Dmitry Rozet | 15 October 2020 | 8 min read
The Word of Faith Movement (WFM) is a relatively recent phenomenon that has emerged in the second half of the 20th century, but it depends heavily upon metaphysical theories developed by a number of non-Christian thinkers and spiritual teachers in the late 1900’s. Though not a fully organized cult like the Mormon Church or the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, this movement is by no means orthodox, discreetly substituting historic Christian theology with ideas borrowed from elsewhere. The WFM and its teachings goes by many names, reflecting its various aspects: Name-It-And-Claim-It, Full Gospel, Health and Wealth, Prosperity Gospel etc. In this article, we will consider one particular tenet of this movement as reflected by yet another name for the movement: Positive Confession.
Before we delve into our topic, a few caveats are in order:
- The WFM is not to be identified unconditionally with the Charismatic Movement: although this doctrine has always been quite popular among Charismatics, not all Charismatics entertain beliefs associated with WFM and WFM ideas have a sizeable following outside Charismatic circles as well.
- The WFM teaching is by no means unified. There is no common creed or a comprehensive theological text. It can be described as a “theological milieu” loosely built upon the ideas of the late Kenneth Erwin Hagin (1917-2003). To be sure, there is a core of characteristic beliefs shared by most Word of Faith teachers (including the doctrine of positive confession), but other than that every teacher is free to enhance this common core with any number of more or less bizarre ideas.
- The WFM does include a number of churches, associations and ministries, but organizationally it is best described as an audience cult: “… the great majority of persons who take part in audience cults do so entirely through the mass media: books, magazines, newspapers, TV, astrology columns and the like. Somewhat greater, but still minimal, organization exists among those who attend occult lectures, frequent occult bookstores, or take part in informal discussion groups on occult topics.” One important aspect of such loose organization is that every participant decides for themselves which parts of the teaching he or she will accept or ignore and how deeply he or she will dig into it.
- The Positive Confession doctrine should be distinguished from a somewhat similar idea called Positive Thought (Possibility Thinking) as represented by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. Both teachings are anthropocentric, effectively portraying man as the focal point of the universe, around which everything revolves. Both identify the objective good with whatever is good for us humans subjectively. But the former is rather metaphysical in nature and purports to exploit and change the material universe by using objective “spiritual laws.” The latter, on the other hand, is rather psychological in nature — it says we should renounce the traditional ideas of sin and repentance and pursue only the ideas that stimulate our self-worth, our positive self-image.
The Positive Confession doctrine is rooted in the ideas of a 19th-century North American healer and mesmerist Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). Quimby taught that illness originates in the mind as a result of erroneous beliefs and that a mind open to God’s wisdom is able to overcome any illness. In a manuscript called Christ or Science, Quimby attempted to explain his theory:
All effects produced on the human frame are the result of a chemical change of the fluids with or without our knowledge, and all the varieties and changes are accompanied by a peculiar state of mind. If the mind should be directed to any particular organ, that organ might become deranged or might not. In either case the trouble is in the mind, for the body is only the house for the mind to dwell in, and we put a value on it according to its worth. Therefore if your mind has been deceived by some invisible enemy into a belief, you have put it into the form of a disease, with or without your knowledge. By my theory or truth I come in contact with your enemy, and restore you to your health and happiness. This I do partly mentally and partly by talking till I correct the wrong impressions and establish the Truth, and the Truth is the cure. I use no medicines of any kind, and make no applications. I am no spiritualist.
In the late 19th and early 20th century these ideas of Quimby spawned multiple teachings sharing similar principles. Two of the most influential doctrines that emerged out of that context were Mental Science of Warren Felt Evans (1817-1887) and Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910). Many individuals and organizations following this tradition also united to form a broad movement called “New Thought.” Some of the movement’s principles would sound very familiar to the Word-Faith adherents:
We affirm the unity of God and humanity, in that the divine nature dwells within and expresses through each of us, by means of our acceptance of it, as health, supply, wisdom, love, life, truth, power, beauty, and peace… We affirm that we are all spiritual beings, dwelling in a spiritual universe that is governed by spiritual law, and that in alignment with spiritual law, we can heal, prosper, and harmonize… We affirm that our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living… We affirm the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven here and now.
