Friday, April 04, 2008


I was asked to comment on a faith-healer. Here’s my reply:

No, I haven’t heard of him.

It’s possible that Henry Wright is sincere, but suffers from a flawed understanding of Scripture. Or it’s possible that he’s a charlatan.

I went to his website and read the following exposition:

I’ll do a running commentary on that.

“Even in that church of over 1500 people, coming week after week, with the elders anointing them with oil, praying the prayer of faith, fasting and praying, and standing on the Word, people were not getting well from incurable diseases.”

i) Wright’s underlying assumption is that God wants to heal all Christians. Hence, if every Christian isn’t healed, there’s some human impediment which prevents God from healing us.

a) That’s a false assumption. For one thing, illness is a fixture of life in a fallen world. It’s of a piece with mortality and the aging process.

b) It’s also the standard escape-clause which faith-healers use to explain their failures. They blame it on sin or lack of faith.

ii) It’s also a mistake to assume that if a verse of Scripture is formally unconditional (e.g. 1 Jas 5:15), it was meant to be taken as an unconditional command or promise or prohibition. .

But that’s naïve. The absence of an explicit condition doesn’t mean that a verse of Scripture is unconditional. Bible readers were expected to exercise a modicum of common sense.

For example, the Jewish-Christians whom James was writing to certainly had their share of personal experience with unanswered prayer. Pious Jews didn’t expect God to do whatever they asked him to do. That’s unrealistic. So James doesn’t need to state the obvious.

The “prayer of faith” doesn’t mean that we must believe that God intends to heal us. Rather, it means that we should look to God as our healer. He may or may not choose to heal us, but we are acknowledging the providence of God in our lives.

“As I crossed America, I observed that, regardless of denomination, regardless of the Church, less than 5% of all of God’s people (forget about the world) were getting healed of their diseases. It is even worse than that today.”

Where does he come up with this statistic?

“I don’t know if you have ever been prayed for because of a disease and didn’t get well. If you went before God and believed Him, believed that He loved you and He would heal you, yet it didn’t happen, that is a staggering attack on your faith and your trust in the living God.”

True—given the premise. But that’s because some Christians nurse false hopes and expectations. They misinterpret the Bible. As a result, their false expectations are dashed by brutal experience.

“Scripture tells us that God loves us, that He came and died for us in the person of the Lord Jesus. He healed the people of their diseases and cast out their evil spirits. The disciples did it, the 70 did it, and the early church did it. Then we entered into a dark age of time from which I don’t think we have ever recovered.”

i) The kingdom of God doesn’t arrive all at once. It’s phased in over time, in stages. The first advent of Christ was a case of inaugurated eschatology. And it’s a foretaste of the consummation. But the first coming of Christ is not the second coming of Christ. The here-and-now isn’t heaven-on-earth.

ii) He’s ignoring a major counterexample: Mt 17:14-19 (par. Mk 9:14-29; Lk 9:37-42). Unlike garden-variety Christians, the disciples were specifically authorized to cast out demons (Mt 10:1-8). Yet, in this case, they failed miserably. That should serve as a cautionary note to the rest of us.

Christians shouldn’t presume that they have the authority to heal or cast out demons. We can always pray, but there’s no guarantee that God will do what we ask. If the disciples, who were authorized to do this, failed, then we, who lack that explicit authorization, can’t expect to be more successful than they were.

“I went before God in the early 1980’s, and He began to show me His truth about disease from the Scriptures. It wasn’t that He could not heal. It was that we had to become sanctified in certain areas of our lives before He would heal. Diseases in our lives can be the result of a separation from Him and His Word in specific areas of our lives.”

The problem here is that Wright is turning a half-truth into a general principle. There are cases in which illness is the result of sin. But, of course, that’s not always the case, viz. Job or the blind man in Jn 9.

So, although it’s worthwhile to explore the possible connection between sin and illness in a particular case, it’s unscriptural and cruel to presume that someone’s illness is the result of personal sin.

And it’s also unscriptural to presume that God didn’t cure someone because he was too sinful to be healed. After all, every Christian is still a sinner.

“A lot of people struggle with the supposed ‘gaps’ between the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the other Epistles. After Acts, there is little further discussion about healing and deliverance. Thus some have said, ‘Well, it passed away because you don’t find it.’ ‘Healing was only for Christ or the disciples and not for us.’ I struggled with that. I’ll be honest with you.”

That’s a false dichotomy, as if the only two alternatives are that God either wants to heal everyone or no one. We can pray for healing. And in some cases, God may grant our prayer. So there’s nothing to lose. We receive some blessings through prayer that we wouldn’t receive absent prayer.

