even a cursory glance at the wisdom books of the bible (Job to Song of Songs) shows that "the price of wisdom is above rubies" (Job 28:18; Proverbs 8:11). Wisdom is the thingshe is so desirable that she is personified in Proverbs 4. The writer of the same book, however, actually asks God not to give him more money"Give me neither poverty nor riches
lest I be full and deny You, and say, `Who is the LORD?' or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:8,9). Clearly, there are attendant dangers with both poverty and richestheft or arrogance. It is far better, then, to join with the apostle and "learn in whatever state [we are in] to be content" (Philippians 4:11).
It's your choiceallow Houston into tempting you that you need more money *1, or join with the writers of inspired scripture in asking God to be your sufficiency in whatever state you are in.
2. "Money answers everything"
Houston cites Ecclesiastes 10:19 here, but just preceding this he makes a very revealing comment:
This reminds me vividly of Gerald Coates' similar protestation against proof-texting in the pro-Toronto Experience video, Rumours of Revival. Coates decried picking seemingly-supportive verses out of context and then proceeded to do exactly that, preposterously using Psalm 2:4 to vindicate so-called holy laughter"He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision." Houston is just the same. He warns against something then does exactly what he's warned against. It's the oldest trick in the bookthe Trojan Horse, the wolf in sheep's clothing, the predator posing as the protector. It's like a dodgy used-car salesman telling you to watch out for cowboy dealers as he rips you off with an old banger! Houston quotes from Ecclesiastes, even as he is protesting, out of context. As Don Carson explains,
- People love to quote the bible when it comes to money, wealth and riches (and will sometimes do so out of context), but there is a fascinating verse in the book of Ecclesiastes which says it all.
(For the love of God, April 14)
- Just as many parts of Job cannot be insightfully or wisely read without grasping the flow of the book as a whole, so also with Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth [the philosopher] sets himself to explore the significance of everything "from below," looked at from the vantage point of fallen humanity. In short, his stance is "under the sun" (1:9) or "under heaven" (1:13)
By the end of the book, after scraping away the detritus of life, he hits bedrockGod himself. And here and there along the way he allows us glimpses of a divine perspective that transcends meaninglessness. But he takes his time getting there, for we must feel the depressing weight of all questing visions that do not begin with God.
If Houston is going to use one verse from Ecclesiastes about money, he should (a) take care to be consistent with the whole tenor of the first eleven chapters of the book, looking at life from `under the sun', (b) remember other verses, including, "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver" (5:10) and (c) properly interpret the verse he does use. Matthew Henry may help us here:
Clearly as this last verse in Peter shows, money does not solve anything at all `above the sun', anything at all of eternal significance, such as our salvation. No, indeed, Qoheleth advises us rather to "remember now your Creator in the days of your youth
fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:1,13). Jesus, too, seeing the infinite value of things `above the sun', heavenly matters, compared to the relatively trivial
- Money of itself answers nothing; it will neither feed nor clothe; but, as it is the instrument of commerce, it answers all the occasions of this present life. What is to be had may be had for money. But it answers nothing to the soul; it will not procure the pardon of sin, the favour of God, the peace of conscience; the soul, as it is not redeemed, so it is not maintained, with "corruptible things as silver and gold" (1 Peter 1:18).
value of things `below the sun', earthly concerns, commands the rich young ruler: "One thing you lack: go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross and follow me" (Mark 10:21) *2. Money may have answered everything for this young seeker `under the sun', but it was actually a stumbling block for the true answers he needed for his soul. Having too much money, paradoxically, is considered a thing of loss, a lack of true treasure.
