This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Critiques of Word of Faith

A friend of mine asked me what I thought of this article by Eric Hyde, about why Word of Faith Christians become jaded, since I came from the Word of Faith movement, myself:
His article, in summary says the following:
Mr. Hyde has had a lot of experience with Word of Faith Christians, and has recently noticed a large number of them abandoning Christianity, becoming jaded, or switching to a different denomination. He defines the Word of Faith movement in a way that I think is slightly unfair, but overall gets the gist of it. He posits a few reasons why he thinks so many Word of Faith Christians end up leaving the movement.
1) "Words words words" There is too much an emphasis on the right confessions, and not on the right actions.
2) "Faith + Grace – Works = Victory!" [I didn't actually understand what he was trying to say in this point.] I think he's trying to say that the movement teaches that the relationship between God and the believer is presented as entirely passive, with the believer only receiving God's blessings and not required to do anything to express love back to God.
3) "Abundance, Good; Lack, Bad" This point was actually two points.  First, the Word of Faith people do not have a satisfactory answer to the theodicy conundrum. And second, the WoF's emphasis on a very shallow definition of "good", meaning what *I* the believer think is good, resembles and encourages the selfish consumerism so prevalent in our society.

My response is probably a bit disappointing, because while I no longer identify as a Word of Faith-ist (let's just say WOFist for short), I do disagree with Mr. Hyde on several of his points.

Before I articulate my disagreements (and some agreements) with this article, I think it's an important reminder that the official small-o orthodoxy of any religious sect is often dissonant with that sect's overall praxis. What is taught from the pulpits is often quite different from what is lived and accepted on the streets.  (For an obvious example, take Catholics and birth control...) Myself, I've always been somewhat more inclined towards logos than populos; with figuring out the "right" beliefs more than conforming to social norms.  I have always found it easy to step into the role of Pharisee, being very concerned about the correct interpretation of Scripture, and wanting myself and others to conform to [my understanding of] that.  So when I was in WoF, I was trying to get to the bottom of what the "true" teachings were, while it seems that Mr. Hyde is much more in-touch than I ever have been with the popular outworkings of the Word of Faith movement. Perhaps any disagreements between us arise from that difference in approach.

That said, another introductory point is that even though the Word of Faith movement is a pretty small slice of Christianity, it is not really a homogenous movement with a single identifiable creed.  It is not a denomination.  Like most other Christian fundamentalists, any WOFist worth his/her salt will insist that his/her only source of authority is The Word of God (which means a combination of the Bible --oh, and that his/her understanding of it is the correct one--and the internal voice of the Holy Spirit), and s/he won't be bossed around by formal denominations and the "traditions of men."  Each Word of Faith church creates its own "statement of faith" and repertoire of rhetoric with varying emphases and understandings of theological points.  That is what it means to be a non-denominational church. You get to decide what you (officially) believe and don't believe. Because of this heterogeneity in the Word of Faith movement, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there are a lot of really strange things being (whether officially or unconsciously) taught at some WoF churches out there.

Therefore, it is hard to say when someone's behavior is in conformity with the movement's official creed or not, because there is no official creed. But some issues Mr. Hyde described seem (to me) to be based on incomplete or inaccurate understandings of the teachings of those I would consider generally accepted leaders in the WoF movement.

The story he told of the man who wouldn't change his diet or exercise, yet wanted to claim victory over his health and weight problems, is certainly disturbing.  But the churches I personally went to growing up did not teach such a dramatic dichotomy between spiritual and physical efforts, and I don't think Joyce Meyers or Kenneth Hagan, (to name a couple examples), would condone such irresponsibility.  On the contrary, I was often told the Scripture, "faith without works is dead" is very important.  If you want to see your victory, you have to go out and act on your faith.

I was taught that God established physical laws in the universe, and as humans we don't have authority to go breaking those laws willy-nilly. If we needed a miracle for an extreme situation, we could "claim" it. But we couldn't go jumping off cliffs for fun and expect to command the law of gravity to change on our behalf.  The authority I was told I had was authority over the devil and over my flesh.  In the obese man example, I think that the people at the churches I grew up in would have prescribed taking authority over any demons that were keeping him in bondage to his appetite, and only then moving on to taking authority over the sicknesses that plagued him due to obesity.

That said, I HAVE seen several obese preachers in churches that could be described as being in the WoF camp.  So again, there's that heterogeneity in the WoF movement...

As far as the point about the God-to-Believer relationship being entirely one-sided, with God doing all the loving, and the Believer doing all the receiving, I don't think that is a fair representation of the WoF's "orthodoxy" either.  Many WoF teachers do teach a lot about love, both for other humans and for God.  Their understanding of the term might be different from how I would understand it, but I don't think the image of the Believer as a merely passive receiver of God's love is accurate. If people are getting jaded in the WoF because they feel bored and passionless, well, it's not from a lack of information out there about how WoF-ists understand the relationship between grace, salvation, love, and works.

The third point, though, is indeed a good one.  Of all the flavors of Christianity, the Word of Faith may be the least equipped to grapple with the complex problem of evil.  Their worldview is a sharp dualism.  God is only good, all bad comes from the devil and humans.  Free will is the ONLY explanatory factor as to why evil exists, and if tragedy strikes someone, the only reason is the victim's lack of faith in taking authority over the demons that caused it to happen.  I can certainly see such victim-blaming as being desperately harmful to people and causing cynicism or anger to set in, and compelling people to leave the movement.

