"The burden that is being placed on people is almost unbearable, and it breaks my heart," said Peters, whose cerebral palsy prompted him to embrace the Word of Faith movement as a teenager.
"I get e-mails from people from all over the world almost on a daily basis now, telling me how they or one of their loved ones have been devastated by this movement."
Peters, who holds master of divinity and master of theology degrees from Southwestern, said the Word of Faith movement is known for its message of "health and wealth," often called the "prosperity gospel." Its teachers claim that no true Christian should be sick or poor, but if they find themselves in such circumstances, they will have a quick recovery. Peters said Word of Faith teachers include such notable personalities as Benny Hinn, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen.
"This movement does a great deal of harm to people," Peters said in his lectures Sept. 30-31 at Southwestern's Fort Worth, Texas, campus. "If you begin with the premise that it is always God's will to be physically healed, and a person prays for that healing for days, weeks, months, years, sometimes for decades, but the healing does not come, then the question must be asked, 'Whose fault is it?'"
The prosperity gospel always lays blame on the sick individual, who is thus accused of hidden sin, a lack of faith or not being saved, Peters said. This attitude, he noted, exemplifies Word of Faith proponents' doctrine of "positive confession", that believers can "literally speak things into existence" or make their own "realities" through their words. With words, they can manipulate faith -- viewed as a force or object -- to heal the sick, bring prosperity or even control the weather.
This doctrine, Peters said, resembles the secular movement called "The Secret," which boasts the support of Oprah Winfrey. Behind it, however, are even greater heresies. According to Word of Faith teachers, Adam was created in the beginning as "an exact duplicate of God." Christians also are "little gods," and Jesus is not the only begotten Son of God. Also, by praying, Christians give God permission to intervene in their lives and in the world. Otherwise, God has no access to the world.
"One of the most fundamental problems of the Faith preachers," Peters said, "is that they blur that line between God the Creator and us, His created. They demote God to make Him look more human than He is, and in turn they deify man to make us look more like God than we really are."
While the Word of Faith movement dresses its doctrine in Christian apparel, Peters said it does not find its roots in orthodox Christianity: "The origins of the Word of Faith movement can be traced back directly to the metaphysical cults, such as Christian Science, New Age, new thought, Gnosticism, even some Kabbalah. So much of what you see on Christian television today is not Christian."
Since the age of 16, Peters has had a deep interest in the Word of Faith movement. At that time, a family friend, influenced by the Word of Faith movement, promised Peters that he would be healed of his cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that doctors diagnosed when Peters was 1.
Unable to do many of the things most teenagers can do -- like driving and playing sports -- Peters latched on to the Word of Faith movement but he never found healing. Only by the grace of God and through the support of his family and church did he recover from a bout of disappointment and doubt.
After graduating from Mississippi State University, Peters enrolled at Southwestern Seminary. For his theology degree, he completed a thesis on Word of Faith theology, especially that of Benny Hinn. Shortly afterward, he became a staff evangelist at First Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss., and he began Justin Peters Ministries. Today, Peters travels to churches to teach them about the Word of Faith movement through a three-part seminar titled "A Call to Discernment."
"I do what I do because I love the Lord, I love His Word and I love His people," Peters said. "And I'm growing weary of seeing wolves in sheep's clothing preying upon sick and hurting people."
Benjamin Hawkins is a senior writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews). To watch, listen to or download Justin Peters' message at Southwestern, visit http://www.swbts.edu/chapel/chapel_archive.cfm.
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