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Derek Vreeland

This paper was written by Derek Vreeland.

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Derek Vreeland holds an M.Div degree from Oral Roberts University. He is the assistant pastor of Cornerstone Church in Americus, Georgia.


Original paper. Included with the author's permission. This paper has since been modified and published in article form in Refleks 1-2 (2002).

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Reconstructing Word of Faith Theology

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Historical Roots and the Flaws of the “Kenyon Connection”

            The historical argument raised by word of faith critics is the claim that word of faith theology is rooted in the metaphysical cults.  They construct a simple syllogism. Premise one, a bad historical root equals bad theological fruit. Premise two, faith theology has a bad root. Conclusion, faith theology is bad theological fruit. McConnell presents the strongest argument for the metaphysical cultic root of faith theology. He first published his work as a master’s thesis at Oral Roberts University in 1982 under the heading “The Kenyon Connection: A Theological and Historical Analysis of the Cultic Origins of the Faith Movement.”  It was then published by Hendrickson in 1988 under the title A Different Gospel.[13]  “The Kenyon Connection,” according to McConnell, is the link between the metaphysical cults and the modern-day word of faith movement.  He argues that the writings and ideas of the 19th century New Thought movement significantly impacted the theological mind of E. W. Kenyon.  Kenneth Hagin plagiarized Kenyon and incorporated the heretical strands of Kenyon’s teachings into his own theology.  Finally, Kenyon becomes the true “father” of the word of faith movement through Hagin’s books and tapes. [14]   This historical analysis has become a scholastic landmark in building a case for the heretical nature of word of faith theology.[15] However, there are serious flaws at each level of McConnell’s analysis that call the final conclusion into question. The “Kenyon connection” breaks down under three significant flaws: (1) a misconstrued history of Kenyon’s relationship with the New Thought movement, (2) a misunderstanding of Kenyon’s theology, and (3) the lack of emphasis on non-Kenyon influences on Hagin.

 

            (1) McConnell builds his case for the heretical nature of Kenyon’s teaching first upon the fact that Kenyon attended Emerson College, the seedbed of New Thought thinking.  He writes, “…in 1892 Kenyon enrolled in the Emerson College of Oratory, an institution that was absolutely inundated with metaphysical, cultic ideas and practices.”[16][16] McConnell shrinks the historical development of metaphysics at Emerson College and presents a flattened view of history that is misleading and inaccurate.  While Emerson College did become a hub of New Thought ideas and doctrines, it had not become so at the time Kenyon attended.  Joe McIntyre argues that while Kenyon attended Emerson College in 1892, the College was just beginning to be exposed to New Thought doctrines.  For McConnell to claim that Emerson was “absolutely inundated” with metaphysical thinking is nothing more than “speculation based upon presuppositions” as attested to by McIntyre[17] It would be a few years in the future before Emerson professors would begin to teach New Thought doctrines. Ralph Waldo Trine, who was a professor and student at Emerson College, taught while Kenyon was a student.  McConnell claims that Trine’s presence at the school exemplifies his claim that the “brand of New Thought there was of a pure and intense variety.”[18] This is historically inaccurate. Emerson historians state that Trine did not begin teaching New Thought doctrines until after he left the school in 1894.[19] McConnell even notes that Trine did not publish his New Thought ideas until 1897.[20] If New Thought ideas were active on the Emerson campus, they were neither “intense” nor were they systematically communicated by the faculty. McConnell’s shallow historical analysis causes him to force a distorted history to be read into the “Kenyon Connection.” The lack of historical evidence causes the “Kenyon Connection” to break down at the initial argument.[21]

 

(2) This false assumption of a historical connection between Kenyon and New Thought ideas causes a critical bias when evaluating Kenyon’s theology. If there is an assumption that Kenyon was heavily influenced by the metaphysical cults, then an objective evaluation of Kenyon’s theology has been compromised.  Instead of evaluating Kenyon on his own merits, observers of Kenyon are looking for metaphysical elements in his theology because their false view of the history dictates that these heretical elements already exist in Kenyon’s writings. Even though the alleged historical connection between Kenyon and the metaphysical cults is without solid historical evidence, the claim that Kenyon’s own writings contain unsound doctrine that is based in metaphysical thought could still remain.

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