Is Torrance opposed to healing ministries?

Is miraculous healing a nice thing that happens once in a great while when we ask God to do it, or is it central to the Church’s daily work in embodying the union of God and man in Christ? I enjoyed Ken Blue’s Authority to Heal, for example, but I’ve had long stretches of my life where I’m really not into that stuff.  I have gone back and forth on this more times than I’d like to admit.

So anyway, I was recently doing some T. F. Torrance reading, and I came upon this in his Atonement:

With the withdrawal of the resurrected body of Christ from visible and physical contact with us in this world, there is no appointed programme of anything like ‘faith healing’ or miraculous activity of a kindred sort. (Atonement, p. 306).

And then another in Incarnation.

To transmute the gift of healing from the strenuous domain of petitionary prayer to the sacramental domain as through we could have a sacrament of healing, or any programme of healing here and now is to deny the sacrament of the eucharist that we must take up our cross daily, die daily, and constantly communicate in the body and blood of Christ. It is to heal the hurt of God’s people too lightly, and to evade the fact that the cross must be inserted into the conditions of time, into the heart of our struggles and conflicts, redeeming the time. It is to deny that although we are redeemed, we wait for the redemption of the purchased possession. (Incarnation, p. 341).

I bring this up because this surprised me a bit, since most Torrancial people I know are rather INTO the healing thing.

What do you think?

22 comments so far

  1. Jonathan Stepp on

    Thanks for this post, John, I think you raise some really interesting questions. I wonder if it could be helpful to make a distinction between healing and curing. With such a distinction made, a Torrancian approach might be willing to concede that healing – while it cannot be fully experienced yet – can be experienced in some ways now and even experienced when cure does not take place now. Defined in this way, healing would be intimately connected to the cross-bearing strength we are given in the Eucharist and cross-bearing would help us understand how we are waiting for healing to, someday, become cure.

    • Could you clarify what the distinction means? Do you mean something like healing a leper, vs eradicating (curing) leprosy?

      • Jonathan Stepp on

        In this approach “healing” would mean the wholeness of the entire person, body, mind, and soul, while “cure” would mean only the absence of disease in the person. So, a leper could be cured of leprosy but remain unhealed because he continues to experience bitterness, unforgiveness, a sense of alienation from God and people, etc. Or, he could remain uncured and yet experience healing: he could come to terms with his illness, find positive ways to manage it, and even care for and serve his fellow lepers in the Spirit of Christ. In that sense, even though he wasn’t yet cured (and was awaiting that cure in the life of the world to come) he would already be experiencing the Eucharistic blessing of beginning to participate in the resurrection life now, thought not yet in the full way that he will on the day when he is both healed and cured. A cool guy I know named Lyndon Harris has a phrase: “hurt people hurt people and healed people help people.” From that perspective there are a lot of people who’ve been cured but never healed.

        Another great example of this, I think, are people who’ve suffered amputations. I’ve heard faith healers make a lot of claims but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one who claimed to have regrown an amputated limb. Even Jesus – who raised the dead – isn’t credited with that one. Yet people who’ve suffered amputations usually live whole, healed lives. Most (maybe not all) of them assume their amputated limbs will be restored in the resurrection body but many (maybe not all) consider such a cure to be rather secondary to their identity and sense of wholeness.

        In that regard I also think of thornier questions, for example, is Downs Syndrome a disease? Some families who’ve experienced it believe their family member will be “cured” of it in the resurrection body and yet such individuals can and often do live whole, healed lives now. Other families have expressed their belief that it is not best viewed as a disease but as another way of being and therefore they are not particularly committed to whether it will be cured in the life of the world to come – or, indeed, whether it is even something that needs a cure.

        Though the quotes you have from Torrance don’t seem to explicitly state this, I have the sense that Torrance would want us to see the larger picture of human existence in communion with God: the cure of the world’s ills is coming but not yet fully here, and therefore we may or may not experience cures right now, but the healing of the world is well under way and is ours to be baptized in if we so choose.

