Posted in book reviews

The mystery of divine healing

faith_cureOf all the non-Nazarene churches where my family gave gospel concerts, the Tom’s River Assembly of God was among the most memorable.

My mom’s parents had long attended a staid, independent Baptist church. But some from the AOG befriended them, and for the next 10 years, they were faithful members.

We gave our concert at the same time that a faith healing evangelist was conducting a protracted meeting at the church. After having laid hands upon the sick and praying for them, he invited others to come forward to represent people who needed healing but were not present at the service. I went forward and prayed for Friend Stafford, an elderly mostly deaf man in my home church back in Rochester for whom I had learned sign language so I could be his interpreter during church services. We went back home, and I couldn’t wait to see what Friend would be like as a hearing man. Much to my disappointment, he was as hard of hearing as ever.

With my own background as a Nazarene and my contact with Pentecostal groups like the AOG, Nancy A. Hardesty’s Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) caught my attention. It is a handsome volume that packs a lot of solid historical research into a mere 152 pages.

Where Nancy Hardesty excels is in her making various heroes (and heroines) of the late 19th and early 20th century divine healing movement in America come alive. Aimee Semple-McPherson, Alexander Dowie, A.B. Simpson and a colorful cast of of others who emphasized God’s healing touch receive sympathetic treatment from Hardesty, though she does not hesitate to show their flaws.

In a chapter entitled “No doctors, no drugs,” the author delves into the quackery that passed as medical science at the end of the 19th century. This does much to establish the historical context that makes it understandable why Simpson and others insisted that believers seeking physical healing put their sole trust in Jesus, the Great Physician. As modern medicine has improved, this categorical insistence upon forsaking all other means toward healing except God’s direct touch has likewise faded.

Not all is well with Faith Cure. The chapter entitled “theology” is too short to do justice to various Bible passages often cited in defense of divine healing. Further, there is no attempt on the part of the author to research the authenticity of healings that the so-called “healing evangelists” performed in the mid-20th century.

Despite these shortcomings, Nancy Hardesty provides a good introduction to a vast topic. She acknowledges that there is an ongoing place for the doctrine and practice of  divine healing (and anointing with oil – James 5) in the life of local congregations within the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions. If her book stirs up a desire to return to balanced teaching on the topic, then it will have served a useful purpose beyond mere academic interest in a fascinating topic.

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Photo credit: Barnes and Noble