Jesus Wore Designer Underwear …

Jesus Wore Designer Underwear …
And other odd notions of the Health and Wealth Gospel
Paul Thigpen

© 2001 by Paul Thigpen

My father was dying of lung cancer. A devout Baptist Christian, Dad had steeled himself to live out his last weeks with faith, courage, and remarkably good cheer. Meanwhile, all the rest of us were bracing ourselves for the dark day we knew would soon come-all of us, that is, except one member of the immediate family and his wife.

That couple, members of a Pentecostal congregation, had written out a Scripture verse on a small card and taped it to my father's bathroom mirror. In words from the King James Version of the Bible, the card said: "I shall not die, but live; and declare the works of the Lord" (Ps. 118:17).

When I read the verse, I asked Dad why it was there. He said that these family members had told him to read it several times a day and to "claim" it as a personal promise from God. If he truly had faith, they insisted, he would surely be healed.

"And if you're not healed?" I asked.

"Well," he said with a puzzled look, "I guess that would mean I didn't have enough faith. If I die, it would be my fault."

And so began a long conversation about faith, suffering and the providence of God. I too was a Pentecostal at the time, yet I hastened to assure Dad that our well-meaning relatives were mistaken. The Lord could certainly work a miracle and cure the cancer if He chose to do so; I personally knew other Christians who had experienced miraculous healings. But if death came, it wouldn't be Dad's fault for failing to "exercise his faith." It would simply be Dad's time to go. In the meantime, he was already demonstrating genuine faith by entrusting himself to God's will with confidence in His love, wisdom and power.

A few months later, Dad was gone. The grieving process was complicated for many of us by the knowledge that in his last days, in addition to the terrible burden he already carried, Dad had been forced to wrestle with the idea that his own "weak" faith was somehow responsible for the illness.

All that took place nearly twenty years ago. The couple involved eventually outgrew such a naïve view of faith, but sadly enough, in the meantime the adherents of that mistaken view have multiplied. The notion that Christians can always "claim" divine healing-and wealth as well-and then obtain it by sufficient faith is only one of a set of interrelated, often bizarre teachings found throughout much of the American Pentecostal community and beyond. These doctrines are propagated by highly visible, widely influential teachers who claim an extensive following commonly known as the "Word of Faith" or "Positive Confession" movement. Critics of these teachers, on the other hand, have labeled their ideas the "Health and Wealth Gospel," "the Prosperity Gospel," or (less charitably) the "Name it and claim it" or "Blab it and grab it" Gospel.

How did this movement arise, and how far does it extend? What exactly do its leaders preach, and why are these ideas both popular and dangerous? Finally, how can a Catholic apologist help a "Word of Faith" believer find the truth-both about the Word and about faith? To answer these questions, we have to start with a look at religion in nineteenth-century America.

The Origins of the Movement

The Word of Faith movement finds its roots in two larger, earlier religious movements that began in the U.S. The first was an essentially non-Christian movement called New Thought, and the second was the Christian Pentecostal movement.

New Thought was primarily a collection of spin-offs from Christian Science, the 19th-century creation of the religious healer and teacher Mary Baker Eddy. Neither Christian nor scientific, Eddy's new religion drew from ultimately occult and Eastern sources to proclaim that God (or Mind) is the only thing that truly exists; that the world of the senses is unreal, or mere "belief"; and that matter, sin, pain, disease and death are only "illusions." Once enlightened to these truths, she insisted, the believer could overcome the undesirable "illusions" and be healed by thinking the right thoughts and affirming the "reality" of health instead.

Soon a number of breakaway Eddy disciples had planted a whole new crop of religions promising divine healing: "Divine Science," "Religious Science," "Science of Mind," "The Unity School of Christianity," and many others. Under the collective designation "New Thought," they shared Eddy's basic premise that right thought and speech are the path to experiencing health, wealth and happiness.

New Thought in turn helped shaped some religious leaders who were closer to more traditional Christian teaching, such as Norman Vincent Peale, whose bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) sold two million copies with its promises of personal success. E. W. Kenyon, a Baptist preacher whose extensive labors spanned many decades, attended a New Thought college in Boston. Through his pioneering radio ministry in southern California, Kenyon scattered widely some of that movement's distinctive ideas about the power of the believers' thoughts and words.

