A critic of religion, Marion Maddox attacks Hillsong—and a Catholic responds

One of Australia’s most published critics of Christianity, Professor Marion Maddox, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Macquarie University, has launched a broadside on Hillsong.


In ‘Prosper, consume and be saved’, an essay in a new journal Critical Research on Religion, Maddox alleges that Hillsong has gone beyond the prosperity gospel and invented theologies directed at women: ‘Envy evangelism’ and ‘Born to shop’.

Maddox sums up ‘envy evangelism’, saying “Hillsong makes a religious duty of conspicuous consumption—one’s body, image and lifestyle are a walking evangelistic billboard.”

She cites Hillsong’s Bobbie Houston, speaking on a CD resource for women in 2004 (She Loves and Values Her Sexuality), where Houston says, “We need to be good at sex ourselves so that if the world happens to come knocking we can tell the story of God in our lives.”

Maddox claims the message to be “A styled home, honed figure, elaborate grooming, lavish wardrobe and unmatched sex life stimulate one’s unsaved friends’ envy and, hopefully, their interest in Jesus, to whom all this is credited.”

In common with most critiques of Hillsong, Brian Houston’s early work with the unfortunate title, You Need More Money: Discover God’s Amazing Financial Plan for your Life, is prominently cited.

Maddox correctly identifies that earlier generations of Pentecostal women were discouraged from wearing makeup or fashionable clothes. But, referencing the ‘Shine’ course run by Hillsong in schools, Maddox notes the church has left that dowdy image far behind.

“Advertising materials for Hillsong women’s events often depict young, beautiful women wearing tiaras and references to princesses as ‘daughters of the King’; some attendees at the events I attended wore plastic tiaras; T-shirts and other merchandise for sale at the many stalls were decorated with diamante-studded tiaras and swords.

“Princesses are an obvious fit for prosperity theology: they are, by definition (at least in their popular, Disney version), automatically associated with wealth.” Maddox argues that this princess motif places Hillsong women on a “very clear side of the producer-­consumer divide.”

She alleges that at Hillsong, “Buying into the ideology and lifestyle of consumerism can be salvific in itself”. Maddox further criticises the Hillsong brand of complementarianism—a theology that teaches male leadership in the church and home, in a manner familiar to many conservative churches.

For Hillsong, Maddox’s latest essay could be seen as refreshing: rather than being accused of encouraging worshippers to give too much of their income to the church, Hillsong is now accused of telling them to spend it on themselves.

(To reconcile the messages of uplift and support for church and missions, Maddox—who identified the holiness movement roots of Pentecostalism—could look at John Wesley’s sermon number 50 on the use of money: “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can’.”)

Maddox’s criticism seems to be a dated view of Hillsong, citing Hillsong conferences from the 2001-2010 decade. Other critics have updated their view, for example the Sydney-Anglican-based The Briefing magazine notes that the “prosperity gospel” has faded.

“Explicit prosperity gospel teaching was absent from the [Hillsong] conference,” Sam Freney reports in the May 2013 edition of The Briefing. While remaining critical of the way the Bible is used in Hillsong preaching, Freney is positive about Hillsong’s major export: the songs.

While Maddox highlights the presence of T.D. Jakes, who does preach a prosperity gospel and is a ‘oneness Pentecostal’, she misses the emerging tendency of Hillsong conference to feature mainstream evangelicals such as Nicky Gumbel and RickWarren.

A response to Maddox comes from a surprising source: Matthew Del Nevo, senior lecturer in Philosophy at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.

“Hillsong Church in Sydney is what is called ‘an easy target’ because they do not retaliate”, writes Del Novo responding on a blog.

“There are a host of Australian media outlets, newspapers and television channels,that periodically publish or broadcast against Hillsong Church over the last 25 years and they have done everything in the power of their investigative journalists to bring it to its knees.  So why does Hillsong Church keep getting bigger? In what many regard as one of the world’s most secular cities, why do 25, 000 people show up for Church there on the weekend?”