Does Houston make any attempt at all to acknowledge the fact that, taking the context of Ecclesiastes and the thrust of the scriptures as a whole, money only answers material problems, and therefore is extremely limited in addressing the nub of the human condition? No. He takes this one statement"money answers everything" against everything else in the bible and builds an entire book on it. "It's true," he says, "money is inevitably the bottom line of everything". Surely his god is Mammon, not Jehovah Jireh, our provider! He lists a number of things money `solves' such as hunger, poverty, lack of influence and so on. But it is not money itself which solves these things, but rather a wise use of resources, which is an entirely different thing. And is avoiding physical hunger and poverty the be all and end all in life? Yes, if one is to be earthly-minded and have no heavenly hope, like the false teachers in Philippians 3:18-21, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." All Houston's concerns seem to be earthly, so his earthly solution is entirely fittingmoney solves everything down here. It just is absolutely useless in getting anyone to heaven or making us right with God, Proverbs 11:4, "Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death". Only Jesus gives us that righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), praise His Name.
Houston's aim in the book is to "change our thinking" so that we "develop a healthy attitude towards money". By this he evidently means to encourage us to want more of it and not to feel guilty about our greed (as he doesn't, or perhaps does which is why he has written the bookto justify his lifestyle). But isn't our attitude towards money far more likely to be greed rather than over-frugality? Isn't the love of money the root of all kinds of evil? Shouldn't we avoid the desire for riches at our peril? But then, says Houston, this would not be healthy. The secular psychologists say that to resist any sexual impulse is not `healthy'. Could it be that this word is a "cloak of covetousness" (1 Thess 2:5), a euphemism for self-indulgence?
Chapter 1: Dealing with a poverty mentality
Houston affirms again: "this book is all about
breaking the poverty mentality and becoming comfortable with wealth" (7). Of all the many words scripture uses about our relationship with money, `comfortable' is not one of them- `not trusting' or `uncertain' or `corruptible' or `generous' or `giving', maybe, but `comfortable', no. `Comfortable' is one step away from `complacent', and complacency leads to deathlook at the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Houston's teaching about money is the "way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). Obviously, because Houston's premise is that `money is good and we need more of it', he has to follow this with the corollary, "poverty is definitely not God's will for His people". So, if you're poor, you're not obeying God, is the thinking *3 . So, Job's comforters were right then? He must have done something wrong to have his riches taken away from him? No! Material prosperity often has no connection at all to spiritual wellbeing. This is why the psalmist complains, "I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, for their strength is firm" (73:3,4). There are many bad, damned rich people, and many good, redeemed poor people, as the parable of Lazarus and Dives clearly shows (Luke 16:19-31). God's will for us is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), not our booming bank balances. Sometimes in order to purify us, God takes us through times of hardship and trial, and this may include penury and financial difficulty (Philippians 4:12), but that in a strange way, we are spiritually enriched though materially poor. That is how there can be some who "maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches" (Proverbs 13:7). If poverty is not God's will for His people, then very few saints in the bible are His people. Only the rich prophets of the Western church are His people. What do you think?
Houston seems somewhat confused he does acknowledge Paul's advice about "godliness with contentment" being great gain, and that people can be used in whatever station of life they find themselves, whether rich or poor. He also seems to make some differentiation between poverty of spirit and poverty of wallet. But, seemingly unable to help himself, he backtracks to his main theme- you need more money, you need to "begin to believe God for wealth" (11). This is supposedly so that we "can be a blessing and help others", but the reality soon becomes clear. Bill, a businessman, has decided that "his aim now is to prosper
to fund and finance the salvation of the earth". Salvation being a financial affair, it seems. But, aha! What is the first item on Bill's agenda? "Believing for
his dream car." *4 Houston happily goes on to encourage us to "become comfortable around money" by "putting on your best clothes and ordering coffee in a fancy restaurant or hotel lobby. Even though you could make the coffee for half the price at home, the total experience may enlarge your thinking. You may even feel better about yourself and life" (13). Astonishing worldly thinking! Self-indulgence and poor stewardship dressed up as positive thinking. I can find nothing to distinguish this from secular psychology, the kind of pampered self-justification and conscience-sopping that takes place in a thousand clinics round the Western world every day. Can you imagine Jesus taking the money from the disciples' purse and blowing it on a designer suit and over-expensive coffee just to make himself feel good about himself? Please, just watch daytime TV chat-shows if you want this kind of cut-price psychobabble. "Is this real, cos I feel fake?/Oprah Winfrey, Ricki Lake teach me things I don't need to know" (Robbie Williams, `Strong'). The Christian life is not about "feeling better about yourself and life." It is about taking up our cross and following Jesus, serving and loving Him and our neighbours in all things. Life is not a journey of self-pleasing and potential-fulfilment. No, the chief end of man is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13; cf. Deut. 11:1; John 14:15,21; 15:10; 1 John 5:2; 2 John 1:6).