Kenyon also maintained contacts within the burgeoning Pentecostal movement, the second source of Word of Faith teaching. As New Thought multiplied, a wave of interest in divine healing was moving through more traditional Christian circles as well. In the sixteenth-century Reformation, John Calvin and certain other Protestant leaders had rejected the Catholic teaching that miracles had continued after biblical times and down to the present. But many members of the Methodist and Holiness denominations were now challenging that position. Returning to a more Catholic understanding of grace, these new Pentecostals concluded that God can and does still work supernaturally today through spiritual charisms such as healing, miracle working, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and reading of souls, and that these gifts are often mediated through human words and actions.

The Pentecostal concern with physical healing and its focus on the power of the spoken word in tongues and prophecy no doubt spurred interest in Kenyon's New Thought-inspired ideas. He was widely read and quoted by several leading Pentecostal "faith healers," and his works apparently helped shape the thought of the man widely recognized as the father of the Word of Faith movement: Kenneth E. Hagin. The Kenyon-Hagin connection has been disputed; Hagin himself denies that Kenyon was much of an influence in his life. Yet numerous texts in Hagin's sermons and writings follow Kenyon's words exactly or almost exactly, so the connection seems difficult to deny. Hagin, in turn, has made countless disciples who mimic his teachings and press them to new extremes of strangeness. (1)

The Scope of the Movement

One of Hagin's most famous, and most telling, sayings comes in fact directly from Kenyon: "What I confess, I possess." At the heart of the Word of Faith teaching is the notion that what we state with our mouths in faith, we literally bring into reality. If we "confess" health, wealth and success, believing that we have them, then they will certainly come to pass. The Christian believer has a divine "right" to such blessings. (2)

Offering this and other appealing promises, and backed up by claims that God Himself has revealed this message to Hagin in supernatural visions and apparitions, such teaching has found a ready audience. By the mid-1990s, Hagin's radio show had been picked up by hundreds of stations; his Bible training school near Tulsa had graduated well over 2,000 students in a decade, many of whom went on to become influential pastors and televangelists; his Word of Faith magazine had reached a circulation of nearly 400,000; and his books had sold more than 47 million copies, with translations into 26 languages. Hagin's annual "camp meetings" have boasted an attendance of upwards of 20,000 participants.

Yet Hagin's phenomenal popularity represents only a small portion of the faith teacher's influence. Among those in his camp are some of the "hottest" TV preachers in America and around the globe: Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, Frederick K. C. Price, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey, and the infamous Benny Hinn. (To choreograph his role as a huckster healer in the movie Leap of Faith, comedian Steve Martin watched videos of Hinn's gyrations on stage.) The pastor of the world's largest congregation (more than 700,000 members), Paul Yonggi Cho, preaches a Korean version of the Word of Faith vision. The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has become a major proponent of the teachings, bringing them into 16 million American homes through cable alone. TBN also owns or carries several hundred stations and as of 1991 had an estimated net worth of half a billion dollars.

How is such a vast ministry financed? The emphasis on "faith" provides an easy source of revenue. Word of Faith preachers have developed a variety of appeals for money, but most can be summarized this way: "If you want prosperity, you must have faith that God is sending it on its way to you now; and the best way to prove you have such faith is to give away what little you have now even before prosperity arrives (and, of course, you should give it to my ministry). What you give is a 'seed' you plant to reap a hundredfold harvest. Send your money to me, and God will multiply it back to you many times over. It's all a matter of faith."

The strategy has worked fabulously. Some TV preachers-most notoriously, Robert Tilton-have flaunted the resulting accumulation of wealth as "proof" that faith "works" to make believers rich. Meanwhile, their followers continue to send in money with the hope that their own day of reward is not far off.

The Teachings of the Movement

The label "name it and claim it" has been criticized as an unfair generalization by some who are sympathetic to the faith message. Of course, any generalization of a movement this large has its pitfalls: Certainly not everyone who belongs to a Word of Faith congregation or who applauds Benny Hinn's antics holds to every doctrine taught by every TBN celebrity, nor do these celebrities all agree among themselves.