Del Novo takes aim at Maddox’s critique of Hillsong’s vision of women.

“Maddox’s stance is critical theory pre-1985 when one could—as Theodor Adorno did and he could—take the moral high ground and look down on people with disdain(“holier-than-thou”).

“All these stupid deluded women wanting to feel good about themselves!  Allthat clinging onto femininity.  But femininity is much older and broader than consumerism and indeed than Western culture. So glib criticisms of the feminine as if it were a recent and localized construct are by the by.”

Hillsong reaches battlers with a message that can help those lost in consumerism, says Del Novo.

“The idea of the so-called Gospel of blessing (Prosperity Gospel for its disparagers) is a rediscovery, after the Second World War, within Pentecostalism (above any other Christian denomination or movement) of the Jewish roots of Christianity.

“Basically these are books [from Hillsong writers] that do not separate the spiritual and the physical and that is all there is to it. This non-separation is not traditionally Christian, which, like Maddox [does], wants these kept apart in different worlds (heaven and earth); but Jewish teaching binds heaven and earth. Essentially this is what these books articulate. Otherwise they are conventional Christian messages, but in plain English not written for scholars, but for people lost in the madness of consumer culture, and as I have said, the victims not the victors, this is why the churches build as consumer cultureruthlessly creates more and more human “collateral” in our midst.”

A couple of further comments from Del Nevo in a blog discussion give his view on how Pentecostalism fits within Christianity, and where Maddox’s analysis is incomplete. “For me, (i) Pentecostalism is not fundamentalism but theoretically speaking is a reaction to fundamentalism, in that it has to do with spiritual experience, not belief-based religion. (ii) Pentecostal churches are activist entities that are part of a global network of activists that cross all cultural and religious and ideological divides, because the concerns cross them. (iii) Ideological interpretations of Hillsong (like Marion’s) are appropriations and this is part of the unconsciousness of the ideological thinking, that it is pre-hermeneutical, it is unable to interpret or even analyse, because it isreally “screen” thinking. The screen through which the world is ‘interpreted’ is really a mirror and this is Marion’s big problem”.

Del Nevo concludes that Maddox’s ideology has got in the way of seeing Hillsong as it really is.

“The model of pentecostal churches in our society is the business model, but that is the outside of the car, get it in the car and anyone who knows about Hillsong knows that central to its ethos is *service*. It is all geared to that. I don’t think Marion mentioned this word because ideology is about Bible bashing with superior more politcally correct knowledge of appropriateness and the like and her whole article was about how awfully inappropriate it all was.”

From : http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/secularist-marion-maddox-attacks-hillsong-and-a-catholic-responds

5 thoughts on “A critic of religion, Marion Maddox attacks Hillsong—and a Catholic responds

  1. “The idea of the so-called Gospel of blessing (Prosperity Gospel for its disparagers) is a rediscovery, after the Second World War, within Pentecostalism (above any other Christian denomination or movement) of the Jewish roots of Christianity.

    Yes. The Pharisees.

    The Pharisees also favored the rich over the poor because of the prevailing attitude that poverty was a sign of the curse of God, while prosperity was believed to show the approval of God on one’s life.


  2. Hi, my friend.

    You wrote an excellent article on this topic. Hillsong and Prosperity Theology is unfortunately a reality.

    I’m recommending this post in text made ​​on my blog (infosol.me). The blog is written in Portuguese, I’m from Brazil. The post title is “A church, a vision: Hillsong” (Uma visão, uma igreja: Hillsong). When I wrote it did not know of some controversy about Hillsong. So recently updated the post with this new information.

    Again, congratulations on this post.

