Interview with Brandon Kimber of American Gospel
Interview by Angela Roe
As Christians, we would all probably say we agree on a few things: the Bible is our authority, Jesus is our King, and we can’t do anything to earn God’s grace. But what happens when preachers and teachers veer off course? What do we do when we’re taught the prosperity gospel, and how do we recognize it? Filmmaker Brandon Kimber sought to address these questions in the thoughtful and challenging documentary American Gospel. We caught up with Brandon to learn more about who he is, why he made the movie, and what we can do with the truths he lays out.
1. How did you get your start in filmmaking?
I began shooting and editing videos as a hobby when I was in middle school and ended up majoring in film production in college. I got an internship out of college at the same company where I am working today. We began creating half-hour Crime Stoppers television shows for different cities around the country (Cleveland, Miami, LosAngeles, Chicago) where we featured unsolved homicides, hoping to receive tips from the public. A few years later, we left crime television and began producing crime documentaries. Our first documentary “A Murder in the Park” is about a double-wrongful conviction that happened in Chicago, and it played a role in helping to release an innocent man from prison after 15 years. After this film, I was given permission to start filming my own passion project, which is how the idea for American Gospel began.
2. For those who may not be familiar with your film or the term "prosperity gospel," can you give us a definition?
The prosperity gospel (or Word of Faith movement) has a few core beliefs which conflict with the true gospel in Scripture. I’ll focus on what I think are three of the key beliefs.
The first is the belief that it is always God’s will that a Christian is healthy and wealthy. The danger here is that the true gospel promises suffering, and calls disciples of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross (be willing to die for the gospel). Instead of denying yourself, the prosperity gospel encourages you to come to Jesus to get what all people want in the desires of their sinful hearts–to be wealthy, healthy, and prosperous. This causes people to come to Christ in order to get these idols, instead of coming to Jesus for Jesus–to be reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins. God becomes a means to have my best life now.
The second belief of the prosperity gospel is called the “little gods doctrine.” This belief teaches that we are essentially spiritual beings made of the same substance as God and, therefore, our words have the same creative power as God’s words. So if we want to be healthy or wealthy, our positive confessions about health and wealth will create those realities. Faith is viewed as a force (that even God uses in his creative acts) that we use to unlock blessings in our life. Biblical faith is trust, and that trust is placed in Christ alone for salvation. But the prosperity gospel twists biblical faith to be about how our “words of faith” can change our reality. In sum, it’s a deification of man.
The third distortion of the prosperity gospel attacks the person of Jesus by demoting him to being merely a man with the Holy Spirit, instead being both fully God and fully man. This view connects back to the writings of E.W. Kenyon, who taught that “the believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth.” Many (not all) of the prosperity gospel preachers believe that Jesus laid aside or emptied himself of all of his divinity in the incarnation, and that he was merely a man with the Holy Spirit and did all of his miracles and lived a sinless life as a man, not as God (therefore, we can do the same miracles and live sinless lives like he did). Preachers like Kenneth Copeland have gone further and taught that “Adam in the garden of Eden was God manifested in the flesh” (essentially saying that Jesus Christ was in essence the same as Adam in the incarnation). This teaching is heretical because it’s teaching that our salvation was accomplished by a man, not God. The true Jesus remained fully God in the incarnation (Colossians 2:9 says “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”) but added a human nature to himself. He is the one mediator between God and man and must be truly God and truly man in order to accomplish our salvation.
3. There are many different avenues one could take in Christian filmmaking. Why tackle the prosperity gospel?
I see a lack of Christian films that clearly present the true gospel because I believe that many churches aren’t doing the same from their pulpits. I grew up in a church that was heavily influenced by preachers and movements connected to the prosperity gospel. I also later experienced a lot of confusion about what the gospel was and realized that it was often being replaced by moralistic preaching. So this film is a response to my personal experience, and a tool that I felt was necessary to help my family and friends clearly see the true gospel in comparison to the counterfeits.
4. It seems these days that anyone who calls out anything is accused of causing division in the Church. What is your response to that?
Jesus said that he came to divide believer from unbeliever. In Matthew 10:34-35 he says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. ‘For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.’”
The true gospel divides. Scripture commends the Bereans for testing the teaching of Paul and comparing it to Scripture (Acts 17:11). We also see numerous warnings about false prophets and false teachers, and that they were even called out by name; Paul even called out Peter for his hypocrisy in the book of Galatians (2:11). So anytime I hear people say “Judge not…”, “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed!” or “You’re causing division…” I think, “Have they read the New Testament?”
5. Are there any other means by which you see the prosperity gospel being infused into the American church culture not featured in the movie?
I did not cover the topic of worship music. Many churches that preach Word of Faith doctrine are producing some of the most popular worship music today.
6. How did you choose the interviewees and pastors featured? Specifically, how did you find families like the Bergers or the college students from Michigan?
The process of finding people to interview began with interviewing friends, family, and local pastors so that I could create a concept trailer for the film. This trailer helped me to get interviews with more well-known pastors across the country (many of them were chosen because their preaching or writing had influenced my understanding of the gospel). My biggest hurdle was getting people to trust me and to agree to do an interview.
I met Russell and Katherine Berger through Facebook when I saw that Russell had posted my trailer on his page. After hearing their story, I felt that Katherine’s story of finding faith through suffering and being content in her suffering was a needed counter to the prosperity gospel. Social media and finding stories through blogs and podcasts were a big help.
7. What can Christians do to change the thinking and practices of prosperity churches? Do you have any tips for engaging with Word of Faith church members?
We’re already starting to see that this film is a good tool in helping people see the error in the Word of Faith movement. But ultimately God needs to open their eyes, so I believe the most important thing we can do is pray for that to happen. We also need to engage with or combat a lot of the assumptions associated with prosperity doctrine. The main one is fear; many in this movement are taught that we are not to criticize the leaders in these movements or we may face the judgment of God (sickness or death) for “touching the Lord’s anointed.” They’re twisting a verse about how David refused to “touch” (kill) King Saul and are wrongly applying that to Christian discernment. We don’t want to kill prosperity preachers; we want to test their teaching like the Bereans (and any preacher of the true gospel would encourage that, not hinder it).
8. What were your fears about releasing this film, if any?
I may have had some fears about the reactions that I would receive from close friends and family. But I knew that this would be pretty divisive, so I was expecting mixed reactions. That’s what the gospel does: “…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
9. How can we, as Christians, equip ourselves for combating health, wealth, and happiness preaching and teaching the true Gospel?
We need to know and understand the true gospel inside and out, so that when the counterfeits show up, we can spot them. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself, “Is this message primarily about me, what I should do, or my happiness? Or this is a message about God and what he has done in Christ?"
10. We hear that this film is just one part of a longer series. Would you be able to share what any of the future topics will be? If not, what else is next for you?
At this time, I have at least two other American Gospel sequels in the works (with the possibility of even more than that). I can only share that “American Gospel: Christ Crucified” will focus on the Cross and how people understand the atonement through the lens of progressive Christianity. The first film, “Christ Alone” asked the question, “Is Christianity Jesus plus?” The second film will focus on how we subtract the offensive parts of the gospel message.