      • Thanks Jonathan, that clarifies it well. I am going to think more on that…

  2. Ron Garrett on

    As with other gifts, when the emphasis is on the gift rather than the giver, a new standard of righteous judgment tends to occur. It becomes a sign of faith rather than reason for worship. The messenger is seen as having a closer connection to God than anyone else can have. Perhaps that is why raucous individuals (i.e. Rasputin) are sometimes given the gift for certain periods of time.
    For the rest of us, fervent prayer with the knowledge that Father knows best, gives us more opportunity to Come and See, realizing it is not us but God alone who that has that power and the wise discretion of when to use it.

  3. Another quote to clarify Torrance’s take on this: “This does not mean that it may not please God throughout history to answer the prayer of his people for direct miraculous healing…” In other words, God heals people once in awhile, which fits with my experience. It is just very at odds with much of what I hear.

  4. JoAnn Winn on

    Consider this your invitation to help with Matt, 25 Saturday.

    Sent from my iPad


  5. Would anybody want to make an argument that I am not understanding Torrance properly? That Torrance would read somebody like Ken Blue and say “Yep, I more or less agree with that.”?

  6. David S. Gilbert on

    It’s been quite a while since I read Ken Blue’s “Authority to Heal,” but I don’t remember him integrating Trinitarian Theology into his view on healing in the book It could be that he came to understand Trinitarian Theology after he wrote the book, though I don’t know for certain.

    I do believe he was (perhaps still) is with the Vineyard movement and I believe the book largely reflects that background. Blue himself talks of his own “thorn in the flesh” in his video talk on Perichoresis Australia’s website. So, while he believes healing is part of the way we can do things now, he himself still struggles with not being healed himself.

    I believe your second Torrance quote (about “taking up your cross,” etc.) adds the important aspect of a “theology of suffering” that is sadly missing among the “name it, claim it” folks.

    Along that line, I recently read an interesting quote from R.T. Kendall, who though evangelical, became part of the charismatic movement. Specifically, he was a speaker at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. One of Kendall’s desires has been that there be a “marriage” of Word churches and Spirit churches. In other words, he would like to see good, solid theology and an openness to the gifts of the Spirit. By his own admission, that has not happened to date. In his book, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” he also bewails that fact as well as the fact that he hasn’t been healed of his own long-time thorn in the flesh.

    Kendall quotes Michael Eaton on p. 67: “Everything is in the atonement. Jesus died for everything–the reconciliation of all things, the resurrection of the body, the new heavens and the new earth. The mistake some people make is to presume a false deduction: ‘Therefore I can switch on healing and claim it now.’ But it does not mean we can switch on Second Coming blessings at will. Such people are over-realizing their eschatology and neglect the fact that we are waiting for the physical side of salvation as in Romans 8:23. Miracles are flashes of glory and given in the sovereignty of God.”

    I like that “flashes of glory” part, showing that God, in his wisdom, can and does heal sometimes, though not always, this side of the eschaton.

    • That’s super helpful Mr. Gilb… er… Dave… “Over-realizing their eschatology” and “flashes of glory” are going to become part of my vocabulary from now on.

  7. stuijohnson on

    I think a distinction has to be drawn between those who insist healing is part and parcel of living in the kingdom in some sort of legal sense and the typed of healing that is consistent with the Trinitarian movement. This sort of extreme faith behaviour is very much like witchcraft in how they confess, “I am healed” (even though the affliction may be evident) and then expect God to follow suit and heal. It is this sort of thing Torrance opposes. My wife and I have been their done that with the health and wealth movement and all is did was made us sick and broke and made fools of ourselves!

    Healing is a gift and a miracle and usually an indication of its power to reveal Jesus Christ as God of God and Light from Light. I find miracles do happen in our community but more in an unexpected way. I hear more from those who are searching the truth that have these signs.

