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Cautious Co-belligerence? The Late Nineteenth-Century American Divine Healing Movement and the Promise of Medical Science



Though it may come as a surprise to some, the view that the Divine Healing proponents held of medical science was not at all out of step with that of American society. The American public, in general, held medical science and medical practitioners in low esteem. The vicious attacks of John Alexander Dowie were not necessarily the isolated rantings of an extremist. The secular media was just as likely to use the words “poisons,” “butchers,” and “murderers” when talking about contemporary medical practice and practitioners. On balance, the Divine Healing practitioners actually appear to have been more gracious than many in the secular press when it came to discussing the promise and possibilities of medical science. They cited medicine and physicians as providential. They believed that creation was divinely and intentionally endowed with properties that could assuage human suffering. The mandate of medical science, they said, was to discover these and to apply them appropriately.

Still, the Divine Healing proponents suggested only a limited appropriation of the offerings of medical science. While the Divine Healing proponents did not completely dismiss the advances, usefulness, and propriety of medical science, they did assert that it was, at best, a deficient approach to the gravity, complexity, and depth of human disease. Therefore, they encouraged only the guarded employ of these “scientific” means and methods. Their reasons for doing so were numerous. First, they realized that much of what was promoted as medical science had not been well-proven and may have had side-effects as distressing as the disease itself. Second, they were convinced that medical science’s anthropology and hamartology were both myopic and, therefore, its means to relieve human distress were short-sighted and deficient as well. Finally, they realized that there was a tendency for the advances and successes of medical science to usurp the primary and necessary, if not exclusive, role of Jesus Christ as Healer. This, above all, was intolerable for the Divine Healing proponents.

The champions of Divine Healing argued that Christians, especially, should seek their healing, not from a deficient medical science, but from the omnipotent and unchanging Christ directly and alone. In addition to those cautions listed previously, they argued that such an approach was the sole and repeated prescription of Scripture. Therefore, it was the only sanctioned course for the believer. Second, they believed that Christ alone was the only appropriate and adequate solution to the depth and breadth of human disease. Humanity’s disease was more than just physical. It affected the totality of the human condition. Only the atoning work of Jesus Christ was able to deal with the destructive effects of sin on humanity, in its depth and in all of its manifestations—spiritual and physical.

Both medical science and the practice of Divine Healing have had long histories. Each saw momentous growth and popularity in the late nineteenth century as part of the larger and wider interest in holism and health. It is of no surprise, then, that key figures related to these movements would interact with the nature and developments of the other. They did, after all, seek to address the same human needs even if from two different perspectives. While both medical science and the Divine Healing movement sought to combat the problem of human disease, they did have fundamental disagreements about how it ought to be pursued and the legitimacy of the other perspective. Therefore, their relationship could be described as a cautious co-belligerence, at best.





1. See Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1987).

2. Albert Benjamin Simpson, Earnests of the Coming Age and Other Sermons (New York: Christian Alliance, 1921) 98–99; Albert Benjamin Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospel (New York: Christian Alliance, 1911; repr., Harrisburg, PA: Christian, 1966) 59.

3. Charles Cullis, Faith Cures; Or, Answer to Prayer in the Healing of the Sick (Boston, MA: Willard Tract Repository, n.d.) 6.

4. Carrie F. Judd, The Prayer of Faith (Chicago: Revell, 1880) 12.

5. Kenneth Mckenzie, Divine Life for the Body (New York: Christian Alliance, 1926) 1–2.

6. Judd, Prayer of Faith, 85.

7. Simpson, Earnests of the Coming Age, 5.

8. Albert Benjamin Simpson, “Divine Healing,” Living Truths 3:4 (October 1903) 172.

9. Albert Benjamin Simpson, Life More Abundantly (New York: Christian Alliance, 1904) 38.

10. W. H. Daniels, ed., Dr. Cullis and His Work: Twenty Years of Blessing in Answer to Prayer. The Hospitals, Schools, Orphanages, Churches, and Missions Raised Up and Supported by the Hand of the Lord through the Faith and Labors of Charles Cullis, M.D. (Boston, MA: Willard Tract Repository, 1885) 224–25.


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Category: Church History, Summer 2010

About the Author: Bernie A. Van De Walle, Ph.D. (Drew University), is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology and theology program convener at Ambrose University College in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of The Heart of the Gospel: A. B. Simpson, the Fourfold Gospel, and Late Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Theology (2009), Rethinking Holiness: A Theological Introduction (2017), and contributor to other works including The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation (2009), Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (2011), and The Holy River of God: Currents and Contributions of the Wesleyan Holiness Stream of Christianity (2016). He has served as the President of the Christian Theological Research Fellowship and sits on the Steering Committee of the Wesleyan Holiness Connection. Amazon Author page

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