"Word of Faith" is a world wide movement, which has its point of departure in the Christian Church. Word of Faith is also known under the names "Prosperity Gospel", "The Faith Movement", and "Faith Preaching."
The American preacher Kenneth E. Hagin (1917-2003) is normally considered the founder and leader of the Word of Faith movement. 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
"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."
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
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:
A Christian Church?
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.