  3. The following passages from Matthew 19:16-30 gives us great insight into this question.

    16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
    17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
    18 “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “`Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,
    19 honor your father and mother,’ and `love your neighbor as yourself.”
    20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
    21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
    22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
    23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
    24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
    26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
    27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
    28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
    29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
    30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

    On close examination of this passage it is clear that Jesus never said that the Rich Man didn’t have Eternal Life.
    The Rich Mans Question was as follows: Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?
    Jesus Answered: If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.
    After a discussion on which commandments he needed to keep, it became clear that the Rich Man had kept them.
    After this The Rich Man asks “What do I still lack?”
    Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
    The Rich Man went away sad because he had great wealth.
    Please note that Jesus said if the Rich Man had given away his possessions then he would be perfect. Nowhere in this passage does it say that the Rich Man didn’t have eternal life. This passage shows us that he wanted to hold on to his worldly riches rather that become rich in the Kingdom of God.
    In verse 24 & 25 Jesus goes on to say that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, then straight after that he reassures the Disciples saying that all things are possible with God.
    After this the Disciples point out to Jesus that they have left everything for him and Jesus says that there is reward for all who leave possessions and there old life. In fact from chapter 21 onwards the subject is not Eternal Life, but Reward in the Kingdom of God.

    According to scripture, it is possible to have Eternal Life and not have any Reward.
    Rewards are blessings that are given for good deeds and these rewards are only given to those that have Eternal Life. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 shows us quite clearly that there will be some who are saved, but they will receive no reward, and others will receive reward to varying degrees according to the strength and purity of their good deeds.

    11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
    12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
    13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.
    14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
    15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

    The following verses in Matthew 27:57-60 introduces a Rich Person who was a follower of Christ.

    57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.
    58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.
    59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
    60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

    The Book of Timothy has some wise advise for the Rich who are also followers of Christ.

    1 Timothy 6:17-19
    17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
    18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
    19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

    1 Timothy 6:9
    People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

    The Biblical Examples that have been drawn upon so far, should prove without a doubt that Rich People can inherit Eternal Life. In fact many faithful “Old Testament” persons were rich.
    Job was very rich, and became even richer after he was tested.
    Joseph was also very rich and he gave to his brothers when there was great famine.
    Moses was very rich and held a very high position of authority in Egypt, but he chose to follow Gods wonderful plan for him, which meant giving up the riches of Egypt.
    King Solomon was extremely rich and he lacked nothing as far as physical possessions went. He came to the conclusion that all his wealth was vanity and the only thing that was really of value was serving God. See the Book of Ecclesiastes So God bestows riches on the faithful.

    James 1:17 says the following
    17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

    Does this scripture mean that all who are rich have been blessed by God.
    No it doesn’t. Some people desire to be rich and some of those people become rich through scheming, others are made rich because they are faithful as the following scripture from the Book of Proverbs points out.

    A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

    One form of Riches is given by God and the other form is snatched. One might argue then by saying “How is it that many faithful people today are not rich”.
    The answer to this is, they are rich. They are spiritually rich.
    In fact Gods children today are far richer than they were in Old Testament Times. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he not only purchased us back to God by providing forgiveness of sins, but he also redeemed us from the curse that was over us. As a result many blessings from Heaven have been given to the Saints that the Prophets of Old desired to see.
    Remember that spiritual riches are far greater than physical riches. Today the emphasis is on being Rich in the Spirit. Not rich in the world because the riches in the Kingdom of God are far greater than Worldly riches.

    In Revelation 2:9 it points out to the Believers in the Church at Smyrna, that even though they are poor and lacking this worlds goods they are in fact rich.
    2:9 I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich!

    On the other hand it is very possible to be Rich in this world and very poor in the Kingdom of God as Revelation 3:17-18 points out.
    17 You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
    18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

    It says in Matthew 6:31-33 (English-NIV)
    31 So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’
    32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
    33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

    So to conclude I would have to say that God is generous and makes rich all who would seek him and are worthy. He gives us the true riches which according to Luke 12:33.
    are a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys and of course God provides for us so we have the necessities of this life, if we seek his Kingdom and righteousness first. I leave you with 2 scriptures that shows us the importance of serving God rather than Money.

    Matthew 6:24 (English-NIV)
    “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

    So to it is better to serve God and let him bless you richly, rather than serve and trust in money with a possibility of being financial rich, but risking your own soul to destruction. Matthew 16:26 sums it all up nicely.
    What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

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