Who can know the mind of God? … the cautious healing theology of Kathryn Kuhlman and Charles Farah

In But Surely God Always Wants to Heal and Say the Word and You’ll Be Healed we looked at two sets of theologies which emphasis that God’s plan is always to heal. According to these preachers we just have to fulfil the faith conditions God sets for us. ‘Why do people not get well’ is simply (and unpalatably) answered: ‘They didn’t have faith’. [1]

A totally different answer emerges from Kathryn Kuhlman[2] and Charles Farah with their strong emphasis on the sovereign freedom of God.[3] Kuhlman, who has greatly influenced the charismatic movement in the mainstream denominations, began her healing movement in 1946 when at an evangelistic rally she was conducting a woman was healed of a tumour. Farah worked with Kuhlman and underwent a transition from believing that healing was in the atonement to thinking that ‘it was not my faith but God’s sovereign love that healed me’ (From the Pinnacle to the Temple) p.16). We should not presume that God has to heal me, or that God will heal me. Any supernatural breaking into the universe is an unexpected and welcome gift that we should be utterly grateful for.

Farah argues that the reason faith confessionalists get it wrong is that they think their experiences (or personal revelations) how it is supposed to be for the rest of us. He considers that this is falsely promoting Gods’s particular word (rhema) to the level of his universal word (logos). Healing is not an act of faith, but ‘God’s sovereign love’[4], and physical healing is not the ultimate goal. Although Farah and Kuhlman would both claim to receive divine insights (words of knowledge) on some occasions, God, for Farah ‘refuses to dance to our tune’.[5] ‘Aslan’, as CS Lewis stated, ‘is not a tame lion’.

For Farah one of the worst sins possible is presumption. If we presume to know God’s will when we really don’t we will get things terribly wrong. This is the reason for his book title: It was a sin of presumption Jesus was tempted with on the pinnacle go the temple: Jump off. God will save you. It says so in his Word… [There Satan quotes Psalm 91 at him…  ‘He will command his angels concerning you and not a foot shall strike the ground].  Similarly one of the most disastrous sins the Israelites committed in the desert was to invade a nation God and previously told them to invade at a time when he was no longer willing to let them do so. [Numbers 14:39-45]. They presumed to know God’s will because previously it had been his will, but now the conditions were not right…

It is exactly this sort of presumption that Farah argues we will fall into if we presume we know the mind of God when it comes to healing. This is especially true if we base our theology on our past experiences – it happened to me so it should happen to you… or we base it on our favourite bible texts… God wants to heal you.. I know… it says so in his word… Farah says  – no way – you can’t make God into your personal slot machine… his ways are not our ways, who can know the mind of God, he is inscrutable – incapable of being limited to whatever thing you think he must do. You cannot say God MUST do this, that or the other.. he is not a tame lion..

So at two ends of the charismatic healing spectrum we have seen those who ‘circumscribe God’s freedom’ through their focus on his prior commitment to healing and at the other end those like Farah who adamantly deny there can or should be a universal promise of healing in this age.

The problem with this latter group is that it can leave God seeming very random – why heal one and not the other? Doesn’t he at least usually want to heal… after all if you had the power wouldn’t you? And for that matter didn’t Jesus? It’s hard to think of someone who didn’t get well in the Gospels when they encounter the ‘exact representation of the invisible God’.

Is there a middle way?

This sets the scene for an analysis of two approaches that try to bridge, or hold in dynamic tension these issues of freedom and faithfulness.[6] Both approaches have substantially influenced mainline denominations, and so will be explored in more length. The first view is characterised by Roman Catholic theologian Francis MacNutt, who has had a profound influence on the charismatic movement, particularly since the publication of Healing in 1974.[7] The second comes from John Wimber of the Vineyard movement who has is still revered and regularly referred to in the New Wine and HTB networks here in the UK as well as the Vineyard group of churches…

This will be explored in the next post

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[1] Knight (1993) p. 74.

[2] See Knight p. 76 for more details.

[3]  See Knight p. 76 for more details.

[4] Farah, ‘From the Pinnacle’ p.16 quoted in Knight p. 76.

[5] ibid. p. 75 [cf. Knight p.78].

[6] An interesting theological parallel can be made with Clark Pinnock theological attempt to plot a third way between Classical and Process Theism. This is an angle David Bassinger has called ‘alternative classical free will theism’. Cf. Clark in Nash (ed.) Process Theology p. 311-327. Other evangelical scholars examining this route include Ronald Nash, John Moscop, and Thomas Tracy.

[7] Ave Maria Press. (It is interesting that Agnes Sanford describes his later book The Power to Heal as a ‘great addition’ to the healing library (back cover). She says, ‘it clarifies many have been a mystery and in some cases a barrier to those who pray for healing’. Morton Kelsey also calls Healing a ‘sane and positive influence’.) This suggests Knight maybe wrong in trying to differentiate too much between them and MacNutt.

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