Chapter 2: Myths and misconceptions
"One of the enemy's greatest tactics is to stop God's people desiring more money." This is remarkable. It is so clearly contradictory to the famous scripture, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10). Houston couldn't condemn himself more clearly than this: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20). Another mind-boggling `black equals white' statement is this: "It is self-centred to think you don't need money. Money is a resource that causes us to be more effective. We all need it
lots of it!"
In this chapter, Houston also gives away his sympathies towards the Dominion *5 Theology movement: money is "dominion certificates"; we are to "live in dominion" (51). It "gives you the ability to have dominion and can release God's purpose in and through you" (19). Other pseudo-pentecostal heresies come out, too, such as prosperity teaching: "Prosperity is definitely a result of applying God's Word to your life" (20). It is the original confusion over the purpose of the atonementdid Jesus just die to make us holy, or healthy and wealthy as well ? *6 (See article by Siam Bhayro; CETF Vol 6.1 pages 11&12 _ Letters to the Editor). Other `magical formula' phrases so loved of American charlatans like Kenneth Copeland and Mike Murdoch such as "bible economics" are used liberally.
Chapter 3: The Love of Money
How can Houston possibly get round the fact that this is condemned in the bible? Well, he adds a teensy little word to scripture `misguided'. It's not love of money that's wrong "this verse declares that a misguided love of money is a root for all, or every kind of evil". What a difference one word makes. That means it's okay to have a proper love of money, then. Once again, through his sophistry, black has come to mean white. And financial prosperity is okay as long as it's "godly prosperity". What are the greatest blessings in Houston's life, "the things that make [him] feel prosperous"? His family, his friendships and his health. All things that 99 percent of unregenerate, doomed souls would go for. Oh, and over the page, as an after-thought, he adds "the opportunity to serve God". This man's sights are set, not on things above, but on things on earth (Colossians 3:2). We praise God, of course, for our family, friends and good health. But like Job, we praise Him when those things are gone as well, because they are all temporal, whereas His mercies endure forever. We really have nowhere to go if we follow Houston because his only desired destiny seems a happier and more comfortable life on earth. As the subtitle of his other book says, "Principles for success and enjoyment in every area of life." Soberly, Matthew 16:25 instructs us that "whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it".
Chapter 4: The Waster, the Hoarder and the User
Essentially, this chapter reflects on the prodigal son and shows the `middle way' between the spendthrift and the over-thrifty. Pretty straightforward stuff, reallywe should use money in moderation, neither saving unnecessarily nor blowing it all. Curious, Western-orientated quotes include: "It is right that we have excellent sound systems and comfortable seats" (40,41). More alarmingly: "One man gave his entire 10 million dollars away. This may appear generous, but actually it's not smart." So Jesus must have been wrong, then, to tell the Rich Young Ruler to sell "whatever you have" (Mark 10:21)? Houston is nothing if not pragmatic, but God is not pragmatic. He calls us to do things that often seem impossible or unwise in our eyes: "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8). And one of those things might well be (and clearly was in a specific incident in biblical history) to sell all of our worldly goods and give to the poor. To be sure, God does not appear to want everybody to sell all of their goods all of the time, but we must not presume to defy or sneer at Him should He want to command one or two of us to do that now and then. But Houston knows better.
