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Theological Roots of the Word of Faith Movement: New Thought Metaphysics or Classic Faith Movements?


Most of Kenyon’s thought, then, remained in the sphere of orthodox evangelical teaching represented by the Keswick/Higher Life movement, although he acquired some ideas that would be considered unusual, stretching the limits of orthodoxy.7 Kenneth Hagin, who is considered the most widespread popularizer of modern faith teaching, draws the majority of his teaching from Kenyon, but also acknowledges the influence of evangelical and Higher Life leaders Müller, Spurgeon, Simpson, T.J. McCrossan, J.A. MacMillan and Pentecostal leaders John G. Lake and Smith Wigglesworth.

“Never allow the abuse of a doctrine to cancel out its use.”         — A. W. Tozer

My Doctor of Theology thesis for the University of South Africa, A Practical-Theological Investigation of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century “Faith Theologies,sought to strike a balance between hyper-faith and anti-faith movement polarities, in which some of the modern faith teachings and practices are recognized as biblically legitimate, while some of the anti-faith camp’s concerns are also recognized as valid.8 I endeavored to recover the earliest evangelical teachings and practices on faith distinguishing, on one hand, contemporary variations and modifications which have resulted in excesses and extremes, and, on the other hand, avoiding the skeptical criticism that has pigeonholed all modern faith teaching as unorthodox and heretical. My approach was to explore what I call “classic” faith teachings and practice, that is, primarily 19th and early 20th century Wesleyan, Keswick, Higher Life, and faith healing movements (as well as earlier samplings from church fathers, Pietists, Puritans, Reformers and mystics), researching and comparing and contrasting what they taught and practiced regarding contemporary issues of faith theology and practice, with what is taught today.

The teachings of these evangelical leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century holiness and healing movements, what I am calling the “classic faith” movement, emphasize many principles of faith similar to modern faith movement, though there are important differences as well.9 Scholars have recognized the healing and holiness movements of the nineteenth century as forerunners to the Pentecostal and modern faith movements.10 For example, Chappell affirms, “The Holiness movement provided the theological environment for faith healing in America.”11

Examination of church history reveals that seeds of faith were planted, then germinated and grew into greater movements of faith.12 What began with a few individuals continued to expand in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a revival of faith.13 The nineteenth-century “Higher Life” holiness movement was sometimes called “the life of faith.”14 This classic faith movement was interdenominational in scope and included people of a wide variety of theological persuasions—Presbyterian (Simpson, Boardman, Pierson), Lutheran (Francke, Blumhardt, Stockmayer), Baptist (A. J. Gordon, Spurgeon, Meyer, Chambers), Methodist (Palmer, Bounds), Quaker (Hannah Whitall Smith), Congregational (Upham, Finney, Torrey, Bushnell), Plymouth Brethren (Müller, Nee), Dutch Reformed (Murray), Episcopalian (Cullis, Montgomery). The classic faith movement was also international, beginning in mainland Europe (emerging out of Pietism—Blumhardt, Trudel, Stockmayer) and spreading to England (Müller, Spurgeon, Taylor, Meyer, Penn-Lewis, Chambers), South Africa (Murray), Asia (Taylor, Carmichael, Nee) and America (Moody, Gordon, Simpson, Torrey).

In this brief study we will look at five of the modern faith concepts considered illegitimate by their critics, and demonstrate their roots in classic faith teaching: 1) blessings of Deuteronomy 28 applied to the believer, 2) faith as a law, 3) faith as a force, 4) the faith of God, 5) revelation and sense knowledge.


Blessings of Deuteronomy 28 for the Believer

Modern faith leaders take the blessings and curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy 28 in a literal, physical sense as applied to believers today, citing Galatians 3:13 as the New Testament support for this belief.15 Hanegraaff contends that this is “another example of text abuse.”16 However, he does not realize that classic evangelical leaders also make this connection, teaching from Deuteronomy 28:13 that believers are “the head and not the tail, above and not beneath.” This interpretation finds its roots in Puritanism, as seventeenth-century Puritan leader Thomas Brooks claimed this Scripture, asserting, “There will come a time, even in this life, in this world, when the reproach and contempt that is now cast on the ways of God, by reason of poverty and paucity of those that walk in those ways, shall be quite taken away, by his making them the head that have days without number been the tail, and by his raising them up to much outward riches, prosperity, and glory, who have been as the outcast because of their poverty and paucity.”17 If we did not know that this statement came from Puritanism, we might assume that it came from the pen of one of the modern faith leaders.

Carrying it over into nineteenth-century evangelical teaching, Spurgeon, known as “the last of the Puritans,” also claimed this Scripture: “Though this be a promise of the law, yet it stands good to the people of God; for Jesus has removed the curse, but He has established the blessing. It is for saints to lead the way among men by holy influence; they are not to be the tail, to be dragged hither and thither by others. … Are we not in Christ made kings to reign upon the earth?”18

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Category: Church History, Spring 2011

About the Author: Paul L. King holds a D.Min from Oral Roberts University and a D.Th. from the University of South Africa. He served for 16 years on the faculty of Oral Roberts University as Coordinator of Bible Institute programs and Adjunct Professor in the College of Theology and Ministry. Author of 12 books and more than 60 articles, he was ORU 2006 Scholar of the Year. He has also served as Scholar-at-Large for the D.Min. program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry Mentor for the Randy Clark Scholars program at United Theological Seminary and Global Awakening Theological Seminary, Leadership and Church Ministry Consultant and Trainer, an ordained pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Interim Consulting Pastor for the Plano (Texas) Chinese Alliance Church, and Faculty Director of Purdue Ratio Christi/Christian Faculty and Staff Network. His books include God's Healing Arsenal: A Divine Battle Plan for Overcoming Distress and Disease (2011), Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (2009), Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies (2008), Genuine Gold: The Cautiously Charismatic Story of the Early Christian and Missionary Alliance (2006), Binding & Loosing: Exercising Authority over the Dark Powers (1999), and A Believer with Authority: The Life and Message of John A. MacMillan. Twitter: @PaulLKing.

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