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

 

The rightness of grammatical interpretations may be argued, but for Hanegraaff to say that the “faith of God” interpretation held by a host of evangelical leaders and scholars is a “perversion” obviously goes too far.48 There is thus great debate among scholars regarding the appropriate translation. One Greek scholar friend remarked that such passages are “divinely ambiguous” so as to allow both interpretations, perhaps intended to be a double entendre.

 

Revelation and Sense Knowledge

Kenyon and modern faith teaching commonly distinguish between “revelation knowledge” (which comes from faith and revelation from God) and “sense knowledge” (which comes from the five senses and reason). McConnell claims Kenyon’s concept is a rebirth of the ancient heresy of gnosticism:

The major epistemological error of the metaphysical cults incorporated into Kenyon’s doctrine of Revelation Knowledge is that of gnosticism. … We are not implying that there is a direct historical connection between the Faith theology and ancient gnosticism. The gnostic concept of knowledge does, however, have strong parallels in thought with the metaphysical cults. Through Kenyon, these parallels found their way into the Faith theology.49

Hanegraaff also castigates the revelation knowledge concept as a cover-up for misinterpreting Scripture by claiming revelation from God, citing examples of heretical teaching passed off as revelation knowledge.50

However, the second century theologian Clement of Alexandria, when refuting gnosticism, distinguished between knowledge by reasoning or the senses and knowledge by revelation in an excerpt entitled “First Principles of Faith”:

This type of reasoning knowledge is dependent upon our senses—that is, our abilities to see, feel, hear, touch, and taste. Through sensing we are led to reasoning and understanding. From understanding, to knowledge. And then we form our opinions. But far above this way of knowing are the first principles of our knowledge—the knowledge of God, given to us by revelation. For the principles of our faith were revealed to us by God, from above, by the Spirit. … For whatever your human senses insist that you believe must be brought under the spirit (italics mine).51

The “first principles” are the essences or self-evident truths discussed by Aristotle.52 This citation from Clement is significant because it clearly demonstrates, contrary to McConnell, that the seemingly dualistic concepts of revelation and sense knowledge are not inherently gnostic, since Clement uses the terms in refutation of gnosticism.

Jan Hus also differentiated between the senses and “the faith which comes from divine knowledge.”53 The anonymous fourteenth century writing The Cloud of Unknowing similarly distinguished “sense knowledge” and “spiritual knowledge.”54 Others who made a similar distinction include Jacob Böhme, William Law and A.T. Pierson.55 Oswald Chambers, in language strikingly similar to (yet predating) Kenyon, used the terms “revelation sense” or “revelation facts.”56 Kenyon’s phraseology is so similar that one may wonder if he may have borrowed it from one of these earlier sources. More recently, Corrie Ten Boom (who was familiar with Kenyon’s teachings and circulated his writings) and A.W. Tozer use similar concepts and/or terminology.57

Just because some have used the concepts of revelation and sense knowledge in seemingly gnostic ways does not invalidate the concept of revelation and sense knowledge altogether. This investigation has shown that the distinction between the two kinds of knowledge has existed throughout church history in some form.58 Practically speaking, sense knowledge through reason, the senses, common sense, etc., has a valid place in the believer’s life, contrary to what some modern faith teaching implies. Yet the modern faith elevation of revelation knowledge above and beyond sense knowledge has solid support from classic faith leaders, so long as sense knowledge is not denied altogether.

Certainly, not all modern faith teaching is derived from classic faith teaching.

Some people tend to exalt revelation knowledge as equal to or above Scripture. This is not what Kenyon intended, for he understood revelation knowledge to be the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture. However, there have been abuses of the revelation knowledge concept. There is thus a real danger of regarding revelation knowledge in an elitist, therefore gnostic, way of knowing, and hence the need for discernment of impressions and revelations from the Lord.

 

Additional Comparisons and Contrasts

Because of the limitations of this paper, I have been able to give only a sampling of parallels. Additional modern faith concepts I cover in my dissertation that find their roots in classic faith teaching, include: the authority of the believer, acting and claiming in faith, logos and rhema, healing in the atonement, positive mental attitude, positive confession, prosperity, point of contact, living a long healthy life, the problem of praying “if it be Thy will.” These concepts are found especially, but not exclusively, in the Wesleyan, Keswick, and Higher Life movements.

This is not to say that all modern faith teaching is derived from classic faith teaching. My research has revealed that classic faith leaders sometimes have been, along with anti-faith critics, in disagreement with modern faith leaders. Some of the areas in which some modern faith leaders have deviated from classic faith teaching include: having faith in one’s self or one’s own faith, faith as the source of healing, faith as an impersonal force that can be manipulated even by unbelievers, words as a container of faith or creator of reality, demanding from or controlling God, always praying only once, “name it and claim it” theology, and many others.59

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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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