“If you just exercise enough faith then you will be healed of all your infirmities and God will bless you with prosperity. It’s guaranteed in the Bible. Just look at Mark 11:23, ‘For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.’”
So say preachers and advocates of one of the most visible, but least understood, religious perspectives in America today – the Word-Faith Movement. That strange subculture of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity is also known by other designations including the following: the “Word of Faith,” the Health and Wealth Gospel, “Name It and Claim It,” the “Faith” Movement, the “Positive Confession” Movement, and the Prosperity Gospel. In this installment we will examine the history and leaders of the Word-Faith movement. In the next installment we will analyze its theology and implications for modern Christianity.
By whatever name, Word-faith is the basic theological foundation for many of America’s best known TV evangelists including the following:
1. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland – Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Believers Voice of Victory TV, Fort Worth Texas
2. Charles Capps – Concepts of Faith radio and TV ministries, England, Arkansas
3. Benny Hinn – Former pastor of the Orlando Christian Center, Orlando, Florida. Now leads mass healing crusades around the world and hosts This Is Your Day TV from Orange County, California.
4. Fredrick Price – Crenshaw Christian Center, and Ever Increasing Faith TV and radio Ministries, Los Angeles, California
5. Creflo Dollar – World Changers Church International; Creflo Dollar Ministerial Association (formerly called International Covenant Ministries); Creflo Dollar Ministries, and Arrow Records, Atlanta, Georgia
6. Joyce Meyer – Joyce Meyer Ministries, Fenton, Missouri.
7. Paula White – Without Walls International Church; Paula White Today TV; Paula White Ministries, Tampa, Florida.
8. Rod Parsley – World Harvest Church, The Center for Moral Clarity, Breakthrough (a media ministry), the Bridge of Hope missions organization, Valor Christian College, Harvest Preparatory School, World Harvest Ministerial Alliance, Metro Harvest Church (an inner-city and prison outreach), Latin Harvest Church (a Spanish-language church) and The Women’s Clinic, Columbus, Ohio.
9. Marilyn Hickey – Orchard Road Christian Center, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, Marilyn and Sarah (Her daughter) TV, Denver, Colorado
10. Margaret Smith Court – Former Australian world champion tennis player. Pastor of Victory Life Centre and host of A Life of Victory TV in Perth, Australia.
11. Paul and Jan Crouch – Founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and hosts of Praise the Lord TV show, Dallas, Texas. (The Crouches have recently come under government scrutiny after allegations by their granddaughter of financial irregularities surrounding their lavish spending habits, including a $100,000 dollar mobile home for their dog.)
Origins of the Word-Faith Movement
Most researchers agree that the Word-faith movement began in the early 20th century with a New England Baptist pastor named E. W. Kenyon (1867 – 1948). Kenyon was influenced by 19th century faith-healing teachers like A. J. Gordon (1836 – 1895) and A. B. Simpson (1843 – 1919), but took their ideas several steps further.
Some critics, such as D. R. McConnell, in his book A Different Gospel: Biblical and Historical Insights into the Word of Faith Movement, maintain that Kenyon got most of his doctrines from mind-science (MS). Those included cultists like the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy (1821 – 1910), and the founder of the New Thought Movement, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802 – 1866). Indeed there is some evidence that Kenyon studied New Thought concepts as a young man. Some current teachers in Kenyon’s tradition espouse ideas very similar to those of MS.
Other researchers, such as Rob Bowman, author of The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel (2001), argue that Kenyon merely took the ideas of earlier Pentecostal healing preachers and expanded on them. It seems reasonable to conclude that Kenyon may have taken some of the ideas of mind-science and revised them into the Pentecostal system.
In any case, as Bowman points out, there are significant differences between what MS teachers taught and what Kenyon espoused. For instance, the MS teachers said that God is impersonal Mind. Kenyon said He is a Person. The MS leaders interpreted the Bible esoterically and metaphorically. Kenyon interpreted it literally. MS advocates say that sin is not real and that Jesus did not literally die for our redemption. Kenyon, however, said humans are sinners and that Jesus died physically and spiritually for our redemption (including physical healing).
In the 1950s, Oklahoma Pentecostal preacher Kenneth E. Hagin (1917 – 2003) adopted many of Kenyon’s concepts. In 1974 he founded the Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma which became, and still is, the primary training ground for Word-Faith pastors and teachers. Hagin claimed that God spoke to him audibly and revealed his ideas about faith which he wrote about in his numerous books and pamphlets. The documented evidence is that Hagin plagiarized much of it directly from Kenyon.
Today, the above listed teachers, and many others, continue to promulgate the ideas of Kenyon and Hagin. Millions of Americans, and other people around the world, faithfully watch these preachers on TV and send millions of dollars to them to support their ministries. In recent years, some of them have been investigated by the IRS and various news outlets. In many cases serious questions have been raised as to the use of funds received and the ethical problems of their lavish lifestyles.
“So, just what is this ‘Word-Faith Movement’ anyway?” you may ask. In the next installment we will examine its doctrinal distinctives and multiple theological problems.
© 2012 Tal Davis