In part one of this series, we highlighted how Carl Lentz tries to “uncool” himself and his Hillsong church in America.
In part two of this series, we heard ‘uncool’ Carl Lentz launch a protest against ‘boring’ churches and wants people to see Hillsong church “cool, fun” and so on.
In part three, we highlighted how Hillsong go out of their way to mimic the world and propagate a ‘celebrity culture’.
In this article, we will look at WHY they continually go down this superficial ‘cool’ road at the expense of the genuine Christian faith. To help understand the Hillsong culture, we look at Hillsong apologist and liberal, socialist-driven Tanya Riches. Just like our experience with other liberally minded Christians, Tanya Riches wears her progressive liberal agenda on one sleeve and proudly badges her ideals and social achievements on the other without really caring about the more important issues like truth, coherency, God’s Word and the people affected by false, immature, fad-driven social issues.
We would commend her for at least TRYING to be true in dealing with hard questions occasionally. In a paper she wrote with Tom Wagner, Riches explains what is actually problematic with Hillsong, what is ticking under their hood so-to-speak.
To access the article we will be examining, visit this link:
In an article titled, ‘The evolution of Hillsong music’, Wagner and Riches open their article, highlighting the progress of Hillsong’s journey “from a ‘local’ Australian congregation into a transnational enterprise.” That is a good way of look at what Hillsong actually is – a “Transnational Enterprise.” They continue:
“During each phase of its development, its music communicated the vision, values, and focus of its leaders and congregation visually, aurally, and sonorously. Hillsong’s branding has thus proceeded organically, both driving and being driven by the church’s growth.”
Now we need to point out something really important here. If there is a really good product on shelves or a really good event that comes on annually, the best advertising is word of mouth. Ethical advertising would be simply promoting awareness or new information of the product or event. So there can be organic or genuine forms of marketing. But the problem is that a lot of so-called churches have no faith in God or His Word to grow His church. Instead, through their own efforts, they look at the world and copy their marketing methods and adopt them as their own to grow their church. And as you read above, the growth of Hillsong has been VERY orchestrated to grow their movement through the use of their music, its leaders and its marketing. And they later acknowledge, “that branding drives church growth.”
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:7-8
That’s a nice way of Tanya Riches telling everyone how Hillsong ‘thumbed their noses’ at Jesus saying “we can grow the church better with our strategies in place”. If Hillsong really had faith that God was blessing their movement, why all these church growth and marketing strategies?
Furthermore, Riches acknowledges (through McIntyre) that “the major driver of Hillsong’s growth world-renowned worship music synonymous with its name, promoting religious experience in the marketable form of a CD (p. 176).” This needs to make us question what Hillsong music is really designed for. To worship God or to market their music to unsuspecting Christians and churches to grow their ‘Transnational Enterprise’?
“McIntyre notes, ‘Hillsong music is an accessory that extends the initial God purchase into a complete Hillsong brand of Christian living.'”
Hillsong is NOT about being genuine at all in either faith or worship. It’s all about drawing you in and trying to convince you it stands for something that looks biblical. Yet to be convinced? It was David Yonggi Cho who was influenced theologically and practically by the Soka Gakkai. And it was Yonggi Cho’s ministry that helped change the face of the New Apostolic Reformation church growth ‘apostolic gurus’. The next statement from Riches’ research should concern everyone regarding Hillsong, embracing the worldly branding ways rather than just remaining a faithful church. Internationally, the Soka Gakkai and Kabbalah Centre are regarded as cults (and rightly so).
“By contrast, megachurches are successfully marketing distinct personalities. While the oft-cited exemplars of this, such as Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek Church, and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church are American, in the past 30 years, the appearance of new branded organisations such as London’s Holy Trinity Brompton, the Jewish Kabbalah Centre, and the Japan-based Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International confirm this as a world trend.”
However, Tanya Riches is not aware that Lakewood, Willow Creek, Saddleback, and Holy Trinity Brompton are part of the biggest international NAR cults. (If you think that statement is unfair, then that should alert you to how deceptive these movements operate. Their origins can be traced back to the networks, family connections, theologies and practices of the New Order of the Latter cult. In fact, each one of these cults have helped bolster the global growth of the NAR movement, which is why they all speak at each others events). So Tanya is right – this is not a Christian trend. This is “a world trend. They have become their own brands, complete with personalities, logos, and music that differentiate them from their competitors. This is also true of Hillsong Church.”
