Headline, Soundings

A healthy theology of healing

A healthy theology of healing

One of the most influential voices in the Word of Faith Movement is that of the late Kenneth Hagin, who has been described as the father of the movement.

In his 1982 book, Must Christians Suffer?, Hagin presents his clearest teaching on the relationship between Christians and sickness based on his reading of the Bible:

“When the Bible talks about suffering, that doesn’t mean “sickness”. We have no business suffering sickness and disease, because Jesus redeemed us from that.”1

Hagin believes that because of the death of Christ on the cross, Christians are redeemed not only from sin, but from sickness as well.

The Bible passage that Hagin often appeals to is Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …  and with his wounds we are healed.” Many Christians have used this passage to claim immediate and miraculous healing from God as they pray for their loved ones who are ill.

To be sure, this passage does make a clear connection between the atoning work of Christ on the cross and physical healing. However, the question is whether this passage promises that the benefits that come from Christ’s death are to be fully realised in the here and now—before his Parousia (second coming).

The Church and her theologians have taught that the full salvific benefits of the atonement—which includes healing—will be obtained only when the Lord returns, and when God’s kingdom is fully consummated.

Theologian Wayne Grudem explains this well:

“All Christians would probably agree that in the atonement Christ has purchased for us not only complete freedom from sin but also complete freedom from physical weakness and infirmity in his work of redemption. And all Christians would also no doubt agree that our full and complete possession of all the benefits that Christ earned for us will not come until Christ returns … When people say that complete healing is ‘in the atonement’, the statement is true in the ultimate sense, but it really does not tell us about when we will receive ‘complete healing’.”2

The problem with Hagin’s theology of healing is that it is premised on an over-realised eschatology, which expects the fullness of the promised future to be a present reality. A healthy theology of healing must, however, be based on a biblical eschatology.

Scripture teaches that the kingdom which the eternal Son of God has come to inaugurate in the incarnation will be fully consummated only upon his return at the close of the age. The period between his first advent and his second coming is one which is characterised by the presence and absence of the kingdom.

Thus, although divine healings do take place today, they are merely a sign of the presence of the kingdom of God. They point to the new creation that God will bring about when Christ returns, where sickness, suffering and death will be totally eradicated (Rev 21:4).

This means that in this period between the first and second advents of Christ, not every Christian who prays for healing will be healed. Furthermore, even those who by God’s grace are healed will one day die.

This incidentally highlights the flaw in Hagin’s logic: Christ did not only redeem believers from sickness, but also from death itself. Why, then, do Christians still die (Kenneth Hagin died on 19 September 2003)?

The apostle Paul, who witnessed so many miraculous healings during his ministry, reminds the Corinthians of their frailty (“our outer self is wasting away”) and the “affliction” they must experience and endure as they wait for their future glory (2 Cor 4:16-17).

The Old Testament scholar John Goldingay puts it like this:

“Although we ‘rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the reconciliation’, we also and at the same time ‘groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ “ (Rom 5:11, 8:23).3

A Christian understanding of healing must be governed by theological realism that is grounded in biblical eschatology. Such a Christian theology of healing would be incomplete if it is not accompanied by a robust theology of suffering.

Goldingay describes the latter as such:

“Such a theology of suffering as we can outline includes accepting that God may leave us in suffering, because of what can be achieved through this; that God may give us the comfort of the crucified Christ in suffering rather than whisking us from suffering; and that final healing belongs to the resurrection day, when ‘he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more’ ” (Rev 21:4).4

Only a healthy theology of healing that is shaped by the eschatological realism of the Bible will guard Christians against the harmful triumphalism of preachers such as Kenneth Hagin.

1 Kenneth E. Hagin, Must Christians Suffer? (Rhema Bible Church, AKA Kenneth Hagin Ministries Inc., 1983), 2.

2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: And Introduction To Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994), 1063.

3 John Goldingay, “Theology and Healing”, Churchman 92.1 (1978), 30.

4 Ibid., 32.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.