Hillsong is amazingly popular in Evangelical circles which have a focus on contemporary music and sometimes a sort of concert like air about worship services. However, Hillsong itself reveals a sort of inconsistency in how Christians view church and ethics within Evangelical thought. This is perhaps best highlighted by a recent news article from the New York Times, the response of Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Molher Jr., and a comparison with the recent backlash against a message by Victoria Osteen.
Hillsong is a church that teaches what one might call a “health and wealth” gospel. While not as open about it as they have been in the past, their statement of belief continues to say that “we believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.” And their music, especially their earlier pieces, expresses this thought. (an example line “nothing compares to the promise I have in you” likely referring to individual potential) Hillsong has become markedly better since the start of the last decade in what they teach, however, the fact still remains for that they do preach what one might call a “prosperity gospel” (indeed it is an example listed in Wikipedia as an example of a church that teaches such).
I want to contrast our acceptance of Hillsong with our rejection of Osteen or even (as I have previously addressed) Gungor. I’m not making here a declaration against Hillsong, or Osteen, or Gungor (for they largely share the same criticisms) but I want to question our response.
What makes Hillsong OK, but Osteen not? See when we buy Hillsong music, or promote the popularity of Hillsong music, we financially support a ministry that has historically been a soft-prosperity church (by soft I mean more in line with the historic teachings of people like Oral Roberts than the explicit prosperity of Osteen). Let me say that again, by using Hillsong media we support a ministry with a theology that many Evangelicals reject. This is important because when we see new things that we don’t care about, we reject those things out of hand. Gungor has bad theology? Let us ban him from our church. Osteen sounds like idolatry? Let’s go on a internet shaming rant. However, when we talk about Hillsong, whose church has been known to be prosperity since Brian Houston started his ministry, we accept the music and pay Hillsong without question. So the very same churches that might be rejecting Gungor’s music, support Hillsong’s music even though according to the framework used to reject Gungor, Hillsong’s historical weakening of the gospel should also be rejected. We don’t question what we have done out of habit, or what we like.
We as Evangelicals have been slow to seek answers to questions that are deeply ethical and deeply important to be asking both for our consistency of action and for our devotion to the gospel. When we rush to condemn someone else, let us first look at the beam in our own eye. Let us examine all our actions in light of scripture and reason. Let us, as a Church, strive after the gospel wholeheartedly being convicted of what we do. If we use Hillsong, then there should be no problem in using Gungor, if we reject Gungor but not Hillsong, I hope you can give a reason. In all things let us be able to give an answer.
(a final note: this is about the background of the people / ministries being supported. The theological content of Hillsong music is largely unobjectionable mostly due to a lack of content and an ability to transpose what we want to express onto the words someone else has created. Perhaps nothing else better sums this up than the Catholic Matt Maher’s hit “Your Grace Is Enough.” I also make no claim either way as to the ethicality of using Hillsong music, it’s just my example of highlighting Evangelical inconsistency)