This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5., Number 1, pages 136-139. 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 - The Health and Wealth Gospel. A Fresh Look at Healing, Prosperity, and Positive Confession.
By Bruce Barron. Inter-Varsity Press. Downers Grove, EL. 1987. 206 pages. $6.95.
Now Choose Life . . . The Faith Assembly: A Study in Under- standing. By Jack P. Clark. 303 S. Huntington Street, Syracuse IN 46567. No date. 20 pages.
Reviewed by Rita Swan, Ph.D.
In March 1988, baby Julianna Keys of Columbia City, Indiana, died of untreated pneumonia, and was listed by the press as the 100th preventable death in Faith Assembly. The first was also a baby, who died in 1973. The church and its leader, the late Rev. Hobart Freeman, have become notorious for their opposition to medical care and its tragic consequences.
Two devout Christians have recently written about Faith Assembly in ways that may possibly communicate with the membership. Jack P. Clark, a medical doctor and lay leader of the Methodist Church in Indiana, has written Now Choose Life... The Faith Assembly, A Study in Understanding. Bruce Barron, a publicist for the Presbyterian Church, has written The Health and Wealth Gospel.
Clark’s work is an impassioned plea addressed to Faith Assembly members, including his own daughter and grandchildren. He commends them for their acceptance of salvation through Christ and devotion to Him. He asks them to accept medical science as another blessing from God. He cites many Bible verses commending the use of medicine and discusses the contributions of Luke, the beloved physician, to Christianity.
Barron’s work is a thoughtful study of the faith movement, from which Faith Assembly sprang. His extensive bibliography exposes the reader to both sides of the issue.
The faith movement, also known as the Word movement, is a branch of Pentecostalism that has rapidly grown in influence since the charismatic revival of the 1960s. Barron focuses on the three most controversial doctrines of the movement: faith healing, prosperity, and positive confession.
Barron concludes that the prominent, respected faith teachers today, such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, do not pressure their followers to withhold medicine. Yet they also, he points out, establish divine healing as superior to medical healing and as available to anyone with strong enough faith. He concedes that this elitism can lead to tragedies, but concludes that they are “little different from other Christians.” (p. 87)
The faith teachers proclaim that God wants all Christians to be rich. They specifically promise their listeners six-figure bank accounts, Cadillacs, and mansions in return for financial contributions to them and enough faith. Barron is offended by their appeals to greed, but ultimately finds mitigating factors. He cites caveats from the more prominent leaders to the effect that “the main reason God wants his people to have money is so that they can reach millions with the gospel.” (p. 95) And he finds Bible verses to support their promises of material prosperity.
A third distinctive feature of the faith movement is positive confession, which may be paraphrased as name it and claim it. Believers are encouraged to tell God what they want and then claim it as their own. They are told that saying anything that contradicts their claims (e.g., saying they are still sick after they have claimed a healing) is a negative confession with negative consequences. Again, Barron finds some biblical basis for this practice and some qualifications by prominent faith teachers. He also believes that many Christians should do less complaining and plan to be “victorious” over problems. But he remains highly dubious about positive confession, both because of the selfishness it encourages and because it denies Gods lordship over life by setting up faith as a tool for acquiring things.
In a nutshell, the faith teachers do believe in divine grace and vicarious atonement. But they see the crucifixion as redeeming mankind not only from sin, but also sickness and poverty. Because those blessings have already been guaranteed to God’s people, they argue that one need only claim them with enough insistence and faith and he or she will get them.
Barron closes with a chapter designed to separate the excesses and incorrect doctrines of the faith movement from its positive benefits and true doctrines. He says he has not found the “mainstream of the faith movement” to be “heretical on any specific point.” (p. 152) However, he believes its leaders need to apply proper hermeneutics to Bible study, to expose followers to Bible interpretation from outside of the faith movement, and to discontinue the exploitation of viewers who pay for television ministries.
Barron”s book is a valuable contribution. Fence mending should not be pushed that far, however. The differences among Christians in regard to medical science, for example, remain significant Hagin”s and the Copelands” patronizing attitude toward medicine is very different from that of Dr. Clark.
Kenneth Hagin was quick to denounce Hobart Freeman after nationwide press coverage of the unnecessary deaths in his congregation. But Hobart Freeman’s literature makes use of "positive confession" and other techniques first promoted by Hagin.
Hagin’s literature is rife with dangers in this area. He teaches persistent denial of disease symptoms and construction of a new verbal reality. Arguing that thinking and conversation determine experience, he criticizes those who “confess” they are or might be sick. He states:
If a person acts upon the Word of God, they will ignore what this outward man tells them. The body may tell them that the symptoms are still there, even the pain or the misery, or whatever it is. But instead of walking by natural, human faith, you walk by Bible faith. I have seen people with conditions that the doctors said could never be cured, but as I opened the Word to them, I have seen them with every symptom still present say, “I’m healed... " Many of [these people] are alive and well today with no symptoms of the disease whatsoever. Yet, when they acted in faith and made their confession, they had every symptom.1
Hagin tells of his little daughter Pat developing a growth near her eye. While he was on a tour, his wife wrote to ask what Pat should tell the school nurse when she checked the children. After two nights of meditating in his hotel room, Hagin wrote, “You tell Pat that Daddy said she’s healed, just as well as I know in my head that two plus two is four... “ Hagin says, “I didn’t tell her what to tell the nurse. You see, I had taken the Word of God and built it into my spirit…And I never did answer that question.” 2 The growth did disappear before the nurse arrived, but some might be concerned about the attitude this episode suggests, namely that society’s questions do not have to be answered because God has given you a different version of reality.
Hagin does not tell his followers to discard medicine or avoid doctors. But he says that he will never get sick and that “God’s medicine” of Bible readings is the only medicine he will ever take,3 thus implying what they should do. He also teaches that sickness is caused by Satan. He repeatedly tells followers to deny disease symptoms, to think, believe, and tell the world that they are not sick and never will be sick. His literature includes many testimonies in which doctors” prognoses are proved wrong. All of these aspects encourage followers to forego medical help and rely on faith instead. To my knowledge, Hagin gives them no guidance on when to stop denying symptoms and dash for the emergency room.
The Health and Wealth Gospel should be read by everyone who wants to understand the faith movement. However, scholars should also study this movement from the perspective of other disciplines. Rather than focusing on questions of doctrinal orthodoxy, we need to understand the techniques at work. Such a perspective will find common tactics of mind control among many religions espousing spiritual healing, despite their great differences in Christology.
1. Kenneth Hagin, The Word of Faith (January 1972); quoted by Frances MacNutt, Healing (New York. Bantam, 1976).
2. Hagin, “God”s Medicine” (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1985), p. 22.
3. Ibid., p. 22.
Rita Swan, Ph. D. is the founder and president of CHILD (Children”s Healthcare Is A Legal Duty), a national organization which studies the dynamics of faith healing and advocates a repeal of statutes that give religious exemptions from parental duties of care.
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1988