Why Does Bad Theology Produce More Healing? image

Why Does Bad Theology Produce More Healing?

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I am often asked at conferences and training events: why does bad theology seem to produce more healing? Sometimes the person asking is an impish conservative type, and they mean, maybe it doesn't produce more healing. It's all a scam. Sometimes the person asking is an impish Pentecostal, and the subtext is clearly, maybe it's not bad theology. It's all true. But more often than not, the person is genuinely worried: I'm pretty sure that so-and-so's theology on this is wrong in important ways, and that mine is right, but s/he sees way more healing than I do. Why? I sympathise.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think there are several plausible reasons why “bad” theology could produce “more” healing. (I’ll keep both words in quotation marks to avoid begging the question for now.) Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a particular person (a) holds a view of divine sovereignty, sickness, suffering and healing that is clearly unbiblical, and (b) sees credible, verified, remarkable healings at a rate that most of us get nowhere near. Why might that be the case? Four reasons occur to me.

They pray with faith. Assuming you believe that God heals today—and let’s face it, if you don’t, you probably aren’t interested in this article in the first place—then you’re presumably going to agree that there is a connection between praying with faith and people getting healed. Now: if you are theologically persuaded that God is going to heal every single person for whom you pray with faith, you will pray with a lot of faith for a lot of people. If you are theologically persuaded that God sometimes wants to heal people and sometimes doesn’t, you will pray with less faith for fewer people. (And if you are theologically persuaded that God never wants to heal people, you will pray with no faith for no people.) More faith for healing, more prayer for the sick. More prayer for the sick, more healing. It’s like John Wimber used to say: I’d rather pray for one hundred people and see one person healed, than pray for nobody and see nobody healed. I’m not saying it’s a simple percentages game—but then again, “you do not have because you do not ask.” As you sow, so shall you reap.

They have the gift of healing, whether or not they also have the gift of teaching. Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians 12: “For to one is given ... gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles ... Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing?” Notice three things here. One: not everybody works miracles or has the gift of healing. Two: not all are teachers. Three: therefore the people with the gift of healing and the people with the gift of teaching will often be different people (or, put differently, the people with the strongest theology of healing will often not be the people with the strongest gift of healing). God’s gifts, you see, are not rewards for good behaviour, or good theology, or good devotional lives; they are gifts given for the good of the whole body, and no believer has all of them, and no believer has none of them. When firing on all cylinders, the local church will have great theology and lots of prophecy and lots of languages and lots of healing, because of the diversity of gifts within the body. In practice, this often doesn’t happen, because of the third reason.

People with similar gifts gather together. Like attracts like. Birds of a feather flock together. People with teaching gifts go to conferences run by TGC or T4G, or even THINK. People with leadership gifts go to conferences run by Leadership Network or Willow Creek. People with healing gifts go to conferences run by Bethel or Andrew Wommack Ministries. On its own, that wouldn’t be a problem; it would equip people to use their gifts more effectively, and strengthen the whole church. But because of the number of options available to the modern churchgoer, and the lack of institutional stickability, and even the invention of the motor car, people with particular gifts are able not just to go to entirely likeminded conferences annually, but to attend entirely likeminded churches weekly. You can probably find a church where gifts like yours are prized, and gifts that might clash with yours are either ignored or subtly denigrated. Wise church leaders will recognise the dangers of this, of course, and build teams and church cultures that honour and celebrate all of the Spirit’s gifts, but the temptation to specialise further is always there—not least because drawing likeminded people from all over the world to your school of theology, or leadership, or supernatural ministry, or worship, may well lead your church to grow in influence and numbers as a result. Which, if it happens, means that churches led by people with healing gifts see more and more healing (and less and less robust theology), and churches led by people with teaching gifts see less and less healing (and more and more robust theology), and everyone wonders why. What is needed is wise leadership that values and honours the strengths of others, and eagerly desires spiritual gifts, and guards the church from false teaching, and looks to preach the gospel to all nations, all at once. Which is harder than it sounds.

They are less sceptical about reports of healing. This final reason cuts both ways. In a good way, it means that people with strong healing gifts are more likely to hear about, announce and celebrate physical healings, more likely to thank God for them publicly, and more likely to encourage others to pray for more—which takes us in a nice feedback loop back to the first reason. (Scepticism kills that kind of thing. We don’t celebrate a healing straight away, because it hasn’t been verified. We don’t celebrate a healing a week later, because they might lose it. We don’t celebrate a healing a year later, because everyone has forgotten about it. Bah, humbug.) On the other hand, being less sceptical can also mean that people are proclaimed to have been healed when they have not, and a mixture of atmosphere, hormones, suggestion, emotion and euphoria has convinced them that they have. This double-whammy is bound to increase the number of reported healings, partly in a good way and partly in a bad way. Wise pastors, of course, learn how to celebrate healing without being merely swept along by the moment, and to verify reported miracles without pouring cold water on them. (For what it’s worth, my guess is that most people who have read this far will probably struggle more with cynicism than credulity, given our wider culture, and as such we should probably lean in the opposite direction. Take it or leave it.)

So there are four reasons why “bad” theology might produce “more” healing. Clearly, there are also such things as charlatanry and chicanery, just as there are such things as sneering judgmentalism and intellectual pride. But if we are able to assume the best of our brothers and sisters, even if we believe they are theologically wrong, and if we are prepared to sacrifice some of our personal preferences for the good of the whole body, we should not give up hope of being a community with both great theology and plentiful healing. Personally, I don’t want to settle for anything less.

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