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

 

None of these classic faith writers were in any way associated with metaphysical cults. These writers speak of spiritual laws, not metaphysically or deistically, but of spiritual principles of life by which God operates or consistent spiritual patterns of working that are designated as laws. On the other hand, God is not controlled by these laws as metaphysical as some modern faith teachers seem to imply, but God controls these laws. Modern faith teachers need to be careful of the language they use and the practical implications they draw when they speak of faith as a law. Anti-faith critics need to understand that the concept of faith as a law can be validly taught without implying a deistic or metaphysical connection.

 

Faith as a Force

As an extension of faith as a law, modern faith teachers also teach that faith is a force that must be exercised. McConnell considers the concept heretical:

In describing faith as a ‘force’ with which the believer can ‘move things,’ the Faith theology depersonalizes God. It renders him an impersonal force that must do man’s bidding because it is capable of doing nothing else. The ‘Force of Faith’ is, in reality, ‘Faith in the Force.’ Just as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy learns how to manipulate ‘the good side of the Force’ with his mind control, so also the Faith theology teaches how to manipulate the Faith god with positive confession”35

Hanegraaff, drawing upon McConnell, also condemns this concept as metaphysical and cultic, claiming that it is “deadly error,” derived from New Thought metaphysics.36 To them, the idea of forces that correspond to laws, like “the law of attraction,” is anti-biblical metaphysics. They view the idea of faith as a force as an impersonal force that manipulates and binds God, making man sovereign by his words of faith.

Many of the modern faith controversies could have been avoided if their leaders had been more careful communicators of their own roots.

However, the nineteenth-century evangelical idea of forces in the spiritual realm is derived additionally from an understanding of spiritual laws. Where there are spiritual laws, they believed, there are spiritual forces corresponding to those laws. Spurgeon and his interim successor Pierson wrote of spiritual forces likened to an electrical current.37 The metaphors used to describe spiritual forces abound among these classic evangelical writers. They also conceived of the laws of spiritual forces as an energy force, force of gravity, magnetic force, an initiating force like a spring or as a creative force, life forces, a water current, a wind an overcoming or controlling force, spirit force, centripetal force.38

With a kaleidoscopic understanding of spiritual forces among classic faith leaders (including love, the Word of God, prayer, and even God Himself as forces), it becomes a natural progression to view faith as a force. If God Himself is a living force, then as Simpson described it, faith emanates as a force from the character of God, from His omnipotence, as “one of the attributes of God Himself.”39 In particular, faith is viewed as the force of an electric current (Spurgeon, Simpson), a creative force (Spurgeon, Smith, Simpson), the force of a water current (Murray), an energy force (Smith), and the force of a spring (Spurgeon, Charles Price).40

It is obvious that modern teaching on faith as a force is derived from classic evangelical faith teaching. Thus McConnell’s and Hanegraaff’s claim that the concept of faith as a force is derived from heretical and cultic New Thought metaphysics is clearly in error. This does not mean, however, that everything taught by modern faith teachers about faith as a force is valid.41 It should be noted that there are dissimilarities as well as similarities between classic and modern faith teaching.

 

The Faith of God

On the basis of absence of the preposition “in” in the Greek construction of Mark 11:22, modern faith leaders interpret the clause “Have faith in God” as “have the faith of God” or the “God kind of faith.” McConnell and Hanegraaff declare the “faith of God” or the “God kind of faith” concept as false teaching and a “perversion,” avowing that interpreting the phrase in Mark 11:22 as a subjective genitive is not accepted by any scholars.42 However, McConnell ignores the fact that his own mentor and critic of the modern faith movement, Oral Roberts University professor Charles Farah, validates this interpretation,43 also citing Pentecostal evangelist Charles Price, who also was knowledgeable of Greek grammar.44

Though “faith in God” as an objective genitive generally may be the favored interpretation today, the concept of “faith of God” as a secondary or alternative translation is by no means uncommon among evangelical leaders and scholars, and is found in some form among several eighteenth and nineteenth century commentaries.45 Even as early as 1380 Wyclif translated it “haue ye the feith of God.”46 The “faith of God” translation of Mark 11:22 was interpreted in at least six ways among classic faith leaders, sometimes combined together: (1) God as the source or author of faith, (2) the faithfulness of God, (3) the faith exercised by Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20), (4) God’s own faith—the faith that God possesses and exercises as a part of His nature, (5) special mountain-moving faith, not everyday faith, or (6) as a double entendre, allowing for both interpretations, faith in God and the faith of God.47

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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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