Matthew Ropp
ST514 - Reconciliation and the Healing of Persons
Dr. Ray Anderson
Fuller Theological Seminary
Winter 1998

Exam Question 7
The church where you serve on the staff as director of parish renewal, would like to begin a healing ministry in connection with the monthly communion service. At the meeting of elders, where this was presented for discussion, one elder spoke up enthusiastically. "I have been waiting for this emphasis for some time. I visited a church where people are being healed and heard the pastor say that God intends that we be healed of our physical afflictions because our healing is 'in the atonement.'" This provoked some strong reactions among the group but, as the pastor later commented, "There was more heat than light!" Because this ministry would fall under your supervision, the pastor asks you to prepare a brief paper on the subject of "healing and the atonement," for presentation at the next board meeting. "I'm not sure how I would answer this questions myself," confessed the pastor, "this was never covered in seminary and I'm not really a theologian. But give it your best shot!" While you realize that your paper will need to be understood by the lay persons on the board, you also want to cover some technical theological issues and point the pastor toward some resources. Therefore, you add some endnotes documenting sources and interacting with the critical theological issues.

    There are at least three major views on "healing and the atonement." I believe only one of them is really true to the Bible and most importantly will give us an adequate framework to build a healing ministry in which we can minister holistically to everyone involved. Because the others are so prevalent and widely taught, however, it is important to understand them as well.

    Before discussing the three different positions, I will clarify what is meant by healing being "in the atonement," just to make sure we are talking about the same thing. First of all, the primary issue at stake here is physical healing, not spiritual, emotional, or other types of healing (although these issues are related). Secondly, the "atonement," refers to God's saving work for humanity through Christ's life, death, and resurrection. So, when the question "Is healing in the atonement?" is asked, the unpacked question is "Is physical healing guaranteed to followers of Christ as a result of his reconciling work in the same way that spiritual healing is guaranteed?" Having more adequately defined the question, let's consider the three views.

    The first belief is that healing is not in the atonement. That is not to say that proponents of this view believe that physical healing doesn't occur. But, they believe it is in no way guaranteed by the work of Christ. When healing does occur, it is an "uncovenanted mercy" - God has not promised us that it would occur and he is not obligated to heal. He simply has mercy, for reasons we don't understand, and sometimes heals someone. One of the assumptions behind this view is that human persons are divided into components: spiritual, physical, emotional, et cetera. The atonement is thus seen as having significance and saving power for only our spiritual component (by forgiveness of sins), which has already taken place through faith.

    The major problem with this view, from a pastoral perspective, is that it doesn't really explain to people why some are healed. Healing is seen just as a mysterious, seemingly random act of love contained in 'God's sovereignty'. While it is indeed an act of love on God's behalf, we are left with an image of a God who is capricious and unfair. People may think, "He healed Mary, but not me!" or "Why did Mr. Smith get healed and my dad die? Does God love that family more than mine?" This view can give no adequate explanation to people who are hurting when God does not heal.1

    The second belief is that healing is in the atonement and that it can be appropriated or claimed here and now. This view states that God wills that we be healed here and now.2  A direct cause and effect relationship is drawn between faith and healing. If we have enough faith and pray hard enough, God will always heal. This is often part of a "health and wealth" gospel, which also claims our financial prosperity is guaranteed. It assumes complete spiritual and physical healing in this life. Proponents of this view claim to simply take the Bible at its word. In actuality they read their twentieth century context into the Biblical texts, not considering the original intent, which results in poor or completely wrong interpretations of key passages. They also ignore many other texts and fall short of the overall New Testament picture.3  God does clearly stand on the side of healing as we shall see below, but many Pauline texts also indicate times where the apostle Paul was himself not healed or he couldn't heal others he was in contact with (see 1 Tim 5:23, 2 Tim 4:20, Phil 3:25-27, Gal 4:13-15, et cetera).4  In none of these situations is their an indication of a lack of faith.

    In addition to the faulty Biblical basis of this view, it leaves us with many problems on the human side of the equation. The first belief could not explain why some people are healed. This view cannot explain why some people are not healed! The explanation given is very inadequate: when someone is not healed, it is because they have failed to appropriate the healing that God has offered them. Either their faith, the faith of the people praying, or the faith of the community is not strong enough - they are to blame. The psychological and spiritual damage this teaching can result in is obvious. Even in faith, many times healing does not occur. What is the conclusion for the person not healed who has been taught this theology? Either they lament over their own inadequate faith or they decide that God must not have really cared. Either can tragically destroy their relationship with God.

    The third and final view I will present here also states that physical healing is in the atonement. It is not, however, guaranteed in this life. The healing we are guaranteed in the atonement is instead an eschatological reality. That is, it is something that will be completely fulfilled at the end of time, at the final resurrection, when God's Kingdom comes in all its glory. Things which are eschatological in nature, however, are also to a certain extent present now, in this life. When God the Son became man in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God began to break in on earth. This position sees salvation for the complete person (physical, emotional, and spiritual) as eschatological in nature. Ultimately we will receive complete forgiveness of sins, total emotional healing, and perfect physical healing at the resurrection. Christ has given us the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, who ministers in and through believers and gives us assureance of those ultimate realities in this age. Through faith we receive assurance of our forgiveness. Likewise, though faith we are to pray for healing, which will sometimes "break in" as a sign of the Kingdom here on earth.

    In order for this third view to be valid, it must answer the two related questions which the above views failed to adequately answer: "Why are some people healed?" and "Why are some people not healed?" Both questions are answered in an eschatological understanding of the atonement. When people are healed, they are healed as a manifestation of the Kingdom. This healing is not only God's grace for the person healed, but also proclaims God's glory. It is an affirming sign to the believing community and a witness to unbelievers. Why God does this in any particular case is still a mystery, however. But because when healings do occur it is for the whole body of Christ, when people are not healed, this doesn't need to be seen as a lack of love for that person.

