February 9, 2009

Christ in Word-Faith Teaching

Evangelical Review of TheologyAs I prepare to serve Christ in Africa, I'm thankful to have discovered a remarkably relevant issue of the Evangelical Review of Theology (ERT). This week I'll focus on one more essay from this collection: "The Nature of the Crucified Christ in Word-Faith Teaching" by William P. Atkinson. As most of you already know, the Word-Faith movement (and its notorious "prosperity gospel") poses a tragic and ever-growing challenge to Christianity throughout Africa.

William AtkinsonAtkinson specifically examines the widespread Word-Faith belief that Jesus died spiritually on the cross and in the grave (also known as the JDS teaching). E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, and Kenneth Copeland have all taught some form of this view, which maintains that Jesus partook of a sinful and satanic nature in His death. After summarizing their positions, the author moves to the critiques commonly made of JDS teaching and assesses their validity. Finally, focusing on the claim that JDS teaching is based on Scripture, Atkinson turns to the Bible itself to refute this problematic error.

I learned much from Atkinson's analysis. While I've read other materials on Word-Faith theology, his article was a fresh reminder of just how dangerous this teaching can be—its proponents are compromising the very nature of our Savior Himself! As Atkinson concludes:
"... the greatest weakness ... of JDS teaching is its inability to offer satisfactory answers to questions that are demanded by tensions between these teachers' superficial allegiance to traditional incarnational Christology and substitutionary atonement theory, and their actual delineation of the events of the cross" (184).
—which is a scholarly way of saying that holding to JDS teaching is incompatible with the truth of who Christ is and what He accomplished in His death. Such deception cannot be tolerated by followers of Jesus!

Another challenging feature of this article is Atkinson's assessment of typical polemics against the JDS view. A thorough and thoughtful critic, Atkinson takes great care to properly represent the views of those with whom he disagrees. He demonstrates the inadequacy of efforts by some evangelical apologists, who take the easy route by attacking unjustifiable caricatures they've set up just to score theological points. How easy it is to settle for straw-man arguments and not invest the time required to correctly understand, and engage with, the real views of one's opponent.

Thanks to the ongoing parade of Word-Faith celebrities and their imitators in Africa, such harmful teachings have been spreading almost unchecked for years and must be addressed. May ACFAR be greatly used by God to model sound apologetic approaches to these errors and help the Body of Christ to rightly handle God's Word.