My Experience In the Word of Faith Movement Pt. 9- Hannah Whitall Smith

Posted: December 22, 2013 in Theology
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The logical outcome of preaching a Prosperity ...

In my previous posts in this series, I have been tracing the influences in the Word of Faith Movement, and in turn, its influence on myself. I have spent several posts delineating the streams of influence on Watchman Nee, for a couple of reasons.

One, because of his influence on my own theology, and two, because these influences on Nee also turn out to be singularly influential on the entire Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, and more specifically, the Word of Faith branch of those theological rivers.

Today, I intend to discuss Hannah Whitall Smith. It is not my intention to bash Mrs. Smith, or the Keswick Movement. There is much to be commended in both. It is the theological implications involved that I am discussing. I don’t particularly enjoy disagreeing with any of the persons mentioned in this series, but I have to put my personal feelings aside and address how these folks influenced later movements. 

There is a cumulative effect when it comes to American Christianity. The rise of Revivalism in the 19th century, the rise of the Holiness Movement, the arrival of Liberal Christianity, and the incorporation of American distinctives, (such as Pragmatism, and the American Dream), all coalesce to develop the present state of American Evangelicalism, and specifically, the Word of Faith Movement.

What this means, in my case, is that I inherited the previous theological perspectives by succumbing to aberrant Word of Faith philosophy and doctrine. Watchman Nee was not a heretic, but he absorbed questionable lines of thought from Roman Catholic mystics. Hannah Whitall Smith had many theologically sound things to say, but her Quaker background, coupled with the influence of revivalists culture and men such as Boardman, led to an ultimate turn to universalism in Mrs. Smith. It is that stream that I intend to explore here.

Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith was born Feb. 7, 1832, into a strict Quaker home in Philadelphia. She spent her early childhood as a deeply religious, and introspective person.

From her diary, made in the year 1848:

“Sixteen years of my life have passed, and, as I look back at the bright and happy days of my childhood, and at the quieter but more earnest enjoyments of my youth, my heart feels almost bursting with gratitude to my kind and gracious Creator who has filled my cup of joy almost to overflowing. Truly my life has been one fairy scene of sunshine and of flowers.” [2]

Later, in the same chapter, Mrs. Smith writes:

“But the chiefest charm of my life was that I possessed the most delightful father and mother that ever lived. In the narrow Quaker circle into which I was born, very few of the opportunities for amusement of excitement that come to young people nowadays, were open to us, and all the fun we could extract from life was of the most simple and innocent kind…” [2]

Hannah’s predilection for introspection and internal religious fervor can be demonstrated from the following quotation she takes from her diary at age 16:

“Anna wrote me a little note in reply to my letter. Never had I received one which thrilled me more stirringly than that! She begged me to give up all to my Savior, to pray for strength, and to strive earnestly after holiness no matter what it may cost me. ‘Oh, dearest Hannah’,  she said, ‘ do let us try. Let us seek to journey together towards the glorious kingdom! Let us struggle for a portion of His spirit.’

Oh, that I could follow her advice! I sat here alone in my study and tried to feel as if I could give up all. I could not even feel repentance for the many, many sins I have committed; and, far worse than all, I could not feel as if I really loved God. It is dreadful. What shall I do? I must repent, I must love my Heavenly Father, or I shall be eternally ruined. But I cannot do it myself. God alone can help me, and I know not how to pray. Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go? It is said, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive’. But I cannot become really righteous until I repent, and I cannot repent.” [2]

There is nothing alarming in what she says. We all have those inner struggles of faith, but you are beginning to see the seeds of revivalism beginning to form in her thoughts. She will later refute these internal feelings in favor of trust in the written Word, but the  influence never really left her.


I will let Miss Hannah describe the 19th century Quaker community she was raised in:

“There was, as I have said, very little direct religious teaching to the young Quakers in my time. We were sometimes preached to in our meetings, when a Friend in the gallery would exhort the ‘dear young people’ to be faithful to their Divine Guide; but no doctrines or dogmas were ever taught us; and, unless one was especially awakened in some way, none of the questions that exercise the minds of young people in the present day were even so much as dreamed of by the young people of my circle, at least so far as I knew; and a creature more utterly ignorant of all so-called religious truth than I was up to the age of sixteen, when my awakening came, could hardly be conceived of in these modern times.”

Isn’t this remarkably similar to the mindset of much of today’s younger Christianity, especially those from the postmodern, or Charismatic wing of Evangelicalism that knows little of historic Christian doctrine, but somehow wants to retain personal, internal spirituality? That is a very dangerous place to be, because modern-day Pentecostal/Charismatic/Emergent Christianity lacks the same safeguards of Quakerism built into their theology and practice, to keep the weirder elements of subjective-only religion from taking on the more radical form that we see today. Biblical ignorance leads to aberrant Christianity, inevitably. I am a perfect example.

One of the reasons I am spending so much time on Mrs. Whitall Smith, is that I find much in common with my own personal struggles, and in a wider sense, the struggles of 20th-21st century American Evangelical mainstream. 

 I am going to include some lengthy quotes from Mrs. Smith in her autobiography, and make some comments as I go. See if you can follow my train of thought and see the influence, or just outright similarity, (whether it be caused by Quakerism, or merely coincidental), between her exposure to Quakerism, and today’s American Evangelicalism, so thoroughly steeped in Word of Faith theology.

