With so many anti-WoF books in publication and anti-WoF videos on YouTube and anti-WoF blogs on the internet, I thought it might be good to present a different perspective. You see, I believe WoF teaching, at least most of it. Let me tell you my story.
I was raised Southern Baptist in North Texas. I was saved when I was eight years old, and was baptized by Dr. Landrum P. Leavell II. He was my pastor at the time, and he went on to become the president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I mention this only to establish how well grounded I was in what is considered to be orthodox Christianity.
When I was 17 I met some kids from an Assembly of God church and began attending there. The pastor of that church was Carl Alcorn, and old time Pentecostal preacher who cut his teeth preaching outdoors without a microphone and to be perfectly honest, he didn’t really need one. While I was a member of that church I began to study what the Bible had to say about controversial issues like eternal security, speaking in tongues, and divine healing. This is really where my interest in apologetics began, because I was reading what both sides said on these issues in order to understand their arguments and decide for myself what the Bibles truly teaches.
While I was at that church a dear old saint we called Sister Porter came down with cancer. The church prayed for her but nothing happened. Then one day the pastor’s wife went to see Sister Porter in the hospital. While she was there the doctor gave her some bad news. Sister Porter only had a few weeks to live, or a few months at the most. Sister Alcorn boldly said “we’re not going to accept that”, and she rebuked that cancer in the name of Jesus. Within a few weeks Sister Porter was back in church, testifying to the fact that she was healed. When I moved away and left that church a couple of years later Sister Porter was still coming to every service, giving God the glory for all He has done.
In 1980 a young couple that I knew shared their testimony with me. The wife had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor said that she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 30 years old. They were reading Kenneth Hagin’s books on faith and confession, and meditating on what the Word says about healing, and after a few months she claimed her healing and quit taking her medication. Years later she was still walking normally without medication. It was through this couple that I began reading Brother Hagin’s books and learning about faith and confession.
Brother Alcorn knew Kenneth Hagin because they were the same age, and they were both Assembly of God ministers in North Texas. In fact, Brother Alcorn gave me a book on divine healing that was written by Gordon Lindsay, the founder of Christ for the Nations Bible Institute in Dallas. There was a chapter in that book that was written by Brother Hagin, who was a close friend of the Lindsays.
In 1982 I moved to Tulsa and began attending Kenneth Hagin’s school Rhema Bible Training Center. While I was living in Tulsa I attended the Campmeeting services held in the Tulsa Convention Center every July. One night I got there early to get a good seat at the bottom of the riser section. It turned out that I was right behind the wheelchair section. As the building began filling up I saw crippled people wheeled into the wheelchair section right in front of me, and there was one lady in particular who was hard to look at. She looked to be in her 30s or 40s, had tremors with her head and arms, and probably didn’t weigh more than 80 pounds. At the end of the service Kenneth Hagin laid his hands on her and the anointing of God went into her body and she got up and walked off practically normal. It was the most incredible miracle I had ever seen, and to this day I haven’t seen anything like it. I sat behind her that whole service and I had seen her, so when he ministered to her I have to admit I didn’t expect much. But she left that service on her feet, raised up by the power of God.
It was experiences like these that changed my life, but it wasn’t just the experiences that changed me. It was the foundation that I had in theology that enabled me to understand the experiences in the light of God’s Word. Just like with the issues of speaking in tongues and eternal security, I had to know what I believed about faith and healing and why I believed what I believed.
While I was attending Rhema however, I began to notice that certain WoF ministers were saying things that we weren’t taught at Rhema, and doing things that weren’t consistent with what I saw from the ministry of Kenneth Hagin and his son Pastor Ken. The Hagins believed in financial prosperity, but they didn’t put that much emphasis on it and didn’t live lavishly as some have.
I remember when I was a kid in the Baptist church, I heard a minister talking about how he resisted the call of God on his life for the longest time because he wanted a career and the American dream. He was worried that God might send him off to Africa as a missionary, and he would never have any money and would go through life begging his denomination for handouts. This is how people saw serving God back then. Ministers were supposed to be poor, humble servants. They weren’t supposed to drive nice cars or have nice houses. Those things were for everybody else. But through the WoF movement that perception began to change.
