Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bowman Disagrees with McConnell and Hanegraaff on the Origin of the Positive Confession Movement

Robert Bowman Jr. (Director, Institute for Religious Research)

It was in  D. R. McConnell's book A Different Gospel where it was first proposed that the Word of Faith Movement (a.k.a "Positive Confession"; a.k.a. "Name-it-Claim-it"; a.k.a. "Hyper-faith") traces its roots to the Metaphysical cults. Most of the subsequent critical evaluations of the movement then followed McConnell's conclusions. For example, Hank Hanegraaff wrote:  
"Essek William Kenyon, whose life and ministry were enormously impacted by such cults as Science of Mind, the Unity School of Christianity, Christian Science, and New Thought metaphysics, is the true father of the modern-day Faith movement." (Christianity in Crisis)
Veteran counter-cult researcher Robert Bowman Jr. disagrees with this assessment. His own research led him to the conclusion that the movement's origin could be traced back to the faith healing movement within the evangelical tradition in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I don't have a copy of his now out-of-print book The Word-Faith Controversy, but I'm grateful his lecture Frequently Asked Questions About the Faith Movement is available for download or online listening at the website of Calvary Santa Fe.

I was able to list at least three grounds of his objection to the McConnell proposal.

First, though it might be true that E.W. Kenyon was exposed to the metaphysical cults in Boston, the same is true for most of the people in that area. Rather, the person who probably influenced Kenyon the most at Boston is the prominent Baptist pastor A.J. Gordon who was a firm believer in faith healing. There were no Pentecostals yet then for the Azusa Street Revivals won't be held until 1906, yet faith healing was already a part of American evangelicalism. Kenyon got married in Gordon's church and it was even Gordon who ordained him.

Second, Bowman questions the soundness of the methodology McConnell used in his research. For instead of demonstrating Kenyon's debt to the metaphysical cults from Kenyon's works, McConnell lumped together Kenyon-Hagin-Copeland quotes. Though there are parallels between the metaphysical cult teachings with the statements of latter Positive Confession teachers such as Kenneth Copeland, it is irrelevant to the question of the movement's origin.

Third, when we look into the big theological issues, one would not find parallels between Kenyon and the Mind Science cults. What we find are contrasts.

  • Mind science cultists believe in an impersonal god referred to as the "cosmic mind"; Kenyon believed in a personal God.
  • Mind science cultists' method of biblical interpretation is esoteric-- that is they often find hidden, spiritual meanings in the Bible which no one else has ever seen before; Kenyon's interpretative method is very literal.
  • There is no concept of sin in mind science systems; Kenyon taught men are sinners in need of salvation.
  • Since there is no sin in the mind science cults, Jesus doesn't have to die for atonement. Jesus' death was a travesty of justice. Some of them even toyed with the idea that Jesus did not die. Kenyon taught that Jesus died both physically and spiritually to redeem humanity. That spiritual death part is unsound, but it is nevertheless in contrast with the view of the mind science cults.
Make no mistake about it; the Positive Confession teaching  is indeed a false doctrine says Bowman. His concern is this: they will rightly dismiss us if we misdiagnose the problem. That should be our concern too for it would be extra difficult for us to rescue our friends and loved ones from the claws of the Word of Faith heresy if we fail to understand the nature of the horrific monster.

You can listen to the lecture HERE

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