Book Review - A Different Gospel
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1989, Volume 6, Number 1, pages 105-106. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.
Book Review - A Different Gospel.
D. R. McConnell. Hendrickson, 190 pp. $7.95 paper.
Reprinted with permission from Christianity Today, March 3, 1989.
The fastest-growing segment of the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement in America today is made up of independent, local "Faith" or "Word" Churches. Distinct from the classic Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic fellowships with mainline denominations, these local churches, numbering in the thousands, have virtually all appeared within the last 20 years.
D.R. McConnell, of Oral Roberts University, believes that this vast, amorphous network of churches is at a crossroads, created by a crisis in theology. Within the next five years, the author contends, charismatic leadership must choose either to return to evangelical orthodoxy, repudiating the damaging errors of the "Faith Formula" movement, or be engulfed with a kind of teaching that can best be described as "cultic" (though McConnell makes clear he is not prepared to declare the Faith movement a cult in the classic sense of that term).
Faith Formula theology -- attributed to a constellation of proponents such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Charles Capps, and Robert Tilton -- is marked by the belief that a believer's verbal assertion of a desired objective, affirmed in faith, requires God to bring that objective into being. Extreme forms of this teaching have led followers to believe that wealth and health are the badges of faith. At the heart of the theology is the assumption that God is required to behave in a particular way on command. For these followers, God becomes akin to a "cosmic bellhop," rather than the Sovereign of the Universe. Faith teaching has become so pervasive, McConnell writes, that many noncharismatics believe it is the authentic representation of what the entire charismatic movement espouses.
McConnell's approach in A Different Gospel is to explore with care the historical influences that have shaped Faith teaching, a task no one else has adequately accomplished. And although he engages in careful historiography, McConnell announces in his preface that he is not content to stand in neutral detachment as a historian normally would. Rather, out of concern for the charismatic movement, he aims to expose the underlying errors that threaten its theological integrity.
McConnell believes that to imply that the roots of the Faith teaching stem from the Pentecostal movement is inaccurate, and is a distinct disservice to Pentecostals. Here he chides Bruce Barron, in his Health and Wealth Gospel (IVP), for making this error. McConnell's central thesis is that the roots of the Faith message come from other sources.
The author argues convincingly that Kenneth Hagin did not originate the teachings that bear his name, though he was the formative influence in shaping the Faith churches. Rather, as McConnell carefully documents, Hagin has plagiarized extensively from others, most notably E.W. Kenyon. The first five chapters of A Different Gospel trace the historical influences that shaped Kenyon's thought.
Kenyon, in fact, was strongly influenced by metaphysical cults, including Unity (New Thought), Unitarianism, and Christian Science. A common thread in this influence on Kenyon appears to be "mind over matter." He introduced the concept of "Revelation Knowledge" as a fresh way of knowing truth, superior to what he calls "Sense Knowledge." Some extreme Faith teachers advocate that esoteric experiences may furnish additional truth to supplement scriptural revelation, thereby implying that such contemporary "revelations" have apparent equal validity to the Scriptures. McConnell employs an entire chapter to expose the cultic elements in this notion, which he refers to as a "new gnosticism."
What Kenyon produced, the author avers, is in fact a syncretism of New Thought metaphysics (mind over matter) and radical fundamentalism -- a "different gospel." While this new teaching has engendered considerable controversy within the charismatic world, efforts to date to effect reconciliation have been superficial. McConnell expresses concern that unity has been sought at the expense of serious consideration of biblical truth.
The second part of the book is a biblical analysis of what the author perceives to be the significant aberrations from orthodox evangelical theology to be found in the teachings of Kenyon and Hagin. These aberrations include the notion of a direct way of knowing truth that on occasion appears to contradict the teachings of the Bible; confusion about "identification with Christ" that implies the potential of deity for mankind; formula faith for manipulating God for healing; and the idea that in the present age true faith is the key to material prosperity.
In his conclusion, McConnell warns classical Pentecostals and evangelicals of their vulnerability to the infiltration of Faith teaching. Indeed, he reports this has already begun. "This contagion cannot be allowed to continue. The Faith theology must be identified and shunned for what it is: a different gospel."__The chief contribution of A Different Gospel lies in the careful documentation of the sources of Hagin's theology. McConnell makes a persuasive case for the cultic influences in the theology of Kenyon, and for the overwhelming influence of Kenyon's ideas on the teaching of Kenneth Hagin. Although the theological analysis provided in the second part of the book is useful, others have engaged in a similar endeavor. But McConnell is to be commended for courageous pursuit of the truth and for his substantial documentation of facts. Pentecostals, charismatics, and other evangelicals should welcome such a timely and thoughtful challenge to a growing and questionable influence.
William W. Menzies
Professor of Theology
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol.6, No. 1, 1989, page 105