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Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

Hagin does make note of some of the direct Holiness and pre-Pentecostal influences on his theological development. During the message, “Why Do People Fall Under the Power,” Hagin comments,

Did you ever read after John Wesley? I began to read John Wesley’s writings first way back in 1938. John Wesley, of course, is the father, you know, of Methodism…(and) it became quite a frequent thing in his services for people, sometimes hundreds of them, to fall under the power…. Did you ever read the autobiography of Charles G. Finney? I have more than once. It has blessed me immeasurably….

George Whitefield, who was a co-laborer with John Wesley actually, came over here to America. And it is a historical fact. You can read about it actually in some books that are in the Library of Congress or the library up there, you see….Did you ever read after Peter Cartwright? The Wesley-Methodist preacher, you know. I read his autobiography – great – blessed ya’.[42]

Hagin cites these historic figures as precedent for charismatic manifestations, but beyond that, it reveals some of the Revivalism/Holiness influence on his theology. Hagin also testifies that Pentecostal forerunner John Alexander Dowie influenced him. Hagin cites an account from Dowie’s 1888 healing campaign in San Francisco. Hagin found a pragmatic example in Dowie who prayed intuitively for only one woman out of hundreds, because he perceived that she alone had faith.[43] All of these pre-Pentecostals, Wesley, Finney, Whitefield, Cartwright and Dowie, laid the groundwork that would form faith theology as taught by Kenneth Hagin. Charles Farah, in his historical analysis, identifies that the true root of faith theology is in the theology of Charles Finney. He writes, “Historically, the roots of their theology (faith theology) go back to the thought of Charles Finney…(whose) contribution to present day faith-formula teaching was indirect; rather than direct.”[44] Farah does acknowledge that Kenyon is the “most important” of all of the influences on the development of faith theology, but he does not deny the influence of Finney, a historical root to word of faith theology. Finney’s theology defines faith as that which always obtains the blessing it seeks. Finney writes, “I am speaking now of the kind of faith that ensures the blessing. Do not understand me as saying that there is nothing in prayer that is acceptable to God, or that even obtains the blessing sometimes, without this kind of faith (emphasis his).”[45]

Faith theology also has a strong root in Pentecostalism. Smith Wigglesworth, an early Pentecostal pioneer, had a substantial impact on Hagin and his theology. Wigglesworth writes in Ever Increasing Faith,

It is a blessed thing to learn that God’s word can never fail. Never harken to human plans. God can work mightily when you persist in believing Him in spite of discouragements from the human standpoint…I am not moved by what I see. I am moved only by what I believe. No man considers how he feels if he believes. The man who believes God has it (emphasis his).[46]

Hagin cites Wigglesworth in The Believer’s Authority concerning discouragement during spiritual warfare. Hagin writes,

Faith is involved in exercising spiritual authority. Yes, there are times when evil spirits come out immediately, but if they don’t when you speak the word of faith, don’t get disturbed about it. I base my faith on what the Word says. Some people’s faith is not based on the Bible, however, it’s based on a manifestation…. As Smith Wigglesworth often said, “I’m not moved by what I feel. I’m moved only by what I believe.” So stand your ground.[47]

Wigglesworth’s theology parallels that of Kenyon with its distinction between perceptional knowledge and revelational knowledge. For Wigglesworth, the latter is knowledge communicated by Scripture through faith. This Holiness/Pentecostal root from Finney, through the Faith-Cure healing theology, through early Pentecostalism, formed an orthodox foundation for word of faith theology to emerge. Historically, Kenyon’s influence on Hagin added to the Holiness/Pentecostal root that had been developing over the previous decades.

 

Faith Theology’s Exaltation of the Biblical Authority

Correction and theological reconstruction of word of faith theology is preferable to condemnation not only for its orthodox historical roots, but because word of faith theology consistently exalts the authority of Scripture. Faith theology is built upon a charismatic spirituality that values the experience of the Holy Spirit that illuminates biblical authority.[48] Bruce Barron observes in his analysis, “In general, it is unfair to equate faith teaching with Christian Science, since faith teaching shows much more respect for biblical authority and the person of Jesus than do the ingenious but indefensible interpretations of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.”[49] In the vernacular of word of faith teachers, the issue is “the integrity of the Word of God.” This is the name of Hagin’s first step in the “Seven Steps to the Highest Kind of Faith.” He writes,

The first thing we need to know is that the Word of God is actually what it declares itself to be. It is a revelation from God to us. It is God speaking to us now. Not only is it a book of the past and a book of the future, it is also a book of now. This book is a God-breathed, God-indwelt, and a God-inspired message…. So we see that the first step toward the highest kind of faith is to accept and understand the integrity of God’s Word. The Word is of foremost importance. [50]

The integrity of Scripture finds its authority in God’s self-revelation in the text. Hagin’s doctrine of inspiration attests to his influence from the revivalist movements as noted above. As his evangelical/Pentecostal predecessors before him, Hagin elevated Holy Scripture to a level of primary authority in statements of doctrine and practice.

Furthermore, the integrity of Scripture, and not subjective revelation, is the foundation for faith theology. In What to Do When Faith Seems Weak and Victory Lost, Hagin writes, “You are in trouble when you get beyond the Word of God. That’s what bothers me about many of the things some people are teaching – “new revelations,” and so forth.”[51] He continues with an account of a minister who challenged a guest minister on the biblical source for his message. The guest minister replied, “Oh, you’ll not find what I’m teaching in that thing. I’m way out beyond that. I know much more than what’s in there.” Hagin comments, “When they know so much more than what’s in the Bible, they are too far out for me.”[52] Hagin’s epistemology holds to the primacy of Scripture. McConnell rightly concludes, “Hagin does theology just like the rest of us: right here on planet Earth, not in some superhuman state nor through some hot line to heaven.”[53] And Hagin’s theology and practices of ministry begin with the Bible. Hagin comments, “God’s Word comes first. Faith in God’s Word comes second. Feeling comes last.”[54] Outside revelation, such as ecstatic visions or spiritual gifts of knowledge or wisdom, take on a subordinate role in shaping Hagin’s theology and the theology of the word of faith movement.

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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). http://derekvreeland.com Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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