I have done my math. Altogether, I have written 13 blog-posts with Joseph Prince’s name on it. They are directed at his teachings and why I disagree with them. Mind you, it’s about the teachings and not the person. In fact, to be honest, there is a certain charisma about him when he preaches and I can understand the pull he has on believers.
So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to try to understand the man, the preacher, the leader, the mega-church pastor. Maybe, I should start with his calling in the Swiss Alps when he was vacationing with his wife. And from there, I will try my level best to understand where he’s coming from and where he’s going to with his radical grace teachings.
Now, the innocuous start was in 1997 when he was driving while his wife was asleep. Joseph Prince said that he distinctly heard the voice of God saying to him, “Son, you are not preaching grace.” While still driving, he wrote that God dropped this revelation in his heart: “No. Every time you preach grace, you preach it with a mixture of law. You attempt to balance grace with the law like many other preachers, and the moment you balance grace, you neutralize it. You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. You cannot put grace and law together.”
That was the launch-pad of his ministry and the pastoral leverage he needed to go worldwide with his radical grace teaching. Mind you, he received the revelation direct from the mouth of God Himself. It was a game-changer for him. And the results show.
Since then, his Church grew from 2,000 to 15,000 and now, 33,000. Surely, the numbers must mean something right? Then came the miracles, the testimonies, the healings, the freedom and liberation, the business successes and the conversion. This is what Joseph Prince wrote: “In fact, some of the top business people, management executives, entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants and consultants in my country attend our church…you will hear wonderful and amazing testimonies of how marriages have been restored, how huge debts that had run into the millions have been supernaturally cancelled, how terminal diseases have been miraculously healed and other awesome testimonies that the good news of Jesus brings!”
Of course, I have to add a word or two here. It’s a caveat of reality. I am sure that there are other testimonies that are less triumphalistic than those mentioned above – like anonymous divorces, hidden depression, disappointed departure, unanswered prayers, de-conversion, terminal illnesses and premature deaths. No community of faith is immune from such personal derailment and trials. Life is seldom such a smooth sail. In other words, not all will live a one-dimensional life of untold prosperity and ageless longevity. There are in fact many who have died for their faith, forsaken all for their belief and lived amongst the poor with hope and joy. Aren’t their testimonies equally, if not more, inspiring to the faith?
Strangely, you will never read any of that in Joseph Prince’s books because this is what he has to say about God’s grace: “God’s grace produces faithful husbands, loving wives, and children who honor their parents. God’s grace produces strong marriages and healthy families that are anchored in a local church. Why? Because grace isn’t a teaching, doctrine, or formula. Grace is a person and His name is Jesus!”
Now, who can ever argue with that? As believers, there is always a buoyancy of spirit whenever that name is echoed in our hearts (however, let’s not forget that God’s grace also produces perseverance, joy and hope in suffering/trials for His glory).
So, if you want to understand Joseph Prince, this is a good start. He is actually incredibly optimistic. The only other megachurch preacher who can match his level of optimism to panglossian exactitude is his American counterpart, Joel Osteen. They are actually two happy peas in the same pod – both flourishing in their own ways. They should in fact be the first face you see when you enter St Peter’s gate of eternal rest.
Somehow, to associate God’s grace with redemptive sufferings, selfless sacrifices and death by standing firm on one’s belief is simply unthinkable for preachers like them. Their world after Calvary is one of victory, successes and endless happiness – where wealth comes in hot on one’s heels.
To be honest, I have nothing against that. What harm does a little hope (well, an understatement I guess for them) bring to the table of an already demented, fallen world?
But if the early disciples of Jesus are of any indication, I am afraid things might not be as rosy as Prince and Osteen would like them to be. You see, some of the disciples were crucified, beheaded and stoned to death. Peter was crucified with his head downwards. It is recorded that his parting words to his wife who was also led to martyrdom was this, “O thou, remember the Lord!”
Andrew himself was tied to the Cross for three days with thick ropes and before his final breath, exclaimed, “Accept me, O Christ Jesus, Whom I saw, Whom I love, and in Whom I am; Accept my spirit in peace in Your Eternal Realm.”
