The Real Origins of Positive Thinking and Word Faith Theology

One Simple IdeaMitch Horowitz, an award winning journalist, has traced the unseen and largely unknown origins and roots of both Positive thinking and Word/Faith theology in his book One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,Crown Publishing, (New York, 2014, 338 pages).

The two movements of Positive Thinking and Word Faith in fact are very close relatives; one is ancestor to the other. This invaluable book is a history of all the key players and their roots in nineteenth century New Thought Movement. Horowitz sees the linkage and connects the dots between New Thought, Christian Science, Norman Vincent Peale, New Age thinking, the Law of Attraction and a number of Word Faith teachers. The book’s 14 page index helps enhance the retrieving of names and topics.

Men like Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) believed and taught that conjuring up mental ideas of a more positive life could fast track us to making it so. Horowitz explains

Positive Thinking:

“The principle of positive thinking is simplicity itself. Picture an outcome, dwell on it in your thoughts and feelings, and unseen agencies – whether metaphysical or psychological – will supposedly come to your aid. Seen in this way, the mind is a causative force….the content of our thoughts influences the nature of our experience, in concrete terms”, (page 4 – 5).

Is there then a mind power that can be controlled and manipulated to create better outcomes? Can our minds alone abolish disease, create wealth and refashion our reality? The author points out that positive affirmations heaped on suffering terminally ill patients can be cruel and thoughtless. It amounts to blaming sufferers for their suffering. Physical pain and the decline of aging cannot be wished away.

Positive Thinking concepts seem to be omnipresent and could be our national anthem. Like a virus it has infected large portions of the church. There is no doubt that many could be happier generally speaking if they had a better frame of mind but there is a limit to what our thoughts and minds can do. Horowitz seems to be for a balanced approach as he takes on the inconsistencies of the New Age and Positive Thinking movements. Howowitz states his approach:

“The outlook of this book is that positive thinking is less than it’s most enthusiastic exponents believe – it is not a psycho-spiritual magic wand or an all encompassing result-making law of life. But it is also a great deal more than what its critic see it as, namely a fool-baiting philosophy of refrigerator magnets and page-a-day calendars”, (pages 10 – 11).

Agree or disagree with the authors overall approach and perspective the value of this book is its detailed history of key figures in the positive thinking orbit as well as their modern day descendants.

In early America people focused on salvation in Christ, the church, godly living, hard work, loving others and service to one’s neighbor. The focus was first vertical and then horizontal. Horowitz traces how that all changed and the focus on the mind and the horizontal was seen as the primary focus. My take is that this leads its adherents and proponents to become totally man centered and not God centered.

As Horowitz traces the history of New Thought he concludes that the modern message of the Prosperity Gospel is simply New Thought repackaged with new technology and new venues. He lists Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and many more. Horowitz traces current Word of Faith teaching back to E. W. Kenyon and details Kenyon’s attendance at a New Thought school. That school was the metaphysical Emerson School, (page 217). The book spends a number of pages on the career of Oral Roberts.

The book delves into the fascinating topic of Neuroplasticity (pages 259, 273-275, 276). Brain studies in this area have shown that ideas and strong thoughts can actually change brain structure and re-route the brain’s “wiring”. In other words from a Christian and biblical perspective positive thinking (unrealistic thinking) could change the brain in such a way as to create strong delusion. Certainly that is frightening food for thought.


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