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Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

The biblical precedent for this third expression of confession is Romans 10:9,10. In word of faith theology, evangelical faith is paradigmatic of the faith by which the believer exists with God in koinonia. Hagin writes,

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). The text says, “unto salvation,” but it is also true concerning anything else that you receive from God. All that you receive from God comes the same way: through faith. With the heart man believes for healing, and with the mouth that confession is made.

This is somewhat of an assumption upon the text, because Scripture does not point to this soteriological procedure as a paradigm for the nature of faith. The confession of faith “made unto salvation” may not be a rigid formula, but it does provide insight into the nature of faith and its inter-relatedness to verbal confession. In quoting Psalm 116:10, Paul comments that believing and speaking in the midst of hardship are the pneuma tes pisteos – the spirit of faith.[70] True heart faith produces an internal desire for verbal expression either through devotional meditation or prophetic proclamation of the gospel. The mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart.[71] Confessions of faith as a verbal witness to biblical truths cannot be overlooked in Christian practice. Bruce Barron notes the devotional worth of positive confession,

Positive confession does have valuable uses. (Charles) Capps, for example, encourages Christians to learn key Scriptures and recite them regularly in order to remind themselves that God wants to meet their needs, comfort and strengthen them and free them from the bondage of worry and fear. Though some of the verses he selects seem to have been taken out of context, the general idea that God’s Word can conquer negativism and bring victory is a true and proper emphasis.[72]

The weakness in the word of faith doctrine of positive confession is the emphasis on the words themselves and their efficacious nature to create reality.[73] The claim that faith as spoken over human lips has the power to create contradicts the word of faith insistence upon God’s provision for human need. It destroys whatever positive components the doctrine may contain. Ultimately, it breaks the most fundamental characteristic of God’s nature, his unique ability to create reality.

The reconstruction of this doctrine consists in making a shift from a fidecentric confession to a theocentric confession. This shift places the power not upon the words of faith themselves, but on God’s sovereign choice to honor (or not to honor) what is spoken. This frees God to operate in his sovereignty, which can be trampled under the current state of word of faith theology. God is not compelled to honor the confession of faith by some higher spiritual law. God is not compelled to move upon the behalf of the confessor because of the confessor’s “legal rights.” God is not overwhelmed by a (faith?) force and obligated to submit to the verbal commands of any person. The theological shift demystifies “faith-filled words” from mystical power to initiatory request and devotional worship. The confession of faith in this manner is only as powerful as God’s desire to act in accordance to the word spoken. This takes into account God’s freedom to act in his preordained time. This theological innovation of confessing not just sin, but confessing the truth of God’s word cannot be lost in the process of reconstruction. Yet the spirit of the practice – which pertains to confessing statements within the boundary of Scripture – must replace the unfortunate practice of confessing things outside of God’s purposes.

The mystery of God is also incorporated by making a shift to a theocentric confession of faith. God in the innumerable dimensions of his nature contains an element of mystery. When a theological system removes all mystery from God and his action in history (as is the common assumption in the word of faith movement), that system ceases to relate to the God of Scripture. Old Testament theology proclaims a transcendent God. The worshiper of Yahweh experiences a God whose actions defy human comprehension. Worshipers stand in holy awe of the God who declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[74] From this perspective, confessions of faith can be made in a spirit of holy fear, culminating in a greater faith that is empowered by a transcendent God who controls the outcome.


Reconstructing Healing

The context in which observers most readily see the nature of faith from a word of faith perspective in operation is in the ministry of divine healing. The active practice of healing in the word of faith movement has also been a touchstone for some of the critiques of the movement. The emphasis on healing affirms the Holiness/Pentecostal roots of the faith movement not only in praxis, but theology. Pentecostal theology roots healing in the atonement of Christ. The word of faith theology of healing consistently uses this soteriological approach in that redemption purchased a “double cure,” both the forgiveness of sins and healing of the body. The most distinguishable characteristic of healing in word of faith theology is the accentuation of faith as the primary variable in the reception of divine healing. Faith was certainly a part of the theological forerunners of Hagin, but faith did not receive the same emphasis by the Pentecostal and pre-Pentecostal healers. For example, Dowie writes,

I do not like the term, Faith Healing…. While faith is a very precious grace, yet it is only the medium of the communication of God’s infinite love and power, and we must never put it in the place of God Himself. There I am glad the subject is expressed in the words Divine healing, or ‘Healing through Faith in Jesus;’ not healing by faith, but THROUGH faith; through faith in Jesus, by the power of God (emphasis his). [75]

Dowie was aware that faith had the potential to replace the power of God as the source of healing. Thus he notes in his initial remarks concerning healing that he does not prefer the term “faith healing.” For Hagin and the leaders of the word of faith movement, “faith healing” is an appropriate title, because faith is central in the appropriation of healing even above the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, in his 30-page book Healing Belongs to Us, Hagin emphasizes the role of “faith” or “believing” in the process of divine healing approximately 58 times in brief commentaries and anecdotes.[76] In one reference Hagin writes,

Why doesn’t the manifestation (of healing) always come instantly? There are several reasons. One is that healing is by degree, based on two conditions: (1) the degree of healing virtue ministered; (2) the degree of the individual’s faith that gives action to that healing virtue. If there is no faith to give action to it, it will not be manifested at all, even though the healing virtue is actually ministered.

Hagin’s exaltation of faith over spiritual power is a deviation from classical Pentecostal theology with its soteriological and pneumatological roots of healing. Faith has always been an integral part of Pentecostal healing, but it has been subordinate to “the power of the Lord present to heal.”

Faith as a positive component in the healing process is a biblical concept. Jesus often draws attention to the faith of the ones receiving healing by using the phrase “your faith has healed you.”[77] In the explanation of the healing of the man at the Gate Beautiful, Peter emphatically testifies, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”[78] Paul healed a man in Lystra upon detecting faith in the man.[79] James includes the prayer of faith as prescriptive in the sacrament of healing to be ministered by church elders.[80] Yet word of faith theology takes this biblical truth to an unbiblical extreme by creating a system that draws a “strict causality between faith and healing” as noted by Ken Blue.[81] By this, word of faith theology absolutizes the relative by assuming that faith is the absolute prerequisite to divine healing.

A reconstruction of the word of faith doctrine of healing includes a decentralizing (without eliminating) the role of faith in healing. The direct cause and effect relationship between faith and healing in the word of faith movement is a pitfall of pastoral problems. If faith is the only variable to receiving healing and a sick person does not experience healing, the person can only look to their own lack of sufficient faith. The inevitable conclusion is for the sick person to question the quality of their faith. This centralized role of faith causes the attention to be on faith itself and not God, the intended object of faith. Thus the degree of expectation (faith) is in the sick person’s faith and not God. Francis MacNutt testifies, “My faith is not in my faith. My faith opens up doubts once I begin to look at its quality…. Once we look at our faith, however, rather than at God, we concentrate on our own inadequacy.”[82] Determining the quality of faith in healing is counterproductive from a pastoral perspective and biblically unsubstantiated. In the healing process, faith is necessary, but relative. God is the absolute and faith for healing is relative to God’s purposes and God’s timing. This reconstructed theology of healing celebrates aggressive faith, but only to the degree that faith maintains an external focus on the agent of healing – Christ the healer.

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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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