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William Atkinson: The Spiritual Death of Jesus

Atkinson is very methodical in his analysis, making his book easy to read and its arguments easy to follow. The work is divided into seven sections, each concluding with a summary, implications and key observations to assist further debate on the topic.

These seven sections are laid out as follows:

  • This is a survey of the Word of Faith movement, the key three men whose influence has shaped and propagated the teaching of JDS, and the research and critiques that have been written to date. The author offers a thorough review of the discussions and books written so far on the topic, both for and against JDS and Word of Faith theology.
  • The author states his methodology and the scope and purpose of his investigation. This section is very detailed. Specifically, the author, as a Pentecostal himself, wants to know if the teaching of JDS stands up against historic Christianity.
  • This is an investigation as to whether Jesus had to die spiritually, and not just physically, to save humanity from sin and sickness.
  • In his supposed spiritual death, was Jesus separated from God the Father?
  • Did Jesus partake of a satanic nature?
  • Did Jesus became Satan’s prey?
  • The author concludes with summary statements and implications of the whole system of theology that JDS assumes.

The Word of Faith movement has its roots in Pentecostalism and healing revivals, but goes beyond them with particular emphasis on the need to speak out faith in order to receive the Lord’s blessings, such as healing and wealth. The author ironically observes that while the teaching of JDS downplays the physical death of Jesus and exalts a spiritual death, the blessings of health and wealth are not spiritual but physical.

This teaching has created a distinctive view of salvation history that assumes:

  • Man was created spiritual as a god-like being.
  • Adam’s sin was high treason which transferred dominion over creation to Satan.
  • The redemption of Christ is to win their forgiveness and to claim this authority back for humanity.
  • The atonement demanded the spiritual death of Jesus, requiring that he would be spiritually separated from his Father, take on a satanic nature and became Satan’s prey for three days which he spent in hell.
  • Redeemed humanity is destined to share God’s nature, a destiny into which it is possible even now, in this life, to enter by faith.

The author will go on to prove that JDS teaching emphasizes that God is more concerned about justice than the truth that God is love. There is an assumed God-Satan dualism in the teaching. It is taught that humanity was created for the lonely heart of God, and man was to be the ‘god of this world’. In JDS teaching, man is rigidly ‘pneumocentric’ and is a trichotomy of spirit, soul and body. Without this assumption, JDS teaching would fall apart. The position of JDS proponents is that, ‘I am a spirit, I have soul and I live in a body’. This is a pneumocentric trichotomy that interacts with JDS in that its promotion of the spiritual over the physical and soul leads to the contention that atonement could not have been achieved unless Jesus died spiritually.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2015

About the Author: Eugene Smith currently pastors a church in Northern Ireland. He spent over thirteen years in global ministry, constantly travelling from country to country as a missionary teacher, participating in pastors’ seminars, conferences, Bible schools and church services. Eugene has a strong burden that Spirit and Word be brought together to speak with one voice.

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