Boy oh boy.
I am asked about stuff all the time and don’t have time to do the amount of research or study necessary to give to properly deal with some of the stuff that comes across my plate, but I wanted to toss something online on an upcoming church that appears to be very dangerous. One of the fastest growing churches in North America is the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s not necessarily in the limelight yet, but Church of the Highlands is a 15 year old church that has grown to be a multi-site church of 14 locations with over 32,000 people. In fact, it’s grown so fast that it wasn’t even on the Outreach top 50 back in 2013 when I went through the top 50 churches on there.
They’ve been doing the growth thing with bells on, and they’re a good example of tight packaging and excellence in presentation. There’s a whole lot of design, architecture and presentation genius in Highlands that many churches could benefit from. Their buildings look great and their presentation is amazing…but beautiful architecture, great media, slickly-produced programs and fantastic music don’t make a good church. But what about Highlands as a church? What about their doctrine and practice?
Judging from their web presence, they’re incredibly polished and understand the importance of being subtle about much of their doctrine and practice. Still, on a surface look at their web presence, alarm bells should be going off. They’re overseen by a council of apostles that includes none other than noted prosperity preacher Robert Morris. That should set off a few alarm bells, as should their statement of purpose (namely due to the two rather interesting verses that they derive their purpose from: Matt. 22:36-40 and Mark 16:15-17…?!?). They run a Bible College that offers more training options in church lighting than bible. Their entire corpus of bible-related classes is six, including overview, hermeneutics, theology, historical theology and preaching. That doesn’t exactly say good things about the theological education they offer in their Bible College.
Go look at their academic catalogue for yourself.
Their doctrinal statement isn’t that subtle; they’re not very articulate about spiritual gifts but they openly state that physical healing “is given as a sign, which is to follow believers.” That’s a seriously concerning statement, but that’s not the only one. They also teach that “it is the Father’s will for believers to become whole, healthy and successful in all areas of life,” and they specifically label financial prosperity as God’s will for believers. For an understanding of Word of Faith teaching and the prosperity gospel, read this.
Now their doctrinal statement is admittedly a little cryptic and I’d bet dollars to donuts that they’ve made it cryptic on purpose. Chris Hodges is far less cryptic from the pulpit. If you watch the message here, start at 9:13 and you’ll hear Chris Hodges speak about 2 Cor. 8:9 & 9:11 and say:
“Why does God want me rich? Why does he want me in that condition? And the next chapter actually says it. God wants to make you not only rich monetarily, he wants to make you rich in every way. So make you rich in your marriage, make you rich in your emotions, make you rich in a lot of ways, in your gifts, your ideas…why? So that you can be generous with it.”
And then, knowing what it sounds like he just said, he immediately confronts the accusation that he teaches “prosperity theology” and denies it by saying…well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that his explanation is unconvincing.
Beyond that, Hodges has some very interesting history. The notorious Ted Haggard was Hodges’ youth pastor back in Louisiana, and Hodges later worked for Haggard in Colorado for seven years (Hodges copied Haggard’s “hire a kid in your youth group to youth pastor for you” pattern with Layne Schranz; current youth pastor at Highlands and ex-student of Hodges). Haggard considers Hodges one of the faithful friends who supported him all through his insane scandal back in 2007. It’s interesting that Hodges only talks about his ministry career as if it started in 2001, subtly distancing himself from his ties with Haggard. He never openly connects himself with Ted Haggard (who he worked with from 1987-1994) for obvious reasons, and Hodges also doesn’t seem to openly mention the Bethany World Prayer Center (the wingnut church in Baton Rouge, LA where he worked from 1994-2001, after he left Colorado).
So is Chris Hodges a false teacher?
I will say the following:
– He’s definitely exegetically wrong about what the bible says about God’s will for our finances. Wrong as in “damnably wrong” (if he believes what he’s saying). The prosperity gospel is a counterfeit Gospel that cannot save. He teaches a sophisticated prosperity gospel, and he tries to escape the accusations of “heretic” on technicalities, but he doesn’t come anywhere close. In the sermon I linked, he actually states that “God needs you to have more than you need.” If you’re not rich, people will go to hell because the great commission enterprise won’t have rich Christians funding it.
That’s right. Your lack of accessing the wealth that Christ has made available for you will result in the damnation of lost people.
Let that simmer for a second.
– He’s definitely one of the new-wave of charismatic life coaches who pretend that they’re pastors. They’re not, but they don’t have much a biblical understanding of anything, let alone the nature, requisite character and duties of a “pastor”. This breed of Osteen knockoffs are so utterly unqualified for ministry that it would be funny if it wasn’t real.
– He mentored under an unregenerate pseudo-pastor who was a homosexual meth-head…which breeds a lot of rather serious questions. Not questions about his sexuality or anything, but rather what sort of theological sewage he was being fed during his formative years. Being mentored by Ted Haggard doesn’t automatically make him a heretic but teaching heresy does. Also, if he learned proper biblical theology and practice, the question becomes where and when he would have picked that up…and why he neither teaches said “good theology” nor acts in accord with it.
At the end of the day, he may not be a false teacher but he sure does a convincing impression of one. Besides that, You don’t get points for confidently figuring out if a person is a false teacher or discerning with certainty if they’re unbelievers. God alone can speak definitively on whether a man is spiritually dead or just theologically brain dead. What you need to do is obey Christ’s commands on how to respond to someone who teaches falsehood in his name. A guy like Chris Hodges needs to be ignored (Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 John 10-11). Failure to do so will almost certainly end in upheaval and trouble for you (1 Tim. 1:18-19; Tit. 1:10-11).
Listening to Chris Hodges or attending Church of the Highlands will almost certainly be a spiritual fatal decision.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Consider yourself warned” Unger
**April 13th Update – I’m going to be gone due to my job until next week so I won’t have time to interact with the numerous comments on this post, but I hope to do so when I return.**
***Update – October 2016*** – Seeing that it’s six months later and people are still finding this post so utterly offensive that they’re morally obligated to show up and attempt to put me in my place with incoherent arguments, rhetorical bed-wetting, and assorted yet abysmal efforts at biblical reasoning, I’ve decided to shut down the comments. I’m sure you think Chris Hodges is the greatest pastor since Jesus himself, and every single thing I said and meticulously documented is somehow absolutely untrue and totally fabricated. That’s great. I’m glad for you. I also don’t care about your emotional vomiting, will not fly to Alabama to meet whoever it is you think will change my mind with their emotional vomiting, and have moved on several months ago.
After 130+ comments, every curse that could be called down on me has been called down on me.
If you comment somewhere else on this blog about Chris Hodges or the Church of the Highlands, I’ll simply erase your comment.