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Word of faith, part 4

In this final post on the Word of faith movement, I specifically want to address the claims of D. R. McConnell in his book, A Different Gospel (updated edition 1995). He concludes on p.185:

There are many peculiar ideas and practices in the Faith theology, but what merits it the label of heresy are the following: (1) its deistic view of God, who must dance to men’s attempts to manipulate the spiritual laws of the universe; (2) its demonic view of Christ, who is filled with “the satanic nature” and must be “born-again” in hell; (3) its gnostic view of revelation, which demands denial of the physical senses and classifies Christians by their willingness to do so; (4) its metaphysical view of salvation, which deifies man and spiritualizes the atonement, locating it in hell rather than on the cross, thereby subverting the crucial Christian belief that it is Christ’s physical death and shed blood which alone atone for sin.”

I have addressed in part 2 here the idea that a particular theory of the atonement is part of Christian orthodoxy; it is not. Each theory has its advantages and disadvantages. The ransom theory has the particular disadvantage of making the atonement seem to be paying off Satan, but the other theories have their disadvantages, too. McConnell’s objections (2) and (4) thus reflect his sectarianism.

Objection (1) is a common objection to the Word of faith teachings, but it is a misunderstanding. The God of the Bible is a God of laws. Does that mean God is bound by His own laws? That is an old theological conundrum. Are there spiritual laws? See Bill Bright’s famous Four Spiritual Laws here. Where are the books claiming heresy for these spiritual laws? There is no more problem with spiritual laws then with physical laws. The idea that we could get spiritual laws working for us should be no more problematic than getting physical laws working for us.

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Word of Faith, part 3

One of the main teachings of the Word of Faith movement concerns one’s “confession.” This teaching goes back to E. W. Kenyon, but before looking at what he wrote, let’s consider what a leader of the movement, Kenneth E. Hagin, wrote about it in his exposition of Mark 5:25-34 in his book “Exceedingly Growing Faith,” Chapter VI.

The story concerns a woman with “an issue of blood” who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment while he was in a crowd. Hagin points out the steps she took: (1) She said it: “For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.” (Mark 5:28) (2) She did it: she got close enough to Jesus to do it. Because she was unclean she was supposed to stay away from others, so by this action she was taking a risk. (3) She received it: she received the healing from Jesus. (4) She told it: Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) She again took a risk by telling her story publicly.

Hagin also references the story of David and Goliath as an example of the importance of saying what one believes: (I Samuel 17):

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Word of Faith, part 2

E. W. Kenyon is widely considered the originator of what is now called the Word of Faith. A previous series of posts showed that Kenyon’s teachings about divine healing were in line with the 19th century faith-cure movement (see here). Theological issues that arise concerning E. W. Kenyon’s writings include his theory of the atonement.

Although theories of the atonement are often considered a part of the orthodox core of Christianity, they are not. Through the centuries Christians have disagreed about the particular reasons for the death of Christ, what its significance is, and what it accomplished. For example, several theories of the atonement are given here.

E. W. Kenyon has his own variation, which combines the Ransom and Substitutionary theories of the atonement, as described in his book “What Happened from the Cross to the Throne” (Seventh Edition, 1969). Here are some excerpts (combining his one sentence paragraphs):

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Word of Faith, part 1

This post begins a series on the Word of Faith movement (also known as word-faith, faith, or by its critics the prosperity gospel or health and wealth gospel). The purpose of this series is to clarify the biblical teachings of this movement. Because many of its expositors lack formal theological education, it is not uncommon for their words to raise theological red flags. But many reject the Word of Faith teachings with little understanding of them, or by taking passages out of context.

While there certainly have been excesses, this series of posts will provide reasons why core Word of Faith teachings are within the broad range of orthodox Christianity. That said, this series of posts does not justify lavish lifestyles, deceptive practices, or false claims. The focus is on the core teachings of the Word of Faith and their biblical justification.

It is important to know from the outset that there are three independent 19th century movements that have some similarities but are radically different: (1) the nature cure, (2) the mind cure, and (3) the faith cure. All sought healing apart from the allopathic medicine that was considered mainstream.

(1) “Nature cure, or natural care refer to methods of self-healing, often using fasting, dieting, rest, or hydrotherapy.” Also included are orthopathy and naturopathy. (Wikipedia)

(2) Mind cure is a “healing system according to which feelings or thoughts are the most important factor in human health. Negative thinking is believed to cause disease, whereas good health results from positive thoughts.” (Free Dictionary) “William James used the term ‘New Thought’ as synonymous with the ‘Mind cure movement.'” (Wikipedia)

(3) Faith cure is “a method or practice of treating diseases by prayer and exercise of faith in God.” (Merriam-Webster)

The teachings of the Word of Faith movement grew out of the faith cure (3) movement, not the others.

Bibliography

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Disciples and relatives of Jesus

There are many disciples of Jesus in the Bible, but there are twelve that are particularly the disciples, or simply, the twelve. Some of these are related to each other. In the small town region of Galilee where Jesus lived that would not be surprising.

What follows is a summary of the disciples and relatives of Jesus, given that we don’t have as much detail about them as we would like. First, the twelve disciples, which are listed four times in the New Testament (Mt 10:1–4, Mk 3:13–19, Lk 6:12–16, and Acts 1:13):

Simon Peter and Andrew, brothers who worked with Zebedee’s family fishing business. Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter.