Quakers' Meeting

Quakers’ Meeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“One of the truths they (Quakers) had got hold of far ahead of their time was in regard to the equality in the sight of God between men and women. They gave their “women Friends” an equal place with “men Friends” in the work of the ministry, and in the government of the Society. There were women Preachers, and women Elders, and women Overseers, who sat in equal state with the men Preachers, and Elders, and Overseers, on the raised benches in solemn rows, facing the body of the meeting, the men on one side of the middle aisle, and the women on the other. The preachers, (or Ministers, as we called them), sat at the head of these solemn rows, the oldest and weightiest nearest the top, and gradually tapering down to the younger neophytes, whose gifts had only lately been “acknowledged”. [3]

Not to be persnickety here, but many of the Complementarian crowd, (of which I am a member), would point out that yes, in Christ we are all equal, however, each gender has specific roles in the church, but Pastoring, and Eldership would be a function given to men alone. For we complementarians, this is no small matter, since it deals with Christian ministry, which should not be considered a secondary level discussion.

The confusion here leads to some interesting conclusions. I have yet to find, to my knowledge, any denomination, which has fudged on the gender-specific role of Pastor/Elder/Preacher, (whatever you want to call it), that has failed to fudge on other doctrinal grounds, and have leaned…or maybe jumped, into full-blown Christian Liberalism. Think about it honestly, and tell me I’m wrong. We will visit this”acknowledging” a little later.

They accepted, as the only true equipment for the work of the ministry, the declaration contained in Matthew 10:18-20, and they believed its promises would be literally fulfilled to every faithful soul, whether man or woman, young or old, learned or unlearned.

‘And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak, for it is not ye that speak but the Spirit of you Father which speaketh in you.’

This promise contained for them the Quaker “Call” and the Quaker “Ordination”; and to “study for the ministry” in colleges or out of books, or to be ordained by the laying on of human hands, seemed to them the rejection of the only Divine call and ordination, and to result in what they termed a “man-made ministry”. In their view Ministers could be made only by God, and the power to preach was a direct “gift” bestowed by Him alone. All that could be done was for the Elders and Overseers of the meeting to watch the development of this gift; and, when it seemed to them that the speaking bore unmistakable signs of a Divine “unction”, they would meet together and decide whether or no to record on their meeting-books that they “acknowledged” so and so to be a Minister. This act of “recording” or “acknowledging” did not make the speakers Ministers; it was only the recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that God had already made them such. When this had been done, they were called “acknowledged Ministers”, and were felt by us young people to have been admitted into the hierarchy of heaven itself.” [3]

There are several things to note here. First, and foremost, is the use of MT 10″8-10, to the exclusion of other Scriptures, such as:

2 Timothy 2:14-16

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

An Unashamed Workman

“14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,”

Or, how about…

Titus 1:8-9

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

“8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

To isolate a single Scripture, and make it dogma in practice, while ignoring clearer passages, is a case of not remembering the 3 rules of interpretation: Context, Context, Context…!

The second thing to notice is the anti-intellectualism going on here. Just as today’s brand of anti-intellectualism leaves most Christians impotent to deal with the more virulent attacks upon Christianity, Scriptural ignorance in Mrs. Whitall Smith’s day was institutionalized.

Ephesians 4:9-16

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

“9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

The third thing to notice is, in spite of the Quaker’s anti-intellectual bent, they are ordaining Ministers, whether they call them”acknowledged Ministers” or “ordained Ministers”. The end result is the same. They were turning out men and women who were ignorant of church history, ignorant of Protestant doctrine, and ignorant of the very Scriptures so necessary for “sound doctrine”. We see the same anti-intellectual trend today, when, instead of a liberal arts degree, (either a Masters or Doctoral) in theological study, many ministers have a minimum of 1 year of Bible School, and buk000s of marketing and leadership reading, while all the time trusting in their own personal charisma, and supposed inner “leadings” of the Holy Spirit. Part of this is the fault of the laity for demanding fluff and consumerism; while part is due to he cost of a liberal arts degree, (especially  a Masters and above), and the general buying into the “moved by the Spirit” philosophy so common in our churches today.

i are a doofus.

i are a doofus. (Photo credit: LynstarFC)

Add to this the laziness of a general population that insists on ‘instant’ everything, including theology, and you have a generation, (or several generations), of dumbed-down, Scriptural ignorant, culturally dominated, “spiritual-but-not-religious” people who couldn’t reason their way theologically out of a corn maze.

I am ranting now, and this post is getting long, so I will continue this discussion in my next entry in this series.

Whoever said blogging was easy was seriously misleading. I don’t know how people do this more than once a week. It takes me a long time to come up with what I want to say, and a longer time to read, research, and back up what I say with confidence…plus the fact that I am in the single digit reader’s club, and I wonder what I’m doing this for. Still I cry “Excelsior!”, and laugh out loud.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric “dazed and confused” Adams

Rossville, GA…Br549

1.  “Hannah Whitall Smith (American Evangelist and Reformer).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <;.

2. Smith, Hannah Whitall. The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It. New York: Garland Pub., 1985. Print. Kindle file.

3. Smith, Hannah Whitall. “Quaker “Truth” and Quaker “Ministry”” The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It. New York: Garland Pub., 1985. N. pag. Print. Kindle file.

  1. […] My Experience In the Word of Faith Movement Pt. 9- Hannah Whitall Smith ( […]

  2. […] my last post in this series, I was documenting the early life of Hannah Whitall Smith. I will continue with this […]

  3. Haydee says:

    Enjoyed reading this. I’ve been reading Mrs.Smith’s books for a little while and thoroughly enjoyed her dedication and passion to the Word and God. I will keep your findings of her background in mind from now on. Thanks for sharing your research with us!

    • Eric Adams says:

      Much of what she writes is fine. It’s the mystical content, and the ending in universalism that troubles me. I have read all of her books. The Quaker comes out throughout-no pun intended. 🙂

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