Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Gospel According To Hillsong

I am often asked about Hillsong church in Australia pastored by Brian Houston. To Americans, and most others outside of Australia, the church is known almost exclusively for their very popular "worship music". Their CDs are marked by outstanding musicianship, high quality vocal performances, and excellent production values. It is one of those rare places where Australians have become the benchmark in mainstream evangelicalism.

To Australians, Hillsong represents far more than music. It is the flagship congregation of the Pentecostal churches within Australia. It has spawned other Hillsong "franchises" both in Australia and around the world. Their success at drawing large numbers of people, coupled with their affluence, has caused nearly every other Christian denomination (or movement) to sit up and pay close attention. It is a testimony to their influence that so many churches around Australia, Pentecostal or not, aspire to Hillsong's prestige and success.

They have had their share of scandals due to the moral failures of three high profile figures. However, far and away most of the criticism aimed at the Hillsong empire centres around their financial dealings - some of this criticism is warranted and some is seemingly driven by jealousy. But what grieves me most, as an Australian, is the almost total lack of debate on the gospel they preach. This augers poorly for the future of Christian denominations in Australia when the purity of the Gospel is not the central agenda - it doesn't even seem to be on the agenda! I have had many years of bewilderment living in Australia because of the sheer lack of interest in discussing this issue among both clergy and laymen.

We have just had a summit in Copenhagen by a bunch of guys worried that their car exhaust is melting the polar ice caps when there is no way of knowing if they are having any effect whatsoever. How much more should Christians be concerned about creating a climate where false teaching can flourish. And this is precisely what happens when the purity of the Gospel is not actively contended for.

This post has been delayed due to finishing my previous series "The Anatomy Of The Gospel" and also because of my ongoing private correspondance with Hillsong church. There is much to discuss and much to be revealed over the coming days. But for now I want to ask you, the reader, to take on my discernment challenge. I will now present Hillsong's gospel presentation as found in their "Live - Mighty To Save" CD. What I want you to do is measure it against my "Anatomy of the Gospel" series where I established the following "five pillars" of presenting the Christian Gospel - The Holiness of God, The Depravity of Man, The Necessity of Judgment, The Work of Christ (Atonement and Resurrection), and the Human Response that this Demands (Repentance and Faith). You can also measure the "gospel according to Hillsong" against their very own (hard to find) faith statement (click here).

The gospel according to Hillsong:

Our prayer is that you would discover the Author of Love . . . Jesus. His life and death represent the greatest gift of love the world will ever see . . . a gift for you. All you need to do is accept it . . . a brand new start to a life lived in relationship with God. Meeting God is as simple as praying a prayer . . . asking Jesus to meet you right where you are. If you are not sure that you know God, and that you are going to heaven, then make this your prayer today . . .

Dear Lord Jesus

I need You . . . I need Your grace to forgive me and I need your love to change me. Thank You for your amazing love. Thank You for giving me life and eternity. But above all, thank you for dying on the cross for me.

I accept You as my Lord and Saviour. Now I'm a Christian, which means You live in me.

I belong to You. I will live my life for You and I will love You forever . . . Amen.

So how do you think that stacks up against the biblical Gospel? And one final thing for today - that same CD has the Bible verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted on the back page . . . but something is not quite right. See if you can figure out what is wrong with this Bible quotation:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Stay tuned for Friday where I will give my verdict!


Unknown said...

They forgot to "turn from their wicked ways".

The Thinking Theologian said...

You make a valid point, that criticism of Hillsong seems to centre around finances and not so much on their dodgy doctrine.

But it would seem reasonable that the two are linked, and perpetuate one another.

I worked for Hillsong for some years, and have written my own critique:

Cameron Buettel said...

thinking theologian, thank you for your input. I would love to talk with you more. Please keep an eye on my blog over the coming week. I would value your feedback and input. I look forward to reading your critique.

Sarah Munn said...

and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,then I will hear from heave,will forgive their sin and will heal their land.(2 Chronicles 7:14)

Anonymous said...


Just stumbled upon your blog and was glad to see two great posts on Haiti and Hillsong. Will definitely be adding you to my RSS reader.

I think the #1 problem with Hillsong's "gospel presentation" is that they don't answer any of the questions they create:

1. "I need your grace to forgive me and I need your love to change me." Why do we need grace and forgiveness?

2. "thank you for dying on the cross for me" Why did God die on the cross?

3. "I accept you as my Lord" What does it mean to make God our Lord?

4. "and Saviour" Again, what am I being saved from? Why do I need a saviour?

Bull said...

Their 'gospel' presentation is clearly designed to provide a warm, fuzzy, feel good teddy bear to immature believers.

It sounds good and people who already have been in the church for sometime will not realise that this model of Church growth is about tempting believers from other churches rather than going out and evangelising the lost.

I have also heard that the main campus is stuck around the 20,000 weekly attendance. However, the number of people leaving for biblically based bible teaching churches is reasonably high. So there is a lot of 'churn' with people being chewed up and spat out the other side after yet another appeal for money straight after being told how God will bless them financially if they give 10% before tax to Hillsong.

To have breakfast with Brian will cost you a $1000 dollar gift. The more money you give to the church, the better the seats you get too. (The better the seats, the closer you get to the front ... I am not making this up ... I wish I was!)