James and John, sons of Zebedee and Salome, whom Jesus nicknamed Boanerges, “sons of thunder”.

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Evangelical attributes

I have written before about evangelicals (and others) here, here, here, and here.

An evangelical Christian is basically one for whom the Bible is the final authority for faith and life. This contrasts with Christians for whom the Bishop of Rome is the final authority, or Tradition. Some who claim to be Christians make religious feeling the final authority, such as those known as theological liberals, but surely that stretches the term Christian too far (see Christianity and Liberalism by Gresham Machen).

Evangelical Christians, or Evangelicals for short, receive the Bible as the Word of God, the final authority for faith and life. A corollary to this is that Evangelicals can only approach the text of the Bible with reverence and wonder, and not critically, that is with skepticism or doubt. Critical biblical scholarship is thus not for Evangelicals. Another corollary is that for Evangelicals all subjects must align with the text of the Bible. Hence Evangelicals approach the world with awe and wonder, as realists rather than anti-realists.

Evangelicals are not united on all matters. There are some significant divergences, notably: (1) baptism of infants and adults or only adults, (2) Eucharist/communion as the Body and Blood of Christ or only symbols, (3) some church hierarchy or only congregations, (4) continuationism or cessationism with regard to miracles and the gifts of the Spirit, and (5) emphasis on believers receiving Christ or deciding for Christ.

The Bible and science

The Bible is true. However, the Bible does not contain all truth. And the Bible does not meet every degree of precision. No book or set of books does.

Is the Bible scientifically true? The Bible is better than scientifically true. The Bible is true without qualification. Science seeks truthlikeness. If parts of science are true, they do not contradict the Bible.

The Bible emphasizes intensional truth. While the Bible does contain some extensions – quantities, places in space and time – the focus is on the meaning and significance of places, people, and actions. In contrast, science is extensional.

Is all of the Bible true? Yes. The Bible has been tried over centuries and peoples, and found true. It has also been misunderstood and misapplied but that is another matter. In any case, our standard of truth is not higher than the Bible, so we are not in a position to judge the Bible against a higher standard.

Some accepted scientific theories seem to contradict the Bible. But the Bible is about reality. Science is completely conditional, and depends on a metaphysics to assert truth about reality. So it is only with a particular metaphysics that science can be possibly said to contradict the Bible. In that case, the metaphysics is false in some respect.

The best metaphysics is one that is based on the Bible. The metaphysics of the Bible is a neglected subject. Roger E. Olson has written an introduction excerpted here.

Jesus’ brothers and sisters

The Gospel According to John, chapter 7:2-10 reads:

2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Three times the text mentions “Jesus’ brothers”, or as the footnote states, it can be translated, “Jesus’ brothers and sisters”. Who are these brothers and sisters?

1. Literally speaking, someone’s brother or sister is a person with the same parents. Since Jesus is uniquely the Son of God (John 3:18), he cannot have any brother or sister in the literal sense. Therefore, these verses cannot be read literally.

2. Someone’s half-brother or half-sister has one parent in common. Is it possible that Joseph and Mary had natural children after Mary gave birth to Jesus? John 19:26-27 reads:

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

This action of Jesus as he was dying makes no sense if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children who would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a half-brother or a half-sister.

3. Someone’s step-brother or step-sister is a child of a parent from a previous marriage. Is it possible that Joseph was widowed and had children before marrying the Virgin Mary? The John 19 passage above shows this would make no sense because if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children, they would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a step-brother or a step-sister.

4. In some cultures such as first-century Jewish culture another relative such as a cousin may be called a brother or sister. This is the remaining possibility and must be the meaning of the passage. These brothers and sisters were likely cousins of Jesus.

The conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth was an only child.

False Gospels

The false gospel of sensitivity: Christians should always to be sensitive to other people, and never offend them in any way.

It is false because Jesus offended many people.

Matthew 15:12:  Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

The true gospel itself is offensive. For example:

1 Peter 2:7-8: So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

On the other hand, Christians should not needlessly offend others.

1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God

Oversensitivity and lack of sensitivity are extremes to be avoided.

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General and special knowledge

General knowledge is based on common experience and is available to everyone. No special training or vocabulary are necessary for general knowledge. It is also called ‘general revelation’ and ‘common knowledge’. This is the knowledge that realist philosophy builds on.

General sciences are the areas of general knowledge. In philosophy these are metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Since the existence of God and creation may be demonstrated from general knowledge, there is a general science of theology. General creation is general knowledge of creation.

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Special knowledge is based on uncommon experience that is available only to those who make a special study of them and learn their special vocabulary. The special sciences such as chemistry and physics are forms of special knowledge. They begin with general knowledge but then add special studies of particular aspects of general knowledge. This is the knowledge that anti-realist philosophy builds on.

Special revelation is another form of special knowledge; it requires knowledge of revelatory texts and faith in their message. Special creation is special revelation or knowledge about creation such as the special status of humanity.

Special knowledge in the light of special revelation is different from special revelation in the light of special knowledge. Here is a diagram of their relationship:

General knowledge/revelation ⇒ special knowledge1 ⇒ special revelation2 vs.

General revelation/knowledge ⇒ special revelation1 ⇒ special knowledge2

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Examples of general revelation in the Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Examples of special revelation in the Bible:

Genesis 1:2 – 3:24; Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 14; II Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 3:3; Revelation 1:1