by Vern S. Poythress
[Published in Eternity 38/10 (Oct., 1987) 46-47. Used with permission.]
by John Wimber with Kevin Springer
Harper & Row. 1987. xxii, 293pp. $14.95
Reviewed by Vern Sheridan Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa.
Wimber’s book encapsulates his experience with supernatural healing. As a pastor he prays for healing, and as a leader he has conducted many interdenominational lay seminars to train people to be knowledgeable instruments in healing. Healing is taken to include relief from organic disease, demonization, and psychological effects of past sins and traumas.
The book’s three major sections discuss successively the why, what, and how of Jesus’ healing. In the final two chapters, Wimber outlines five steps to organize the process of praying for healing, including an interview with the sick person, a “diagnostic” decision as to the cause, a decision as to what kind of prayer is appropriate, the time of prayer, and follow-up.
Unlike some modern healers, Wimber is plainly interested in grounding healing ministry in a rich theology of the kingdom of God. He can thereby affirm that healing is a significant ministry of the church, but yet not isolate healing of the body from forgiveness, reconciliation, a growing personal relationship with God, and other aspects of the kingdom. He clearly repudiates the idea that God always wills immediate bodily healing, or that healing is hindered only by lack of faith on the part of the recipient.
Wimber’s book does, however, have two significant theological weaknesses. First, in his argumentation Wimber appeals almost exclusively to incidents in the Gospels and in Acts, without interacting with the view that the incidents are unique because they serve to lay the foundation of the church. To alleviate this problem, Wimber might have devoted more attention to James 5:14-18 and 1 Cor 12:9, 28.
Second, in his practical examples and advice Wimber gives a key role to sudden supernatural insights (“words of knowledge”). He is here relying to a large degree on his experience rather than the Bible. In only a few cases do healing stories in the New Testament allude to special insight (Luke 5:20, 8:46, 13:16, John 5:14, 9:3, 11:4, Acts 14:9?). Even in these cases, it is hard to see that Jesus’ insights substantially affected his dialog with the sick.
Hence at this point we have no basis theologically for generalizing from the experiences of Wimber’s teams. Rather, James 5:14-18, with its mention of the elders’ praying, provides the surest exegetical foundation for a regular ministry of healing. If elders with adequate training, experience, Christian wisdom, and greater spiritual and theological maturity were involved in healing, Wimber might not find it necessary to allot so crucial a role to supernatural insights.
But let no one be complacent. Jesus’ compassion for the sick must motivate us to assess carefully what Wimber is doing, to make sure that we are doing all that we can, and expectantly to ask God to pour out his blessings of healing. For these reasons Wimber’s book is an important starting point.