Very nice. You can even give on credit. Here I was thinking borrowing money you can't pay back was theft according to my Bible.

Well that's enough of that rant. Get ready for mobile ATM's set up at the back of the tent. Oh, sorry that was the Lakeland fiasco.


Cameron Buettel said...

Bull, I would be very interested if you could substantiate those claims about seats and money etc.

Bull said...

ok ... I will link to your forum on the one I contribute to.


Unknown said...

I have been a part of Hillsong Church for a few years now, and I can assure you that what Bull has said about breakfast with Brian and giving more money for better seats is completely untrue. You can sit anywhere you want, and nobody is ever under any obligation to give money at anytime. Please don't believe every rumour you hear.

As for the prayer in Mighty To Save, that album is four years old now, and that has been since updated. If you would look at the latest album Faith+Hope+Love you will find the following:

"Our prayer for you is that you would come to know Jesus Christ as your Saviour and friend. His life, death and resurrection represents the greatest gift of love the world will ever see… it’s a free gift for you – all you need to do is accept it… A brand new start to life lived in relationship with God. Asking Jesus into your life is as simple and powerful as praying this prayer…

Dear Lord Jesus, I believe in You… Thank You for giving your life for me. Thank You for taking my sin and shame upon the cross. I need You… I need your grace to forgive me, and I need your love to change me. Thank You for your amazing love. I accept You as my Lord and Saviour. Now I am a Christian, which means You live in me. I belong to You. I will live y life for You, loving others ,as your life changes me… Amen."

Cameron Buettel said...

Troy, the Gospel presentation you quoted only reinforces my original point - no repentance. Can't you see that! Secondly, by saying that the presentation has been changed, is that an admition that the earlier one was biblically unsound? Thirdly, if it needed changing, then why haven't they ammended the CD liner notes from earlier CDs or removed them from sale?

But, most of all, please tell me you can see that repentance from sin is never mentioned in either presentation?

Anonymous said...

I have been a member of Hillsong since 1988. It is very sad to see what the love of money has done to Brian Houstons ministry. Most of the people now attending Hillsong have no idea about what I am talking about because they are new to the church.

Brian's teaching and preaching was not edited by proffesional marketing personnel like they do today. I have to admit that Hillsong is nothing more than a company peddling or selling the gospel for financial gain.

For those who defend Hillsong about there theology,you have no idea because you were not there in 1988. I recently stop going to Hillsong and I am looking for a church that teach the word of God, and their doctrine is not change because of money.

Here is a verse for you to study, 1 Timothy 6:5 AMP.

Have a Peaceful day.

Anonymous said...

There have been more "scandals" in the three Sydney Dioceses of the Catholic Church than there have been at Hillsong. George Pell covers up or denies any responsibilty. At least Brian Houston does take action, even if it may be just to protect the reputation of Hillsong.

Troy said...

I saw a preview of the new Hillsong album and thought you might like to know that in the sinner's prayer at the back they include your favourite word "repent". Even though repentance was very clearly expressed in the previous prayers, I thought you would be happy to know that the actual word is used this time.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that such churches walk the road of political correctness and in doing so have watered the the gospel until the final "product" that is delivered to the people is meaningless.

Laura Dell said...

Could not access the cited blog, but found a blog post cached. It reads >>>
There has been more and more emphasis placed on praise and worship over the last few years; perhaps directly attributable to the rise in prominence of popular music in our society generally.
But where as praise and worship traditionally involved a few hymns before the sermon, in the more contemporary church it is moving further and further toward the centre of the church service.
Hillsong’s praise and worship has become their signature, and it is a veritable industry. Most of their income is made through sale of praise and worship “resource”.

Music touches people emotionally. But when does music become emotional manipulation? Worship leaders talk about “creating an atmosphere” (using the analogy of Genesis, where we see God create an atmosphere, then fill it. This, we are told, is now our role: we are to create an atmosphere, and He will fill it). Although the link to scripture here is just nonsense, this is nevertheless what the worship team are mandated to do: create an atmosphere. But what does this mean? The wrongful use of the scripture I just mentioned conjures romantic ideas of the creative process, once initiated by God, now to be carried on by his servants. But what has that got to do with anything? What’s really being worshipped in this case is creative talent, not God as creator. As for “atmosphere”, I am sure that all this means is to heighten the emotional state of the congregation in order to open them up to the ideas preached from the platform (including that incessant tithe-talk!)


Let’s me honest. Hillsong sermons (and, I suspect, those of similar mega-churches) are little more than motivational seminars, and the revered pastor nothing but a self-help guru or life coach (interestingly, I know of many pastors who do life coaching on the side).

The trend seems to be to take a scripture verse, and link it in some tenuous way to an idea that you want to talk about. Once this shaky foundation is established, and the subject topic has taken hold in the minds of the audience, the message continues; entirely Bible-free, and yet unquestioned by its hearers. By way of an example, I remember Brian preaching at a staff retreat a few years ago, from a scripture about “as the fathers, so the sons” (I don’t even remember where it was from!) The scripture wasn’t expounded, and in fact was totally irrelevant to the message (or, more importantly, the message was irrelevant to the scripture). The scripture’s only use, was as a catch-phrase. And this is often the basis of sermons and books by Brian and others like him.

Anonymous said...

Hillsong = F R A U D S