Chapter 5: Making the right choices
We can shed light on Houston's doctrinal slide away from the bible from some of the comments he makes in this chapter. `Choice' is one of his many buzz words (words are important for those who believe in positive confessionnot because of their meaning within sentences, but because of their supposed magical qualities). *7 Granted there may be some legitimate room for debate as to scripture's exact emphasis on man's free will and responsibility vis-à-vis God's free will and sovereignty. Do we choose God or does He choose us, or is it both? Verses can be found to support both aspects of this mystery. Certainly "God
now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30) although it is also clear that "the potter [has] power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for dishonour" (Romans 9:21) and that "it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (v16). But I think even the most keen Arminian would be a little wary of making this kind of statement: "God doesn't choose it for youYOU make the choice. You choose whether money will bless or damage your life" (p43). God, surely, owns us (1 Corinthians 6:20) and therefore everything we have comes from Him (James 1:17). He does give us a measure of stewardship over our funds, and we surely abuse that privilege all too often, but to suppose that God has no influence at all over our financial concerns is dangerous, and heads towards the Word-Faith idea that God is a kind of impotent deity, locked out of his universe by man's rebellion, and only able to `break back' into it by making truces or covenants with key individuals like Abraham and Moses, and moreover `bound' by certain `spiritual laws' such that we can command him to do certain things by using certain patterns of words. This neutered god is extremely prevalent in the neo-charismatic circlessee Clark Pinnock's disgraceful suggestion that God might actually lose the cosmic battle against Satan if we didn't help Him. Such hubris! But apart from this it means that God is conveyed as a weak lord in whom we cannot really put trust for our finances and everything else. We are the ones, we must choose and sort everything out ourselves, earning, wasting, saving and using money in whichever way our folly takes us. Houston brings his readers into bondage by putting all the onus on us, rather than proclaiming with gladness and joy a God who can be Lord of all, and to whom we ought to submit all things, asking for His wisdom in handling our affairs, finance and all (James 1:5).
Chapter 6: What the bible says about prosperity
So often with false teaching it is not a question of bogus ideas, but rather a disproportionate stress placed on one particular truth. So, for example, the work of the Holy Spirit is emphasised at the expense of Christ's office; or, the grace of God is wrested of its true sense and made to mean a licence for sin. So it is here. Truly, the bible does say that God intends to prosper and not harm us
(Jeremiah 29:11). But to take this prosperity at a purely physical, material, financial level is surely to deny the wonder and fullness of man's makeup, his eternal soul, the depths of his spirit. It is amazingly short-sighted and limited. It may well be that a man's spiritual prosperity depends on his physical hardship for a time. This was certainly true for Job. As CS Lewis says, "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a dying world." And Hebrews 12:6, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." But because it is convenient for Houston to interpret `prosperity' as a synonym for `money', he does. And thereby denying the rest of scripture, and indeed the universal observation that devout and excellent Christians everywhere are really quite poor in this world's goods, though rich in God. It is also unbalanced to stress God's desire for our prosperity to the exclusion of the fact that He has promised that we will suffer for Him, and that, in fact, it is a greater glory: Philippians 1:29, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;" "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution"(2 Timothy 3:12; cf. Romans 8:17, 1 Thessalonians 3:4, 2 Thessalonians 1:5). The Philippians verse actually seems to suggest that suffering for Christ is a gift from God to us! This is our martyrdom, literally, our witness; this is our true prosperityto suffer for Him, that we may be glorified with Him in heaven.
Chapter 7: The power of sowing and reaping
Houston is quite correct in his opening thoughts here that "it's actually an eternal, biblical principle: you reap what you sow!" (61). However, his view of biblical principleslike so many other word-faith teachersis very skewed. What they mean by this is `interesting verses in the bible which seem to justify self-seeking and can be interpreted as magic formulae for personal wellbeing, largely in terms of money or bodily wholeness'. They don't see principles as being reflections on God's character; they see them as spells in a wizard's manual to get them what they want:
How would you like a yacht? [Kenneth] Copeland's theology tells the believer first to see his 82-foot yacht; he then must stake his claim on scripture; and finally he is to speak the word of faith. Carried along on the wings of hope (which he says is an "eternal and living substance" residing in every believer), the word mystically penetrates "that veil in the holiest place that exists in heaven" and hovers there in the Holy of Holies. In time, the word that has pierced the veil undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes the very thing it represents.