But other prayers go unanswered. Some prayers are imprudent. And God is wiser than we are. Human beings are short-sighted, so even when our prayers are doctrinally sound and well-intentioned, we may still be asking for the wrong thing in the grand scheme of things. Our plans don’t automatically line up with God’s plan.

“I want to tell you that healing and things you get from God, to a degree, are conditional to your obedience. I am not into legalism. I’m into grace and mercy.”

That’s another half-truth. There are situations in which that’s the case. And we should be alert to that possible connection. But Wright isn’t even being true to his NT models. Before Jesus healed someone, he didn’t first tell him to work on his sanctification and come back later when he was holier.

“The knowledge I have is not only accurate scripturally, but it’s also accurate medically.”

Since he’s not a doctor, he’s in no position to make that claim.

“Coast to coast in America, I deal with disease. Even doctors contact our ministry regarding their own lives. There are doctors in America who call and discuss with me the implications of their patient’s disease. I have doctors who refer their patients to me to discuss the spiritual roots of disease.”

Maybe. But we only have his word for that. Have these doctors gone on record to vouch for his ministry?

“I told the five ladies with arthritis that there would be a condition to their healing. I asked them to think about the people who had injured each of them in their lifetime, either through word or deed—someone who didn’t treat them right, victimized them, lied about them, abused them, either emotionally, physically, verbally, or maybe even sexually.”

In a fallen world, this happens everyday to one degree or another. It would be impossible to remember every slight, and it would be unedifying to try.

“I asked them, ‘When you think of their name, or their face, whether they’re living or dead, what do you feel? Do any of you have that high-octane ping going off inside?’ They all said, ‘Yes, there is somebody I have not had resolution with.’ There was bitterness and unforgiveness. I told them that, in exchange for their healing, they would have to get that right with God, right then, or else we were wasting our time. They were going to have to forgive that person.”

This is yet another half-truth. Nursing a grudge can sometimes lead to illness. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as withholding forgiveness.

Forgiving the offender can be a way of releasing bitterness. And, under those circumstances, it’s best to forgive. But it’s not a universal duty.

“Have you ever read that scripture? Do you think it is there just for the fun of it? Do you think it is a situational scripture that only applies to some and not to all?…But after conversion, there is an absolute requirement and responsibility to forgive others as mentioned in Matthew 6:14-15.”

i) In my opinion, that’s a popular misinterpretation. It commits the same mistake as treating Jas 5:15 as though it were an unconditional promise. Scripture often speaks in generalities. It doesn’t pedantically qualify every statement.

ii) It’s easy for people to forget that the NT was addressed to the covenant community. These statements were never meant to be ripped out of their Christian, covenantal setting and applied indiscriminately.

As a matter of fact, Scripture doesn’t teach unconditional forgiveness. Lk 17:3 is a case in point. Here the offended party is only required to forgive the offending party if three conditions are met:

a) The offending party must be penitent.

b) The offending party must be a fellow believer.

c) The offending party must have wronged the offended party. There is no third party forgiveness.

iii) To take another example: The NT gives two explicit grounds for divorce (infidelity, desertion). But if forgiveness were a universal duty, then you’d forgive the spouse who wrong you rather than divorcing him (or her).

“Are you being led by your psychology (soul) or is the Spirit of God leading you? Who lives within your human spirit and makes you sons and daughters of God? Are you being led by the Spirit of God or by the intellect and other thoughts? I ask the question because it’s an important question.”

This is another false dichotomy. We are to renew our minds, not dispose of them. The Scriptural disjunction is not between the Holy Spirit and the human intellect, but between regenerate and unregenerate reason. Christians should use their minds. Sanctified reason.

“God’s perfect will is not to heal you.”

I don’t believe that God has a “perfect” will in contrast to what actually happens.

“God’s perfect will in the Word is that you don’t get sick.”

That’s absolutely false. To take an obvious counterexample, as we age we become more prone to opportunistic diseases. Our immune system weakens.

Even faith-healers grow old! Even faith-healers die! They become enfeebled by old age—just like the rest of us. I’ve never met an immortal faith-healer!

This is due to the curse. And the curse will not be lifted for the duration of the church age. The ultimate “cure” is glorification. That awaits the resurrection of the just.

“ In Deuteronomy 28 and Exodus 15, God promised that, if we are obedient to Him, none of the diseases of Egypt will fall upon us.”

This has reference to the plagues of Egypt or the curse-sanctions, and not ordinary, mundane diseases.

“The next morning they brought a lady to me privately who had cancer of the lung and cancer of the bone. She had been to all the doctors and had all the bone scans and x-rays. She was the mother of two children. Because I knew the spiritual root of her disease, I just kind of laid it out. This is your disease; this is what I see. It took about 3 seconds, and she was bawling like a baby. I had touched her pain.”