Nevertheless, the phrase "name it and claim it" in many ways cuts right to the heart of the Word of Faith theology. Its foundational assumptions can be summarized this way:

· Faith has a kind of primordial existence as an emanation of God. Faith, which originates "inside the being of God," is the "substance" from which all things are made, a "force" that makes things operate. According to faith teacher Charles Capps, "Some think that God made the earth of out nothing, but He didn't. He made it out of something. The substance God used was faith." Kenneth Copeland insists that "it is the force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function." (3)

· Even God is dependent on this "force." Says Copeland: "God cannot do anything for you apart or separate from faith" because "faith is God's source of power." (4)

· The "force" that moves God or the Devil has both a positive and a negative side. (This begins to sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi's metaphysical lesson in Star Wars.) The "positive" side represents faith and "activates" God. The "negative" side represents fear and "activates" Satan.(5)

· Words are the containers of faith; they release the "force." Everything that happens to us is a direct result of our own words. If we speak words of faith (what they call a "positive confession"), we create a positive reality; if we speak words of fear (a "negative confession"), we create a negative reality. Faith teacher Jerry Savelle declares: "The world that I'm living in right now originated by the words of my mouth." Copeland goes even further to say that "every circumstance-the entire course of nature-is started with the tongue." (6)

· We get the laws of the spirit world to function for us by using the right word formulas. In a booklet with the disturbing title How to Write Your Own Ticket With God, Hagin claims that Jesus appeared to him to give him four steps of faith. "If anybody," Jesus allegedly said, "anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father." The four steps are "Say it, Do it, Receive it, Tell it." (7)

· God Himself cannot help us unless we use the right formula of faith in prayer. Frederick Price told his audience: "God has to be given permission to work in this earth realm on behalf of man. … Yes! You are in control! … God cannot do anything in this earth unless we let Him. And the way we let Him or give Him permission is through prayer." (8)

· God wills that Christians always prosper and be in good health. Thus we can always "claim" health and wealth by faith as a present reality, our divine right. "Since God's Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this Covenant," Copeland concludes, "you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!" Hagin insists: "I believe that it is the plan of God our Father that no believer should ever be sick. … No! It is God's will that we be healed." Price goes so far as to say that in prayer for health and wealth, "if you have to say, 'If it be thy will,' or 'Thy will be done,' … then you're calling God a fool." (9)

· If we have symptoms of illness, we must ignore them as demonic deceptions. Hagin writes: "Real faith in God-heart faith-believes the Word of God regardless of what the physical evidences may be. … A person seeking healing should look to God's Word, not to his symptoms." (10)

· The use of modern medicine and medical care demonstrates a lack of faith. Says Price: "When you have developed your faith to such an extent that you can stand on the promises of God, then you won't need medicine. That's the reason I don't take medicine." (11)

· If we suffer from sickness or financial need, it's our own fault for being ignorant of God's Word or for not exercising our faith. Copeland writes: "God intends for every believer to live completely free from sickness and disease. It is up to you to decide whether or not you will." Tilton adds: "Being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity!" Faith teacher John Avanzini sums it up: "We can believe and receive, or doubt and do without." (12)

More Extreme Notions

Such fundamental misunderstandings of the Christian faith are disturbing enough to the Catholic observer. But many Word of Faith teachers press their eccentric tendencies even further to come up with truly remarkable theological oddities. Avanzini, for example, in order to "prove" that Jesus was rich, claims that His seamless undergarment-noted in John 19-was an example of "designer clothes." (13)

When "faith" is defined as a tool for humans to re-create the universe according to their whims, there's a need to shrink the concept of an infinite God and to inflate the concept of a finite humanity. Here's a sampling of Word of Faith quotes reflecting that trend:

· "Man … was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God's presence without any consciousness of inferiority. … God … made us the same class of being that He is Himself." (Hagin) (14)

· "You don't have a God in you; you are one." "We are a class of gods!" (Copeland) (15)

· "When Adam bowed the knee to Satan, he shut God out. … Satan had gained ascendancy in the earth by gaining Adam's authority, and God was left on the outside." (Capps) (16)

