Paul L. King, Only Believe Examining The Origin And Development Of Classic And Contemporary Word Of Faith Theologies (Tulsa, OK Word And Spirit Press, 2008). Ix + 406 Pp., $39.95, Cloth.

Paul L. King, Only Believe  Examining The Origin And Development Of Classic And Contemporary Word Of Faith Theologies (Tulsa, OK  Word And Spirit Press, 2008). Ix + 406 Pp., $39.95, Cloth.

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Book Reviews / Pneuma 32 (2010) 123-175


Paul L. King, Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contempo- rary Word of Faith Theologies (Tulsa, OK: Word and Spirit Press, 2008). ix + 406 pp., $39.95, cloth.

With the growing influence of global Pentecostalism in general and the prosperity move- ment in particular, recent scholarly works like Andrew Perriman’s Faith, Health, and Pros- perity (2003), Milmon F. Harrison’s Righteous Riches (2005), and Stephanie Mitchem’s Name It Claim It (2007) have made frequent references to the Word of Faith movement. These works, in some instances, rightly link the emergence of prosperity teaching with the influence of such prominent Word of Faith teachers as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Fred Price, Ken Hagin, Jr., and Creflo Dollar. These works, however misconstrue the theological commitments of the Word of Faith movement and wrongly rely on the assessments of D. R. McConnell’s Another Gospel (1995), John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos (1992), and Hank Hannegraff’s Christianity in Crisis (1997), and thus conclude that its theology is heretical without giving the movement serious historical and theological consideration. Paul King’s Only Believe provides students of these movements with a serious work that explores the historical origins and theological teachings of Word of Faith theology.

The book is divided into fi ve sections with corresponding chapters discussing various issues related to the subject matter. In part one King addresses the history and sources of Word of Faith teaching and practice. He devotes three chapter-length essays to the histori- cal roots of Word of Faith teaching from the early church fathers on through the Reforma- tion and Wesleyan movement, the classical Word of Faith movement, which encompasses both Keswick and broader Evangelical fi gures who advocated early forms of Word of Faith theology, and lastly, the twentieth-century classic and contemporary Word of Faith move- ments. In part two, the foundations of Word of Faith teaching and practice are presented in detail. Tese chapters provide an interpretation of faith that address historical and theo- logical matters germane to classic and contemporary Word of Faith teaching. Part three chronicles general Word of Faith theological issues such as faith as a law, faith and the will of God, logos and rhema, revelation and sense knowledge, and faith and healing in the atonement. From a methodological standpoint, King organizes the chapters in a way that highlights contemporary faith teaching on the subject, criticisms of contemporary Word of Faith teaching, and the earlier classic belief on the subject, especially the way in which it diff ers from its contemporaries. Practical issues or Word of Faith teaching and practice are presented in part four. King devotes eight chapters to these matters, including two promi- nent themes in scholarly literature, namely, positive confession and prosperity. In conclu- sion, part fi ve summarizes the overriding argument and emphasis of the book through discussions of hermeneutics, limitations of faith, the theology of the cross, and practical faith principles, all of which reinforce King’s thesis that classic Word of Faith theology takes these matters seriously.

Only Believe is unique not only in that it gives the Word of Faith movement serious consideration, it also provides a critical perspective from an insider in the movement that seeks both to fi nd redemptive aspects of the movement and to identify other elements in need of modifi cation. As a result, one of the shortcomings in scholarly literature on the

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/027209610X12628362887839



Book Reviews / Pneuma 32 (2010) 123-175

movement has been identifi ed and addressed in this work. King states that this study seeks “to correct the excesses in belief and practice in the contemporary faith movement and also to correct the excesses of it critics” (17). Unlike critical works that accent only the problem- atic aspects of Word of Faith thought, King seeks to explore what he terms the transforma- tional aspects of faith theology that he traces from the early fathers, Reformation leaders, and German Pietists to the Methodist/Holiness, Keswick (Higher Life), Pentecostal, and Charismatic movements.

I recommend this work because it provides historical precedent for prominent Word of Faith teachings, utilizes an abundance of research on key fi gures and books, recognizes the infl uence of the Keswick (Higher Life) movement on Word of Faith theology, and lastly, changes the discourse on the Word of Faith movement regarding its origins in Christian science or New T ought metaphysics as well as the “so-called” heretical nature of some of these beliefs. Yet two critical issues merit consideration. First, the methodological strength initially employed to demonstrate historical evidence for many beliefs about faith, healing, and the miraculous is weakened because it relies too heavily on a distorted sense of ortho- doxy. The author seems to rely on Evangelicalism as the standard of orthodoxy, which is problematic in some respects. Secondly, Only Believe is limited in terms of suggesting a viable proposal for contemporary Word of Faith theology. Even if it may be unfair to expect this given King’s focus on documenting the historical genealogy of Word of Faith teachings, there is still a need for the hard work of self-critical and constructive theological refl ection . Overall, however, Paul King has done a commendable job of providing an alternative, nuanced, and broader historical lens through which to evaluate the history and theology of contemporary Word of Faith theology.

Reviewed by Lewis Brogdon

Director of Black Church Studies Program Louisville Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


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