    In fact, God has also provided (perhaps greater) gifts through the Spirit for those that are not physically healed in this life.5  He gives them assurance of his presence and his strength in their life through their weakness:

[Christ] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10). (See also 1 Col 1:27, Rom 8:26.)
Christ has completely identified with us in our suffering and pain through his own life as a human and his death on the cross. Even if we were all healed of our physical illnesses and infirmities, that healing can only be a temporary solution. We all die eventually, regardless of healing we receive. Relationship and the blessing of God's presence, on the other hand, are eternal, and much more important.

    Too often ministries of healing have come from the perspective that physical healing is guaranteed in this life. The damaging results have been shown above. But the Bible is clear that we should participate in the inbreaking of God's kingdom by healing the sick through prayer (Luk 9:1-6; Jas 5:14-16). In the mystery of the tension we now live in - with the Kingdom partially here, but not fully realized - some will not be healed when we pray. We must to them also, perhaps most importantly, minister God's love and peace.6  We must remind the unhealed that God is there with them in their physical brokenness and pain, and that through relationship with him they can have great joy even in that place. This gives our plans for ministry in this area validity and integrity for the whole body of the church.7

1 See Andersonís quote of Brown. (Anderson, 50).  The whole discussion of the three different view points comes from Andersonís lectures and TA sessions with Alison Kral.
2 Blue devotes a whole chapter in his first section to showing the inadequacies of this "faith formula" theology (41-51).  He rejects it and he goes on to make many statements in agreement with Andersonís views regarding the eschatological nature of our healing (you have to be influenced by your mentor after all!).  At then end of his work, however, Blue appears to me to come back to a "faith formula" theology in a different form, even though here he is explicitly denying that charge (159).  "Only if we obey will we exercise authority."  Granted.  He then acknowledges the mystery that will always remain in what God does and why and that until the eschaton "all our ministry is partial."  His last point is that "our obedience is never perfect."  Is he putting this back in a causal relationship for the lack of authority in healing?
3 This framework of their basic interpretative problems is taken directly from Fee (Fee, 5).  He goes on to argue in detail the nature of "health and wealth Gospel" advocatesí faulty readings and misuse of many texts.  Feeís counterpoint, however, that "evangelical Christianity by and large does not expect much from God," is stinging in its truthfulness.  Rejecting Pentecostalism we are much, much too often simply content with a God of the ordinary, perhaps vaguely controlling things, but not specifically working in miraculous ways.  One thing I got out of his article, but especially from Blue is that we need to pray for God to work and we need to pray for specific things.
4 I was blessed and surprised to have this newsletter forwarded to me during the quarter and to read a view which largely agrees with Andersonís that healing is ultimately in the atonement but not guaranteed now.  Rhodes, like Fee, refutes the faulty exegesis of Isaiah 53 and gives many examples of continued physical ailments in the ministry of Paul (Rhodes, Jan 1998).
5 "The healing of an illness and the grace to endure in hope when healing is delayed is the reality of God standing with us now" (Blue, 69)  Anderson says that, "A ministry of reconciliation is a ministry of advocacy, not merely healing.  Godís advocacy of human persons who suffer and live with deformity and disease, is to give assurance that these torments are not the consequence of sin nor lack of faith." (Anderson, 54)
6 This is Andersonís model for a healing ministry and why he places it in the context of a communion service.  Physical healing and even the lack of healing appear to be sacramental to him as "signs and seals."  I agree wholeheartedly that in any healing ministry we must not forget those who are not healed.  As Anderson said in class, it is they, not the oneís who are healed, who need us as ministers in that moment.  The context of doing this in a communion service is very doubtful in my tradition, as there is not in my church even any concept of sacrament in relation to communion.  It is instead done very legalistically and only as a remembrance.  Blue develops the theology and states the need for ministering to those not healed, but I was very disappointed in the completeness in this area of the model for a healing ministry which he finally presents.  He gives the five steps he has taken from John Wimber and at the crucial moment of assessing the results and giving post-prayer direction, he seemingly forgets that some people might not be healed at all.  Thus he offers no advice for or even recommendation to counseling of those not healed!  Completely inadequateÖ  (Blue, 133-138)  I also felt like Blue kept promising to talk about the unhealed earlier in the book, but never really did.
7 Anderson, in discussing healing, told the class in his lecture his view (for which he claims no exegetical support) that before the Fall there was no lack of disease in the world, but that Adam and Eve were sustained through their life giving relationship with God.  At the Fall, then, this relationship was severed, which is why we have disease and sickness today.  He sees this as less incredible than sickness entering the world at the time of the Fall.  It seems to me, however, that the Bible does teach a fundamental change took place in the world after the Fall.  Consider for example Genesis 3:17f: "And to the man he said, ĎÖcursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field."  This implies that there were not thorns and thistles before sin entered the world.  Romans 8 also teaches that the creation was "subjected to futility" and waits in hope to be set free from bondage.
References Cited

Anderson, Ray S.
    1998 "ST514 Expanded Lecture Syllabus". Unpublished class syllabus for Reconciliation and the Healing of Persons. Pasadena, California: Fuller Theological Seminary, 44-55.

Blue, Ken
    1987 Authority to Heal. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Fee, Gordon
    1979 The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels. Costa Mesa, California: The Word For Today.

The New Revised Standard Version
    1989 Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Rhodes, Ron, ed.
    1998 "Is Physical Healing Guaranteed in the Atonement (Isaiah 53:3-5)?" Reasoning from the Scriptures Newsletter January 1998. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries.

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