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James Robinson: Divine Healing

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 examine the Reformed-Pentecostal Transition, the legacy of J. Alexander Dowie’s Zion project, and prominent women leaders’ impact on the development of the doctrine of divine healing in its contribution to nascent Pentecostalism. Meticulous and extensive research combine to give perhaps the most comprehensive overview of Dowie’s theology and legacy. Robinson’s focus on Dowie operates as a synecdoche for his thesis, i.e., radical healers and their three aforementioned emphases contributed to the development of Pentecostalism. Further, the author uses Dowie as a touchstone to contextualize radical divine healing apologetics within the Anglo-American Reformed branch of Protestantism. In doing so, the perspectives and activities of Reformed divine healing advocates like A.B. Simpson, A.T. Pierson, and R.A. Torrey, are also covered. Moreover, in tracing the legacy of Dowie and Zion, Robinson notes: “The biographies [of former Zionites] all demonstrate the nexus between nineteenth-century Holiness restorationism and twentieth-century Pentecostalism. Zionite teaching provided a structure that allowed adherents to adjust to the Pentecostal experience” (Kindle location 3535). According to the author, Zionism significantly influenced Pentecostal luminaries-many of which had significant healing ministries- such as John G. Lake, Arthur Booth-Clibborn, Smith Wigglesworth, and Gerrit Polman. Chapter 4 carries the reader further into the development of Pentecostalism with its focus on women leaders who emphasized divine healing and holiness. These female leaders included Alys Pearsall Smith and especially Maria Woodworth-Etter, who “[w]hen it came to healing, she exceeded other healing evangelists as assessed by the number who claimed healing under her ministry” (Kindle location 4735). Carrie Judd Montgomery’s donations round off the narrative. The author concludes the chapter with an excursus on the phenomenon of neurasthenia, the much misunderstood, mostly 19th century condition that primarily afflicted women. The excursus serves as a foil to the previously mentioned feminine participation in the divine healing movement making their contributions all the more remarkable within the medically-reinforced, chauvinistic Victorian milieu.

The remainder of the volume centers on the wider context of the Holiness-Pentecostal transition in Britain and divine healing’s legacy within Pentecostalism. Robinson discusses competing spiritualities such as Mesmerism, magnetism, Christian Science, and spiritualism that vied for similar functions as divine healing among 19th and early 20th century populations. He shows that critics of divine healing often associated it with these other fin-de-siècle “metaphysical alternatives.” Moreover, contemporaneous with these, the Keswick movement arose and provided a Christian solution to the experience of the transcendent. Robinson then traces the rise of the divine healing movement and Pentecostalism in Britain through Keswick-influenced Bethshan Healing Home and leaders like Elizabeth Baxter et al. The author includes another helpful excursus on Christian Science that challenged various aspects of the divine healing movement in Britain and elsewhere to the degree that “faith healing, for the general populace, came increasingly to be identified with Christian Science” (Kindle location 5673). Such confusion between mind-over-matter/placebo effects and divine healing still exists. Transition ends with a look at the demise of the radical divine healing movement and a helpful discussion about its place within proto-Pentecostalism and Pentecostalism in general.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2014

About the Author: Benjamin Crace, Ph.D. candidate (University of Birmingham), lives and teaches in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He is also a distance learning graduate student at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies.

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