Among the celebrities in the Word Faith Movement, none is more well known than Benny Hinn. From his lavish life-style to his on-stage performances, Benny Hinn has become the modern stereotype of the faith healers, even providing at least partial inspiration for Steve Martin’s character in the movie Leap of Faith. Hinn claims that thousands have been healed in his crusades. There have even been claims of the dead being raised. But when pressed for documentation, the ministry has been woefully unable to provide much, if any, evidence for these assertions. Despite years of exposé’s by both Christian and secular sources alike, his ministry continues to have thousands of ardent followers. It is estimated by various sources that his organization takes in over one hundred million dollars per year, though this amount is disputed and is impossible to verify as the ministry refuses to publicly disclose its finances.
The purpose of this article will be to take another look at faith healing by focusing on the ministry of Benny Hinn and attempting to evaluate his results. Undoubtedly, some will see this article as simply “anti-charismatic.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no intent to disparage any branch of Christianity. It is essential, however, that Christians test those who claim to speak for God and who claim a special anointing from God (cf. 1 John 4:1, 1 Cor. 14:29). It is hoped that, by looking at Hinn’s ministry, discernment may be gained for evaluating other purported faith healers as well. It is certain that we have not seen the last of them.
What Is a Miracle?
As we begin to evaluate the claims of Benny Hinn, we must first determine the boundaries for ascertaining a true miracle. Often, in articles of this sort, the assumption is made that a general consensus exists regarding what constitutes a miraculous event. However, the word itself has become so commonplace in modern usage as to simply indicate a stroke of good fortune. But a true miracle is more than an unusual, fortuitous event. Webster’s Dictionary defines a miracle as, “an extraordinary event manifesting a supernatural work of God.” (1) Norman Geisler similarly defines a miracle as, “a special act of God in the world, a supernatural interference into nature, a special divine intervention.” (2) He further goes on to state, “A miracle is not simply an extraordinary event but one that would not have occurred without special divine intervention.” (3)
This definition of miracles is significant for evaluating modern faith healers, including Hinn. It may be conceded that many sick and hurting people leave the crusades feeling better, but this is not the same as saying that they have been cured miraculously. There are numerous possible explanations for apparent healings as we will see.
Comparison to Christ
One way to evaluate whether or not ministers like Hinn possess healing power would be to compare their miracles to those of Christ. When this is done, striking differences begin to appear. First, Christ healed specific individuals. Never once do we read a passage where Jesus say’s anything like,
A muscle condition has been healed. I give you the praise. Just now lift your hands and call upon His precious name, dear Jesus, dear Jesus, dear Jesus. Sinuses have just been healed, I give you praise. A neck injury has been healed, I give you the praise. In the audience God is touching people right now right here, the Lord is touching many of you in this audience right here in this studio, I give you praise Jesus. In your homes, many of you are being healed. Someone’s shoulders have just been released from pain, someone with a shoulder problem has just been healed, I give you praise Jesus. (4)
Yet this is standard fare among healers like Hinn who regularly stands at the front of the auditorium and recites illnesses supposedly being healed as though he is taking roll. Those who think they are among the recipients of healing are then invited to come to the front to testify.
It should be noted too that all of this is carefully orchestrated by Hinn’s associates. Many who are not considered a good healing risk are restricted from access to Hinn. Dr. Stephen Winzenburg, a professor at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa has conducted research into evangelists’ ministries. Concerning Hinn, Dr. Winzenburg states, “He’s very much like a circus ringmaster when he’s there in the arena. People may be coming for healing, but it’s very much controlled hysteria.” (5)
Another difference is that the miracles of Christ were immediate. Christ never commands a follower to claim a healing that did not occur or to go home confessing a healing and waiting for it to materialize. But again, this is common in Word Faith circles.
Those Jesus healed did not relapse, either. But compare this to the case of Ernestine Rodriguez of Santa Fe, NM who was pronounced healed of brain cancer by Hinn during a 1992 broadcast. Tests performed three weeks later demonstrated the cancer remained. Hinn’s explanation on a later broadcast was, “I do know this: Healing is received by and must be kept by faith. There’s been the cases where they’ve lost their healings.” (6) Another example is Jordie Gibson, who determined to stop kidney dialysis and fly to a Hinn crusade in Anaheim. Gibson is still a believer and believes that he experienced God’s healing power, though he has had to return to dialysis. (7) Yet, never do we see Jesus instructing those He has touched to maintain their healing by faith.
