Jeff Pinyan asks a pertinent question as the theme for this month’s Christian Reconciliation Carnival:
Have you read articles, essays, or books by a Christian of a denomination other than yours — and found yourself agreeing with much of what he or she wrote? How has this changed your understanding of the divisions in Christianity?
Wow. Where to begin? I daresay most of the articles, essays, and books I have read and agreed with were written by people outside my Baptist denomination. The principle impetus for my dissertation work and subsequent interest in Christian spirituality was Jesus and the Spirit by James D. G. Dunn (“a Methodist with Baptist leanings and Pentecostal interests”). Mennonite John Driver’s Radical Faith: An Alternative History of the Christian Church was a great validation of some of the free-church values I have somehow managed to hold onto over the years. I’ve also greatly appreciated the writings of N. T. Wright (an Anglican bishop) and Thomas Oden (a Methodist theologian).
For purposes of this blog, I’ll limit myself to one book—not because it has been more influential than others but because it is in itself a wonderful example of a Christian interacting deeply and respectfully with a variety of traditions. Morton Kelsey’s Healing and Christianity is a primer on the Christian theology and practice of divine healing. First published in 1973, I picked up the updated 1995 edition (at a Catholic bookstore!) back in the late 1990s. A Jungian psychologist, Kelsey has written extensively on the intersection between the Bible, psychology, and spiritual experiences many would label “charismatic.” Nevertheless, he was an Episcopalian priest of a decidedly liberal flavor. Some anti-cult sites even label him a New Ager. If he was, I’m sure he would turn flips in his grave to know that his writings have probably done more to turn me toward Rome and Constantinople for spiritual wisdom than just about anything else!
The book is part church history lesson, part philosophical treatise, and part practical primer in how to have a healing ministry in any church. It takes questions of worldview quite seriously, arguing that churches in the modern (and now postmodern) world need to be able to talk about divine healing in language that makes sense to people today. He faults nearly all modern theological systems from dispensationalism to classical liberalism for failing to handle the New Testament testimony about healing responsibly, while at the same time chastising the Pentecostal movement for its naïve, quasi-magical reading of the biblical texts.
Kelsey’s theological commitments and clinical training might suggest he would have a general disdain for the likes of John Wimber, Agnes Sanford, and other proponents of old-time Pentecostal-style healing ministries. In fact, he interacts with them and many others in Healing and Christianity, often quoting them positively for their contributions to the practice of Christian healing. At one point, he even suggests that readers of a more conservative persuasion might profitably pick up a copy of Wimber’s Power Healing! At the same time, he deals intelligently with the writings of Barth, Bultmann, Aquinas, and Augustine.
How has this book changed my understanding of the divisions in Christianity? First, it expanded my horizons by allowing me to find common ground with whole swaths of Christian tradition—both charismatic and sacramental—about which before I had been mostly ignorant. Second, it helped me to articulate my own beliefs about divine healing and why it is an important aspect of following Jesus, the Great Physician. Third, it challenged my assumptions about what a “Christian worldview” might look like by showing me how it might actually make sense to believe that God still heals today.