In 1984 I was teaching guitar lessons at Rhema in the afternoon, and around 5 PM I was driving home. I stopped at a red light and who pulled up next to me but the man himself, Kenneth Hagin. No, he wasn’t driving a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari. He was driving a truck. It was a nice, new red Ford Bronco. I’m told that somebody gave him that truck and he really liked it and drove it for many years. This is the man that I remember, a man who enjoyed nice things as he fulfilled the call of God on his life, and didn’t feel guilty about it.
Unfortunately, over the next few years I witnessed more and more excesses, and I was really bothered by them. I saw too much emphasis on money. I heard people sharing about visions and revelations that weren’t biblical. I saw people focus on teaching faith almost to the exclusion of any other topic, and often they taught it from a very materialistic perspective.
At the same time however, I saw more miracles. A young woman in my church had fallen into a diabetic coma and her brain stem was swollen. The doctors said that if she lived she would never be normal. I prayed for healing with her family in the chapel of the hospital, and after we prayed we raised our hands and thanked God for hearing and answering our prayers.
I went back a week later and she looked horrible. The first time I saw her she just looked like she was sleeping, but this time she looked like warmed over death. Her head and neck were swollen and her color was strange. I was shocked, and quite frankly I had to excuse myself and go get some fresh air and splash water on my face. I couldn’t faint in front of her family. I was there to encourage them. After ten minutes or so I went back into her room and stood there looking as calm as possible. Her mother told me that I could pray if I wanted to, but I told her that we had already prayed and God heard us. I said that we should just all stay in agreement and keep thanking God for the answer, and she said “okay”.
A week or so later I got a phone call that she had come out of the coma. I went straight to the hospital and I saw her sister standing by the door to her room. I asked her “how is she?” She smiled and said “don’t ask me … ask her!” She was sitting up in the bed communicating with people by pointing and nodding her head. She couldn’t talk because she still had a tube in her throat. They wanted to make sure she could breathe okay before they removed it.
The doctors were amazed. I knew a lady who was a nurse in that hospital, and she told me that one of the doctors told her he had never seen anything like that in his life. When they released her from the hospital they wrote “miracle case” in the paperwork where the doctor states what led to the person’s recovery and dismissal. A few weeks later she stood in front of the church and testified that God worked a miracle in raising her up from near certain death.
These are the kinds of things you don’t read about in the anti-WoF books. The WoF movement that I knew and the education I received at Rhema put very little emphasis on money. Yes, we believe in prosperity, but only to the extent that you put the Kingdom of God first. Yes, we believe that it’s okay to have nice things, but first and foremost we believe in getting people saved, healed, and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1993 Hank Hanegraaff’s book Christianity in Crisis was published. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and it seemed to begin a backlash from the evangelical world against the WoF movement. As I read through the book I saw one example after another of misrepresentations of WoF beliefs, ad hominem attacks, guilt-by-association, leaps in logic, and straw man arguments. I began to compile a list of these weak arguments and write my rebuttals and share them with people. When Amazon started Kindle eBook publishing I published my book Defending the Faith: Word of Faith Apologetics as a way of presenting the other side of the story. I wanted people to know the movement that I know and have experienced.
In 2009 I went to Brazil and met Bud and Jan Wright, a couple who graduated from Rhema a year ahead of me in 1983. Shortly after they graduated they answered the call of God to raise up a work in Brazil, and flew down there and began holding meetings. They had very little money and few contacts. They were in a poor country run by a military dictator. But they were faithful to the call and within 25 years they had built a ministry that had impacted the entire country. They’ve established several schools and have overseen dozens of new churches under their leadership. During that time Neo-Pentecostalism has grown dramatically and Protestantism in the world’s largest Catholic country has gone from less than 10% to well over 20%.
During this time frame thousands of people have graduated from Rhema schools and have taken the gospel into other poor countries like Kenya, Angola, Ukraine, Bolivia, Zambia, and Nigeria. These ministers don’t fly around in their personal jets. They don’t live in mansions. They don’t drive $100,000 cars. Bud Wright drove a truck, and his wife Jan drove a minivan. They had a nice house in northern Brazil, but it wasn’t luxurious by American standards. This is typical of WoF ministers around the world.