Christ’s healings were always successful. But listen to the story of William Vandenkolk of Las Vegas as related in the Los Angeles Times,
Sitting cross-legged in front of a big-screen TV, the 11-year-old squints through Coke-bottle glasses at a Miracle Crusade video made more than two years ago in which he starred as a boy who miraculously recovered from blindness. “I liked it at first because I thought I was being healed,” says Williams in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s home. On the screen, Hinn bends down to William, his hands on the child’s face. “Look at these tears, “ says Hinn, peering into the child’s eyes. “William, baby, can you see me?” Before more than 15,000 people in a Las Vegas arena, William nods. In a small voice, the boy says, “As soon as God healed me, I could see better.” Hinn, an arm wrapped around William, tells the audience that God has told him to pay the child’s medical expenses and education. People weep. Today William is still legally blind and says his sight never improved, and that his onstage comments were wishful thinking.” Incidentally, the family has yet to receive any of the promised money for medical or educational expenses. (8)
An HBO special documented Hinn’s crusade in Portland, Oregon. On stage Hinn performed 76 alleged miracles. The documentary’s producers asked the ministry for the names of the healed. Thirteen weeks later, only five names were received. Upon investigation, none had received an actual healing. One of those was 10 year-old Ashmil Prakash who had been stricken with two brain tumors. Despite the “healing” pronounced by Hinn and the pledge made by his impoverished parents to give thousands of dollars to Hinn’s ministry, the child died seven weeks after the crusade. (9)
Lastly, the healings of Jesus were not psychosomatic. Jesus raised the dead and gave sight to those born blind and lame. Despite the claims, no good documentation exists that any of today’s healers have done similar miracles. The sad fact is they can’t even heal their own family members. Hinn’s mother was diabetic and his father died of cancer. (10) The stories of other faith healers are similar.
What Is Going On?
So what is one to make of all of the testimonies of miraculous occurrences? What of all those who every day are paraded on a host of shows on TBN and other networks including Hinn’s own, This Is Your Day? Several items must be considered by the discerning Christian.
1. Some of the healings are psychosomatic. People whose primary problems are psychosocial in nature respond positively to placebo affects such as faith healers. In fact, the entire atmosphere of the crusades is orchestrated to build to a climax at the appearance of Hinn and the healing touch. Jesus never had to set the mood in order to be able to work. These emotionally charged events can have great impact on those whose conditions are more psychological than physical.
2. Many are not healed at all. Having a person stand on stage and claim to be healed of cancer or other ailment doesn’t prove the healing has actually taken place. Such healings should be verified by a qualified physician using proper medical studies. These claims to healing can be the result of:
Temporary euphoria- many people are caught up in the moment. The adrenaline rush and anticipation, even the excitement of being in the presence of one considered so anointed, may be enough to provide momentary relief. This is especially true of conditions whose primary symptom is pain.
Positive Confession- what happens at these crusades cannot be separated from a theology that teaches its adherents they possess what they confess. In the belief system of many of these people, to confess that they are not yet healed would be to guarantee that they wouldn’t receive it. Many of them are simply confessing what they believe they will receive at some point.
Hero Worship- There is tremendous desire on the part of many of these participants not to embarrass the healer. They believe so much in the person that they will react as they are instructed, even when they know it is not true. Consider the story of a woman supposedly healed of blindness by Oral Roberts. When instructed by Roberts onstage, “Tell us what’s happening inside you.” She replied, “There- There was a light.” However when interviewed the next day she admitted that nothing had happened. She stated simply, “I didn’t want to disappoint him.” (11)
3. Some are outright fakes. James Randi, a magician, in his book, Faith Healers, documents many of the tactics used to deceive the gullible. Some are as simple as placing staffers in the audience who pretend to be healed. W.V. Grant would pull the heel of one shoe out slightly to make it appear that he was lengthening a leg. Peter Popoff received his “Words of knowledge” through a transistor in his ear through which his wife, via radio transmission, instructed him as she read from cards collected by staffers. Several faith healers have rented wheelchairs to use as props. Some have even encouraged people who walked into the crusade to sit in one of these chairs so they could be taken up to the front to get a better view. These same people were then pulled out of their wheelchairs to the amazement of the crowds. (12) The list of tricks is almost endless.
4. Some are natural occurrences. The fact is that many illnesses get better naturally. This is true regardless of the treatment provided and sometimes without any treatment at all. These, then, are not miraculous healings, but rather the result of the wonderful way humans have been created by an all-wise God. For instance, ninety percent of all patients with low back pain will recover in approximately six weeks regardless of whether the pain was caused by a simple strain or a herniated, degenerative or bulging disc. (13) Even cancer has been known to have spontaneous remissions. These occur among believers and unbelievers alike, people who were prayed for as well as those who weren’t, and are presently without medical explanation. (14)
Many people claim that their healing began at a crusade and then occurred gradually over time. But simply because a person got better after seeing Benny Hinn does not mean the person got better because of Benny Hinn. In logic, this is referred to as the Post Hoc Fallacy (“After this; therefore, because of this”). An example should demonstrate the problem. A balding man may realize that he didn’t begin to lose his hair until after he had children. He may surmise from this that he lost his hair because of his children and may genuinely believe that to be the case. However, it is also possible, even probable, that the man is losing his hair because of his genetic make-up and would have lost his hair even if he never had children. His children are merely incidental to his hair loss but are not the cause. In the same way, many who are “healed” at Hinn crusades are simply experiencing the natural course of the body healing itself. The visit to see Hinn was merely incidental to their recovery and not the cause of it at all. The recognition of true miracles demands tougher criteria.