To be fair, there is no philosophical approach that can answer the problem of evil without some logical flaws, or having to insert a glaring "I don't know" somewhere into the argument. It is a complex problem, one that humanity has been attempting to solve for millenia.  (I've probably recommended this before, but I'll do it again, it's such a good book.  Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality, by John A. Sanford, is a great overview of the problem of evil and the various approaches in trying to solve it throughout history.)  But the WoF, with its insistent positivism, is particularly weak in this area.  When they do get results, it's great. I've seen real miracles.  But for those for whom the mind-over-matter techniques don't work, the "why's" and the inherent shame in making it all the victim's fault can be psychologically devastating.

The fourth point, too, is compelling.  For those of us who are alarmed at the selfish, pampered, unsustainable, callous, and myopic lifestyles of materialism that define so much of current American society, the WoF movement's emphasis on prosperity does not seem to be the right prescription.  Again, different churches will take the prosperity message to different lengths.  But I've heard a preacher talk about how he will know he has achieved a breakthrough in his faith when he finally is able to manifest a private jet. And he wasn't joking.  And this wasn't a small church.  His message was being broadcast and published to people all over the country.  The message that you are not walking in faith if you are not financially wealthy is dangerous in so many ways.  I think this extremism is a valid reason for getting disgusted and fed up with the WoF movement.

Contrary to what Mr. Hyde says, this author said (in 1999) that the Word of Faith movement is the fastest-growing religious movement in America.  I do not know how to validate who is right, or if perhaps that was was the case in 1999, but now there is a decline.  I do know that I left it for emotional, theological, and intellectual reasons, and I won't go back.


  1. Hello Sleeping Realities,

    Excellent response! Here are some brief counterpoints and agreements:

    - Great point about there not being an identifiable creed among WoF’ers or Charismatic Evangelicalism. This is what makes commenting on the movement as a whole challenging. I knew every stripe and flavor of Christian while in the movement. My comments represent everything from the middle of the bell curve all the way to the right (if you’re a stats fan). This includes what one normally finds and the loony fringe folks.

    - It’s funny that you’d comment on the man I described who was reliant on good confession to solve his diabetes problem rather than on exercise and diet as an example of one not conforming to the teachings of people like Kenneth Hagen. Ironically, this particular person has been a Rhema goer for more than 20 years. His example aside, Rhema has a strange knack for drawing emotionally unstable people to its ranks. I think it’s the emphasis on prophetic gifts and power that does it. People who fear confronting their personal “demons” typically enjoy the vision of being someone important, like a powerful prophet of old (one gets the impression of clinical narcissism with many of them).

    - To your critique of the one sided relationship with God, we may have to agree to disagree. The usual train of thought, as I experienced it, was that if one tried to get involved in God’s victory he/she ran a huge risk of “falling from grace,” of unwittingly relying on their own efforts instead of having genuine faith; the idea being that if one truly has faith God will “move the mountain” accordingly. It’s sort of a “faith in faith” conundrum. WoF’s aberrant version of faith almost inevitably creates this one-sided relationship: man’s job is to believe, God’s job is to respond with action.

    - Also, great point about WoF theology being ill equipped to deal with the problem of evil, and yes, it’s a lack in most theologies. I’d venture to say the Orthodox view deals with it quite well, but it is a bit extensive and probably better suited for another discussion.

    Thanks again for your reply. Great blog you have going. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for your response! I'm very honored to have you visit my blog! I hope you feel welcome here; I was not intending to attack in any way, just to express my experiences and opinions. Your points are well-taken.

    On the point about the one-sided relationship issue, I think I misunderstood your initial point. I actually agree with your clarification here. Yes, the main teaching could probably be boiled down to "man's job is to believe, God's job is to respond with action." I'd just add the qualification that in the circles I personally ran in in, "belief" usually meant you had to express your belief somehow. So if you wake up with a headache, you take authority over it, believe that you ARE healed (not WILL BE healed... I'm sure you've heard that sermon), and then you get up and go through your day AS IF you don't have a headache. You're acting on your faith. Have you heard that kind of teaching before? It was always kind of a tricky thing, deciding whether or not going to a doctor when you got sick was an expression of lack of faith or not.

    I thought you were talking more about the flow of love between the believer and God, not so much the flow of faith. I was always told that the amazing-ness of God's blessings in our life would naturally induce such love in the believer for God, that we would worship and adore him of our own accord. And if we were in a season where we just weren't "feeling the love," even that could be solved by increasing your faith, and acting on your faith instead of your feelings (in other words, PRETEND that you love God, and eventually your feelings will catch up.)
    By the way, in my circles back in the day, "worshiping and adoring" God was pretty narrowly defined as raising your hands, swaying, and saying or singing words of acclamation to him. Did you ever hear the song "7 Ways 2 Praise" by Carman? Fundamentalism at its finest on this topic. :) (God, I love Carman...)

    This leads into the fact that the WoF movement is invariably conflated with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, but that's a rabbit trail for a different day! :)

    Again, I'm very grateful for your presence and response here. Hope this made some sense, as I'm typing in haste.


  3. The pleasures mine. :) I'm curious what you converted to after leaving WoF?

  4. After trying a few other camps, I just "deverted" altogether. :) For people who really feel a need to put a label on me, I tell them I currently consider myself a mystic, materialist, secular-humanist, existentialist agnostic. It works somehow, in my own special brain universe. ;)

  5. Well, I won't try to convert you to Orthodoxy, then, maybe just Kierkegaardian existentialism. :)