Eventually the initial Quimbean idea of “mind-cure” expanded into the teaching that our mind controls each and every aspect of human life, including the physical ones. This principle, called “the Law of Attraction” or “the Law of Success,” allegedly was first formulated by an American New Thought author Prentice Mulford in his book Your Forces, And How To Use Them (1887). His original formulation was later refined by other New Thought authors, including Ralph Waldo Trine:
The law of attraction works universally on every plane of action, and we attract whatever we desire or expect. If we desire one thing and expect another, we become like houses divided against themselves, which are quickly brought to desolation. Determine resolutely to expect only what you desire, then you will attract only what you wish for… Carry any kind of thought you please about with you, and so long as you retain it, no matter how you roam over land or sea, you will unceasingly attract to yourself, knowingly or inadvertently, exactly and only what corresponds to your own dominant quality of thought. Thoughts are our private property, and we can regulate them to suit our taste entirely by steadily recognizing our ability so to do.
A new surge of interest towards the New Thought ideas and especially towards the Law of Attraction occurred in 2006, when this teaching was revitalized by an Australian television writer and producer Rhonda Byrne. She conceived The Secret project (a video and an eponymous book which has now also made into a movie) after reading The Science of Getting Rich by a New Thought author Wallace Wattles. These products featured a large number of contemporary proponents of the Law of Attraction and proved to be a major commercial success with more than 30 million copies of the book translated into 50 languages.
Here are just a few punchlines from The Secret book. The Word of Faith adherents are likely to recognize the familiar themes:
Your life right now is a reflection of your past thoughts.
The only reason why people do not have what they want is because they are thinking more about what they don’t want than what they do want. Listen to your thoughts, and listen to the words you are saying. The law is absolute and there are no mistakes.
The most important thing for you to know is that it is impossible to feel bad and at the same time be having good thoughts. That would defy the law, because your thoughts cause your feelings. If you are feeling bad, it is because you are thinking thoughts that are making you feel bad. Your thoughts determine your frequency, and your feelings tell you immediately what frequency you are on. When you are feeling bad, you are on the frequency of drawing more bad things. The law of attraction must respond by broadcasting back to you more pictures of bad things and things that will make you feel bad.
In the moment you ask, and believe and know you already have it in the unseen, the entire Universe shifts to bring it into the seen. You must act, speak, and think, as though you are receiving it now.
The Front cover of The Secret
The Word of Faith Movement
According to one theory, these teachings were introduced into Christianity by Essek William Kenyon (1867–1948), a Baptist minister who had allegedly become acquainted with New Thought while studying at the Emerson School of Oratory in Boston. His role is disputed, although quite a few major Word-Faith teachers have openly acknowledged the influence Kenyon’s books had on their views. One of these teachers was late Kenneth E. Hagin (1917-2003), universally recognized as the “father” of the WFM.
The exact ways in which the New Thought ideas got mixed with marginal Christianity may be disputed, but there is no dispute about these themes being clearly present in books and videos of the Word-Faith proponents. Let us see this for ourselves.
- According to the Word-Faith teachers, our world has been created and is now set into motion by a spiritual, supernatural force, sometimes called “the force of faith”:
There is a power at work on the earth today that is neither deadly nor dangerous — a good power, a power that heals, delivers, and sets free. And this unseen, unheard power — this supernatural power — is always present everywhere. It is like plugging into an electrical outlet.
The world and the physical forces governing it were created by the power of faith — a spiritual force. God, a Spirit, created all matter, and He created it with the force of faith.
- According to the Word-Faith teachers, this “force” is governed by objective spiritual laws, and humans can get whatever they want by manipulating these laws:
There are laws of the world of the spirit, and there are laws of the world of the natural… These physical laws can be manipulated… We need to realize that the spiritual world and its laws are more powerful than the physical world and its laws. Spiritual law gave birth to physical law.
If we can learn how to plug into this supernatural power, we can put it to work for us, and we can be healed. If every sick person in every sick room in the world just knew about this power and how to tap into it, it would heal them of every disease.
- According to the Word-Faith teachers, this “faith” has nothing to do with Bible or Jesus, because sometimes non-Christians would have better results using it than Christians:
It used to bother me when I’d see unsaved people getting results, but my church members not getting results. Then it dawned on me what the sinners were doing: They were cooperating with this law of God — the law of faith.
- According to the Word-Faith teachers, this spiritual power is only released through words — they function as “containers” for the force of faith:
Words create pictures, and pictures in your mind create words. And then the words come back out your mouth… And when that spiritual force comes out it is going to give substance to the image that’s on the inside of you. Aw, that’s that visualization stuff! Aw, that’s that New Age! No, New Age is trying to do this; and they’d get somewhat results out of it because this is spiritual law, brother.
