My very first phone call on my very first day of work at GES was from a lady asking about Joseph Prince. “Do you preach the same message he does?” she asked. If we did, she wanted to begin donating to the ministry.
Talk about pressure!
Unfortunately, I had to tell her the truth, i.e., I had never heard of Joseph Prince. And when I asked around the office, neither had anyone else.
So I quickly googled his name and saw that he was a Pentecostal prosperity preacher and mega-church pastor from Singapore.
That didn’t bode well for me.
So I told the lady that while I couldn’t say whether we preached the same message of grace as Prince, GES did not promote a health and wealth gospel.
That didn’t bode well for her.
We talked a little bit about that and the conversation went poorly. Her last words to me were, “Well I’m perfectly healthy and I drive a Mercedes!”
Click. She hung up.
Since then questions about Prince have increased. Everyone wants to know: “Is Joseph Prince ‘Free Grace’?”
Here’s what Prince himself warned: “Don’t be too easily impressed just because someone tells you that he preaches grace. The Word of God tells us to test everything” (Destined to Reign, p. 32).
Everyone preaches grace. But what do they mean by it? And do they mean what the Bible means?
After having read two of Joseph Prince’s books, namely Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living, and Unmerited Favor: Your Supernatural Advantage for a Successful Life, here is what I’ve found.
Who Is Joseph Prince?
Joseph Prince was born to a Chinese mother and a father whom he described as “an often drunk Sikh priest.” Prince’s birth name was Xenonamandar Jegahusiee Singh, but he changed it to the more pronounceable Joseph Prince during his early career as an IT consultant.
Prince was one of the founders of New Creation Church in Singapore and eventually became its senior pastor. New Creation Church has since become one of the largest in Asia, with 31,000 members. Prince’s English-language program, Destined to Reign, is broadcast in 200 countries, including the US, and with appearances at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, and at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, his influence is continuing to grow.
Admittedly, my first impressions of Prince were not good.
Both books feature prominent portraits of him on the cover, where, quite frankly, Prince looks like a campy Asian pop star. My first thought was, “This is an obvious wolf in wolf’s clothing.”
However, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover…
The more I read about what Prince says about grace and about what one must do (or not do!) to be eternally saved, the more I began to wonder, “Is Joseph Prince actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing? Did a grace preacher sneak into the prosperity crowd?”
Now, I don’t what to minimize the fact that Prince is charismatic and preaches a prosperity message. Some Grace in Focus readers will take strong exception to both those beliefs, and we’ll address them in future issues. But for now, let’s put those concerns to one side and concentrate on understanding what Prince teaches about the message of life. What must we do to be eternally saved?
Destined to Reign through Justification
Destined to Reign and Unmerited Favor are both about the prosperity that Prince says God desires to give all of His children. However, Prince’s main contention is that prosperity is given by faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from our works. That message is what has caught the attention of so many Free Grace readers.
The title of Destined to Reign comes from a statement made by Paul in Rom 5:17. There Paul said that believers can “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). Prince understands reigning in life to mean living a life of “kingly dominion over all your challenges and circumstances” in the here and now (Destined to Reign, p. 2).
However, Prince teaches that we cannot earn God’s blessings of prosperity. We can only believe in and rely upon Christ’s finished work, and then the prosperity will come.
Although the “effortless success” promised in the subtitle suggests a “get-rich-quick” scheme, the real reason why Prince says that success should be “effortless” is because it is not based on our legalistic struggles at self-improvement. Success comes by simply believing in Christ’s perfect righteousness. Resting in that truth leads to victorious living (Destined to Reign, p. 243). That isn’t a typical prosperity message.
Success Through God’s Unmerited Favor
Unmerited Favor continues the same theme as Destined to Reign. It is loosely structured as a meditation on the life of Joseph in Egypt, who, despite undergoing a series of severe hardships, the Bible says was a “successful man” (Gen 39:1-2).
So how was Joseph “successful”? He was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery! He certainly wasn’t a success based on his circumstances.
According to Prince, he was a success because of his relationship with God. “From Genesis 39:2, it is clear that success is not what you have, but rather who you have!” (Unmerited Favor, p. 3). Joseph was a success, not because of his circumstances, but because God’s unmerited favor was given to him. Hence the title, Unmerited Favor. Prince prefers the term “unmerited favor” to “grace” because it clearly communicates that God’s favor is not earned by our works.
Prince argues that believers are already successful because of what Christ has done for them, and not because of what we have accomplished for ourselves. He warns his readers against religious systems that teach us to merit God’s favor through works. Instead, the basis of our success is to realize that we “have been made the righteousness of God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross” (Unmerited Favor, p. 69). He continues by explaining that “Christianity is not about doing right to become righteous. It is all about believing right in Jesus to become righteous” (Unmerited Favor, 69-70). According to Prince, success comes from always resting in the truth that we are made righteous by faith, through faith in the Lord Jesus, apart from our works.
Is Grace a License to Sin?
