Too often, leaders like Price are defined by what their critics say about them, rather than what they truly believe. Their teachings are scrupulously dissected by outsiders who have never actually sat down and had a conversation with the targets of their outrage. This disconnection and refusal to dialogue are a fertile breeding ground for misunderstanding.
The tenets of Christianity have often been misunderstood: first-century believers were accused by pagans of being atheists (they didn’t worship idols) and cannibals (their Leader advocated the drinking of His blood and the eating of His flesh).
It’s one thing to be misrepresented by outsiders. However, for fellow Christians to twist one another’s beliefs under the guise of doctrinal purity and at the expense of evangelical unity is shameful.
Second, critics frequently have no sense of proportionality. For instance, Word-Faith detractors tend to fixate on aspects such as the overstated distinction between rhema and logos or the belief that Christians should not suffer—at times with the same vigor they would criticize a cultist who suggests that Jesus and Lucifer are siblings.
This tendency seems to have its root in the misled suggestion that we can achieve doctrinal purity here on earth. Some of the most embarrassing and unfruitful eras of church history have been characterized by an unhealthy obsession with doctrinal nonessentials.
Third, critics’ rabid passion for orthodoxy supercedes Jesus’ mandate for Christian unity. Puritan pastor Richard Baxter had it right when he said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” There are some things worth dividing over—Word-Faith theology is not one of them.
What unified the early church (and what unifies the most effective sectors of Christendom today) was not a quest for orthodoxy, but a commitment to mission. Theology was only debated to the extent that it encumbered or enhanced the mandate of evangelism.
Finally, no movement should be judged exclusively in light of individuals who misapply its teachings. As Price says, his principles are not a quick-fix gimmick for the greedy or a panacea for those who abuse their bodies. For its adherents, the Word-Faith movement is an expression of biblical Christianity—imperfect to be sure, just like every other denomination, movement or branch of thought.
But the men and women I met who sit under Price’s teachings are balanced, prayerful and dedicated to the task of world evangelism. I wish the same could be said for all of us.