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.

The remaining objection (3) concerns Kenyon’s distinction between revelation knowledge and sense knowledge. In fact, Christians have always recognized this distinction in some form. Why do we need revelation at all? Because the knowledge that can be gained through empirical means is limited. The apostle Peter’s affirmation of faith in Christ came by revelation (Mt.16:17). The apostle Paul said he learned his gospel by revelation (Eph. 3:3). Christians are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). This is orthodox Christianity.

Kenyon articulated a particularly acute form of this distinction, but that is not dualism, in which there are two eternal principles competing with one another. The distinction between the spiritual and the natural is ancient, and fully accords with Christian theology. What does McConnell think of Augustine or Aquinas? If there is an objection here, it has not been sufficiently articulated.

Speaking of Augustine and Aquinas, what about the influence of Neo-Platonism on the former and Aristotle on the latter? Or the influence of naturalistic science on theology today? In fact, all theologies are influenced by culture. Despite his continual innuendos, McConnell’s objections to influences on Kenyon fall flat.

Contrary to McConnell’s low view of the significance of the power of God in evangelism, historians have shown that the early church expanded rapidly in the Roman empire by preaching with signs following. This is the scriptural pattern that should be followed to impact people today. The error of cessationism is about “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

I don’t doubt that there have been abuses of the Word of faith. These should be handled pastorally, so I fault the pastors, not people like Kenyon. Growing in faith takes time; people need wisdom to rightly assess their level of faith.

The leaders of the Word of faith movement are not theologians in the academic sense of the term. They are not sufficiently educated to present a nuanced theology that would compete with any leading theologians. Their teachings should be understood in that context, and should be accompanied by a good theology for the rest of Christian doctrine.

Hagin said he was called to teach faith, and he did so. It is tragic how little understanding Christians have of faith. Listen to people praying in public, and note how vague and wimpy their prayers are. Your God is too small, as J. B. Phillips wrote. It is commonly believed that Jesus arbitrarily healed one person and not another, for example, as if it were a matter of personal whim. But Jesus said, “According to your faith be it done to you.” (Mt. 9:29)

We should not limit God, even as we recognize there must be some limits in this age. The tendency is to be excessively cautious or excessively bold. Let us seek balance. I always recommend Christian Healing Ministries led by Francis and Judith MacNutt for a balanced approach to divine healing and well-being.

We have a big God. “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Mt. 21:21-22) Now that’s a word of faith!