Sunday, January 18, 2015

OneThing 2014: Reinhard Bonnke's Stories

To read about Mike Bickle's talk at OneThing 2014, click here.

OneThing 2014, hosted by the International House of Prayer (IHOP), took place on December 28-31 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Among the speakers was Reinhard Bonnke, founder of Christ for All Nations (CFAN). Bonnke, a German missionary, regularly preaches around the globe at CFAN rallies characterized by witchcraft warnings and alleged faith healing. Bonnke and CFAN courted controversy after inviting Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to the Great Jubilee Crusade in Nairobi in 2013.

Bonnke spoke at OneThing on December 30th, where he shared loosely connected anecdotes about faith healing, preaching, and conversion. His talk brimmed with New Apostolic Reformation tropes such as divine dreams, faith healing, and conversion of foreigners, but offered little spiritual nourishment, in my opinion.

Bonnke urged the audience to recognize "their own possibilities in God" and emphasized the importance of evangelism. "America shall be saved. America will be saved! That is God's plan," he told listeners.

At the 4:09 mark, Bonnke shared a story from his youth in Germany. When Bonnke was a teenager, his pastor father told him about an alleged faith healer who converted his grandparents to Christianity.
"I studied the family tree of the Bonnke family and discovered that my family was a godless family! And I said to my father, I said, "How did God break into our family since Grandpa and you are outstanding men of faith?" And he told me a story that had a mighty impact on my life ...

In 1922, there in east Germany, those huge forests, forested areas, my grandfather was very sick. He suffered from a disease the doctors couldn't diagnose. He was sensitive to touch or to movement. He was screaming day and night. He had excruciating pains. The whole village could hear him scream ... There was no hope. There was no help. There was no Jesus.

And then a miracle happened. An American missionary from Springfield, Missouri got lost in the forest and came to our village, and as those early evangelists worked in those days, his first question was, "Are there any sick people here?" ... That man, his name was Luis Graf, entered the house of my ancestors like a burning torch of the Holy Spirit. He preached the Gospel, and then he said, "The Lord has sent me to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit!" He stepped to the bed of my grandfather, grabbed his hand. That moment, a jolt of power shot through my grandfather. He jumped out of bed, totally healed! ... That day, my grandfather and my grandmother became wonderful, born-again Christians."
I've always been uncomfortable with Bonnke's talk of faith healing. The practice -- which appeals to the gullible, the uneducated, and the desperate -- offers false hope but no results, making it unethical and dangerous. Like many other fanciful stories shared by New Apostolic Reformation figures, this faith healing tale fed the magical thinking of the audience.

Bonnke discussed his early missionary days in Lesotho alongside his wife and three small children.  Heartbroken over his failure to convert his target audience, Bonnke fasted and cried out to God. At the 14:13 mark, he described a dream in which the Holy Spirit allegedly told him that Africa would be converted to Christianity.
"Then, in the night, God gave me a dream. I saw in that dream a map of Africa, and suddenly I saw how the whole continent became washed in the precious blood of Jesus. I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit cry, "AFRICA SHALL BE SAVED!" ... The Lord gave me the same dream, the same vision in a dream in four consecutive nights."
Given that Islam has grown rapidly alongside Christianity in Africa, and that traditional religions still maintain a presence on the continent, I don't see Africa becoming completely Christian any time soon. God-fueled dreams are a common trope among New Apostolic Reformation preachers, so Bonnke is in good company.

After his Lesotho trip, Bonnke traveled to South Africa and founded CFAN, he explained. Bonnke went on to tell more fanciful stories about his ministry, including the time a fellow preacher in Maseru flaked out of preaching at Bonnke's church. When Bonnke lead that Sunday's worship service himself, the Holy Spirit was "mightily" present, he claimed, and God allegedly healed several blind women in attendance. In another story, Bonnke bragged about preaching at a prayer rally in Nigeria, where 500,000 people had gathered, he claimed. The pastors alongside him wept with joy because most of those in attendance were Muslims, he told listeners, and many of those Muslims accepted Jesus as savior that day. Somehow, I remain doubtful that Bonnke and his colleagues healed the blind or converted hundreds of thousands of Muslims to Christianity in one day.

Each generation takes the baton of evangelism, he told the audience. "If the men don't go, the women will go," he said. "If the women don't go, the children will go. If the children don't go, the stones will cry out, but the Gospel will be preached in the mighty name of Jesus." He urged listeners to recognize the "finger of God" when it pressed them into service, reminding them that the "fingerprint" of God would always be upon them if they refused.

Bonnke hopped from story to story, making it difficult to discern the central theme of his talk. However, the topics of his anecdotes -- faith healing, dreams from God, "saving" foreigners, and Christianity's rivalry with Islam -- have come up before in plenty of New Apostolic Reformation talks. A familiar world unfolded in his talk, one of miracles, visions, and callings from the Creator himself.

The magical thinking in Bonnke's talk, like that of other New Apostolic Reformation preachers, struck me as hollow. Dreams, promises, and tales of faith healing may enchant listeners, but what spiritual nourishment do these fanciful ideas provide? Does magical thinking help believers practice introspection, cultivate respect for others, or engage the world in positive ways? No. Does it help believers navigate the world of facts so that they can face reality? No. The magical thinking of the New Apostolic Reformation can thrill believers, but it offers little in the way of substance.


  1. "I've always been uncomfortable with Bonnke's talk of faith healing. The practice -- which appeals to the gullible, the uneducated, and the desperate -- offers false hope but no results, making it unethical and dangerous."

    However, it's great fodder for satire. I'm thinking of adapting a few urban legends that have circulated in my neck of the pasture for years. The complete lack of critical thinking combined with the cognitive dissonance necessary to believe these stories means little to no embellishment will be required.

    The possibilities are endless. And witchcraft warnings? How exciting!! :)

    1. George -- Do it! I'd love to read a satire piece on faith healing at Sheep Dip. As for Bonnke's past messages, I found it very unsettling that Bonnke railed against witchcraft in a place where witchcraft accusations have tragic results.

  2. I agree. Evangelicals like Bonnke tend to denigrate what they call "too much education" as well. For their own rather obvious reasons. But it's disturbing when people--especially young people--sign on to these beliefs.

    1. Donna -- NAR preachers encourage all kinds of fanciful beliefs among their followers. It's never good when large groups of people subscribe to magical thinking. What happens when young believers discover that these beliefs give them no traction in the real world?


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