THE WORD OF LIFE OR
A Dangerous New Age Heresy
by Dialog Center International
Word of Life Theology is a world wide movement, which has its point of departure in the Christian Church. The Word of Life is also known under the names of "The Prosperity Gospel", "The Faith Movement", and "Faith Preaching."
The American preacher Kenneth E. Hagin (born 1917) is normally considered the founder and leader of Prosperity Theology. Since the early 1970s Kenneth Hagin Ministries have run the "RHEMA Bible Training Center", which is a large teaching institution or "Bible School" in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.A. Through the periodical "The Word of Faith" and other intense publication activities the organization has spread Hagin's message. Other well-known preachers of the movement are Kenneth Copeland, Jim Kaseman and John Brandström.
Word of Life
Since 1983, Ulf Ekman from Uppsala in Sweden has been the leader of the foundation called "Livets Ord" (The Word of Life). He is the main leader of Prosperity Theology in Scandinavia. In 1981-82, Ulf Ekman studied at Hagin's Bible School in the U.S.A. A high level of correspondence has been taking place between the American and the Scandinavian branch of Prosperity Theology.
The foundation "the Word of Life" is a private charity which legally owns everything belonging to "the Word of Life". A number of activities are involved in the foundation: a congregation, a Bible school, a high school, a kindergarten, and a publishing house. Ulf Ekman is the director of the Bible school, headmaster of Livets Ords Kristna Skola (Word of Life's Christian School), director of the publishing house "The Word of Life", editor in charge of The Word of Life's magazines "The magazine for a victorious life" and "The Word of Life", and the leader of the private high school, which was started in August 1990.
At present (1992), the movement is very successful in Sweden. The news magazine "The Word of Life" is distributed to 35,000 subscribers, and the movement has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 independent offshoots all over Sweden.
In Denmark, the movement is known as "North Jutland Bible Center" in Hjorring, "Rhema Bible Center" in Horsens, and "Copenhagen Bible Training Center". Jens Garnfeldt, the minister, is in charge of the latter. There are also small groups in Denmark with names such as "The Tree of Life", "The Gospel Center" etc. who are connected with Prosperity Theology.
Spirit, Soul, and Body
Prosperity Theology constitutes a continuous, rather consistent system. A person is defined as a "spirit that has a soul and lives in a body." We are dealing with a sharp distinction between body and soul on one side and man's spirit on the other side. The spirit carries the identity of a person.
The Bible describes man in various ways, but there is a common ring to the different descriptions. The Judeo-Christian view of humanity does not contain this value-laden distinction found in the theology of The Word of Life. The Christian belief in creation underlines that man is above all an integral unity, which can be viewed from various points of view: body, soul, spirit, mind, thought, heart, etc. Thus, the body is not inferior to the soul.
The Nature of Satan
According to Prosperity Theology, non-Christian man has the nature of Satan, but by "conversion" he acquires the nature of God in his own spirit. Consequently, the spirit of man becomes perfect and free of sin. There is, therefore, a sharp distinction between the visible, physical world and the invisible spiritual world. Furthermore, there is a marked tendency to spiritualize a high number of human and earthly phenomena, which in Prosperity Theology are unambiguously interpreted as the results of the working of spiritual forces. In the spiritual world, a number of principles rule, which are important to know and understand. Conversion and the consequent spiritual gifts enable man to gain influence and power in the spiritual world where the devil and the demons have a large influence.
The Christian does not only have the possibility of, but also the right to progress and prosper in all areas of life. There are, however, certain "blockages" in the spiritual world, which have to be removed first. These blockages come from the Devil and the demons who are the real reason for diseases, poverty and stagnation. Rational explanations for these problems are played down.
Commanding the Demons
At the same time, Prosperity Theology insists that Jesus has delegated all his power to Christians. The Christians are obliged to use this authority on all things that seem evil to humanity: disease, poverty, suffering, and misfortune; but also all threats of war and leftist political adversaries. All of these problems have a spiritual reason, i.e. the work of demons. Even Jesus depends on the Christians making use of the authority he has given them over the demons, for Jesus cannot help any more than he has already done by delegating his authority to those who believe.
Prosperity Theology is the expression of a radical turn to the right, religiously as well as politically. It is Ulf Ekman's aim to break "the socialist spiritual power which governs, dominates, infiltrates, controls, manipulates, and catches people in Sweden." Furthermore, Ekman is in favor of a strong military defense and wants officers who - led by the Holy Spirit - become "more militant than ever."
The Word Has Creative Power
The spoken word has creative power and the preachers of the faith movement consequently put a high priority on a proclamation whose aim it is to bind and to loose in the spiritual world. "The law of what one is with one's mouth," claims that what is spoken will happen and is bound by your confession. Negative statements such as "I am ill" or "I feel bad" are therefore dangerous to use, because one thereby creates sickness and misery in one's own life.
You Are Gods
A conference at "The Word of Life" in 1986 had the theme "You Are Gods." Yet later, Ulf Ekman has said that this is not supposed to be understood literally. Many critics, however, are of the opinion that this teaching is an inevitable corollary of the prosperity theology's notion that man changes his nature entirely in conversion, i.e. from that of Satan to that of God.
Jesus Died Spiritually
In his book, A Different Gospel, the author, Dan McConnell, has demonstrated that Kenneth Hagin to a large extent has been inspired by the American preacher Kenyon (1867-1948). Hagin has inserted long quotations of Kenyon in his own books without indicating that they are quotations. Books by Kenyon have also been in use in "The Word of Life."
