This booklet is apparently taken from the “Questions of Life” book, also by Nicky Gumbel. For those who have not heard of him, Nicky Gumbel is Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church in the UK. He is also behind the Alpha Course which has been so popular in many denominations and this booklet is based on one of the talks they give during the course. What is possibly less well known is that Alpha is a charismatic flavour of Christian teaching, and as such believes that spiritual gifts (for example, the gift of tongues and that of healing) are available for Christians to use today.
I have some concerns about charismatic teachings, especially that of tongues, although I do not reject their ideas wholesale. However that is not the point of this review, so onto the booklet…
One of the reasons Alpha has been so successful is its down-to-earth, accessible style and this booklet certainly reflects this. You won’t find obscure theological terms here, no Greek or Hebrew and no particular engagement with those who do not share charismatic beliefs. This is quite understandable as this is really intended for seekers, for those who are not yet Christian or for those who are newly Christian and aiming for the charismatic end of things.
The booklet starts by relating Gumbel’s surprise at someone being healed by prayer, and then a visit by John Wimber to his church, where he said that he had had “words of knowledge”, revelations from God about various people in the room. These revelations turned out to be true, and people were healed during that meeting. This is what started Gumbel off in the idea that God heals miraculously today. After this he goes on to discuss healing in the Bible.
It is important to note that Gumbel acknowledges the role of conventional medicine in God’s plan – he is no extremist and is careful throughout this book not to teach people that they are more sinful/less faithful for not being healed.
Gumbel draws on the Old Testament healing Naaman from leprosy (2 Kings 5:14) and uses it to show how God can heal people physically in order to draw them to him spiritually.
He then goes on to an interesting discussion about the Kingdom of God. As he points out, we are waiting for the second coming of Jesus and the institution of the Kingdom of God and that, in this world we now inhabit, things will never be perfect as they will be in the next. He talks about a friend of his who has kidney failure and who has not been healed, despite prayer. John Wimber told this man “the real gift is that of salvation, eternal life, all the things that Jesus gives us. If we’re healed physically in this life that, if you like, is a bonus.” (p11) This is an important note and made me warm to this booklet.
Gumbel goes on to discuss the present aspects of the Kingdom as related in Luke 17:20-1 and in Matthew 13:44-46. Jesus’ miracles, forgiveness of sins and suppression of evil are signs of the Kingdom in this age. He describes our time as one “when the age to come has broken into history” (p13) and this is the basis for the beliefs of charismatics in miraculous signs today. He points out that Jesus sent out disciples to (among other things) heal the sick (Matthew 10:7-9; Luke 10:9) and that all disciples are to obey everything commanded by Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Here I think Gumbel has overstated the case, although he later says that while some have a healing gift, all can heal. I find this a bit daft to be honest. What Gumbel is referring to is Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians:
To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 12:8-9ff)
Which seems to make it quite clear that not all have the same gifts. I would, however point out that if one can do a thing without having the gift to do that thing, why bother having the gifts? Paul also says:
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:29-30)
Which rather seems to suggest that not all are able to heal.
Gumbel now goes on to talk about healings in church history, including accounts from Irenaeus, Origen and Augustine (though rather studiously avoiding the massive number of healings claimed by assorted Catholic saints since early church days to the present!)
After this Gumbel talks about healing today, including a story about a woman’s blindness being healed. He reminds us again that not all will be healed and all will die eventually, and points out that at some points the focus should be on preparation for death rather than healing. He suggests that we pray for the healing of lots of people – “with love and sincerity” (p19) – as the prayer itself is a blessing to the sick.
He then gives a list of some useful questions to ask when praying (what is wrong, why do they have this condition – with a story suggesting some illnesses are caused by unforgiven sin, how is the person feeling and so on.) He also affirms that it is important to tell people God loves them even if they are not healed and to “continue praying until we feel it is right to stop.” (p21)
All in all, I like this booklet.I am wary of charismatic teachings in general, as I have seen the abuse of them, but I am greatly encouraged that Gumbel has maintained throughout a non-condemnatory view of the unhealed. I can see things that could be unpleasant – like prayer continuing too long and being a mental burden on the sick person – but in general this is a reasonable account of the charismatic point of view. This has been a bit long, really, for a booklet that is only 25 pages long! So, OK, but I don’t think the charismatic stuff is for me.
Buy the Stuff!
Does God Heal Today? – Nicky Gumbel (Amazon UK)
Questions of Life – Nicky Gumbel (Amazon UK)