I recently attended a lecture by Dr Richard Howe on the Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith Movement and decided to share the slides from the event with a few of my friends. The following are a few questions that were raised during the course of our discussion.
“Are there spiritual laws and forces?”
Sure, we are given many hints at what the spiritual realm is like.
However the question here (and I agree that Dr Howe didn’t make this as clear as he could have) is not whether the spiritual realm exists or whether some metaphysical entities operate according to a regulative principal along the lines of the physical realm. For example mathematics, logic, and love are all metaphysical and yet we know they fit into a clear system we can know at least in part.
The question, however, is whether this metaphysical/supernatural/spiritual realm can be controlled through power words, incantations, rituals, etc. This is the definition of occult practices and I believe these characteristics are clearly shared (if not stolen outright) by the word of faith and prosperity movements respectively. Sure, some people may try to use their magic, err “faith” for various things such as money, healing, social advancement, etc. but the net result is the whether the proponent is a Christian and veils their actions in Christianeese or not.
“If there are spiritual forces that control the physical realm do we allow God to handle that or do we co-labor with God.”
As far as the spiritual realm goes, no. Scripture speaks clearly against our attempts to manipulate the spiritual apart from petitioning God. I believe Jesus provided us a clear example here on earth when he primarily prayed and asked God to bring about miracles rather than Jesus presuming to do them all the time.
Now, does that mean we can’t labor for good in the physical realm in order to alleviate pain and suffering? Absolutely not! In fact, James tells us that helping the poor and needy is what constitutes “pure religion”.
Now, turning to the issue of faith.
Faith is not a force, and faith is not an object in itself. Faith, rightly understood in a biblical sense, is trust. The clear image is of a husband and a wife where good faith is when they remain true to each other.For a more technical treatment of faith I encourage you to read a post I wrote on the subject a while back.
Now, on to Mark 11:22.
Editor’s note, this section was brought about by the following question:
I got this from a website that defends the word of faith movement. Let me know what you think. http://www.victoryword.100megspop2.com/godkind1.html
I find the debate over whether the verse ought to be translated as “in God” vs “of God” to be rather strange and I find the practice of attempting to formulate a regulative and substantial doctrine over the translation of one inflective in one verse to be downright troubling.
The verse in question in Greek is:
και αποκριθεις ο ιησους λεγει αυτοις εχετε πιστιν θεου (Tischendorf’s Eighth Edition GNT)
The phrase in question is the last two words which, transliterated read “pistin theou”. Pistis is the Greek word for faith and theos is the Greek word for God. Where is the “in” or “of”? In Greek, articles such as a, an, the, of, in are generally derived from the word’s inflection. That is, from the case endings of the words. This is also known as morphology and is actually the hardest part of the Greek language (especially for people like us who are not used to an inflected language). In this case, the morphology of pistin is: Noun, Accusative, Singular, Feminine and theou is Noun, Genitive, Singular, Masculine. Pistin being in the accusative case means it is the direct object of a verb.
But wait! Where is the verb this is the direct object of?
For that we need to back up to the word directly before pistis which is ekete. Before we continue, though I feel the need to present a word of caution here in case you wish to study Greek sentence structure: While the verb location is convenient in this case, Greek is not a language where word order conveys meaning (unlike English). At any rate, the verb ekete means simply “to have” and its morphology is Present, Active, Imperative, Second person, Plural.
So we have ekete (to have) as the verb with pistis as the direct object and theou as the genitive modifier (If you’re interested, it’s modifying the previous noun which was Iesous or Jesus. There’s richness in this linkage but alas, we must press on.).
So why did some translators translate this passage “the faith of God” (as in the KJV, Douay Rheims Bible and The Worrell New Testament you mentioned above) while others (most newer translations like the ESV, NET, NIV, NLT, etc.)? Most likely several factors including translation philosophy, better and more extensive manuscripts to pull from, and the translators themselves.
I’ll readily grant that the most literal translation of the phrase ending Mark 11:22 could very well be “have the faith of God”. But so what? We’ve seen above that theon is a genitive modifier of Jesus so the word picture here is really one of modeling the faith Jesus displayed which is also supported by the context of Jesus cursing the fig tree for not producing fruit in accordance with life. As you can readily see, then, such an admonition to model Jesus and follow in His footsteps is nothing new or earth-shattering. And it is certainly not something worth concocting an entire doctrine around.
Aside from rather sloppy exegesis, what also disturbs me is a lack of specificity and carefulness when it comes to the theological implications of viewing God as a being that “has faith”. Sure, Jesus prayed and trusted the Father. But I’m sure we will all agree that Jesus has a unique relationship with God and that no matter how much it pains us, our application to join the trinity has been denied.
As we’ve said before, faith is trusting in someone. God is omniscient and can therefore can not trust in the same sense that we, as finite and foolish beings, can (and are commanded to). God is also all-powerful and can not act in opposition to his nature (ie. God cannot sin) therefore God also cannot “be faithful” in the same sense that we, as imperfect and not-yet-holy humans, can (and, again, are commanded to be).
So, to sum up.
Faith is not a force. Jesus was not teaching in Mark 11 that we could throw mountains around all willy-nilly like. Nor do we have the power to heal anyone.
What Jesus taught was in keeping with the Jewish notion of faith as akin to faithfulness in marriage where we ask God and He (and He alone under absolutely no obligation) will toss around mountains or heal the effects found in a broken world such as sin, death, and spiritual oppression as and if he sees fit.
While the differences may be subtle in the teachings of the Word of Faith Movement, I believe the fruit it ultimately bears shows that it is more man-centered than it is God-centered. And, as Dr Howe pointed out in his presentation through direct quotes from the Word of Faith leaders themselves, if taken to the extreme, Word of Faith teachings ultimately leads one to confusing themselves into thinking they are a god rather than worshiping the one true God.
In other words: It’s dangerous, their theology is full of manure (and that’s the nice way of saying what I’m really thinking), and we ought to encourage anyone who us unfortunate enough to feed on such mess to, instead, seek out “pure spiritual milk” from a source that isn’t heavily influenced by the occult/new age movement.