God created all things by the power of His Word. Each time God spoke, He released His own faith—which was the very creative power that brought His words to pass. In doing so, He demonstrated how words are spiritual containers that carry the power to shape our destiny. Our words contain and release our faith.
- According to the Word-Faith teachers, both positive and negative words produce changes (positive or negative, respectively) in our lives, so we need to learn to only say positive things:
In fact, all you are and all you have today is the result of what you believed and said in the past.
Faith is released with mouth. Even our salvation is based on the confession of our mouths that Jesus Christ is our Lord (see Romans 10:9-10). You can have what you say! In fact, what you are saying is exactly what you are getting now. If you are living in poverty and lack and want, change what you are saying. It will change what you have!
As you have probably noticed, the doctrine of Positive confession places its main emphasis on humans using objective spiritual laws to get desired results for themselves. This creates a picture of a mechanistic, anthropocentric universe which constantly conforms to our whims and desires. By creating those laws God effectively made himself unnecessary. Everything we have (including salvation) has been procured by our faith through our words. At best God is just a passive operator bound by his promises. He can’t do anything without us “writing our own ticket with him,” and, according to Kenneth Copeland, we even “command God to a certain extent”. One might wonder, who after all is the true Almighty Ruler in this Word of Faith universe — us or God?
Bowler, Kate. Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Bowman, Robert M. Jr. The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 2001.
Grady, Lee, J. What Happened to the Fire?: Rekindling the Blaze of Charismatic Renewal. Eugene: Fleming H. Revell, 1994.
Kroesbergen, Hermen. In Search of Health and Wealth: The Prosperity Gospel in African, Reformed Perspective. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2014.
McConnell, D.R. . A Different Gospel: A Bold and Revealing Look at the Biblical and Historical basis of the Word of Faith Movement. Updated Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.
 In this article the term “metaphysics” is used in an atypical way. We will define it as a belief in an invisible and immaterial spiritual world («ethereal plane») governed by certain objective ironclad “laws” (ex. the law of taking and giving, the law of prosperity, the law of attraction). Our physical universe (“material plane”) is just an instance of this spiritual realm. Having learned how to use the aforementioned spiritual “laws,” any person can affect changes in the immaterial world, and these changes will automatically find reflection in the physical universe.
 William S. Bainbridge & Rodney Stark, Client and Audience Cults in America. Sociological Analysis, Vol. 41(3, Autumn, 1980):199-214.
 Horatio W. Dresser, The Quimby Manuscripts (NY: Cosimo, Inc., 2007), 194.
 International New Thought Alliance Declaration of Principles as amended in January 2000, available at http://ppquimby.com/alan/decl.htm, accessed September 1, 2020.
 Prentice Mulford, Your Forces and How To Use Them (NY: F. J. Needham, 1902); available at https://www.newthoughtwisdom.com/ebooks/your-forces-and-how-to-use-them2.html, accessed September 1, 2020.
 Ralph Waldo Trine, In Tune With The Infinite: 50th Anniversary Edition (Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1947), 35, available at http://newthoughtlibrary.com/trineRalphWaldo/inTune/pages/in-tune-with-the-infinite-001.htm, accessed September 1, 2020.
 History of the Secret, available at https://www.thesecret.tv/history-of-the-secret/, accessed September 1, 2020.
 Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Hillsboro, OR: Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing, 2006). The trailer for the movie is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKP9IbpGkKE, accessed October 15, 2020.
 Wallace D. Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich: 1910 Original Edition (Dauphin Publications, 1986).
 The Secret (book), available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_(book), accessed September 1, 2020.
 Byrne. The Secret, p. 9.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 49.
 Kenneth E. Hagin, Exceedingly Growing Faith (Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Inc., 1983), 91-92.
 Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1974), 14.
 Ibid., p. 13-14.
 Hagin. Exceedingly Growing Faith, p. 92.
 Kenneth E. Hagin, Having Faith in your Faith (Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1980), 4-5.
 Kenneth Copeland, Believer’s Voice of Victory, TBN, March 28, 1991.
 Kenneth Copeland, The 7 Laws of Prosperity, available at https://blog.kcm.org/the-7-laws-of-prosperity/, accessed September 1, 2020.
 Hagin. Exceedingly Growing Faith, p. 97.
 Copeland. The Laws of Prosperity, p. 88.
 Kenneth Copeland. Our Covenant with God (Fort Worth, TX: KCP Publications,1987), 32.