This, my friends, is nothing but the New Age technique of creative visualisation
it is striking how closely Copeland's formula parallels three principal beliefs of an occultic worldview. First, people in the world of the occult are told that the power to create their own reality lies within themselves. Occultists maintain that they have the inherent capacity to supernaturally change, create, or shape the world around them. Secondly, these people believe that words are imbued with creative power which directly and dramatically affects the real world in which they live. And finally, occultists believe they can use creative visualisation to speak things into existence. *8
Houston seems to realise that getting what you want and calling it Christianity is a little shabby, so he tries to make a distinction between fleshy and spiritual desires. "When you put yourself first, you will be sowing into the flesh. When you put Christ first in your life, you begin to sow into the Spirit, and begin to reap according to the life, freedom and liberty of the Spirit" (64). Sounds good, doesn't it? And it is, very much in keeping with Galatians 6:8. But I still find the syntax discomforting. Putting Christ first seems almost a means to the end, that is reaping blessing in your life. Surely putting Christ first is its own end, our chief goal? Jesus is not primarily a means to happiness, though undoubtedly there is great joy in Him. We worship Him because He is worthy of worship (Revelation 4:11), not because He is some kind of philosophical key to contentment. Another similar phrase he uses: "It is a guaranteed success, storing up treasure in heaven." Is he advertising a bank or encouraging a relationship with the Living God?
Houston reveals his confusion yet further when he immediately follows this with: "Now putting yourself first is not necessarily an evil or sinful thing
but sowing into the Kingdom of God will always reap at a higher spiritual level" (65). So is it or isn't it fleshly to put yourself first? A syllogism:
But the bible teaches plainly "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Galatians 5:17; compare the first thirteen verses of Romans 8). Houston has a problemhe is in total logical and spiritual confusion. He seems to want to have the cake of spiritual blessing on a "higher level" (beware gnostic phraseology; cf. Rick Joyner); but he also seems to want to eat the cake of fleshly blessing on a "lower level". He wants to please God and please himself. He wants "to buy a single mother a new car" (64) and buy himself a BMW Series 7. Despite this, he seems to end the chapter on a sound note:
- 1. "When you put yourself first, you will be sowing into the flesh" (64)
2. "Putting yourself first is not necessarily an evil or sinful thing" (65)
3. Therefore, sowing into the flesh is not evil or sinful!!
Our lives are all about serving the Lord. Money just helps us be effective in doing so. Money is a meansit is never the end. Where your heart is, your treasure will be. Be careful that your heart is not following fleshly pursuits. If you are sowing into spiritual things, and your mind is set on spiritual things, you will reap accordingly, and it will show in your home, your marriage, your career and certainly, your finances.
Once again, as with so much heresy, it sounds great for the first 90 percent. It's the last 10 percent that's worrying, due north instead of bang on, just a tiny lump of leaven. It's confusion again (and "God is not the author of confusion", 1 Corinthians 14:33). In effect, Houston is saying, fix your eyes upon Jesus, upon heaven, upon spiritual things, but let me show you what tremendous earthly benefits that will give you. Read Mark 10:29,30, "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." Jesus' emphasis is subtly differentHe does promise abundant provision for our needs here, but the emphasis is on the family of God's people and he finishes the list with two notes that are almost entirely absent from Houston's worldview: suffering for Christ and being glorified with Him in heaven. Jesus' Kingdom is "not of this world" (John 18:36).
Chapter 8: The power of tithing
So, Brian, why tithe? To please the Lord? No: "let me be straight: the reason why I teach on tithing and putting the Kingdom first, is because I can testify personally that it works" (68). Houston is a pragmatist, he's Machiavellian. However much he tries to mask it, his intention is to `get stuff from God' rather than to please his Lord and Saviour: "[Tithing doesn't] need to be discussed because it activates the blessing of the principle of first fruits in your life" (71). It really is like casting a spell in his mind. This chapter ends much like the last: "By living according to eternal principles and putting God first in your life, you build a solid foundation that releases the promises of God: blessing, prosperity, wealth and riches. And all those things will be added unto you" (76). It's such a marriage of convenience. Okay, so if I abide by eternal spiritual laws I'll get loads of gold and stuff will I? So if I focus on spiritual things, does that mean God will enlarge my bank balance? If I give myself wholly to the work of the gospel, does that mean I'll get a flash car to drive to preaching engagements in? You cannot `play the system', Houston. God is not a slot machine whose treasures are "released" when you cynically push the right buttons. "Useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (1 Timothy 6:5). Happily, Houston does seem to realise this later on in the book when he says "Don't approach the blessing of God with some sort of penny-in-the-slot mentality that thinks `If I do this, God has to do that'" (96). So why does he continually give this impression? He gives with one hand whilst taking away with the other.