Joseph Prince is well aware of the objection that a radical grace message will lead to greater licentiousness in the churches. He doesn’t use the term “Lordship Salvation,” but he is clearly familiar with that kind of theology.
Prince acknowledges that some preachers think the answer to immorality and nominalism is to preach more law and repentance. But Prince belives that’s deeply mistaken (Destined to Reign, pp. 232-33, 249). Preaching the law only exacerbates the situation. As Paul taught, not only does the law not stop sin, it actually serves to provoke it (Rom 5:20).
The true solution to immorality and nominalism, says Prince, is not to preach the law, but preaching the grace of God (Destined to Reign, p. 30). It is God’s goodness, not His wrath, that leads people to repent: “What produces true repentance—the fear of judgment or His unconditional grace?” (Destined to Reign, p. 229). The answer is grace.
In addressing the issue of young people drifting from the faith, Prince says that the way to help young people grow is not to preach the law to them, but grace: “Only grace can transform our young people. Throwing laws at them will only stir up their flesh to rebel. But just one encounter with Jesus, just one drop of His unmerited favor, and I can guarantee you, our young people will never be the same again” (Unmerited Favor, 147).
Prince appeals to the story of the immoral woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears as proof that Christ’s total forgiveness does not produce a license to sin, but produces love for the forgiver: “the most ‘dangerous’ thing about this doctrine of complete forgiveness of sins is that you will fall in love with Jesus and end up effortlessly fulfilling the greatest commandment” to love God (Unmerited Favor, 194).
Victorious living only happens once we understand that Jesus has paid it all, and that we are perfected forever in Christ (Destined to Reign, p. 179-186). We begin to grow as our mind is transformed by this astounding Biblical truth: “When you believe that you are righteous even when you sin, your thoughts and actions will come in alignment with your believing” (Destined to Reign, p. 245). And when they do, we’ll stop being slaves to sin in our experience.
God Wants You To Have Assurance
Although Prince does not explicitly say that assurance of our eternal security is of the essence of saving faith, he does believe that eternal security is true, and that being assured of our security is essential to growth in Christ. In a passage that evokes at once the truth of eternal security, the possibility of failure in the Christian life, and the importance of assurance of salvation, Prince writes:
God does not leave you wondering whether you are saved or not. He tells you outright that you are His and that nothing can ever separate you from the love of Christ. Not even sin because His blood is greater than your sin! Knowing that all your sins are forgiven is crucial for your health, peace of mind, wholeness and wellness (Destined to Reign, p. 95).
“God does not leave you wondering.” This emphasis on eternal security has led to criticisms of Prince from within the Pentecostal movement, which is largely Arminian and teaches the possibility of losing one’s eternal salvation.1 But Prince continues to preach it.
Areas of Disagreement
Although Grace in Focus readers will find much to appreciate in Destined to Reign and Unmerited Favor, there are some areas of disagreement which I will briefly mention here.
First, as was mentioned before, Prince supports a prosperity message. He recognizes his “roots” in the Word of Faith movement (Destined to Reign, p. 271), but implies that many Word of Faith churches are infected with legalism, particularly in turning faith into a work (Destined to Reign, p. 271).
Second, Prince denies God’s temporal wrath or judgment upon sin. He denies that God ever punishes Christians for anything: “One of the most evil teachings that I have heard is that God will chastise His own with sicknesses, diseases, accidents and tragedies” (p. 63). It isn’t clear how he deals with the warning passages of Scripture.
Third, Prince doesn’t distinguish between positional forgiveness in Christ and fellowship forgiveness. He denies that there is ever a break in fellowship between the believer and God.
Fourth, there are many areas where Prince could have been clearer on the message of life. Though there is no question that he believes that we are justified by faith in Christ apart from works and that we are eternally secure at the moment of faith, he doesn’t say that belief in the eternity of the gift is of the essence of saving faith.
So, to return to our original question, is Joseph Prince “Free Grace”?
We have a saying in the office. When we come across a theologian who is outside the typical Free Grace circles, who may not know all of the issues that we have debated, and who may not be entirely consistent in their thinking, but who seems to be teaching things similar to us about the message of life, we say, “He’s basically with us.”
It’s an expression of hope, not of certainty.
And I think it applies to Joseph Prince.
Admittedly, I don’t know how consistent he is in his beliefs. I don’t know where he’d fall given a specific Free Grace question. But given what he says about God’s grace, I would say he is basically with us.
That opens up a great opportunity for outreach.
Fans of Joseph Prince will probably be open to reading Free Grace materials. If you know someone like that, why not point them to our website, or give them a copy of this magazine? If God’s free grace is what they’re hungry for, very few resources will do a better job of putting it into focus.
Photo of Joseph Prince used by permission from Harrison House, Inc.
1. See Joseph Mattera, “Is Joseph Prince’s Radical Grace Teaching Biblical? http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/40943-is-joseph-prince-s-radical-grace-teachingbiblical.