2018 / 139 minutes
In one of the documentary’s many memorable moments Costi Hinn, the nephew of televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, describes how, while working for his uncle, they would stay in $20,000-a-night luxury suites, fly in private jets, and eat in the very best restaurants. His uncle was not ashamed of this lifestyle since he preached that God wanted his people to be wealthy. But the extravagant lifestyle did start to wear on Costi Hinn:
“Another hotel that sticks out in my mind is called the Grand Resort… it’s in Greece and ironically, it’s set on the Aegean Sea. I had my own suite, my own pool and there I stood every day looking out over the Aegean Sea. If you know your Bible at all, Paul sailed the Aegean Sea on many missionary journeys. And so here I am, a Word of Faith/Prosperity kid looking out where Paul was shipwrecked, where he went through literally chaos and hell on earth, just to get the gospel out to people, and now I am staying at 5-star hotels…”
He began to recognize the contrast between the “God wants you to be rich” message he was spreading, and the message of Jesus, who prepared his disciples to be hated and persecuted (John 15:18, 2 Tim 3:12) but that they could endure it all knowing they had Christ.
American Gospel: Christ Alone is about the many churches that have replaced Christ with what we hope to get Him to do for us. In this alternative gospel, Jesus isn’t the gift; instead what is on offer is the American Dream: if we love God enough, and give enough to Him (via gifts to the right preachers), then He’ll give us the nice car, the beautiful wife, and the big house with the picket fence all around.
Why should you watch?
That’s a lie that most Reformed folk aren’t falling for, or at least, not straight on. So why should we watch this documentary?
One reason might be to help others. If you know any Christian friends tuning in to preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Todd White, and Benny Hinn, then this would be a great film to watch together. It exposes their health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity gospel for the sham that it is.
Another reason is to better understand how, even in solid, orthodox Reformed churches, we can still buy into a prosperity-lite counterfeit. The version we adopt might be masked by other names, like “the Protestant work ethic.” It isn’t preached off our pulpits, but it is in amongst the pews. The hardworking sort that we are, our heart may start to feel some sense of entitlement. We’d never say out loud that God owes us anything, but if we did right by our family, helped at the Church and school, and put in the hours at the office then…shouldn’t God want to reward us?
And with that comes the pressure to keep up appearances. If hard work is supposed to earn you anything, then if you aren’t successful, there must be something wrong with you, right? The end result of this train of thought is that works are done, not out of gratitude for what God has already done for us, but out of fear of what others might think. As one of the interviewees noted:
“You can grow up in a church, hear a gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you’re are a good person.”
So yes, we can also benefit from this false gospel take-down.
Some of the most impactful interviews are the ordinary Christians. We meet Katherine Berger, who has had one medical issue after another but is happier today than when she was healthy because she now knows the true Jesus. It also doesn’t hurt that there are some really insightful Christian leaders interviewed. Some of the recognizable names include:
- Jackie Hill-Perry
- Matt Chandler
- Ray Comfort
- Nabeel Qureshi
- Phil Johnson
- John MacArthur
- Michael Horton
- John Piper
- R. Scott Clark
- Steven J. Lawson
- Paul Washer
Their responses are stitched together so seamlessly the film doesn’t even have a narrator – a minor detail, but it highlights just how well-produced it is.
If all I have is Jesus…
Ultimately what makes American Gospel worth watching is what it teaches us about Christ. It tells us about a God so good that should we lose everything else – our health, our home, money, and family too – and we have Jesus, then we have more than we could ever imagine.
The full film can be rented or bought online at their website here. But if you want to try before you buy, you can watch a 40-minute excerpt for free below.