The Origin of Prosperity Doctrine Part IV: New Thought

New Thought, Mind Cure and Christian Science

New Thought

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866) was a clock maker from New Hampshire who became interested in mesmerism in 1838. After observing the influence of suggesting ‘healing thoughts’ on his patients he concluded that the mind was the limiting factor determining healing potential. Quimby speculated that the mind’s operation on the body produces its physical condition. Sickness came from accepting false notions in the mind that cause sickness. Healing occurred when the mind came to believe true notions about health.

Between 1859 and 1866 in Portland, Maine, Quimby treated up to 12,000 patients professionally. His new method consisted of presenting patients with wisdom, who after accepting the ‘truth’ became well. Quimby wrote down his reflections, which were found after his death when a number of his former students came together and began a movement that preserved and developed upon his system. From 1890 the movement became known as New Thought.

New Thought viewed God and humanity as a unity. The universe is the ‘body’ of God. Humans are spirit dwellers in physical bodies. God manifests in humans as virtues. Mental states manifest in humans as physical traits. Since humans are a part of God, they could produce divine perfection in the body. Perfect health is attainable by means of maintaining a perfect mental state.

Mind Cure

Quimby was the first of a number of alternative healing systems through parapsychology. The most famous of his students, Mary Eddy Baker, transformed Quimby’s metaphysical notions of healing into the ‘Divine Healing’ system of Christian Science after founding the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. In the 1880s a number of independent practitioners broke away from Eddy’s movement because of her focus on the Bible and Christianity. These collectively became known to as the ‘Mind Cure’ movement.

Christian Science

Mary Morse (Baker) Eddy (1821-1910) was a patient of P. P. Quimby and experienced some relief from her medical problems through his methods. However her returning symptoms caused her to search for answers in the Bible. After Quimby’s death in 1866 she made a discovery. While bedridden she came to the realisation that illness must be an error in the mind. Since God was the sum total of all reality, she thought, and in him is no sickness, then by deduction illness was not a part of reality; it must be an illusion in the mind. This realisation apparently brought Eddy immediate healing. She developed a new system of ‘Divine Healing,’ which she first outlined in The Science of Man (1870) and more fully in Science and Health (1875).

The Christian Science movement helped to generate a new emphasis on healing within American society in the late nineteenth century. What the positive thinking movement, New Thought, Mind Cure and Christian Science all expressed in common during the second half of the nineteenth century was a new faith in the ability of the will. P.P Quimby’s doctrine, preserved in the emphasis of the New Thought movement, had a profound influence on such American Christians as E. W. Kenyon.

Part V

Kenyon was a student of Emerson College of Oratory, a spawning ground for New Thought philosophical ideas and who went on to become the origin of the Positive Confession (or Word of Faith) movement within Pentecostalism. E. W. Kenyon brought into his Methodism (which after 1906 became Pentecostalism) a new doctrine involving the intrinsic power of faith and words. His 'positive confession theology,' along with the influence of other prosperity preachers such as John Lake, William Branham and Oral Roberts directly inspired such modern day Pentecostal ambassadors of the prosperity gospel as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps and Frederick Price.

More on this topic

The origin of the prosperity doctrine - Part III

The origin of the prosperity doctrine - Part I

What Pentecostals believe about prosperity

Changing views on money

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Burgess, Stanley M., et. al., The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 2003, Zondervan.

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