And Jesus answered them, Have faith in God. -- Mark 11:22
My wife used to work as an administrative assistant for a pastor in a "Word of Faith" church. It was quite a prominent ministry, especially around Dallas. They were nice people, sincere people. They were not trying to delude anyone. Some of us -- not necessarily me -- have a tendency when dealing with nice, sincere people to think that there must be something to what they say, and what they believe. Mormons are like this. I have never met a Mormon I didn't like. I'm not as harsh as some in that I consider them to be Christians, in general, especially as they have evolved over the years. Still, I think the Book of Mormon has roughly the same level of inspiration as Treasure Island, though it's not as well written. It doesn't mean Mormons aren't sincere.
So, too, with the Word of Faith. The reason I bring this up is because my wife was on the subject recently having listened to a minister whom she respects speak against some of these doctrines. Her argument was that, working in that ministry where she did, she had been witness to quite literally hundreds of people who had their lives turned around by messages from that leader. My response was that positive thinking is better than negative thinking, and that, if a person is motivated to get up, keep trying, and not quit, more times than not, things will work out.
Again, I'm not saying the people involved are not or were not Christians or that their intent in any way was to fool people. I've read E.W. Kenyon's books. Identification is an excellent book. I've lost my copy and would love to find another one. It's very insightful. The problem is that we are always treading a fine line. We are always dealing in paradoxes. It's very easy to get tangled up in language and terminology. The truth, as I said a couple of days ago, is ineffable. Just because something moves us toward the truth doesn't mean it encapsulates the whole truth. Just because something is true doesn't mean it captures the Absolute.
There's nothing "wrong" with saying, Have a good attitude. Don't let troubles get you down. Don't give up. That's encouragement. In Acts 4:36, we read about a Cyprian Levite named Joseph. We don't know him by that name but by his nickname -- Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement". When David's men were about to stone him because their families and possessions had been taken by Amalekite raiders, David was distressed but he "encouraged himself" or "strengthened himself" in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). Sometimes getting some courage in you is exactly what you need.
But that isn't the Gospel. You can be a stone-cold, hell-bound, devil-worshiping, dope-shooting, unrepentant pervert, yet wake up one morning, realize your lifestyle is destructive and that you are an abject failure. You can buy some DVDs off public television or download some positive thinking podcasts, read some books, get your MBA, put on a suit, and become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You are now a hell-bound, unrepentant, devil-worshiping, successful pervert.
The foundational text for so many Word of Faith proponents is that passage in Mark 11 where Jesus curses the fig tree. Some will twist in a marginal reading to turn the Lord's initial declaration from "Have faith in God" to "Have faith of God" to a completely unjustifiable "Have the God-kind of faith". Then we go into "you can have what you say".
What it appears to me that Jesus means is that, as He says elsewhere, "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." Or, as Hebrews 11:1 famously says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." You know something is true. You do not convince yourself any more than Abraham convinced himself that he was going to have a son at 100 with his 90-year-old wife.
Who convinced him?
I will let Andrew Murray carry on from a reprint called Jesus Himself. I have inserted some breaks to make it a little more readable for those of us born after 1893:
It is by faith. We sometimes speak of faith as trust, and it is a very helpful thing to tell men that faith is trust: but when people say, as they sometimes do, that it is nothing else but trust, that is not the case. It is a far wider word than trust. It is by faith that I learn to know the invisible One, the invisible God, and that I see Him.
Faith is my spiritual eye-sight for the unseen and heavenly. You often try hard to trust God, and you fail. Why? Because you have not taken time first to see God. How can you trust God fully until you have met Him and known Him?
You ask, "Where ought I to begin?" You ought to begin with first believing; with presenting yourself before this God in the attitude of silent worship, and asking Him to let a sense of His greatness and His presence come upon you.
You must ask Him to let your heart be covered over with his holy presence. You must seek to realize in your heart the presence of an Almighty and all-loving God, an unspeakably loving God.
Take time to worship Him as the omnipotent God, to feel that the very power that created the world, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead, is at this moment working in your heart.
We do not experience it because we do not believe. We must take time to believe.
Jesus says, "Oh, my child, shut your eyes to the world, and shut out of your heart all these thoughts about religion, and begin to believe in God Himself."
That is the first article of the Creed--"I believe in God."