She also writes.
“Megachurches have moved beyond traditional advertising to integrated marketing strategies, communicating
their messages through diverse media platforms to largely decentralised, transnational audiences. In doing so, each
organisation articulates its corporate identity—the image of the community from which it is constituted. These
megachurches understand that the medium is still the message, and that the message is most effective when it is a brand.”
Tanya Riches has done the research. So much for Brian Houston’s mantra, “The methods need to change but the message is timeless.” According to Riches, the medium is the message and “the message is most effective when it is a brand.” We all know this is true.
Why do you think people defend the Hillsong brand rather than the Christian faith?
“A brand is the gestalt of condensed meanings, associations, and feelings arising
from a stakeholder’s interaction with an organisation’s offerings.”
Yes – Tanya Riches said that! She also explains how it grew to be so big. This was not done by being genuine in the faith. Nor was it done by faithfully handling God’s Word and rightly preaching it each Sunday.
“To accomplish this, Hillsong embraces the economic and communicative machinery
of consumer culture. It is known for its innovative use of media technology (Stackpool, 2008),
particularly in the production and dissemination of music.”
This is a well-known Hillsong apologist! She is essentially highlighting how Hillsong used the best car salesman to dupe Christians into following a brand – not Jesus. We can speak from experience. We were in those seats being brainwashed through the sermons to be faithful to the brand, the music making us believe men like Brian Houston were teaching what was biblical and line with Christianity. We were led to believe, just like others, that God was doing a “new thing” with Hillsong – its leaders and artists being the spiritual ‘avant-garde’ of Christianity. As this series of articles is pointing out, Hillsong is actually ‘baptising’ the body of Christ into the ways of the world and calling it biblical.
They are calling evil good and good evil. Christians are stand on the Word of God alone because they trust in the words of Christ, the Word made flesh. Hillsong members are spiritually deceived because they see their brand that means so much to them, (and has given so much to them), as their god – not Jesus. We know because this is who we once were.
There is a fine line between ethical marketing (promoting awareness) and unethical marketing (idolatry). Hillsong fall into the second category because they know that their music is making their ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ image go global. Riches explains:
“… it was not until 2001 (Phase three) that it officially changed its name from
Hills Christian Life Centre to Hillsong Church. This name was previously
reserved for its musical product, distributed and marketed as ‘Hillsongs’ by HMA.”
Riches then talks about ‘The Phases’ of Hillsong. You can see in Phase 1 how Geoff Bullock was a genuine worship leader who was sadly influenced by some NAR teachings. This is clear when you see him write some songs that emphasise NOLR/NAR teachings in his theology (examples Great South Land, These Are The Days of the Latter Rain, etc.)
Thankfully, Geoff Bullock later recanted of his false theology.
But in Phase 2, if you grew up watching the development of Darlene Zschech, she was a little bit less genuine and more of a product of Hillsong. And it’s true that Phase 3 of Hillsong music “achieved cult status.” But it’s also true that because of this status, Brian Houston capitalized on the music to grow Hillsong’s international status (as Tanya appears to note).
The result of these phases has helped Riches highlight some of the concerns we have with Hillsong:
“As Zschech notes: ‘Every time we record a live album, it’s a magnificent night. It’s a snapshot of twelve months growth in the heart of a local church’ (Fergusson, 2006, p. 203 cited in Riches, 2010b). Text articulates the changing beliefs and values sung by Hillsong’s entire community over the year preceding the recording.”
So all the word of faith, latter rain, purpose-driven and prosperity theology you’ve heard in their lyrics is “a snapshot of twelve months growth in the heart of a [Hillsong] church.” It’s clear that Hillsong aren’t biblical, based on Riches damning quote by Zschech. Jesus said that God is looking for TRUE worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4). Yet Riches observes that Hillsong’s lyrics articulate “the changing beliefs and values sung by Hillsong’s entire community over the year preceding the recording.” That is incredibly dangerous but insightful on who is actually controlling the hearts and minds of Hillsong – the leadership. Where else are Hillsong members getting this new theology from if it isn’t from the UNCHANGING truth of scripture?
