Keith Warrington, Healing & Suffering: Biblical and Pastoral Reflections (Milton Keys: Paternoster Press, 2005). Pp. 219, paper, ISBN 1-84227-341-8.
Reviewed by Shane Clifton
In the 2001 edition of APS, I wrote a book review on an earlier text by Warrington, Jesus the Healer: Paradigm or Unique Phenomenon. At that time I had only recently finished my undergraduate degree, and was heavily influenced by a number of prominent Pentecostal preachers of faith. I am embarrassed to say that my response to Warrington’s book was an ungracious and unjust critique of both his method and his conclusions, concerned as I was that his argument ignored the paradigmatic role of Jesus’ healing ministry and undermined the long standing Pentecostal emphasis on empowerment by the Spirit for miraculous ministry to the sick.
Some years down the track, and with a better sense of perspective and a more open theology, I have come to realise that Jesus the Healer provides an essential correction to the imbalances that have too often coloured Pentecostal and Charismatic conceptions of faith, and the consequent approaches that are taken to healing ministry. Far from undermining faith, it is now clear to me that Warrington’s position – that the healings recorded in the gospels are meant principally as indications of Jesus’ uniqueness – is intended to orient faith to its proper object, i.e. Jesus the Christ.
Jesus the Healer was a thorough and scholarly analysis of all of the passages of healing recorded in the gospels and, thereby, was directed primarily at scholars and students. In this more recent work, Warrington takes the insights of that text and makes them available to the wider Christian audience. This is not to say that the present work is unsophisticated. On the contrary, in Healing & Suffering Warrington engages in a thorough analysis of healing in the Old Testament, in the gospels and in other New Testament texts, but he does so in a way that will be easily accessible to the average reader. In this way, the book is an example of academic work at its best – taking difficult and complex issues and addressing them to the real concerns of everyday people of faith.
It does not take much involvement with Pentecostal communities before one is faced with a myriad of questions about faith and healing. This book attempts to address them all, applying the rhetoric of question and answer, and contemplating such important issues as: What is faith? Does God heal today? Why doesn’t God heal everybody who asks for healing? Did Jesus delegate his healing power to his followers? What part did sickness/suffering play in Paul’s life and ministry? It is a good bet that whatever question you have heard about healing, Warrington has provided an answer. He even addresses questions relating to the use of spittle and handkerchiefs in healings!
This is a text I believe that every Christian, particularly every Pentecostal Christian, should read. No doubt it is likely that some (like myself in 2001) will react negatively, believing that his argument undermines faith. Yet Warrington remains a Pentecostal, and continues to believe in healing, encouraging the reader to pray faithfully. The fact is, however, that not everyone is healed when we pray, and Warrington’s book provides a response to this reality that actually enables faith to be sustained in the face of the inevitable suffering that life brings our way.