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

 

Other classic faith leaders cite Galatians 3:13 in relation to the blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy 28. Jessie Penn-Lewis quoted Andrew Murray in connecting redemption from the curse in Galatians 3:13 with the curses of Deuteronomy: “The cross and the curse are inseparable.”19 Although some, like Spurgeon, take the blessings and curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy 28 in a literal, physical sense as applied to believers, A.B. Simpson stressed that they primarily apply to the church as spiritual Israel spiritually, not materially.20 Further, they belong to the Mosaic covenant, and are only types of the New Covenant. Some modern faith teaching confuses what belongs to the Mosaic covenant and what belongs to the Abrahamic covenant, thus, mistakenly identifying the material blessings in this Scripture with the Abrahamic covenant.21

By so casually rejecting the interpretative connection between Deuteronomy 28 and Galatians 3:13 understood by other older evangelical commentators, Hanegraaff finds himself in the questionable position of accusing people like Spurgeon of text abuse. Hanegraaff fails to understand that the problem with modern faith teaching is not in textual abuse of the verses, but in misapplication, by over-emphasizing the “already” to the neglect of the “not yet.” The interpretative connection between the verses is validated by many classic faith leaders.22

 

Faith as a Law

“The best remedy for the abuse of anything is its wise and proper use.”     — A.B. Simpson

Modern faith leaders teach that faith is a law, like the law of gravity. Hanegraaff and McConnell claim that the idea of a law of faith is of secular metaphysical origin.23 McConnell declares, “the prosperity of both the metaphysical cults and the Faith theology is based on personal knowledge of how to manipulate spiritual laws rather than personal trust in the provision of a sovereign God.”24 The valid practical concern expressed by McConnell and Hanegraaff involves the proverbial “tail wagging the dog”—the tendency to manipulate for one’s own purposes and the danger of deflating God’s sovereign will and inflating man’s sovereignty.25 McConnell presupposes that because of the similarity between metaphysical New Thought and modern faith teaching regarding spiritual laws such teaching is ipso facto metaphysical. On the contrary, many evangelical holiness leaders from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also taught a law of faith. The idea of spiritual laws corresponding to natural laws was a common theme in nineteenth-century theological writing.26 As a result of Sir Isaac Newton’s studies of natural law and his discovery of the law of gravitation, it became common in religious circles to speak of the existence of spiritual laws as well.

As early as the seventeenth century, French mystic Grou wrote of love as a law.27 Prefiguring modern faith teaching by more than a century, Palmer, in the Methodist tradition, indicated there are “laws which govern God’s ‘moral universe’ just as there are laws governing the physical universe.”28 Spurgeon, in fact, suggested, “Perhaps there are other forces and laws that He has arranged to bring into action just at the times when prayer also acts—laws just as fixed and forces just as natural as those that our learned theorizers have been able to discover. The wisest men do not know all the laws that govern the universe.”29 Congregational philosopher Thomas Upham and Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith compared the law of faith to magnetism or the law of gravity.30 These evangelical leaders (and others such as Simpson, Murray, and Pierson) did not accept metaphysical teaching, yet they used the terminology of faith as a law.31 Hunt correctly criticizes modern faith leaders for teaching that unbelievers can tap into this law of faith and do great miracles.32 Most classic faith leaders, on the contrary, do not teach this.33 Rather than tapping into the law of faith, many of the classic faith leaders would concur with Penn-Lewis, who believed that unbelievers (and sometimes believers) exercise what she called “soul force,” and with Watchman Nee who called it “the latent power of the soul.”34

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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. www.paulkingministries.com/

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