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Agnes Sanford: Apostle of Healing and First Theologian of the Charismatic Renewal, Part 1, by William L. De Arteaga

Pneuma Review Spring 2006
Agnes-Sanford-photo[1]Part 1 of 2


In 1985 Dave Hunt, a lay cult watcher, published one of the most influential books of the 1980s, The Seduction of Christianity.1 In that work he lambasted much of the leadership of the charismatic renewal for “seducing” the American Christianity with ideas and practices derived from occult sources. He attacked Mrs. Agnes Sanford and her writing with particular severity. Hunt claimed that her syncretistic theology was little more that witchcraft and shamanism, and should be totally rejected by the Christian community. Hunt was convinced that the ministry she pioneered, inner healing, was especially occultic and dangerous to Christians.2

In my work, Quenching the Spirit, I argued that such characterizations are destructive and untrue. Critics such as Hunt do not take into account the tragic situation within Nineteenth Century “orthodox” Christianity which labeled any form of healing prayer as cultic and heretical. The consensus orthodoxy of the era stressed the doctrine of cessationism, which also declared the gifts of the Spirit as unavailable in the current age. This theology combined with an unrecognized dependence on philosophical realism that came into both Catholicism and Protestantism from the late Middle Ages. The result was that the consensus orthodoxy of the era left no room for the role of the believer’s faith to move in healing prayer or in the gifts of the Spirit.3

An overview of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries shows a pattern in which the Holy Spirit moved the Church away from its cessationism-realism based theology. The Spirit simultaneously inspired different groups and individuals towards theologies that reincorporated the gifts of the Spirit. This allowed for a more active understanding of the role of mind, acting through faith in Christ, to activate the miraculous powers of the Kingdom of God. This was a move toward theologies based on moderate idealism, that is, that mind, with faith, can influence matter, as in healing and the miraculous, and away from theological systems based on radical realism where the Christian merely petitions that God act.4 A characteristic of faith-idealism is that physical evidence is of less immediate concern than the witness of the Word of God.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Spring 2006

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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