    • Stuart, that distinction makes sense and is consistent with my experience. This question has been on my mind partly because of a conversation with a Druid friend about how he sees Jesus’ “shamanistic” behaviors affirming a magical worldview.

  8. John on

    Thanks John
    An interesting question and one that has its own mystery. I enjoy the writings of Torrance and have greatly benefited. Was not aware of his view as you quoted.
    The greatest healing for me is that more and more I am becoming a “Light” thinker, renovated from my own darkened thinking of God. It is not me trying to come to know God, which includes healing and other signs and wonders, it is all about revealing to me the finished life and work of Jesus.

    For me the cross and suffering has less to do with typical hardship I may have in daily life where physical healing would be great, but much more to do with joining with the suffering of the victim and proclaim like Jesus “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.
    Jesus was the victim of all humany’s sacrifice and scapegoating, but the Father raised Jesus and all humanity so that we may live in freedom of His healing Life.

    These words have become easy to write however there are still times when my first reaction is payback, vengeance or some form of violence against another in thought or deed.

    Do I believe that God heals physically? Off course, but taking baby steps in healing of the mind will give focus on Jesus and Him alone, and then anything is possible. I think far too often I desire the anything before my change of mind healing!

    • Hi John, I have sometimes wondered: Over the process of thousands of years, as the mind of humanity is progressively healed, will it result in human bodies getting more and more “cured”? But that maybe it’s a much slower process than our Pentecostal brothers and sisters have yet imagined?

  9. Jeff Chandler on

    What is the best way to pray for someone who is hurting and needs healing?

    I usually start with resting in the fact that we have all we really need in Christ and that in Him we are already healed.

    I have experienced healing in my own knee – miraculously. I’ve listened to Joshua Tongol’s view on healing and thought it sounded very sound.

    So, my question: How should we pray for healing?

  10. Jeff Chandler on

    FYI: Here is the video link to Joshua Tongol’s message about healing:

  11. Jeff Chandler, you and I are asking the same question now: “How should we pray for healing?” Do we find sick people and say “Be healed!” or do we ask God to do it? Or are both acceptable?

  12. Jeff Chandler on

    John Stonecypher: we have no problem believing the salvation part of what Jesus did on the cross. We REST in the fact that we are saved. We even live a Kingdom life as a saved child of God. We participate in who we are in Jesus and have no worries.

    We can’t seem to do this with the healing aspect of what Jesus did for us at the cross. Our REST in the fact that it will happen some day. This is not how we do it with our salvation – we don’t believe it will happen “some day” – we believe that it has already happened and we participate in it.

    I spoke to my knee and proclaimed the healing that had happened to me 2000 years ago in Jesus. I had 2 tears on my meniscus in my left knee. When I would touch the area – a pain like touching a nerve would happened. When I chose to participate in Jesus’ healing – it immediately went away. No pain any more.

    Perhaps it takes faith to participate in the physical healing? It takes faith to participate in salvation. Some times people lack faith and fear for their salvation – but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

    I don’t know. All I know is that God has been trying to teach me something on this whole healing thing for some time now. 🙂

  13. John on

    Hi John
    Thanks for the continued conversation. My last paragraph seems to suggest progression. Emails once they are sent, how do you edit to better reflect what you wrote!

    God is a merciful God! Therefor He is healer not based on any formula or my expectation but because He is love.

    For me at this time my physical healing has taken a backseat to my personal healing of knowing I am loved and able to love my brother (mankind). Of coming to see God (Father,Son and Holy Spirit) in light of unity of all humanity in Jesus, mercy, non-violence, no penal substitution, no vengeance, no retribution. This is where I have found His healing faith!

    Do I trust that God physically heals? Yes! Do I understand why some and not others? No!
    So by faith I leave it, for Father knows best!

