What About the Word of Faith Movement?

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism

I have very little interest in attacking various modern movements and sub-movements within evangelicalism. At one time I thought this was important. I reasoned that I should constantly warn people about all the "bad" movements that existed in our church cultures so the sheep would not be led astray. I found, quite candidly, that this kind of ministry fed my ego since it put me "in the know." You can really build a reputation on "knowing all that is wrong" with this and that group, person, or movement. It sells books and it generates donors for sure. But does it do what it promises? I seriously doubt it.

I was reminded of all this again when my good friend Andrew Sandlin was recently asked by an email correspondent to comment on the dangers of the Word of Faith movement. Andrew’s response, short and to the point, sums up the way I now answer such questions the older I get. The writer noted to Andrew that various well-known Reformed voices had spoken strongly on the issue of WOF and this was why he wrote to Andrew to ask him for guidance. Here is Andrew’s brief and complete response:

Good to hear from you. I think the WOF Movement is imbalanced at best and not very theologically astute. It is mostly centered on what God can do for us rather than on what God has done for us in Jesus and on what we are required to do for Him. God’s will is not always to give us what we want! That said, I don’t think all these folks are the pernicious enemies some folks make them out to be. I can’t support them, but they’re not my enemies.

My guess is that some people would be deeply troubled by Andrew’s failure to give explicit instruction about the errors of WOF and then to tell this man to run as fast as possible toward the nearest conservative Reformed church.

In some ways, this harkens back to my blogs in May (2005) on Joel Osteen. I have been told that Osteen was on the Larry King Show not too long ago and that he failed to give a clear and explicit answer to questions about the gospel and the narrowness of Christ’s command to trust him alone for salvation. If this is so, and I think it is, then shame on Joel Osteen. He blew it. But what I rarely hear these same critics say is that Osteen later apologized for failing to give such a clear answer. I hear almost none of these critics ever apologize in like manner. In this case I have to say that I’ll take Osteen’s failure, and subsequent humble apologies, over their attacks. My guess is that God is using Osteen more than the critics.

I have watched these "watchdogs" and "watchdog groups" come and go for fifty years. When I have been dead for two minutes my efforts to expose such groups will mean nothing. What I did to honor Christ, to faithfuly point people to his person and to believe his gospel, will remain. I simply have no interest in being a member of a self-appointed "watchdog" team. I am genuinely sorry that I ever bought into this approach. I see nothing in it that corresponds to what Scripture actually requires of me as a minister when it comes to the Pauline exhortations to expose error and warn people about heresy. In the case of these texts context really is everything.