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Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

McConnell’s claim that Kenyon taught the “central dogma of metaphysics” is a false interpretation of Kenyon’s writings. It reflects a less than accurate reading of Kenyon’s work.

To claim that Kenyon espouses deism is simply ludicrous. The God of Kenyon’s writings is the personal Yahweh, God of Abraham, the loving Father of the Lord Jesus and the biblical God who rules over the affairs of humankind. Kenyon, writes,

Sin Consciousness has given us a wrong picture of God and a wrong picture of the New Creation. It has made us see God as holy, just, austere and unapproachable Being who is ever on the alert to discover sin in us and condemn us. That conception has made us afraid and caused us to shrink from Him. The conception is wrong: He is a Father God. John 14:23 says that He will make His home with us…. When we know Him as a loving, tender Father who longs for our fellowship and longs to live with us, the whole picture is changed. [26]

This is far from the deity of deism. Kenyon consistently regards the personal attributes of God as primary and emphasized above God’s transcendent qualities. Kenyon uses the term “spiritual laws” to refer to biblical principles that appear constant in explaining the essence and activity of God. Bill Bright uses as similar didactic in his “Four Spiritual Laws” in popular evangelical circles. The laws themselves do not of necessity imply an impersonal Creator.

McConnell’s second claim the Kenyon taught the dogma of metaphysical thought is that Kenyon taught dualism. In the above quote, McConnell concludes that Kenyon’s phrase “God breaking into the sense realm” implies dualism. Kenyon’s phrase is much more consistent with Ladd’s theology of the kingdom, the inbreaking of God’s kingly rule into history than metaphysical dualism.[27] McConnell also claims that Kenyon’s doctrine of “revelation knowledge” is gnostic spirit-matter dualism.[28] The allegation is that Kenyon held that “revelation knowledge,” i.e. knowledge convey by spiritual means, creates an epistemology whereby “the physical senses are of no value in understanding it or using it.”[29] Kenyon does draw a distinction between “revelation knowledge” and “sense knowledge.”[30] However this does not limit his epistemology to knowledge obtained by spiritual illumination. Kenyon embraces the integrity of biblical revelation as the cornerstone of a faith-relationship with God.[31] The distinctions between the two types of knowledge are drawn primarily to form a comparison to aid in the appropriation of healing. “Sense knowledge” can only provide the information of the nature of the sickness. For Kenyon, “revelation knowledge” comes from the Word of God to renew the mind and enlighten the spiritual component of a person. This is not the mutually exclusive dualism of the metaphysics, but the acknowledgement of spiritual sphere of reality that cannot be touched with physical senses – a spiritual reality that is revealed by Scripture and not the power of the mind.

The third claim by McConnell is that Kenyon promoted deification by teaching that God imparts His nature into the human spirit. For example Kenyon writes, “By a new creation, we are partakers of His very nature. We have become heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We are the next of kin to the Son of God.”[32] The language choice of Kenyon creates difficulty in providing an orthodox explanation to his teaching. Kenyon finds biblical precedent for the phrase “partakers of His nature” in II Peter 1:4, “…that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature…”(KJV). The question of unsound doctrine hinges on Kenyon’s interpretation of the word “partakers.” The word koinonoi translated “partakers” in the King James Version is a nominative, masculine, plural noun from koinonos meaning ones who take part in as companions or partners. It does not imply an ontological fusing, but a harmonious relationship between individual parties. A better English translation would be “partners.” Kenyon chooses to use the phrase “partakers of His nature” and he uses it often in his writings. It can produce an unsound doctrine if it is followed to its logical ends, i.e. deification – which McConnell claims has occurred. Kenyon, however, does not digress to the point of deification. Nowhere does Kenyon state that this union between the human and Divine nature produces a fused entity whereby a human being enters godhood. Instead, he uses the term “partakers of the divine nature” to describe the spiritual partnership between a person and God, the Holy Spirit. For example, Kenyon writes,

One stands mute in the presence of a fact like this, that we have in us God’s nature. The thing that hurts is that we have never given that nature sway. We have held His nature in bondage. God has been a prisoner in us. Paul was no more a prisoner in Rome than the Holy Spirit has been a prisoner in us.[33]

This passage illustrates Kenyon’s understanding of the nature of God as located within a human person, but not fused to human nature creating divinized humanity. Kenyon draws a contrast between “God” as a specified, individual person and “us” the individual people indwelt by God, the Holy Spirit. The phrase “we have in us God’s nature” causes the raising of theological eyebrows and incites unfortunate condemnation by critics such as McConnell. A less pejorative phrase is preferable, but Kenyon’s use of it does not imply deification.

