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Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

The primary cause for theological weaknesses in word of faith theology is not due to a lack of respect for biblical authority, but in an ignorance of strong hermeneutical principles. The word of faith movement carried over the “anti-intellectual” tendencies of Pentecostalism that opts for pragmatism over traditional hermeneutics. Gordon Fee observes,

(The Pentecostal movement’s) attitude toward Scripture regularly has included a general disregard for scientific exegesis and carefully thought-out hermeneutics. In fact, hermeneutics has simply not been a Pentecostal thing. Scripture is the Word of God and is to be obeyed. In place of scientific hermeneutics there developed a kind of pragmatic hermeneutics – obey what should be taken literally; spiritualize, allegorize, or devotionalize the rest. [55]

Hagin uses this loose pragmatic hermeneutic considering a more scholastic hermeneutic as unnecessary. At the root of each unsound doctrine or unbiblical extreme in word of faith theology lies a problem with the interpretation of the text.

 

The Process of Refinement

The theological systems of the various word of faith ministries, churches and faith teachers lack precise similarity. The faith theology of Hagin differs somewhat from the theology of Copeland, etc. This presents a methodological problem in identifying what is “word of faith theology.” The most efficient analysis and reconstruction of word of faith theology proper is to concentrate on the theology of Kenneth Hagin in particular. The various faith ministries may lack systematic cohesion, but a common denominator can be found in the influence of Hagin. Therefore, the most effective reconstruction is accomplished using the writings of Hagin as the basis of word of faith theology. The most distinct and crucial tenants of word of faith doctrine requiring reconstruction are the nature of faith, positive confession, healing and prosperity. The method of reconstruction first includes analyzing Hagin’s theology at each doctrinal point within his epistemological context. Second, a process of biblical refinement that removes the elements of faith theology that lack a substantial exegetical/historical foundations. Third, each point of the theology is rebuilt upon a solid biblical foundation within the word of faith framework. The result is a word of faith theology that retains its distinctiveness as a theological system without the extra-biblical excesses.

 

Reconstructing the Nature of Faith

The primary distinction of the nature of faith from a word of faith perspective begins in the exegesis of Mark 11:22, “Have faith in God,” which Hagin translates “the God kind of faith.” The exegetical issue is to identify which type of genitive produces the best rendering of theou in the phrase echete pistin theou. English texts are consistent in translating theou as an objective genitive, noting that the noun theos receives the action of the verb echete.[56] Hank Hanegraaff claims that the “God kind of faith” is a perversion that has “no basis in the original Greek.” Furthermore, he calls it “misleading” and a violation of “more than one principle of biblical interpretation.”[57] While the choice to translate theou as a subjective genitive is the minority opinion, it is not excluded as an exegetical alternative. Charles Farah in his critique of faith theology also selects the subjective genitive as the preferable translation. He writes,

But the more usual way to translate the same passage (Mark 11:22) and one that is equally valid grammatically would be to understand (theou) as a subjective genitive, denoting possession which then translates not “faith in God” but “faith of God,” i.e., God’s own faith. The context determines the usage.[58]

McConnell claims that Hagin derived this interpretation from Kenyon,[59] but Hagin explains that he chooses the subjective over the objective genitive, because of a marginal note in the King James Bible. Hagin notes, “‘Have faith in God,’ or as the margin reads, ‘Have the faith of God.’ Greek scholars tell us this should be translated, ‘Have the God kind of faith.’”[60] Much to his detriment, Hagin has no formal training in exegesis, hermeneutics, or biblical languages. Hagin depends on the marginal notes added by the publisher of the English Bible that he studies. Most King James Versions of the Bible that provide marginal notes include this note to Mark 11:22, “Or, Have the faith of God.”[61] Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible includes the following note and explanation to Mark 11:22, “Literally, ‘Have the faith of God.’ Such is possible or it would not be a command. Man was created with God’s faith but doubt entered in at the fall (Gen. 3:1-7).”[62] Hagin is dependent upon the “scholarship” of others for his exegesis. From the reading of the marginal note, Hagin makes the unfounded assumption that the “Greek scholars” (assumed to be the writers of the marginal notes) imply that “faith of God” implies “the God kind of faith,” i.e. God’s own faith.