Chapter 9: The power of generosity
Again, Houston makes some encouraging remarks about money not being the be-all-and-end-all, notwith-standing his absolute claims for it in the introduction: "It's not about money, it's a way of life that goes well beyond your finances" (77) and "the power of generosity can enrich your life in more ways than one, and beyond mere physical wealth" (78). But here once more we return back to me, to self, to the ego. Why be generous? To honour God? To bless others? No, essentially we are generous in order to enrich our own lives, he seems to be arguing. Virtue is not its own rewardbeing good is only worth it if there's a payback attached. He's right about not being in debt so we are in a position to give and help others, but to say that we are to be "a servant to no one" (80) is surely not in the Spirit of Christ. Luke 22:26, "But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." We are to serve all men by every means so that we may serve Christ and win them for Him (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
Having said this, he gives some robust, unqualified biblical directives: "If someone has hurt you, why don't you bless them, instead of retaliating in anger" (82). Amen. "A true spirit of generosity gives without expectation of a return" (83). Amen. Houston really does seem to contradict himself. Sometimes he says things like "generosity isn't a formula" (84); but then he spoils it saying that "by living according to the Word of God and applying His principles in your life, you build an inheritance for your children
working within the right principles and parameters will not only bless you, but your children will be blessed too" (90,92). Let's pray for him that he sorts it out, and gets back to preaching Christ and the true spiritual value of giving all to Him.
Chapter 10: Money works generationally
Isn't our true legacy to our children to "teach [God's words] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7)? Houston seems to think otherwise, that really "if you want to change your inheritance and begin to build godly foundations in the generations of the future, your approach to finance is the key" (90). But surely your approach to finances is a symptom of your spiritual character, not a key to it! How can it be that our approach to finance is more fundamental than prayer or bible reading or Christian fellowship? It's such a bizarre thing to prioritise. We will have a godly approach to finance only if we put all those other means of grace first, not if we put finance itself first.
Chapter 11: Overcoming powerlessness in your finances
This book is such a weird mixture of biblical truth and secular psychobabble. Some excellent comments about generosity and God's faithfulness are blended in with some utter nonsense about visualising beautiful houses to build up your "esteem" and "self-image" (97) and he actually advocates shopping-therapy for stress: "My counsel to him was this: go out and buy yourself something! Treat yourself!
It doesn't matter if you spoil yourself because when you've got a generous heart, you deserve the blessing of God in your life" (102). We don't deserve anything of God! It's all of grace, it is a gift, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:6-8)!
Chapter 12: Partnering for success
This section includes some sensible suggestions about marriage and business partnership, not least the warning not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers.
Chapter 13: Being a money magnet
Do you think it is at all in keeping with the bible to talk about desiring to become a `money magnet'? Has that phrase got anything to do with being a living sacrifice or a servant of the Lord? Quite astonishing. But, you see, as well as being a child of grace, we are to prosper: "prosperity is part of the new covenant blessings, including salvation, healing and restoration" (123). It is clear that all of Houston et al's problems come down to their overly-broad view of the atonement. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15), to make us rich in grace and faith, to give us a heavenly hope. He did not assure us of loads of cash, a big car, a beautiful spouse, a happy family and a fit body until dying gracefully in our sleep at the age of 80. Patent common sense and using half an eye for half a second at a fragment of anybody's life will teach us that. These people seem to create a magic kingdom entirely funded by others' wishful thinking and self-centredness. 2 Timothy 4:3, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears." How cool is it to get a rich, good-looking bloke to come to your church and tell you all you don't need to feel guilty about having a lot of money, in fact God wants you to have lots more and to spend it on yourself on cars and houses, as long as you say that you glorify Him and do a lot of work for charity as well! Look, Brian's a man of God! Look what he says we can do: "Go to the nicest street you know, stop at the best house, and imagine yourself living there" (124); "a money magnet will have a renewed picture of himself. Begin to see yourself as somebody who is comfortable around money" (124). It's all right. God's will, apparently, is not your sanctification through persecution or trial, but rather He "is in the business of building over-achievers. That is His will for your life" (130).