The hardy Paul died for his faith, suffering endlessly prior to his death in a body that was repeatedly beaten, stoned, deprived, starved and tortured. Only John lived to a ripe old age in Ephesus. He will always be remembered by his disciples for repeating these words to everyone he met: “Little children, love one another!” When asked why he kept telling them that, he said, “It is the Lord’s command. And if this alone be done, it is enough.”
My point here is not that I am morbid about the faith. I am also not trying to damper the Spirit here. Wet-blanket I hope I am not. Neither am I trying to be morose nor ominous. If anything, I intend to let a little ray of realism into the hard cobblestone path of our faith’s journey. In other words, I am trying to balance rainbow-like cheeriness with a deft touch of level-grounded-ness. Here is what I mean.
I recall that Joseph Prince once said this with gusto! (exclamation added here for effect): “When you’re smoking, confess that you’re the righteousness of God in Christ. When you’re watching porn, confess that you’re the righteousness of God in Christ. Your addiction cannot be broken with human effort and will power.”
As a Christian, the latter part of that statement is true. But I can’t say that it is all that simple. Really? Confess and that’s that? Of course, there is a whole lot of context to that confession part (for JP once said that if you take the text out of context, you are left with “con”). You will just have to attend his services or read his books to discover it for yourself. If you are interested of course.
However, the common thread that runs through his radical grace prescription for earthly troubles of all shapes and sizes is positive confession. That’s the nutshell in a nutshell. That is, he insists that you just have to confess it right (or believe right) and you will get it right – somehow.
My issue with that is twofold: First, not all remedies to life’s issues are reducible to confession, period. Sometimes, it takes more than that. It may take time, medication, understanding, community, honest sharing, reflection, silent tears, confrontation, painful admission or apology, making amends, personal discipline, and even more time to see the light or resolution. All these are done in faith and hope.
Joseph Prince however tends to take things at face value without delving deeper into the multifarious issues that make up an emotional, spiritual and physical struggle. Some struggles may even last far longer. His solutions therefore appears more formulaic to me than realistic. I guess no leadership bedazzles more than to project the image that you have the answers to most of life’s puzzling dilemmas.
And the second point comes in a question form: What if getting it right is not about fixing it straightaway, but it is about going through it with hope, faith and perseverance? That is, what if it’s about the thorn in one’s flesh that one has to endure for God’s glory like Apostle Paul had to endure his?
I feel that Joseph Prince’s teaching leaves little or no room for that. Or at least, he doesn’t equip his members to embrace trials for purpose of personal growth. His theology on this is sadly lop-sided or deficient. His and Joel Osteen’s methodology is to always smile at the storm instead of confronting it. At times, I feel that preachers like them make promises in God’s name over the pulpit, or in online sermonettes, like a bankrupt would sign off blank cheques to his unwitting investors. On this score, I feel that they could learn a thing or two from this Franciscan benediction:
“May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gifts of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word Who is our Brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore. Amen.”
Now, I can write other things about Joseph Prince concerning the way he views repentance, the Holy Spirit and asking for big things from God, but I will limit myself to what is most disquieting about his radical grace teachings. There is in fact no better way to understand him than to understand how he views the Law in the light of the dispensation of Grace. I would like to preface here that I think no one is more conflicted than Joseph Prince when it comes to dealing with God’s laws. If you read his books and listen to his sermons, you will know that he has a love-hate relationship with the Law. The tension is clearly palpable and at times, painful to hear. This is what I mean.
You see, when it comes to the Law, Joseph Prince is either the most misunderstood or the most mystifying preacher this side of heaven.
Misunderstood because he has declared both in written words and openly that he is 100% for the Law. This is what he wrote: “Let me say this explicitly so that there is no misunderstanding: I am for the Law, for the purpose for which God gave the law (and you can quote me on this).” (I am doing just that here).