· "The Spirit of God spoke to me and He said: … "A born-again man [Jesus] defeated Satan. … If you'd had the knowledge of the Word of God that He did, you could've done the same thing, 'cause you're a reborn man, too." (Copeland) (17)

· "The believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth." (Hagin, mimicking Kenyon) (18)

· "You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth. … He is bound by your lips and by your words." (Cho) (19)

Falling Short of Catholic Truth

To their credit, the Word of Faith preachers have recovered some Catholic insights that were largely lost in the Protestant Reformation. We've noted, for example, how they and all Pentecostals returned to the ancient assurance that God still works miracles, including physical healings, today. Their expectation that the supernatural power of God can operate through natural vehicles-human words and actions included-also represents a return to a more Catholic, sacramental understanding of the world. They share with Catholics the confidence, for example, that there is power against evil in the name of Jesus, and that words of prayer and blessing can be God's means of doing great good.

Even when these teachers startle their audiences, as they often do, by speaking of Christians as "little gods," they have moved away from the truncated concept of human nature and salvation held by so many Protestants: the idea that we're only wretched worms, and if we make it to heaven, then we're still wretched-safe from hellfire, but worms all the same. The faith preachers have caught a glimpse of the ancient Catholic affirmation that the image of God in us is more awesome, and the destiny of the redeemed more glorious, than our wildest dreams.

Nevertheless, without the wise boundaries of the full Catholic tradition to corral their speculations, the faith teachers have run boldly where even some non-Christian cults haven't dared to tread. Instead of simply opening themselves to the hopeful possibility that God could heal or otherwise help them, they go further to insist that He must and He will because they have the right formula to force His hand. Instead of recognizing that certain words under special circumstances convey the power of divine grace-the words in the rites of the Sacraments, for example-they maintain that every word we speak, even an offhand remark, has the power to create reality.

Instead of praising God's humility in stooping to take on our human nature and cooperate with our free wills, they presume that His own divine nature is not much greater than ours; He was so weak, He had no choice but to bargain for our help in tricking the Devil to regain the world. And instead of holding out the hope that when the faithful have been perfected, they will participate by grace in God's nature (the ancient Catholic doctrine of the divinization of the saints), they dare to proclaim that we are already gods by nature, divine incarnations just like Christ.

In all these ways, they disparage the nature of God, trivialize the person and work of Christ, exalt the Devil, distort the nature of humanity, and pervert the meaning of salvation.

An Apologetic Strategy

How can Catholics help their Word of Faith friends and relatives see through the distortions of these teachers? Pointing out the pitfalls of private revelation (what they call "revelation knowledge") would seem like a good place to start. Yet the faith preachers tend to be riveting speakers, and their accounts of personal encounters with God or of out-of-body experiences enthrall their enthusiastic audiences. So faith folks aren't likely to question the validity of their teachers' supernatural experiences.

Noting that their beliefs have close parallels in Eastern and occult religions has only a minimal impact has well. Faith believers may well answer, as Kenneth Copeland has, that non-Christian practices resemble their own because the former attempt to counterfeit the latter. Or they may even claim, as Copeland and Cho both have done, that non-Christians have the same practices because the mechanical principles of "faith" have a certain autonomy as "spiritual laws" that allow them to work just as well for those who know nothing of God. (20)

A more fruitful path may be to study Scripture together, but a word of caution is necessary here. Most Word of Faith believers have memorized a litany of biblical proof texts for their doctrines, wrenched naively from their context. The critical terms in these texts-words such as "faith," "heal," "prosper," "dominion"-have been filled with the idiosyncratic meanings of the faith teachers.

Without a Sacred Magisterium to whom you can appeal as the final arbiter of scriptural interpretation, you'll find it nearly impossible to persuade faith believers that the great historical consensus of more traditional interpretations should carry more weight than the eccentric pronouncements of a handful of often poorly educated Bible teachers. In fact, one common trait of faith believers is their studied disdain for "theologians," "traditions of men" and the "traditional church." They delight in the role of revolutionary and iconoclast, and often laugh about the fact that some will think their teachings heretical or blasphemous.