I feel I have laboured the point somewhat here, but nevertheless it's obviously a point which is not sinking in. Houston oversees over 900 churches in Australia, so obviously thousands are buying into his message of "godliness as a means of gain", his garbled mixture of spiritual truth and carnal error. Let us take heed.
I wish you, dear reader, every joy in Christ, with or without money, but always with His Spirit and Word to guide you until He comes again.
It would seem that there is within each of us an enemy which we tolerate at our peril. Jesus called it `life' and `self', or as we would say, the self-life. Its chief characteristic is its possessive-ness: the words gain and profit suggest this. To allow this enemy to live is, in the end, to lose everything. To repudiate it and give up all for Christ's sake is to lose nothing at last, but to preserve everything unto life eternal. And possibly also a hint is given here as to the only effective way to destroy this foe: it is by the cross. "Let him take up his cross and follow me." *9
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faiththe salvation of your souls". *10
*1 "In this book I am going to tell you WHY you need more money and secondly HOW you can get more money (even if you won't admit it, I bet you are interested in the latter)"as my friend Mike commented, it's evil to use temptation as a motivation.
*2 Cleverly, Houston evades the force of these verses, and rather emphasises his idea that with God it is possible to be both contentedly rich and godly, missing the point that God will certainly call those who trust in their wealth to give it up.
*3 Ironic, then, that Houston says that "it is tragic that society has, over the centuries, classed itself and built prejudices based on wealth" (9).
*4 Houston niftily justifies having expensive motors and big houses later on when he says that "the love of money isn't measured by how big your house is, or what car you drive. It is measured in the inner man" (32). Rather convenient that. I don't know, but I'd bet my eye teeth Houston has an absolutely enormous house, far beyond his requirements, and not one but several very flash luxury cars. All for use in the Lord's service, of course.
*5 Dominion Theology: the post-millennial view that the last days will be characterised by a global revival and total christianisation of the earth, with a new breed of miracle-working, spirit-filled Christians who will take dominion or control over governments and institutions. The bible in contrast teaches that the end times will be characterised by a global deception and a one world, anti-christian government. It is no exaggeration to say that Dominion Theologians are the spiritual forebears to the Great Delusion of 2 Thessalonians 2.
*6 "If you are struggling with your health," says Houston (p31), "know that it is the will of God to see you whole and healthy. Health is one of the promises of God for our lives." So why aren't we healthy, then? Why wasn't Job, Epaphroditus, Timothy or Trophimus? Why were Paul's eyes bad? Why did he have a thorn in the flesh? Why do we all, including faith-teachers, die?! Because our flesh is corruptible, and Jesus never died to make us healthy in this life, though He can and does choose to heal us at times, through doctors and/or through prayer. An obsession with health and wealth shows that these men have no heavenly hope; all their treasure is down here.
*7 Positive Confessionthe false doctrine that our words in themselves have power to create or destroy, and that if we use negative words, we bring curses down; contrariwise, positive words actually create reality. For example, if I say, "I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am blessed by God's prosperity," I actually will be. It is similar to Visualisation, the technique which says that if you imagine a `blessing' (such as a "a beautiful house like that" [p97] in your mind and `believe God' for it, you will get it. This has been popularised by men such as David Yonggi Cho and Kenneth Copeland. See indented quotation on next page.
*8 Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (1993)
*9 AW Tozer, `The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing', from Spiritual Classics, ed. Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin
*10< 1 Peter 1:3-9
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Appeared in Issue 12 September 2000
"...contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" -- Jude v3