(3) The most fatal flaw in McConnell’s analysis is his lack of emphasis on the non-Kenyon influences on Hagin. There is no question that Hagin was influenced by Kenyon’s writings. Hagin’s word-for-word incorporation of passages from Kenyon is a travesty that Hagin has yet to explain.[34] However, in building his case for the “Kenyon Connection,” McConnell underestimates the Pentecostal and holiness influences on Hagin. Dennis Hollinger writes in his assessment of the historical development of the faith movement,

The contemporary health and wealth movement flows historically from two primary tributaries: Pentecostal healing revivalism and the influences of E. W. Kenyon… McConnell’s A Different Gospel attempts to undermine the Pentecostal influence, giving primacy to the “Kenyon Connection.” My own conclusion, however, is that we cannot minimize the role of the healing revivalist tradition.[35]

McConnell “attempts to undermine” the influence of Pentecostalism on Hagin to strengthen the argument of the “Kenyon Connection.” The Pentecostal root unquestionably grounds faith theology into an orthodox stream, which stands contrary to the essence of the “Kenyon Connection.”

Bruce Barron concurs in his historical evaluation and writes, “During these years of relative oblivion (1910-1947), healing revivalists continued to cross the country sacrificially offering their services, developing much of the theology that Hagin, Copeland and many others continue to proclaim today.”[36] McConnell provides a rebuttal by stating that “Barron’s historical analysis fails at several points.”[37] McConnell claims that “Faith theology does not, as Barron claims, have multiple sources within Pentecostalism. All of the major doctrines of Hagin, Copeland, et al. have been taken directly from the writings of Kenyon.”[38] While it is true that leaders in the faith movement have doctrines that rely heavily on Kenyon, McConnell again overstates his point. The major doctrines of Faith theology include biblical authority, evangelism, soteriological-based healing, prosperity, Pentecostal pneumatology, spiritual warfare, and positive confession. Kenyon’s influence can only be traced in a few of those. Even doctrines such a “sensory denial through positive confession” which often is credited to Kenyon’s influence can be seen in the Holiness/Pentecostal tradition. Barron continues,

The beginnings of positive confession with regard to healing can be spotted as far back as the work of A. B. Simpson, who wrote, “We believe that God is healing before any evidence is given. It is to be believed as a present reality, and then ventured on. We are to act as if it were already true.” Why would this well-educated man advocate faith contrary to sensory evidence? Because he believed that the Bible, a higher authority than the senses, teaches healing.[39]

This may be an indirect influence on Hagin because we have no evidence that Hagin read Simpson’s writings, although they would have been available to Hagin. However, it does reveal that the 19th century Faith-Cure movement that feed into Pentecostalism did contain elements of contemporary word of faith theology. R. Kelso Carter, author and participant during the Faith-Cure Movement, notes the importance of verbal confession.

He writes,

In order to this [sic] he must feel that othere [sic] are of more importance before God than himself, and also that he is willing publicly to confess his desire, his helplessness, and his faith in God. Ah! Confession is ever necessary. We must honor Jesus before men. Having thus prostrated self and confessed his belief, he is to be “anointed with oil in the name of the Lord.”[40]

Carter continues by describing his personal experience of confession. He writes,

As soon as this became clear to my mind, I resolved in the strength of Jesus, to confess His glorious work to the uttermost, and not to allow a single thought of the future to enter my mind for a moment. Anyone can see that, professing to trust Christ for exemption from sickness, while you are contemplating the possibility of speedily falling ill, is not trusting Him at all. … Such professions are only an insult to God, and are miserable travesties on true faith.[41]

Faith confession as related to divine healing was a part of the theological system during the Faith-Cure movement, although it did not hold the same position of importance as it does in the current strand of faith theology.

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: Derek Vreeland, MDiv (Oral Roberts University), DMin (Asbury Theological Seminary), is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of Shape Shifters: How God Changes the Human Heart: A Trinitarian Vision of Spiritual Transformation (Word & Spirit Press, 2008), Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostles' Creed (Doctrina Press, 2011), and Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader's Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015). Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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