A better approach is to take them to other scriptural texts whose plain meaning can persuade them that their teachers aren't telling them the whole truth. Faith preachers avoid certain Bible verses like E-coli germs because these texts don't fit their system. In general, any passage that talks about Christians having to suffer, or showing that biblical saints had to suffer, may be helpful. [See below for suggestions.]

You should place these texts in the context of the Catholic understanding that suffering can itself be redemptive. Try giving biblical examples of the faithful whose suffering led ultimately to blessings for themselves or for others. And of course, remind them that Our Lord's redemptive suffering is the model for us all.

Next, you may want to point out the practical dangers of these faith teachings. Physical symptoms are the body's warning signs of distress; if they are ignored as demonic deceits, the illness often grows worse, and the sufferer may die. Refusal to seek medical help is equally as risky. In fact, documented cases demonstrate that some faith believers have harmed themselves by their "faith," and some have died needlessly. Worse yet, parents have been known to allow their children to die because they ignored the little ones' symptoms or rejected simple medical treatments. Some have, not surprisingly, been convicted of manslaughter and child abuse for doing so. (21)

A typical Word of Faith reply would be that these individuals failed to obtain healing because they lacked faith. You might then point out that even the supposed "giants" of faith who teach these notions have experienced sickness and even death in their own families. Hagin may have once bragged that he hadn't had even "one sick day" in sixty years, but he in fact suffered multiple cardiovascular crises during that time, including one that lasted six weeks. Price may have once announced that "we don't allow sickness in our home," but his wife has had cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Faith teacher Hobart Freeman lost a grandson because the family rejected a routine medical procedure that could easily have saved the boy's life. (22)

Many Word of Faith believers, you should also note, have found their teachers' assurances of prosperity to be equally empty. If TV preachers in particular are so fully convinced that God will provide them financial abundance, doesn't it show a lack of faith for them to keep begging for donations at every turn? Scandals of financial mismanagement and indebtedness have rocked several such TV ministries; some have had to lay off employees or sell off properties; and some have been taken to court by former followers who found their promises and practices deceitful. (23)

Above all, pray that faith followers might come to grasp the genuine meaning of the theological virtue they proclaim: Faith, after all, is not a force whose formulas we memorize to press God into our service, but rather a loving, trusting obedience to the God who is worthy to be served. In the end, the important thing is not what you know, but Who you know.


Seven Startling Statements from Word of Faith Teachers

If your Word of Faith friends try to defend their teachers as "anointed prophets of God," ask them what the "prophets" could possibly mean by these amazing words, some of which they claim were revealed to them directly by God:

  1. "God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. … There's nine of them. … God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with His own personal spirit, His own personal soul, and His own personal spirit-body." (Hinn) (24)
  2. God is "a being that stands somewhere around 6'2", 6'3", that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better, has a [hand] span of 9 inches across." (Copeland) (25)
  3. "Get … out of this malaise of thinking that Jesus and the disciples were poor. … The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That's the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I'm following Jesus' steps." (Price) (26)
  4. A commentary on the scriptural reference to Jesus' seamless undergarment, to prove He was rich: "John 19 tells us that Jesus wore designer clothes. … I mean, you didn't get the stuff He wore off the rack. It wasn't a one-size-fits-all deal. No, this was custom stuff. It was the kind of garment that kings and rich merchants wore." (Avanzini) (27)
  5. "Jesus Christ knew the only way He would stop Satan is by becoming one in nature with him." (Hinn) (28)
  6. "Jesus was born again in the pit of hell." (Capps) (29)
  7. "God's on the outside looking in. He doesn't have any legal entrée into the earth. The thing don't belong to Him." (Copeland) (30)


Scripture Texts to Share With Your Word of Faith Friends

Texts showing that sickness, suffering and want-even poverty-may be a normal part of the Christian life:

Matthew 10:9-10; 38-39 and parallel passages in the Gospels; Romans 8:16-18; Philippians 1:29-30; 1 Peter 1:6; 2:21; 4:12-14, 19; 5:10

Texts showing that biblical saints suffered illness and poverty:

The Apostles were sent out in poverty: Luke 9:3; St. Paul suffered illness and want: 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 11:27; 12:7-10; Galatians 4:13-14; Ss. Timothy, Trophimus, and Epaphroditus all suffered illness: 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20; Philippians 2:25-30; Elisha the prophet, who miraculously healed others, died from an illness: 2 Kings 13:14; Job suffered illness and want: the Book of Job. (However, if you cite the example of Job, focus on texts where he is praised as a righteous man, such as Job 1:1, 8, 22; 2:3. Most Word of Faith preachers consider Job the classic example of a "faithless" man.)