I said earlier that I agree with almost all of the WoF theology. Let me tell you about one doctrine that was taught at Rhema that I don’t agree with. I don’t believe in the born again Jesus doctrine that most WoF teachers believe and teach. My view on that issue is more orthodox. But here’s the thing … it’s not an essential doctrine. The only thing you’ll find in any of the creeds about what happened between the crucifixion and the resurrection is that Jesus descended into hell (in the Apostle’s Creed), which would be consistent with the WoF view. The essential thing is that while we were sinners, God sent His son in the likeness of sinful flesh to provide the supreme sacrifice, and through His substitutionary work we can have eternal life. Whether He was separated from the Father in Gethsemane, on the cross, or in hades isn’t that important. Whether He went to one part of hades or the other isn’t the essential issue. Whether He was only made a holy sin offering, or whether He took on the sins of the world while on the cross, or whether it was somehow a combination of the two isn’t going to really affect anybody’s relationship with God.
There’s an old adage regarding Christian doctrine that says “in essentials – unity; in nonessentials – liberty; and in all things – charity”. This issue is a nonessential, and while you might disagree over how somebody views this matter, it isn’t something that should break fellowship between believers. In fact, Kenneth Hagin’s own mentor Pop Goodwin didn’t see eye to eye with him on this issue, but they agreed to disagree and remained good friends until Pop Goodwin went to be with the Lord.
I realize that there have been many irresponsible things said and done by people who are aligned with the WoF, and I’m as disturbed by those things as anybody. I have even listed some them in my book and my blog. What many people don’t realize is that a few years before he passed, Kenneth Hagin had a mini summit where he spoke with some high profile WoF ministers about some of the error and extremes being taught regarding the subjects of money and prosperity. He handed them all a copy of his new book The Midas Touch, in which he addressed things that concerned him: things like giving to get, the hundredfold return doctrine, and supernatural debt cancellation. He felt that many ministers were using these teachings simply for fundraising purposes.
Despite these problems the WoF continues to grow around the world, and continues to transform the way people think about the Bible, God, and Christianity. The WoF movement was very much needed due to the anemic teaching on faith throughout Christendom. We need to present a God who is alive and who actually shows up and does things from time to time. We need to emphasize the goodness of God as our loving heavenly Father, rather than just our Creator and Judge. We need to preach the gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit to confirm the Word, rather than simply trying to persuade people with our own eloquence and education. We need to understand the power in the name of Jesus, the name above every name that is named. We need to understand the need for our words, thoughts, and actions to be consistent with our beliefs. All of these things are biblical, and they’re all issues that are emphasized in the WoF.
This is why I am WoF. I believe that God still heals, and that He uses “those who believe” to minister healing. (Mark 16:17,18) I believe that believers have authority in the name of Jesus, and that healing is provided for God’s children through the atonement. (Is. 53:4,5) I believe that you can have what you say, when you speak it forth with biblical faith (Mark 11:23,24) I believe that God’s principles for prosperity found in the book of Proverbs and other scriptures are still true, and that our loving heavenly Father wants to bless His children more than an earthly father wants to bless his. (Mat. 7:11) I believe in all of these things along with all of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and I see no contradiction.
Yes, there are extremes. Yes, there’s some error taught in the WoF, just like there was error in the Holiness movement and the Protestant Reformation and every other move of God throughout church history. Yes, there are shysters and unscrupulous people who twist the Word of God for their own selfish purposes. There always have been and always will be until Jesus returns. But the church has a way of separating the theological wheat from the chaff and throwing out the bathwater without throwing out the baby. This is why I believe that the message of faith in God’s Word and other aspects of WoF teaching will endure; because they were vitally needed.
Secularism is growing at an alarming rate today, and while I believe in apologetics I don’t believe in apologetics alone. We need the power of God in manifestation. We need to see the miraculous in operation to confirm the message that we preach (Mark 16:20). We need to offer the world more than just another theological or philosophical viewpoint that differs from theirs.
We need faith, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Without faith it’s impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6) We are justified by faith. (Rom. 5:1) We live by faith. (Rom. 1:17) We walk by faith. (Rom. 5:7) Faith speaks. (2 Corinthians 4:13) Faith acts. (James 2:26) Faith grows. (II Thes. 1:3)
We need the message of faith in God’s Word. In short, we need the Word of Faith. (Rom. 10:8)