Essek William Kenyon (1867-1948) was an evangelist, pastor of the New Covenant Baptist Church, and president of a Bible Institute, Bethel Bible Institute in Spencer, Massachusetts, for twenty-five years. The school later moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and became Providence Bible Institute. It later became Barrington College, and in a fateful irony, merged with Gordon College, named after one of Kenyon's many mentors, Adoniram Gordon.
Kenyon was born on 24 April 1867 in Hadley, New York. Though rarely attending church during his upbringing, he became a church member in his early 20s and preached his first sermon at a Methodist Church in Amsterdam, New York. Desiring to be an actor, Kenyon found a way to earn a living as a piano and organ salesman. During this period of time, Kenyon declared himself to be an agnostic. In an attempt to hone his acting skills, Kenyon attended the Emerson School of Oratory in Boston for one year in 1892.
Kenyon married his first wife, a divorcee nine years his senior named Evva Spurling. Like Kenyon, Spurling was also an agnostic. The two were married on 8 May 1893. Shortly afterword, Kenyon attended the services of Clarendon Street Church pastored by Adoniram Judson (A.J.) Gordon. Kenyon pronounced himself saved and his wife decided for the good of the marriage to remain with him. She also claimed to have had a born again experience.
Later that year, Kenyon joined the Free Will Baptists and pastored a small church in Elmira, New York.
As mentioned earlier, Kenyon headed a bible school. It opened in 1898 and controversy surrounded the suicide of a student named Charles E.C. Marble. Kenyon was further wounded when Evva Kenyon left him in December 1902. Kenyon's Bethel Bible Institute remained in operation until 1923. Evva Kenyon returned to Essek in 1910. She died in 1914, and Kenyon married for the second time to Alice M. Whitney and they had a family of one son and one daughter.
The West CoastEdit
In 1924, Kenyon moved to Oakland, California to continue his independent ministry. It was during this time he gave himself as "Dr. E.W. Kenyon of Massachusetts." Much like many modern Word of Faith teachers, Kenyon had no formal theological training and in his case his doctorate was self-instituted. Tragedy again struck Kenyon in 1930 when his wife, Alice, left him during the height of his popularity, accusing him of having affairs with other women. Kenyon fled to Seattle where he spent his last years as an evangelist and prolific writer, founding the Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society that today is based in Kirkland, Washington.
Kenyon has become in death a controversial figure in the debate regarding the orthodoxy of the Prosperity gospel movement. Kenyon influenced many people during his lifetime including Tommy L. Osborn, F.F. Bosworth, and Kenneth Hagin. His influence is undeniable. The question seems to turn on whether Kenyon endorsed heretical doctrine or just a variation from traditional orthodoxy. The center of the storm seems to be Kenyon's attendance at Emerson College.
In 1979, Oral Roberts University President Charles Farah wrote "From the Pinnacle of the Temple," a declaration of war on the Faith movement. He traced Kenyon's roots to the metaphysical cults due to Kenyon's time at Emerson. One of Farah's students, Daniel Ray McConnell, wrote his Master's thesis built upon what has been called 'the Kenyon connection.' This thesis was later edited and sold to the public in 1988 as "A Different Gospel." McConnell's basic argument was that Kenyon got his doctrine from the cults, Hagin got his doctrine from Kenyon by plagiarizing it, and thus the entire Faith movement was built on a cultic root. Christian Research Institute leader Hank Hannegraaff reiterated much of McConnell's thesis in 1993 in "Christianity In Crisis."
But information was also gleaned from other quarters. William DeArteaga, a charismatic based in Atlanta, argued that Kenyon did not teach heretical doctrines but did gain some hetereodox concepts from Emerson College. This argument was one of many DeArteaga presented in "Quenching The Spirit." A Norwegian scholar named Geir Lie then entered the fray with his 1994 thesis that was eventually released as "E.W. Kenyon: Evangelical Minister Or Cult Founder?" Lie argued that Kenyon's doctrine was pure but he may have been influenced to a certain degree by the metaphysical cults.
Perhaps the most scholarly argument was advanced in 1997 by Dr. Dale H. Simmons. Simmons was a classmate of McConnell's at ORU in the early 1980s. Simmons' research indicated that Kenyon drew influence from both the Higher Life movement of the late 1800s AND the cult of New Thought. Simmons' argument was that Kenyon may have been unaware of the degree of similarity between both systems.
In 1998, the first truly pro-Kenyon book was introduced by a Word of Faith pastor named Joe McIntyre. McIntyre's book, "E.W. Kenyon: The True Story," argued that Kenyon was IN NO WAY influenced by the cults but was completely and thoroughly orthodox in his doctrinal teachings. McIntyre took no pains to conceal the notion that his book was a 'rebuttal' to McConnell's argument. McIntyre, in fact, currently heads the Kenyon Gospel Publishing Society.
What is the truth? McConnell seems to represent one extreme while McIntyre represents the other. Both books have strengths and weaknesses that undercut each man's argument. The only (inarguable) truth seems to be that Kenyon - twice divorced and the overseer of the tragic suicide at Bethel - was no stranger to controversy either in his life or his death.
Kenyon's death has even become a touching point of argument for both supporters and critics of the Faith movement. The first story was circulated by Kenneth Hagin in 1978 in his book, "The Name Of Jesus." Hagin claims that Kenyon 'went home the Bible way without sickness or disease' in his introduction endorsing Kenyon's book, "The Wonderful Name of Jesus." McIntyre argued that this story was true in his book by claiming that the origin of the story was none other than Kenyon's daughter, Ruth Houseworth. This would seem to settle the argument but for two nagging problems.
The first problem stems from Geir Lie's 1994 work about Kenyon. Lie researched this very problem and made two major conclusions. First, Hagin had lied about what he knew about Kenyon. Lie based this on the fact that Hagin admitted to him in a July 15, 1993, letter that he (Hagin) knew nothing regarding Kenyon's personal life. Lie, who it must be remembered is a Kenyon advocate, argued that Kenyon had died of a malignant tumor in his back. A death certificate produced by a British apologist in 1991 shows Kenyon as diagnosed with a tumor. This was the second problem that McIntyre dismissed casually in his polemic.
The second nagging problem is the fact that according to D.R. McConnell's book "A Different Gospel," Ruth Houseworth specifically told him that Kenyon had not died in a mystical and disease-free way. While McConnell does not say she told him Kenyon had cancer, she makes it clear that he did not 'choose his time to die' as a lot of Faith advocates believe.
The other controversy will live on concerning whether or not E.W. Kenyon preached heretical teachings. At least three of Kenyon's teachings - Jesus as a born again man, man as an incarnation of God, and the denial of God's sovereignty - qualify as heresy in the minds of many modern apologetics.
McConnell, whose work is cited frequently, argues that Kenyon DID NOT preach heretical doctrine INTENTIONALLY but that Kenyon taught teachings he sincerely believed were new albeit incorrect. McIntyre argues that Kenyon did not teach heresy at all and condemns what he calls 'heresy hunting.' Yet many of the examples McIntyre chooses to exonorate Kenyon are not the strongest case to be made against him.
Perhaps the best route is for each reader to examine Kenyon's written works and come to his own conclusion.
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