According to Riches, “When a song is written, Hillsong pastor Robert Ferguson checks it for biblical accuracy.” But how can Ferguson do this if his theology is influenced by the false teachings of his senior pastors? Remember, the entire Hillsong organisation (including its elders), bends the knee to their NARpostle Brian Houston.
“Joel Houston asserts, ‘…[u]ltimately, the song is decided on by the crowd. If people sing
it, it’s good. If it doesn’t go over well with them, then it’s not. It’s the congregation who decides’ (cited in Farias, 2005).”
In other words, it’s not about biblical theology – it’s about what sticks. It’s a popularity contest.
This is supposed to be how worship is defined?
“Few Hillsong songs teach doctrine; most emphasise this individual conversion experience.”
So you can start to see where the “Jesus is my boyfriend” genre came from. But you can also see why it is dangerous to have popularity contest-type music win over Christian worship. Riches points out:
“A lyrical emphasis upon conversion narrative confirms McIntyre’s (2007) assertion that Hillsong
emphasised evangelical doctrine in its music during phase four, with ecumenical intent (p. 181).”
Ecumencial intent? That’s what Hillsong calls worship?
“HMA songs were found to rarely address the Spirit directly, with references decreasing across phases 2, 3 and 4.”
Phases 2, 3 and 4 were the times when Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven heresy became globally popular and where Brian Houston’s theology became more purpose-driven to replace his prosperity theology. Is this how worship is meant to be used?
This was another fascinating observation made by Riches:
“References to supernatural empowerment exhibited an inverted U-shaped relationship, with lyrical references moving away from supernatural empowerment of the individual towards the church as Spirit empowered to effect social transformation within the community…”
This would be because of Houston brainwashing his followers to get behind his ‘apostolic’ vision to fulfill the ‘apostolic 7 mountain/pillar/sphere mandate’ for Hillsong Church. The NAR rely on ‘Joel’s Army’ tactics to win and convert churches, denominations, cities and countries through revolutionary tactics. This tactic is used where individuals feel more powerful as a crowd rallying behind a cause. The ramifications being that the individual is now an abstract and will feel out of place standing for their own faith when Christians approach them asking them theological questions. The individual feels threatened and feels they need others like them to actually stand with them to bring ‘God’ into their scenario to bring ‘transformation’.
Tanya Riches also made this important information:
Following media and academic criticism against ‘prosperity’ theology (Biddle, 2007; Bryson, 2005; Power, 2004), the theme of prosperity all but disappears from Hillsong’s text over this period, while evangelism remained relatively constant.”
In other words, Hillsong held to a prosperity theology and later attempted to gloss over its existence through its worship lyrics.
Riches’ diagram and explanation below was a brilliant summary of Hillsong’s slide into idolatry. Look how man-focused their music is. There is biblical truth in that God is with us in our suffering. But when you compare that with actual Christian worship – what Hillsong is offering in contrast is nothing more than paganism, worshiping a deity that addresses people’s felt needs.
Tanya Riches then posted up the progress of Hillsong’s CD cover art and made these observations:
“As the above analysis shows, as Hillsong expanded in numbers and reach, these changes were depicted on its album covers. The
procession of iconography—from Australian landscapes to worship leaders, the choir, the congregation, and finally to the global
community—visually communicated the church’s focus, congregation, and sphere of influence during the developmental phase in which each album was released.”
What’s fascinating about Tanya Riches research? She clearly demonstrates that Hillsong is not focused on true worship of God. It’s all about promoting Hillsong’s brand. Her research further confirmed our suspicions the entire time we attended Hillsong. Tanya Riches has made the real point about Hillsong:
Hillsong is too cool and cutting edge for Christianity.
We also note that in the last five years or so, Hillsong have begun to use images of old churches to give the impression that they are ‘orthodox’. And with people like Carl Lentz being groomed as leaders in Hillsong? They can boast that they are a cool, popular, celebrity-driven and cutting edge culture while claiming to be genuine, authentic and orthodox. And this cultural behavior is a sad reflection of their worship: they don’t worship in spirit and in truth, they worship in emotion and worldliness. ‘They are a ‘Transnational Enterprise’ – and if that’s what Hillsong apologist Tanya Riches wants to call it, we’re fine with that.
After all, a ‘Transnational Enterprise’ and a church are VERY different in focus, behavior and in nature.
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