Should Christians Declare or Decree Things over our Lives?
Guest post by Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D.
*Note: This is a guest essay; the author may or may not wish to respond to questions and comments. Keep comments civil and respectful; stick to the subject and do not misrepresent anything he says here. Neither he nor I speak for anyone but ourselves. This is not a discussion board; do not respond to others’ comments or questions.
There is a growing trend among evangelical Christians where some feel they should declare or decree things over their lives. This is particularly true among those who are influenced by the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement and, more specifically, the prosperity gospel. For example, one prominent independent Pentecostal preacher encourages the readers of his bestselling book to declare things like, “I am full of wisdom. I make good choices. I declare I am blessed with good health…I will lend and not borrow.” But the question is, is there any theological foundation to this practice?
Image of God vs. New Thought Metaphysics
Those who make such declarations sometimes claim that, because we are created in the image of God, we, like God, can speak things into existence. It is telling, however, that no theologian in church history has ever suggested that this is what it means to be created in the image of God. Rather than being rooted in Scripture, the idea that human thoughts and words can create one’s future goes back to at least the “New Thought” movement, which began in the 19th century with an American mental healer named Phineas Quimby (1802-1866).
The New Thought movement emphasized the human power of positive thinking for healing. Religious historian Beryl Satter explains that the movement’s leaders taught, first, that “the mental or spiritual world was the true reality, while the material world of daily life, the world of ‘matter,’ was merely a secondary creation of the mind.” Second, they taught that “human beings had god-like powers. As God created the universe through pure thought, so on a lesser scale did people create their own worlds through their thought.”
These false beliefs led New Thought teachers to conclude that one’s negative thoughts create negative outcomes, but that one’s positive thoughts would create positive outcomes, including physical healing. Some thought that the power of positive thinking could even affect the health of others through “thought transference,” a practice in which a patient would silently absorb the mental thoughts of a healer. Eventually, many New Thought teachers like Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who founded Unity Church in 1888, emphasized not only the power of thinking but the power of speaking as well, and claimed that by speaking “affirmations” a person could attain not only healing but also financial prosperity.
At the turn of the twentieth century, E.W. Kenyon, a Baptist pastor, incorporated New Thought teaching into his evangelistic healing ministry. While Kenyon rejected the non-Christian principles of New Thought, he replaced them with “divine principles” and laws that could unlock the many blessings that he believed Christ had granted believers through his death and resurrection.
A number of scholars have outlined the historical influence of Kenyon on Kenneth Hagin, Sr., whom historians often regard as the father of the contemporary Word of Faith movement or prosperity gospel. Similar to New Thought philosophy, with its emphasis on the power of positive thinking and speaking, the Word of Faith movement teaches that if Christians practice a “positive confession” of the Word of God to release the force of their faith, there are predetermined laws of divine principles that ensure those who confess will live a healthy and successful life. Many Christians who decree or declare things over their lives today are, unfortunately, following the same line of thinking as New Thought and the Word of Faith movement.
Prayer vs. the Magic of Declarations and Decrees
The practice of declaring things over one’s life is, ultimately, an attempt to compel, manipulate, or even force God to act, as though through some type of Christian mental magic. In his book Counterfeit Christianity, Roger Olson explains that magic is “any technique for manipulating reality through paranormal means.” Magic assumes, for example, that if people utter an incantation correctly, then their wishes will come to pass through some supernatural means. Similarly, those who decree or declare things often think that their words have a supernatural power that forces God to act according to the “laws of prosperity” (the title of a book by Kenneth Copeland, a prosperity teacher). Prayer, by contrast, and when properly understood, involves people bringing their requests to God and leaving them with God to sovereignly decide how best to respond (no, I’m not a Calvinist).
I imagine that in some cases, Christians who make declarations intend them to be nothing more than a prayer to God. In such a case, “I declare that I will be healed” could simply mean, “God please make me well.” But, if that is all one means, then why not say it that way?
There are, nevertheless, some Christians who do not think of their declarations as only prayers. Moreover, they actually think their declarations and decrees have more power than their prayers. One prominent prosperity preacher even explicitly asserts, “When you face a mountain, it’s not enough to just pray…. You have to speak to your mountains.” The result, apparently, is that “all the forces of heaven come to attention.” But only “when you declare.”
What then Should we Do?
The answer to the question, “is there any theological foundation to this practice?” is no. And so, no, we should not declare or decree things over our lives. If you interact with Christians who engage in this practice, you might ask them why they feel it is necessary to declare something, rather than to humbly ask for something in prayer. And, with all gentleness, you might ask them if they have enough faith in God—that is, if they truly trust in God’s love and wisdom—to pray as Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
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Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D., is the author of three books. He is a theology professor at Horizon College and Seminary and serves on the Theological Study Commission for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He blogs at www.andrewkgabriel.com.
 Joel Osteen, I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life (New York: Faithwords, 2012), 187.
 Beryl Satter, Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 1875-1920 (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 3
 Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 15-20.
 Foundational research was provided by D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), esp. 3-14.
 Roger E. Olson, Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 2015), 162.
 Osteen, I Declare, 185 (original emphasis).