This mistaken (and not deliberately misleading) exegesis creates a reification of faith, whereby faith becomes an independent power upon which God himself is dependent. Hagin concludes that the “God kind of faith” as evidenced by God in creation is released by words. Hagin writes, “God created the universe with words. Words filled with faith are the most powerful things in all the world.”[63] Instead of God creating the universe by divine fiat, by the sheer force of his nature, in Hagin’s theology, God’s words in creatio ex nihilo are made efficacious by something outside himself, a reified “faith.” This destroys the omnipotence of God, limiting the quality of God’s power resident in his nature. To prevent the reification of faith and the destruction of God’s omnipotence, the choice to translate theou as a subjective genitive is rejected. The greater theological context demands an objective genitive translation, rendering the translation, “Have faith in God.”

The choice to reject the “God kind of faith” does not remove the indispensable quality of faith, which is clearly a distinctive in this theological system. Word of faith theology utilizes the “God kind of faith” construct as a foundation to build an anthropology that humanity was created to operate in faith in reflection of God’s “use” of faith. The underlying assumption is that a part of humankind’s creation in imago dei includes a replication of the “God kind of faith.” In this, faith theology elevates faith to the chief virtue in Christian experience. However, the “God kind of faith” with its weak exegesis is not requisite to maintain an emphasis on faith in Christian practice. Faith can remain an essential Christian virtue upon a host of biblical evidences that are interpreted upon a stronger exegesis.[64] A reconstructed word of faith theology retains its emphasis on faith as paramount in Christian experience without the “God kind of faith” that only stands to weaken the word of faith perspective. Only a complete rejection of the reification of faith can give word of faith theology a constructive platform to promote a biblical accentuation of faith in Christian experience.

 

Reconstructing Positive Confession

The most distinct characteristic in the nature of faith in word of faith theology is the relationship between inner conviction and verbal confession, in what word of faith proponents label “faith confessions” or “positive confession.” This doctrine has drawn heavy attacks from within and outside the charismatic movement. The primary mistake by critics in regard to positive confession is the false claim that it is rooted in the cognitive power of a metaphysical positive mental attitude, the theological center of Christian Science and other mind science cults. McConnell notes,

The working presupposition of positive confession is that one’s mental attitude determines what one believes and confesses, and what one believes and confesses determines what one gets from God. As Hagin puts it, “What we believe is a result of our thinking. If we think wrong we will believe wrong….If we believe wrong, our confession will be wrong. In other words, what we say will be wrong and it will all hinge on our thinking.” Positive mental attitude (PMA) is the fount from which all positive confession flows.[65]

This represents McConnell’s inaccurate reading of Hagin’s writings in an attempt to justify his own faulty historical analysis from Hagin’s theology. For Hagin, positive confession is not rooted in one’s mental capacities, although there is a cognitive element involved in the process. Positive confession is rooted in biblical authority.[66] In How to Turn Your Faith Loose, Hagin writes,

You can always tell if a person’s believing is right by what he says. If his confession is wrong, his believing is wrong. If his believing is wrong his thinking is wrong. If his thinking is wrong, it’s because his mind has not been renewed with the Word of God. I never have been able to understand how anybody thinks he can get help from God apart from the Word. God moves in line with His Word. We should treat His Word with the same reverence that we would treat Jesus if He were here in the flesh.[67]

Hagin clearly states that faith confession is not empowered by a positive mental attitude, but it is the fruition of the “living and active” logos of God. The cognitive element is the needed theological shift, the renewing of the mind. The concept of confession is not merely justified by biblical precedent, but the positive confessions themselves are positive affirmations of biblical statements. Hagin gives a three-part description of confession. He writes, “First, it’s affirming something that we believe. Second, it’s testifying to something that we know. Third, it’s witnessing of a truth that we’ve embraced.”[68] The word of faith confession finds expression in a sinner’s confession of the lordship of Christ, a Christian’s confession of sin to restore broken fellowship with God, and finally the Christian’s confession of his or her faith in God’s word.[69]

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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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