5. Despite the lack of evidence, the possibility should be left open that some may be legitimately healed. As Justin Peters, a Southern Baptist minister from Mississippi quoted in the Los Angeles Times, says, “As much disdain as I have for Benny Hinn, the vast majority of people who see him are real Christians….When 25,000 people are praying for God to heal them, it would be surprising if God did not heal some.” (15)
So what’s the problem anyway? False hope is better than no hope right? Maybe Benny can’t heal but who’s he hurting? Perhaps we should just leave him alone.
But people are hurt. False hope is actually devastating. Listen to the words of Brian Darby who works with the handicapped in Northern California: “You can’t minimize the impact of not being healed on the person, the family, the extended family….They have a sense of euphoria at the crusade and then crash down.” (16) The effect of not being healed can be terribly disillusioning. However, healers such as Hinn can always deflect criticism by blaming the sick for not having enough faith.
And what about those who might stop taking essential medication thinking they have been healed without medical verification? On the September 30, 2003 episode of Hinn’s, This Is Your Day, a young woman is brought to the platform with what appears to be a blood sugar test kit. It is referred to by Steve Brock as her diabetes “pack”. After stating that God has healed her, she proceeds to throw the pack down on the floor of the platform. (17) Left untreated, diabetes can cause a host of debilitating medical complications and ultimately death. One sincerely hopes this young lady visits her physician to verify her healing. Healings of diseases such as diabetes and cancer cannot be validated within the confines of the crusades. There is serious concern for the welfare of many claiming healing.
There is also concern for the Name of Christ and the reputation of the church. The actions of Hinn and those like him bear little resemblance to Christ’s as we have seen. When did Jesus ever slay anyone in the Spirit? Would Christ throw his coat on people to knock them down? Or blow on them? Despite promises to reduce his theatrics, Hinn can be seen on the same show referenced previously waving his hand at the choir shouting, “Receive it!,” at which point the entire choir falls. Hinn runs through the front rows touching heads causing people to fall. Are any of these actions even remotely reminiscent of Christ? Flamboyant hucksters like Hinn who live in mansions on the donations of the desperate bring reproach on the name of Christ. Those who continue to blindly follow these false teachers cause the church to appear gullible in the eyes of the world and, indeed, far too many who name the Name of Christ are just that.
As Christians, we are a people of faith. There is an aversion to believing that anyone who claims a relationship with Christ would be anything less than honest and ethical. Additionally, many Christians want to believe in healers like Hinn as evidence that God is still at work. And indeed, God is still a God of miracles. But biblical faith is not blind or irrational. It is time for the people of God to demand more than anecdotal stories from those claiming the power of the apostles. While documentation of real miracles is lacking, documentation of those who have died at Hinn crusades, such as in Kenya, is not. (18) The miracles of Christ and the apostles were real. The same cannot be said for Benny Hinn and others like him.
1 Webster’s Illustrated Dictionary.
2 Norman Geisler, Signs and Wonders , 24.
3 Ibid., 24.
4 See Sandy Simpson, Benny Hinn’s Response to Dateline NBC, (November 1,2003) accessed at www. deceptioninthechurch.com/hinndatelineresponse.html which cites Hinn’s appearance on the Praise the Lord TV program, December 29, 2002.
5 Kamon Simpson, “Benny Hinn: faith healer or fraud?,” Kansas City Star (August 8, 2003). This article originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
6 G. Richard Fisher and M. Kurt Goedelman, The Confusing World of Benny Hinn , 64-65. Emphasis added.
7 William Lobdell, “The Price of Healing,” L.A. Times Magazine (July 27, 2003).
9 M. Kurt Goedelman, Hinn, Bonnke Focus of HBO Special, accessed at www.pfo.org/hinnhbo. The special ran on Easter Sunday, 2001. Bonnke’s crusade occurred in Nigeria and the results were worse than Hinn’s. As Bonnke spoke invoking a fear of witchcraft and evil spells, the crowd became frenzied and 15 people were trampled to death trying to leave the field.
11 Fisher and Goedelman, The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, 111.
12 James Randi, The Faith Healers. Chapters 5-14 are an in-depth look at a number of healing ministries. Mr. Randi’s background as a magician gives him a unique perspective from which to evaluate these ministries. Randi’s organization has for years offered $10,000.00 to anyone who can demonstrate a true miracle which, to date, has never had to be paid out.
13 “Treatment of Low Back Pain,” internet article posted in 2000 found at Spine-health.com.
14 Geisler, Signs and Wonders, 56.
15 Lobdell, “The Price of Healing.”
17 This incident, as well as other troubling cases, can be viewed by visiting Benny Hinn’s ministry website and viewing past broadcasts of This is Your Day.
18 See Personal Freedom Outreach Journal (2000), accessed from their website at www.pfo.org/four-die.htm.