He further wrote that he “has the highest regard for the law. The law is holy, just and good.” He even compared the Law to a mirror with this metaphor: “My friend, if you look in the mirror and see someone ugly, don’t blame the mirror. Don’t get mad and punch the mirror. It’s not the mirror’s fault. The purpose of the mirror is simply to expose your flaws. In the same way, the law is not at fault.”
So, for those opponents of Joseph Prince, enough said? Isn’t he most misunderstood?
I mean, this is the same preacher who said that we should not get angry with the mirror/Law as it is never the fault of the mirror/Law. He did not stop there. He is in fact enlightened enough to write this: “What the devil has done is to keep the law over people’s heads all the time, so that they will constantly feel condemned and guilty. The devil is the master legalist.” He was almost Shakespearean-like when he called the devil a “master legalist”.
Then, his enlightenment went further with this observation: “Now, please understand this: the Ten Commandments are glorious! The problem has never been the Ten Commandments or God’s perfect law. The problem has always been imperfect man’s ability to keep God’s perfect law.” This is in line with Romans 7:7 when Paul said, “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin…I love God’s law with all my heart.” And in Hebrews 10, after Calvary, God put it all in Paul’s beating heart and wrote it on his vibrant mind.
At this point, I am almost tempted to say this: “To those who think that Joseph Prince is against the Law, well, don’t you think you owe him an apology?” But hold that thought…
Now, here comes the mystifying part about his radical grace message. On the one hand, Joseph Prince clearly embraced the Law wholeheartedly, maintaining its purity from the corruption of man and the devil, and showing complete respect for it, and on the other hand, he condemns it most openly.
Recently, he preached that one perverts the Gospel of Grace if the Law is added to Grace. He even said that there is a double curse on anyone who preaches Law. He said that New Testament curses are possible for preachers of Law or those mixing Law with the Grace message. He even grouped the social media users under this category. This in fact goes back all the way to the Swiss Alps encounter – “You cannot put grace and law together.”
I am godsmacked here. Here I am trying to understand him and now he throws me a curve ball. Mm…another Gordian knot to disentangle I guess. I am undaunted nevertheless. I just need to put it into perspective. I just need to break up his above statement into three categories for reflection: Content, Clarity and Chronology.
What does Joseph Prince mean by “Law” in the first place? What is it about the Law that would pervert the Gospel of Grace if they are delivered together? I dare to conclude that Joseph Prince was not referring to the man-made traditional laws, that is, the yoke of Moses. These are the Jewish ceremonial, sabbatical, dietary and sacrificial laws regarding circumcision and religious works towards salvation.
His double-curses scripture is actually taken from Galatian and he calls it “Galatianism.” He defines it as “the intermingling of teachings about God which contains a little bit of the law as well as a little bit of grace.” But this is strange because no modern day believer subscribes to these traditional laws of Moses anymore.
I mean, you don’t see anyone responding to the altar call with a goat or sheep behind him to be sacrificed, and for every time the petitioner seeks redemption. Neither does he submit himself to circumcision in order to be saved. Surely, Joseph Prince would have the good sense not to be referring to these antiquated and totally irrelevant laws of old right?
Well, if he is referring to these outmoded laws, then I concede that he has got a point and any modern-day pastor preaching them (as the requisite way to keep one’s salvation after Calvary) is still sadly under the curse of those laws. And I guess there is no fear here.
How about the Ten Commandments then? Is Joseph Prince talking about being double cursed if one mixes the Ten Commandments with Grace? Here, it is tricky. Is he talking about the Ten Commandments standing alone as the way to salvation (or to keep one’s salvation)? I think not. Here’s why from the horses’ own mouth: “When the love of Jesus is in you, you can’t help but fulfill the law. When your heart is overflowing with God’s grace and loving kindness, you will have no desire to commit adultery (Commandment 7) or murder (Commandment 6), bear false witness (Commandment 9), covet (Commandment 10). You will have the power to love your neighbor as yourself.” (underline mine).