Texts showing that our pain, suffering and poverty can be redemptive:

Luke 6:20-25; 17:22; 33:33-34; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 12:5-8, 11; the story of Joseph: Genesis chapters 37, 39-47, 50

Warnings against riches and greed:

Proverbs 30:7-9; Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:15-21; 14:33; 16:13; 17:24-25; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 13:5; James 5:1-3


"Word of Faith" and Gnosticism: Some Parallels

The history of Christian theology demonstrates amply that the major heresies never die. When cut off by the Church, they simply grow new roots underground, lie dormant until the cultural soil and climate become more hospitable, and then sprout again in new forms. Perhaps the most persistent of Christian heresies have been those collected under the general label "Gnosticism," from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "knowledge."

The ancient Gnostic impulse came from the East, a jumbled, chaotic invasion of teachings migrating west from various Persian and Indian religious sources. These teachings contradicted many of the common theological assumptions of the West, yet they showed a knack for borrowing Western terminology and even Western sacred texts to disguise themselves. In this way, they could infiltrate a religious community, claim to be based on its own traditions, and then insidiously introduce alien doctrines and practices.

Before the time of Christ, Gnostic ideas were already making headway into the systems of the Greek philosophers and into some circles of Jewish thought. Even while the New Testament books were being written, Gnostic teachings were already seducing some members of the new Church. St. Paul, for example, condemned these notions as "the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge" (1 Tim. 6:20 RSV). Though the Gnostics as a discernible community have waxed and waned throughout Christian history, their ideas inspired many of the best-known heresies down the centuries: the Manichaeans and Marcionites of the ancient period; the Bogomils, Cathari, and Albigensians of the Middle Ages; the Rosicrucians, Swedenborgians, Christian Scientists, and New Agers of the modern period; and countless others.

Ancient Gnosticism, like its modern counterpart the New Age movement, was by no means a homogenous, coherent system. It held in tension a variety of religious ideas and practices that were sometimes logically inconsistent. Various groups within the wider movement often crystallized into identifiable bodies by the leadership of a particular teacher who claimed private revelations from heaven. Each of these leaders attempted to create his own more regularized mythology and liturgy. Nevertheless, a few doctrinal tendencies were commonly found throughout the various wings of the movement.

The first of these was the tendency to reduce the stature of the sovereign, all-powerful God of Christian faith. In Gnostic thought, God was often limited in his capabilities by another god, who was evil, or by the powers of an array of evil supernatural beings. These ideas were largely drawn from the dualism of ancient Persian religion (which taught that there are two gods engaged in an ancient combat, one good and one evil).

The second common tendency, clearly related to the first, was to reduce the stature of Christ. Typically, He was something less than fully God; He was more an "emanation" or even a creation of God. Often He was simply one among many supernatural beings, or perhaps merely an exalted man.

Third, the Gnostics usually assigned humanity some kind of divine or semi-divine status. The human spirit was for some Gnostics simply a lower-level emanation of God or perhaps a "spark" of the great Divine Light that had somehow become entrapped in matter.

A fourth Gnostic tendency was to focus on enlightenment rather than repentance as the way to salvation (Indian religious sources are clear here). Thus knowledge was the key (hence the name "Gnostic") and it was learned through certain magical formulas which, when repeated, had the power to bind the evil beings, open the way to heaven, and secure the power of God on behalf of the believer.

All these Gnostic tendencies find their parallels in certain Word of Faith teachings. In this flawed theology, God is not infinite and almighty, but has a physical body, not much larger than our own, and His actions on earth are limited by the will of Satan, demons and humans, who can file "legal" claims against Him to shut Him out. God is also bound to obey the declarations of believers who exercise the "force" of faith, a force to which He is subject.

In the Word of Faith mythology, Christ has also been demoted. He is less the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity than an emanation of God's speech that came fully into being at the time of the Incarnation. He was not God while on earth, and He could have sinned. While in hell, He took on a satanic nature and had to be "born again" in order to redeem us.

