After Costi Hinn and the Christianity Today editorial team put the finishing details on his testimony, the nephew and former personal assistant of one of the biggest names in the prosperity gospel world almost forgot he was sharing his story to the world.
On September 20, at 6am, the California-based Costi woke up to a text message from one of his former baseball coaches. "Proud of you. Just read the Christianity Today article. Hope it helps many people and many eyes will be opened."
"I said, ‘Well, they must have posted it online.’"
Costi's coach's wishes may have come true. His story of growing up in the middle of Benny Hinn's ostentatious religious empire and later finding the gospel is one of CT's most-read pieces of the year. The regular Testimony feature—a first-person account of how someone encountered Christ—has long been a reader favorite. Published on the back page of every issue, it has consistently left an impact since it first began in 2013.
"There wouldn't be a magazine called Christianity Today—and there wouldn't be anyone investing their time and energy to produce it—if we didn't believe, like Paul, that the gospel is 'the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,'" said Matt Reynolds, who edits the section. "Our testimony pieces bring us back to the source of why we do what we do. People can come to know the truth of Jesus Christ—and this truth makes all the difference."
Costi recently appeared to talk about his story on CNN and may publish a book about his experiences.
"There has been an outpouring of support on social media and email. People are thankful that I shared my unique story," said Costi. "Many faithful people—older and wiser than myself—have been speaking the truth of the gospel longer than I have, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to point to Christ and his gospel through my testimony. Some have said that they're excited to see one of 'us' get saved."
Costi's past was already known within his community and local church, but over the past year he had felt a growing passion to share his story more broadly.
"Prosperity gospel's abuses are very far reaching," said Costi, now the executive pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. "I hope my story can help platform the true gospel."
Before he approached CT, Costi researched how the publication had previously approached prosperity gospel.
"It's clear that CT cares about sharing the true gospel and is balanced in its approach to the non-essentials in Christianity, while keeping the main thing the main thing," said Costi.
Reynolds hadn't heard Costi's story before the pastor contacted CT, but he was impressed by his compelling story.
"Right from the beginning, he was eager to give our readers something more than another occasion to bash the prosperity gospel," said Reynolds. "He wanted to tell us a story of how biblical truth can liberate us from false and dangerous beliefs about God and the Christian life—a lesson that applies to all of us, even if we're attending churches that preach the genuine gospel."
Costi's piece details the luxury and attention that came with being part of the Hinn family. "Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia," he writes. "Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business."
Part of the story's resonance came from Costi's honesty about the inner tensions he experienced while working within the Hinn empire, said Reynolds.
"Costi, of course, is the nephew of a very prominent prosperity preacher, so the celebrity factor certainly can't be discounted. Neither can our natural curiosity about what it's really like to live the prosperity-preaching lifestyle, and Costi gives us a peek behind that curtain," he said. "But on a deeper level, I think it's encouraging to see someone who's clearly enjoying the blessings of that lifestyle, but still feeling pangs of conscience: Are these teachings really true? Are they consistent with God's Word?"
Only when his future wife Christyne struggled to speak in tongues did Costi begin asking the questions about his faith and lifestyle that ultimately led to his rejection of both of them. After getting married and taking a pastoral position, one of Costi's first preaching assignments was John 5:1-17—the healing at Bethesda. In the passage, Jesus heals only one man, the man doesn't know who Jesus is, and yet he is healed instantly. This was catalytic to Costi's faith, as he articulated for CT:
This left three treasured beliefs in tatters. Isn't it always God's will to heal? No, Jesus only healed one man out of a multitude. Doesn't God only heal people if they have enough faith? No, this crippled man didn't even know who Jesus was (let alone have faith in him). Doesn't healing require an anointed healer, special music, and an offering collection? No, Jesus healed instantly with a mere command. I wept bitterly over my participation in greedy ministry manipulation and my life of false teaching and beliefs, and I thanked God for his mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. My eyes were completely opened.
Beyond the Hinn name recognition, readers embraced Costi's story because it showcased the grace of God, he said.
"God can change anybody. Ultimately that is the epitome of Christianity," said Costi. "No matter how frustrated, hurt, sick, and tired Christians get, we must believe that God can save anybody. It's a tough world right now. There's a lot of pain inside and outside the church. It's so encouraging when God saves people because it brings us back to the reality of our purpose here."
Finding and publishing well-written stories that showcase God's redemption is a significant way in which CT advances its ministry cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy.
"Beautiful Orthodoxy is speaking the truth in love," said Costi. "It's ultimately how all Christians should be communicating. I'm very thankful that CT is modeling this for the larger church."
Thanks to Costi, hundreds of thousands of readers have seen another example of Beautiful Orthodoxy lived out in the life of a man who found and followed Christ.
Morgan Lee is associate digital media producer at Christianity Today.