A book surveys 1,800 years of Christian doctrine and practice related to miracle healings.
King (co-author: God Speaks, 2017) has childhood memories of attending tent revivals. When he entered the ministry, he prayed for healing in Kansas City, Missouri, at the World Revival Church, where he is a pastor. His exhaustive volume on healing is the result of 16 years of study, as the copious footnotes attest. King is wise to acknowledge the difficulty of evaluating miracles objectively: “It is a tremendous challenge to assess religious healing scientifically.” But he holds that “humanity consists of more than mere fluids, tissue, and bone.” He begins in 100 C.E. with Roman sources and rabbinical stories before proceeding to early Christian apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Origen. While there was a tradition of Greek healing cults, some figures, like Clement of Alexandria, countered that “suffering could be beneficial.” Healing is mentioned in the Apocrypha, King notes, but it seems significant that it is not a part of the creeds. St. Augustine downplayed miracles, as did Martin Luther and John Calvin, who de-emphasized the supernatural, implying that a faith based on miracles was second-rate. All the same, these leading lights did not oppose healing, and the tradition continued. Practitioners of “Radical Holiness,” which emerged from Methodism in the 1880s and fueled Pentecostalism, were known for “brusque tactics”: Maria Woodworth-Etter sent sufferers into trances or swoons while Smith Wigglesworth, a working-class Yorkshire plumber, had the alarming habit of striking ill people in the afflicted areas. King makes a convincing case for healing being especially important in the 19th century due to the ineffectiveness of medicine at the time. This ambitious first volume of a series closes with what appeared to be a “waning of the Spirit” around the 1920s. The book’s thorough chronological tour and well-researched, relevant examples are in a suitably academic tone. But amid the long quotations from primary sources and other scholars, there aren’t many memorable lines from the author himself. Overall, this work is short on fresh analysis that could distinguish it from Morton Kelsey’s and Amanda Porterfield’s classic studies.
A comprehensive, if not groundbreaking, exploration of religious healing.