Lack of Openness to Divine Healing (part two)

April 27, 2022

In a previous blog we looked at Kelsey’s four historical arguments about divine healing to answer the question; "why people lack an openness to Divine Healing?" He observed that many Christians today react emotionally when talking about divine healing and don't even entertain the concept of healing in their own lives, while intellectually claiming God can heal someone. Kelsey concluded the hindrance seems to be a negative affective attitude about divine healing and not just a doctrinal one. The historical teachings have formed something of a social construct in the church shaping people's unconscious attitude over the issue.

To my knowledge, the first two arguments are not taught anymore in the church. Yet still exerts a powerful influence over the attitudes of many

In this blog we will look at the first two arguments in greater detain and give a brief rebuttal. Even though no one formally holds these views the attitude still persists in the social DNA of many churches. Today, people can give mental ascent in healing but hold a negative attitude due to the lingering influence of these arguments.

The approach taken by Kelsey is helpful in understanding a common paradox many see in ministry. The Paradox of people affirming healing in theory while denying its power in their personal life. Such are not hypocrites, in the moral or biblical sense, for they are unaware of all of the assumptions about healing that they hold.

In thinking thought these ideas I have come up with what I see as the root assumption at the bottom of each argument.

  • Philosophical dualism
  • Theological rationalism

First, The Argument from Philosophical dualism

The first view began as a practical argument based on the common Greek division of reality into the material and spiritual. The argument holds that there is a fundamental divide between the secular and the sacred parts of life. It asserts that Medicine is deals with the physical world and religion is secluded to the spiritual with the two spheres not overlapping. Religion is seen as otherworldly, primary concerned with saving souls for Heaven. Thus religion has nothing to do with someone’s physical health. On the other side, there are those who believe that only scientific medical means can affect significant healing. Based on this (false) dichotomy, it is reasoned that sense Medicine is for the body; religion is for the soul, it is best to keep them separate but equal. Any attempt to mix the two ends of in failure. The mixing of the two only breeds superstition and fraud. In this a view, the minister role is to maintain the separation and teach the wisdom of staying far away from such people and practices. Kelsey keenly observes the illogical nature of christian practices in this area. Highlighting how our negative attitude can place some behaviors outside the Overton window while legitimizing others.

“By some quirk of logic, it was legitimate for suffering Christians to go to the doctor for relief; it was even good for the church to build hospitals to minister to the sick. But neither the individual Christian nor the church was to bring the direct power of God to bear upon getting rid of the sickness.” [1]

In our day it is easy to see the practical angle of this argument. Although religious fakes and fraud have always been with us the access to exposure and ability to build a platform is much easier today than in previous generations. Exposure to the quacks and frauds makes many cynical if not combative, leading to those in the church defaulting to the secular sacred division of labor. They would rather keep the religious and medical worlds separated rather than dealing with the mess.

A few rebuttals to this idea.

  • The view that “religion deals exclusively with the soul” is more gnostic than Christian. When we think religion is other worldly and etherial and it only deals with what science and medicine can’t fix we are more secular than Christain.
  • The strong division between the realm of religion and medicine is a false dichotomy. Both deal with the whole person and are not in competition. Human innovation and medical knowledge are common graces from God. Modern medicine rose out of the Christian worldview.
  • The pragmatism of suspicion is not honorable. The fraud argument assumes a consequentialist logic that has no grounding in biblical truth, only in possible outcomes.
  • It is not a sound method to base the validity of something on its worst examples. It is just an overreaction to say because of a few bad actors we should deny a clear focus of the New Testament teaching.

Helping someone get out from under such assumptions begins by "bring heaven and earth together" that is discussing the assumption they likely hold about the secular sacred divide. Central to this is a set of metaphysical assumptions about reality as well as the role of religion in human experience. Another notable area of exploration would be their assumptions about the kingdom of God in general, as well as the individual's "locos of control" and how they relate that to Christ's lordship.


Two, Argument from Theological rationalism

The second view holds that God is sovereign and sickness is his tool. Since God controls all sickness and sends it as a strong rebuke for sin. Sick persons ought to learn from their infirmities. The minister only role is to exhort confession of sin or help the individual to grow in faith through the suffering.

A little background will be helpful to make sense of how Christian’s could have such a view of God. The theological method used at that time was known as “scholasticism”
Scholasticism is a deductive theological method that arose in the Middle Ages Particularly the work of Thomas Aquinas. It was the marriage of Aristotelian philosophical analysis and Christian reflection. Yet Scholasticism moved beyond the synthesis of Aquinas and into hyper rationalism.

Scholastic theological discussion centered on dogmatics (doctrinal propositions) and not exegesis (textual analysis). The scholastic method was deductive in it’s approach. Beginning with a General theological statement, implications were deduced, without much nuance or qualifications given to the primary proposition. The result was a set of blanket conclusions that were more rational than real. By the 1600’s the rigid English scholasticism reasoned in a very absolutist fashion. Adherence defended the view with appeals to a greater good argument of character formation as Kelsey notes:

“It came to be believed that the suffering caused by illness had a real value in developing good Christian character. According to this belief, some illness (if not all of it) is sent by God for a reason, and one of the great Christian virtues is the courageous bearing of such sickness. Obviously, what God has sent for man's good the church should not presume to take away.”[2]

Kelsey gives an interesting example showing how morbid the logic became:

“This attitude is magnificently expressed in the English Prayer Book. The service “the Office of Visitation of the Sick” written in 1661, has to be read to be believed. It states quite clearly that God sends most illness upon us as punishment for sin. The crowning touch (which has been dropped from the American version) is the idea that healthy people are bastards, to use the Prayer Book word. Since they have not received God's fatherly correction in the form of sickness, they cannot be real sons because, as anyone can see, God chastens those whom he loves with divine chastisements like physical illness. Modern Protestantism has taken no official action to countermand this basic idea, and it still represents pretty well the popular, unconscious attitude, although we moderns are not quite so frank as they were in the 1600s.”[3]

A Quick rebuttal

  • The theological method used lacked the precision necessary for the issue.
    The reflection on God’s sovereign to the exclusion of secondary causes is short sighted.
  • The lack of nuance given to the scriptural shape of the nature of God’s sovereignty is to problematic.
  • God controls all sickness. Such a primary proposition is more of a straw man when compared to the biblical evidence.
  • It is a categorical error to imply that a Christian’s courageous bearing sickness is incompatible with a Christian praying for divine healing. Given faith in the Christian God implies such help is within his ability and nature, thus healing is always an implicit possibility.
  • The Christian posture in suffering must be hopeful for it to be virtue shaping. Passive resignation in suffering may dull the pain but it does not purify faith. Biblical hope looks to the God who brakes into our reality as well as the one who is our eternal rest. As Paul describes it, christian hope is a hope against Hope. He did not mean a temporal hope in opposition to an eternal hope but a hope in this life pressed together and made stronger by a hope that assures us of a life to come.  In this life the posture of the Christian hope is an expectation for a foretaste of kingdom matched back to back with a joyful eternal hope is the God of our salvation, the king who defeated death.

Helping someone likely will involve mining a persons assumptions about how someone develops christian character, the nature and role of suffering and especially the implication of the resurrection on the embodied life in the new creation. Central in this project will be understanding the locus of hope in the person. 



[1] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[2] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[3] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106



crossmenuchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram