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A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing, Part 1

Although participant-observation is a standard research method among cultural anthropologists like myself, it is almost always supplemented by in-depth interviews and attempts to understand the perspectives of the participants themselves. Unfortunately, almost all of Lewis’ evaluation was of Wimber’s theology: he gave no evidence of any interviews with other participants, assessments of the accuracy of “words of knowledge,” evaluations of the kinds of healings which took place or analyses of other aspects of the ministry.

What sounds more impressive is the so-called “medical evaluation of a Wimber meeting” presented by Verna Wright, FRCS, Professor of Rheumatology at Leeds University, when addressing a conference in London on 15 November 1986. Wright’s so-called “medical evaluation” is based on the second-hand opinions of five unnamed doctors whose description gives no indication of any attempt to interview other participants.5 As is the case with other observers, many of the comments tend to be more of the nature of opinion than fact, largely because of the absence of systematic data collection.

 

Medical Views of Healing

It is not surprising that Wright should have come across cases of people who were not healed after receiving prayer at one of John Wimber’s conferences, because these are the very people who are likely to go back again to their doctors afterwards for further treatment. By contrast, many of those who had received healing after prayer had seen no need to consult their doctors again. This process means that some medical doctors are likely to hear a disproportionate number of “negative” cases.

Other doctors, however, confirm that they have come across cases of apparently inexplicable recovery following Christian prayer. “More and more Christian doctors, cautious by nature and training, are beginning to expect the unexpected. In ways that defy medical explanation they sometimes see instantaneous, sometimes gradual, reversals of the disease process. ‘It’s an answer to prayer,’ they confess.”6

Many of those who had received healing after prayer had seen no need to consult their doctors again.

Some of the most thorough investigations in this area have been conducted by Dr. Rex Gardner, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist. His Presidential address to the Newcastle and Northern Counties Medical Society was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal and contained half a dozen medically documented cases of otherwise inexplicable healings associated with prayer in Christ’s name.7 Following on from his article in the British Medical Journal, Gardner wrote a book containing many more well-documented contemporary cases of Christian healings which could appropriately be described as “miraculous”.8 One of them, for example, concerns “Rebecca,” a nine-year old girl whose audiograms and tympanograms showed a hearing loss of 70 decibels in her right ear and 40 in her left. “The consultant confirmed that she was nerve deaf in both ears and that there was no cure, no operation, nothing he could do.” However, Rebecca and others among her family and friends began to pray for God’s healing. On 8 March 1983 Rebecca had to attend the audiologist to obtain a new hearing aid. The following night, at 9:30 PM she came running down from bed to say, “Mummy, I can hear!” Her parents tested her and found she could hear even their whispers. When they telephoned the consultant, he replied, “I don’t believe you. It’s not possible. All right, if some miracle has happened I am delighted. Have audiograms done.” Rebecca’s audiograms and tympanograms were normal on the 10th March 1983—48 hours after the audiologist had seen her and knew she was deaf. Both the audiologist and the consultant were unable to give any kind of known medical explanation for the healing.9

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Category: Fall 2008, In Depth

About the Author: David C. Lewis [as of 1993] is a cultural anthropologist and is currently a Research Associate of the Mongolia and Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, where he received his Ph.D. (Anthropology). He also serves as a Consultant Anthropologist for several Christian mission organizations. He has conducted research projects at Nottingham University and the Oxford Hardy Research Centre (Religious Experience Research Project, 1984-1985). He has written numerous scholarly articles and books, including Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (Hodder & Stoughton).

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