I’m reading through a book by E. W. Kenyon on The Two Kinds of Life. Kenyon was a forerunner of the Word of Faith movement. He influenced Kenneth Hagin who influenced Joseph Prince. I hear rumors that Word of Faith teachers are catching on to the grace message. Joseph Prince is an example of that. Creflo Dollar has been talking about grace more and more, but it is mixed with prosperity theology. I’m curious about Kenyon.
I find Kenyon helpful on some issues, and unhelpful on others. For example, he has some good things to say about eternal life:
“The subject of Eternal Life can well be called another lost truth” (p. 13).
“The Church has never majored [in] Eternal Life, and yet it was the reason for Christ’s coming. John 10:10: ‘I came that they may have Life, and may have it abundantly’” (ibid).
“Our popular Christianity is the product in part of the Dark Ages.
“It is not the Christianity of the Pauline Epistles.
“Consequently there is much said about sin, and Repentance for sin, but there is little said about Eternal Life” (ibid.).
I think that’s true. The message of eternal life did get lost. After John wrote his Gospel, the doctrine of eternal life seems to have disappeared. Other things were emphasized in the Church—often the wrong things (like works salvation, the worship of saints, or Mary as co-Redemptrix). Thanks to Martin Luther, the Reformation recovered and re-emphasized Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. And today, the Free Grace movement is recovering the doctrine of eternal life (among other things). There is much more work to do. My ambition (I hope it’s a godly one!) is to influence worldwide Christianity by pushing everyone to evangelize clearly, using Jesus’s own promise of eternal life to the believer. If God could use Luther to get everyone talking about justification, then He can certainly use GES to get everyone talking about Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
Kenyon seems to take the position that saving faith is being assured of your eternal life:
“John 6:47: ‘He that believeth hath Eternal Life.’
“You can see the distinction here between Mental Assent that says,
‘Yes, I know that Eternal Life belongs to man,’ and real Faith that says, ‘I know that I have Eternal Life’” (p. 15).
Well, the truth is, both of those beliefs are examples of mental assent and real faith. But they are mental assent about different propositions. “Eternal life belongs to man” is one proposition, and “I have Eternal Life” is another. I agree that saving faith is believing that Jesus’ promise is true for you, i.e., that you have eternal life. And if you believe you have eternal life, you have assurance, because that’s what assurance is (see here).
Kenyon says a number of good things about eternal life. But he also says some muddled things:
“Christianity is not a religion. It is not joining a church.
“It is not having your sins forgiven. It is receiving the Nature of God, Eternal Life.
“Until one does receive Eternal Life, he is not a child of God.
“We are children, not by adoption only, but by an actual birth of our spirits” (p. 15).
I think I know what Kenyon means—he’s trying to say real Christianity is more than nominally belonging to a social club. It is about getting eternal life and joining God’s family. That’s true. But it’s also true that Christianity is joining a church, i.e., the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). It is about having your sins forgiven, both positionally (Col 2:13-14) and in your experience (1 John 1:7-9). And there is a place for calling our faith a “religion” (Jas 1:27).
In other places, Kenyon starts to wobble. He imagines a scenario where an unregenerate married couple have two children. Then they receive eternal life and have two more children. Kenyon thinks the last two children will be better than the first two:
“The first two children sow their wild oats; they are hard to discipline.
“The children born after the parents receive Eternal Life never sow wild oats and are easier to discipline. They have finer intellects” (p. 4).
That’s not in the Bible. I don’t know where he gets that idea.
Then Kenyon goes completely off the rails. He says people with eternal life are so fundamentally changed that they can never become criminals (or cigarette smokers!):
“There are no child criminals who have it.
“No girls in houses of prostitution have it.
“No drunkards have it.
“No confirmed cigarette users have it.
“No criminals have it.
“No crooks or thieves or crooked politicians have it” (p. 3).
I think Samson, David, and Solomon might disagree. Eternal life is an amazing change, but it does not take away your free will.
If you’re an E. W. Kenyon fan (or a fan of Kenneth Hagin, or Joseph Prince), and you’d like to learn more about what the Bible says about eternal life and about God’s free grace in Christ, I would recommend you browse our website (faithalone.org), or listen to our podcast (Grace in Focus), or watch our YouTube videos. You’ll find much that will be familiar, much that will be new, and much to think about!