This is what is meant by writing the law in one’s heart. Grace and Law thus work together with Grace justifying us in righteousness and the Law sanctifying us in good works, and they are not mutually exclusive,
So, mystery’s solved here. The Law that shouldn’t mix with Grace is NOT the Ten Commandments because – if anything – Grace empowers the believer to fulfill the Ten Commandments. Let’s move on to the next point.
Was Joseph Prince trying to use metaphor to illustrate his point? When he said about mixing the Law and the double curses, is he referring to the Old Testament or the Old Covenant as compared to the New Covenant where Christ has fulfilled it all and we are deemed righteous by His one ultimate sacrifice? If that is the case, why not just be more specific? Why not just say that one would be double cursed if he mixes the Old Covenant with Grace (that is, the New Covenant)? Why scapegoat the Law since it is Legalism that needs to be abolished for good?
At this juncture, I’m sure it is not disputed that when Apostle Paul mentioned that we are “dead to the law” or that we are “not under the law”, he was referring to the Old Covenant mindset to salvation. And such a mindset is futile or hopeless because you break one commandment, you break them all. In any event, didn’t Joseph Prince say that it is the devil who is the master legalist and that the Law is like a mirror – blameless, holy?
So, I think I can safely conclude that Joseph Prince meant the Old Testament and not the Law, which will invite double curses, right? Maybe his Swiss Alps’ encounter requires some back-to-the-future tweaking?
Thus far, I think I’ve established that Joseph Prince was not referring to the Pharisaical laws since that is a non-starter because no one follows it anyway. Neither is he referring to the Ten Commandments since he had actually endorsed it as the fruits (or growth) of a Grace-empowered life after the altar call. And for purpose of clarity, if he is referring to the Old Covenant as a possible invitation for double curses, then he should have stated it front and center – instead of blaming the perfect laws of God.
As such, I am left with chronology. Is Joseph Prince trying to say that at the time of salvation, we should not mix Law with Grace lest we get double cursed? Isn’t this a rehashing of the Old Covenant? In any event, Joseph Prince has already said that the Law cannot make one godly. That’s a given. But he has also reminded us that the purpose of the Law is so that “the world would have the knowledge of sin, and recognize their need for a Savior.”
So, the Law still performs a role; it informs. It discloses. It points us to the way of redemption. No doubt it doesn’t save; yet it facilitates, it directs. The theologian David P. Fuller once wrote, “Christ is the telos of the Law, not in the sense of being its termination, but as climaxing it as the One who is in a continuum with it.”
So, no doubt the Law could be used in the way the Pharisee had used it in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it nevertheless serves multiple roles as follows:-
1) A mirror to reflect to us our sin.
2) A guide (to Israel) for nation-building and for personal holiness.
3) An objective standard of right and wrong, a guard to help keep us on the straight and narrow.
4) A guide to worship.
5) A reflection to us of the perfection and nature of God.
6) A means of Grace to keep us in communion with God and point us to the Messiah.
(Daniel Tong in “Law and Grace”).
How about post-altar call then? Does the Law play any part together with Grace? I guess Daniel Tong again answers it most aptly here: “Yes, under the new covenant the Law is now put upon our hearts and written on our minds. Under this new modality, at issue is not the function of or why it is we should keep the Law, but a focus on it being our joy and duty. “Conformity to the Law, and subjection to the Law of God, is part of our holiness. Therefore it can never be said to be a part of our bondage.” That is to say, we can approach the Law in one of two ways, either as an oppressed and unwilling slave or as an obedient and loving child.” We are freed from the one, namely, the subjection of a slave, which was a part of our bondage, but not from the other, namely, the subjection of a son, which is part of our freedom.” Enough said?
Alas, I started this post with Joseph Prince’s Swiss Alps vacation and the voice of God which told him NOT to put Grace and Law together – lest he neutralizes the former. Yet, I ended here still trying to understand how Grace works to the complete exclusion of God’s perfect Laws. I admit that this Swiss Alps encounter is perplexing to me, to say the least.
Honestly, I am none the wiser. I guess I am just thick in the skull. But I suspect the majority of his 30-thousand strong church members had somehow fully understood the radical grace message, and there is hope for mankind after all. Cheerz.