Faith, Health and Prosperity
Andrew Perriman, ed.
Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003
316 pages $23
WHAT do Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Morris Cerullo, Benny Hinn and Rhema Bible College have in common?
They are American-based with influence stretching all over the world through their publications, tapes and television programmes. They are better known, however, as the main proponents of what has now been commonly referred to as the Word-Faith movement, also variously described as “Word of Faith”, “Positive Confession” and “Health and Wealth Gospel”.
In recent years, as the “Health and Wealth Gospel” begins to attract more followers, more mainline church members and pastors are now buying their books and promoting their teachings.
Many Word-Faith preachers have Pentecostal root. But their teachings, influenced in many ways by the mystic E. W. Kenyon whose works were plagiarised by Hagin, are at odds with today’s mainstream Assemblies of God. Mainstream Pentecostals, represented by widely respected scholars like Gordon D. Fee and Wonsuk Ma, are not afraid to engage in responsible in-depth theological exploration and the pursuit of excellence in biblical scholarship, something which the Word-Faith preachers have no interest in. They eschew rigorous theological inquiry and are satisfied with making assertions and building their teachings on suspect grounds.
It should be said, nevertheless, that the Word-Faith teachings do have able supporters. The best defence of the movement is provided by William DeArteaga in Quenching the Spirit, (Creation House). However, fair-minded Christians who are sympathetic to the charismatic expression of faith, like Bruce Barron, in The Health and Wealth Gospel, (IVP), Gordon Fee, in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, (Regent College), and Robert Bowman, Jr, in The Word-Faith Controversy (Baker), have critiqued the dangerous claims of the Word-Faith proponents and the superficiality of their teachings. Other voices taking a more critical approach like D. McConnell, A Different Gospel (Hendricksen), Dave Hunt and T. A. MacMahon, The Seduction of Christianity (Harvest House) and Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis, (Harvest House), have judged the teachings of the Word-Faith movement to be New Age and cultic.
The books mentioned above represent a fair spectrum of views on the controversies emanating from the Word-Faith teachings. Ideally, Christians should read all the books cited plus the books authored by the leading Word-Faith preachers. But if there is just one book to read – one that is helpful, thorough, and gives a balanced assessment of the Word-Faith teachings – it is the book under review.
This book, commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance of UK, is the fruit of a study done by a group of British theologians. Part one of the book surveys the main teachings and history of the Word-Faith movement. Part two examines the claims of the Word-Faith preachers. It evaluates the way the preachers have interpreted the Bible, where they might have erred in interpretation and where they might have been selective in their choice of texts to propagate their teachings.
To their credit, the authors acknowledge that Hagin et al have a few lessons which the church can learn from. However, the findings of the study group have uncovered serious errors in interpretation and teachings. There are also valid questions raised on ethical issues which Word-Faith preachers have got themselves into but have not adequately addressed.
Doctrinally, the main contention is the teachings about Christ, His atonement and our identity as Christians. This impinges on our understanding of soteriology and the practice of faith.
Did Jesus die a second death, as the preachers seem to suggest that He did? How much are we the same as Christ? And do we share the same authority which Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God exercised? Are we “incarnate”, as the preachers seem to say we are, the way Jesus is recognised by the Church as the Incarnate Son of God? Is salvation an invitation to material wealth and good health?
If Copeland’s illustration of salvation as a ticket that pays for all the luxury and first-class meals in a cruise is to be taken seriously, is salvation then a free ticket for all to lay claim on all the material benefits in this world?
There is a widespread teaching that impresses on followers to give in faith and expect a one hundred-fold return. Scripture is (mis)used to support such teaching. Pause for a while and ask a simple question. In practice who are the main beneficiaries of the health and wealth gospel? Are they not, first and foremost, the preachers themselves and the ministries owned by them? Are they not serving their own interest – even if this is not disclosed or is denied – for them to continue asking for generous giving couched in terms of supporting their ministries?
The Rev Dr Daniel Koh Kah Soon is the District Superintendent (West) of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) and a lecturer at Trinity Theological College.