Meanwhile, humans are not simply made in the image of God, but are "reproductions" of God, little gods, divine incarnations just like Christ Himself. Unfallen Adam was the equivalent of Christ. If we knew what Christ knew, we ourselves could redeem the world. When people look at us, they are looking at God.

Yet another Gnostic/Word of Faith parallel is the tendency to use scriptural terms and texts as a cover for ideas and practices largely alien to the Christian tradition. When no scriptural texts will easily lend themselves to such use, the Word of Faith teachers, like the ancient Gnostics, typically fall back on claims of private revelation: visions of heaven, casual conversations with Jesus, and the like.

Finally, in this movement, knowledge is what saves us: If we know the right Bible verses to "claim," and the right words to repeat as formulas to "create" reality, we can have the kind of salvation that we desire-namely, health and wealth. In the end, faith is not a trusting relationship with God, but a magical incantation.


  1. Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1997), 331-7; for a fuller treatment of this issue, see D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988).
  2. Hanegraaf, 32.
  3. Charles Capps, Authority in Three Worlds (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1982), 24, emphasis in the original; Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1974), 19.
  4. Copeland, Freedom from Fear (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1980), 11-12.
  5. Hanegraaf, 66.
  6. Jerry Savelle, "Framing Your World With the Word of God," Part 1 (Ft. Worth: Jerry Savelle Evangelistic Assn., Inc, n.d.), audiotape #SS-36, side 1; Copeland, The Power of the Tongue (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1980), 22.
  7. Kenneth Hagin, How to Write Your Own Ticket With God (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1979), 244.
  8. Frederick K. C. Price, "Prayer; Do You Know What Prayer Is and How to Pray?" in The Word Study Bible (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1990), 1178.
  9. Copeland, Laws, 51, emphasis in original; Hagin, "Healing: The Father's Provision," Word of Faith (August 1977), 9; Price, Ever-Increasing Faith, TBN broadcast, 16 November 90.
  10. Hagin, Right and Wrong Thinking (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1966), 20-21.
  11. Price, Faith, Foolishness, or Presumption? (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1979), 93.
  12. Copeland, Welcome to the Family (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1979), 25, emphasis in the original; Robert Tilton, Success-N-Life TV broadcast (27 December 90); John Avanzini, It's Not Working, Brother John! (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1992), 143.
  13. Avanzini, Believer's Voice of Victory, TBN broadcast (20 January 1991); see also Hanegraaff, 347-8.
  14. Hagin, Zoe: The God-Kind of Life (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1989), 35-36.
  15. Copeland, "The Force of Love" (Ft. Worth: Knneth Copeland Ministries, 1987), audiotape #02-0028, side 1; Copeland, Praise the Lord, TBN broadcast (5 February 86).
  16. Capps, Authority, 50-51.
  17. Copeland, "Substitution and Identification" (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1989), audiotape #00-0202, side 2.
  18. Hagin, "The Incarnation," Word of Faith (December 1980), 14. Hagin's entire article follows nearly word for word the first part of a chapter in Kenyon's book The Father and His Family (Lynwood, WA: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, 1964, 12th ed.), 97-101.
  19. Paul Yonggi Cho, The Fourth Dimension [vol. 1] (S. Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, 1979), 83.
  20. Hanegraaf, 82, 83, 339, 353.
  21. Hanegraaff, 61-2, 238.
  22. Hanegraaf, 237-8, 401-3.
  23. Hanegraaff, 350.
  24. Hinn, Benny Hinn, TBN broadcast (3 October 90).
  25. Copeland, "Spirit, Soul and Body I" (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1985), audiotape #01-0601, side 1.
  26. Price, Ever-Increasing Faith, TBN broadcast (9 December 90).
  27. Avanzini, Believer's Voice of Victory, TBN broadcast (20 January 1991); see also Hanegraaff, 347-8.
  28. Hinn, Benny Hinn, TBN broadcast (15 December 90).
  29. Capps, Authority, 212-3.
  30. Copeland, "Image of God in You III" (Ft. Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1989), audiotape #01-1403, side 1.