So he takes a cookie-cutter approach to everyone. He has this all-purpose formula. He doesn’t even listen to the patient. Instead, he has a ready-made diagnosis for anyone and everyone. That sort of short-cut is disastrous in spiritual counseling.

“I had touched her spiritual dynamics. God opened her up with discernment, and I put my hand right on that thing that had been festering for years…I just ministered to her and broke the power of the spirit of death, the power of cancer, and commanded its power to be broken.”

Where does the Bible say that a faith-healer can command a disease to up and leave?

“Thirty days later, I got a phone call. She had been back to the doctor and had bone scans and X-rays. There was no evidence of lung cancer or bone cancer.”

Once again, we only have his say-so to go by. Why should we believe him? Is her medical record in the public domain?

“About 30% of all cancers have a spiritually rooted component.”

Where does he come up with this statistic?

“I specialize in cancer to some degree, but I don’t have all the answers.”

Considering that he’s not even a medical doctor, much less an oncologist, that’s a presumptuous claim.

“We are somewhat familiar with uterine, ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers. We have insight into how these cancers develop. In the section on the spiritual roots of disease, I will go into this in detail.”

He’s not qualified to speak to this issue. He’s dispensing dangerous advice.

“About 80% of all the diseases of mankind have a spiritual root with various psychological and biological manifestations.”

He keeps pulling these statistics out of thin air.

“I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist. I do not mix psychology with ministry.”

What about medical missionaries?

“I am a servant of the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. No man has taught me, but He has taught me.

That’s the kind of prideful statement that verges on self-delusion.”


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a matter of fact, Scripture doesn’t teach unconditional forgiveness. Lk 17:3 is a case in point. Here the offended party is only required to forgive the offending party if three conditions are met:

    a) The offending party must be penitent.

    b) The offending party must be a fellow believer.

    c) The offending party must have wronged the offended party. There is no third party forgiveness.

    Excellent point. We're told to "forgive (each other) as (God in) Christ has forgiven you."

    Unless a man is a universalist, this is clearly conditioned on the penitence of the offending party. Forgiveness is conditioned on our repentance, our contrition. Election is unconditional.

    Ironically, and maybe it's just because they are the majority these days, I see Arminians make this mistake more frequently than we do. They talk about unconditional forgiveness as if it's unconditional election.

    As to the wider topic, as you can imagine I have a few thoughts on this myself.

    This sort of approach to health and life fails to account for the fact that God achieves higher order goods via the sickness of His people. At times, these illnesses can be a result of our misbehavior. Others are not.

    If I sit about and live a life of gluttony and turn into the 300 lb. pastor and wind up with a major heart attack, that's on me. However, God may overrule that so that I, in my hospital stay meet a man who desperately needs the Lord. As a result of my stay, I wind up getting better. He comes to know Christ. Later, he becomes a great evangelist.

    Or let's take a more mundane example. Recently, I had my right ear removed, all but the lobe, because I had skin cancer that went down to the bone. Months later, I met an 80+ year old man @ Borders Books with a similar problem. He wanted to talk to me, seeing my ear. We chatted for a bit, and at the end of our chat he said, "Thank you for taking the time to speak to me," as if he didn't think I, being 40 years or more his junior, would not do such a thing. He was lonely. He wanted somebody to talk to him. God used me to minster to him that day.

    I decided then that I wouldn't have my ear reconstructed if it meant that I would lose opportunities to minister to folks that I and most other people might not otherwise have. That, I think, is the way we should look at our sicknesses and circumstances. Our Lord uses them, and I think frequently, as means to minister to the needs of His people and to the world. Without those things in our lives, we might not otherwise be able to do so, and it may just be the case that we are the only persons that can do so, for reasons we cannot see. Thus to assert that God would have us all healed and living the good life is an affront to any sound doctrine of providence, and, in my view, an insult to the God of all grace who has engineered these circumstances for His glory.

  3. ALERT!

    Please accept this assignment, anyone from Triablogue.

    Over at GreenBaggins some 'highly educated' chaps are saying the Bible is full of errors (etc.), one just published a book from Baker Academic (very erudite sounding imprint), and another "just handed in" his thesis (I think that means he's going to be a Ph.D.)...

    So here is the assignment: the second mentioned one above wrote this challenging comment with 9 points in it:

    Apparently they are devastating point because the others there won't respond to them (or find them too tedious or whatever).

    Could the veteran apologists here, one or another, take a shot at responding to the linked comment above?

    Thank you. I'll see to it that it gets noticed over at GreenBaggins...

  4. I'll take a look at Stephen Young's missive.

  5. It looks like he posted on it on his own blog not long ago.

    A few of those are a decent melon-scratcher, to be sure. Not all of them, though.