At the turn of the century, Kenyon was inspired by the so-called New Thought movement in Boston. New Thought operates with a sharp distinction between the material and the metaphysical world, considering the latter to be the more important one.
The "JDS" (Jesus Died Spiritually) teaching, shaped by Kenyon, is to the effect that the reconciling work of Jesus only started for real when Jesus died spiritually on the cross and acquired Satan's nature. Jesus was tortured in Hell by Satan for three days until his resurrection, as a result of which Jesus was "born again" (just like Christians are born again) and received God's nature.
This is clearly un-biblical, and it is an expression of the sharply dualistic philosophy at the root of Prosperity Theology's world view. According to this view, only a spiritual suffering - not a physical one - can lead to a spiritual result. We are dealing with an obviously non-Christian way of thinking. The Bible teaches that Christ by his flesh, precisely, abolished the law and the hostility between God and humanity (Ephesians 2:14 ff.) It is also a rejection of the divinity of Christ when the JDS teaching claims that Jesus received a Satanic nature.
God is Bound
Likewise, Prosperity Theology's concept of prayer is a problematic one. God is bound by spiritual regulations which it is up to us to understand and exploit. Not much room is left for God's sovereignty, i.e. God's power to do anything he wants to do. The right use of the spoken word takes precedence over prayer in confidence to God as the Father in whom one can always confide. In the genuine Christian faith the unshakable relationship to God as Father is a gift in baptism. This is a cornerstone. And in this everybody who believes in Jesus Christ can find rest.
The idea of "spiritual authority" is a key concept in Prosperity Theology. Humans are spiritual beings. The Christians, therefore, are able to enter the same world from which the demons operate, and wage war against Satan's army of spirits. Thereby one is able to break the evil spirits' power over a person, over a geographical area or over a more abstract phenomenon (e.g. heavy taxation).
A special kind of spiritual warfare is the so-called "pain of birth prayer." It implies totally uninhibited screaming by the praying person. To Ulf Ekman this kind of prayer is more important that speaking in tongues:
"That is when the Holy Spirit encumbers upon men something that is experienced as physical pain; as when a woman gives birth. When the Lord leads us into this we think that we have lost our sense.
"We are rolling about on the floor, screaming in anxiety, squealing like a pig being slaughtered. This is an immensely strong intercession, and the devil detests it. He shouts to us that we are crazy and fanatics."
In Prosperity Theology, humans are positioned in the center of the spiritual universe. Consequently, prayer acquires the character of human manipulation of the spiritual world, with the intention of producing results in the physical world. Consequently, several critics insist that Prosperity Theology's understanding of prayer features occult elements. Occult means hidden. People engaged in occultism endeavor to release the hidden forces by means of techniques and insight in clandestine regularities. This approach is similar to gnosticism which sees the spiritual as superior and the crucial element, whereas the physical is inferior.
Revealed knowledge is a message from God's Spirit directly into our spirit. This knowledge reveals e.g. how a given scripture text must by understood, and it is maintained those outside Prosperity Theology do not have revealed knowledge.
Counseling and Former Members
The structure of leadership in the Word of Life is hierarchical, and criticism is suppressed to a large extent. If a member seriously wants to criticize the movement, he receives a ready teaching of Prosperity Theology: serious criticism comes from "the Spirit of Criticism," also referred to as "Jezebel's Spirit," which is demonic.
Many former members are subject to depression. They are also suicidal and are hospitalized in psychiatric institutions to a greater degree than the average. There is substantial evidence of suicide among members of the Word of Life with no previous psychiatric record.
Many of those who want to defend Prosperity Theology claim that these problems do not prove anything. But a number of people in Uppsala, who have had the closest encounters with the problems, have no doubt as to the seriousness, depth, and extent of the problems. Furthermore, the pattern of problems is to a high degree identical among the former members.
One reason for such serious mental stress is over-emphasis on confession. You must not confess negative areas, because that would bring negativity on yourself. If someone has prayed for your healing and you have not become well, you must confess that you are now well. You must assume authority over sin, defeat, and weakness, not confess them.
In this way the individual is positioned in a struggle between himself and his thoughts, without any possibility of letting others help him. The control over thoughts, feelings and body is the road to perfection, but of course there are many people who are unable to cope with this isolation and this pressure.
Many critics think that Prosperity Theology is a doctrine for the strong. It requires an almost superhuman effort to have to go on struggling with your thoughts and to maintain them. Add to this the fact that if things go wrong, the individual only has himself to blame, God on His side already having done everything.
One critic put it this way:
"In this theology of success, the external physical world is not the real reality and the spiritual world is filled with evil spirits, with whom God has left His children alone. Every time you feel overpowered by a problem: disease, fatigue, depression, accidents or something else, it is an assault from the spiritual world and then you have to gather all your spiritual power and all your determination in an aggressive counterattack. However, this is exactly what your are unable to do - in the long run, at any rate."
A Christian Church?
Theologians disagree as to whether the Prosperity Theology congregations belong within the Christian Church. Many critics point out a number of things in their teaching and practice that position Prosperity Theology in the remote periphery, or even outside what may be called Christianity with any kind of Biblical or historical basis.
Among these things, the idea that the Christian faith guarantees prosperity and progress is the hardest to accept! It is quite simply incompatible with many passages in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 6:20-26; 9:23 ff; 14:26 ff) which express that dimension of the "theology of the cross" without which Christianity becomes superficial and false.
Lastly, it is important to underline that this critic of Prosperity Theology does not disassociate from the people within the movement, but from the doctrinal system with its theological and practical consequences.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 30 January 2011
© Dialog Center International, Katrinebjergvej 46, DK-8200 Aarhus N, Denmark.