  14. tjbrassell on

    Thank you for this stimulating and enlightening post John! You know how to get a conversation started and I’ve always appreciated that about you! And in such short form too! How do you do that? (With good questions like that! haha)

    Like you, I have gone back and forth on this issue more than I can count! Sheesh! In one way or another I have come to believe and agree with what I have seen written from everyone, in general, on the comments posted here so far. Father can and does sovereignly heal now, but it is not under our direct control. Our humanity has been completely healed in Jesus and we can trust now, even when it doesn’t look or feel like it, that it is so in Christ on our behalf, to be given to us personally, fully, someday as it is in Him. We get tastes of our full and future now and again as the future breaks into the present in the Spirit, through Jesus, to the glory of the Father. Therefore we pray in His shared faith, hope and love (being reminded that faith is not always by sight (physically), and we hope for what we do not yet see!).

    However, to read Torrance more on this issue is to get a fuller context of your question, since it relates to him, and I found him clarifying and confirming on all the responses when he writes in “Atonement”:

    “Certainly the living Lord continues to heal and forgive sins, but now in ongoing history his healing and forgiving work is normally mediated through the holy sacraments to accompany the scriptures and proclamation of the Gospel and to seal it in the lives of the faithful. This does not mean it may not please God throughout history to answer the prayers of his people for direct miraculous healing, but it does mean that the withdrawal of the resurrected body of Christ from visible and physical contact with us in the world, there is no other appointed programme of anything like ‘faith healing’ or miraculous activity of any sort”

    Of course you have quoted from this section in your post already and THAT MADE ME WANT TO GO SEARCH EVEN MORE…HAHAHA

    The section in “Atonement” immediately following your quote (that questions what Torrance believes regarding healing) clarifies, to me, his response to your question. His response which says:

    “But in his lifetime Jesus did institute the sacraments. Taking over baptism from the Baptist he transformed it through submitting to it and made himself its real content. He instituted the holy supper by reconstructing the passover with reference to his own body and blood in the new covenant. Then with his resurrection and ascension, and by the power and presence of the Spirit, these sacraments were constituted the ‘miraculous signs’ of the church’s forgiveness and healing, of its crucifixion and resurrection with Christ, to be used perpetually throughout the course of its historical existence. There are, Calvin once said, two kinds of miracles, one in which a miraculous act takes place in a supernatural form, such as a miracle of healing, and one in which a miraculous event takes place under a natural form. Sacraments are of the second kind, and they are the greater kind of miracle. The two sacraments of the gospel enshrine together the two essential ‘moments’ of our participation in the new creation, while we are still implicated in the space and time of this passing world. Baptism is the sacrament of our once and for all participation in Christ and may be spoken of as the sacrament of justification, which is not to be repeated. The eucharist is the sacrament of our continuous participation in Christ and may be spoken of as the sacrament of sanctification, which is to be regularly repeated, until Christ comes again.They thus express, in their togetherness the core of the ontological and eschatalogical relation which we have with the crucified, risen and ascended Lord.” pp.307-08

    This sounds to me more like what Jonathan Stepp was saying above in his very first comment.

    Overall, our present sufferings now have meaning in our participation with Christ because he has filled it with meaning through his life, suffering, and death as the vicarious man. He suffers with us and we suffer with him. Indeed there are sufferings of his to be filled up in us, the Church! A healing of our nature HAS occurred for this to be able to happen. It is not necessary to be physically healed right now as a sacrament of Christ’s finished work, nor should we proclaim healing as such, because he has given us the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as our current proclamation “necessities” (Necessity not as in “have to or else” but as in “will because that’s what it looks like in Christ to participate in His free, gracious and obedient response as a human back to his Father in our present broken humanity, in the Spirit!”)

    Good stuff man! Keep it coming!

    • Tim, thank you for always being one of my most reliable Torrance “go-to” guys! This conversation is definitely starting to “settle” this question in my mind.

      I am finding it important to say with Torrance that healing is not a sacrament. I hadn’t really thought before about how that matters. My Pentecostal brothers and sisters tend to (I think) approach healing as if it IS a sacrament. You know, that it has THAT measure of centrality in how Christ working through the Church. And Torrance is making a convincing argument that it is not.

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