Francis MacNutt. 2009. Healing (Orig Pub 1974). Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Chess. On the chessboard of life, what piece are you; what piece is Christ Jesus?
If you are Christian, our creator God is the crafter of the chess pieces; not one of them. Still, when we pray, God is often assigned the role of a pawn in our lives.
For example, I have a neighbor who thinks of prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts that bounce off the ceiling. In a world where people talk about prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts, what is authentic Christian prayer?
Francis MacNutt, in his book—Healing, observes that: most traditional [Christians] have little difficulty in believing in divine healing. What was difficult to believe that healing could be an ordinary, common activity of Christian life (10). Citing Matthew 10: 7-8  and a talk by Alfred Price in 1960, MacNutt observes: if the church still claimed Christ’s commission to preach, what happened to the second commission to heal and cast out demons? (9) In his own experience with healing prayer, about half of those he prayed for with physical ailments experienced healing or substantial improvements and three-quarters of those prayed for with emotional or spiritual problems experienced healing (11).
What is your experience with healing prayer?
Francis MacNutt is a Dominican priest, a leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and founder of Christian Healing Ministries. He studied at Harvard University and Catholic University of America in Washington DC, and holds a doctor of philosophy degree in theology . His book divides into four parts which are preceded by a preface and followed by appendices and an epilogue. The four parts are entitled:
- The Healing Ministry—Its underlying Meaning and Importance;
- Faith, Hope, and Charity as They Touch Upon the Healing Ministry;
- The Four Basic Kinds of Healing and How to Pray for Each; and
- Special Considerations.
Although I often skip appendices and epilogues in my own reading, here it would be a mistake.
The epilogue includes the fascinating testimony of a Lakota (Sioux) Indian who attended a healing service in South Dakota and experienced miraculous healing of a mouth full of cavities (264-266). As I read this story on a Saturday, I was experiencing an extreme toothache (I had trouble eating because of the pain); needed medication just to finish the reading; and I had already made a dentist appointment for Monday morning. However, the story induced me to pray to God about my tooth—something that I had never done before. Before Monday morning the pain was gone and my dentist found no evidence of an infection. Meanwhile, the arthritis in my right foot that normally bothered me was mysteriously absent.
In talking about healing ministry, MacNutt cites 5 basic arguments why prayer cannot lead to healing:
- We want nothing to do with faith healing—faith healers are religious quacks (32-33).
- My sickness is a cross sent from God—as if God wanted you to suffer (33-34).
- It takes a saint to work a miracle and I am no saint—asking for healing is a sign of excessive pride (34-35).
- We do not need signs and wonders anymore; we have faith—the apostolic era is over (35).
- Miracles do not take place; they only represent a primitive way of expressing reality—a pre-scientific explanation (36).
MacNutt’s review of these arguments against the possibility of healing is helpful in establishing a balanced conversation—especially if you have witnessed the healing power of prayer first hand.
Prayer for healing needs to be specific in MacNutt’s experience. As such, he list 4 types of healing needs (130), including prayer for:
- Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
- Emotional (or relational) healing.
- Physical healing. And
- Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression).
Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many charismatic writers lump all healing needs into deliverance prayer.
The Apostle Paul writes: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26 ESV). The Holy Spirit is the conduit between us and the Triune God in prayer. Healing prayer is accordingly the work of the Holy Spirit and an important sign of God’s sovereignty at work in our lives.
One of the signs of God’s answer to healing prayer is that more healing is offered than is asked for—this is God’s abundant grace overflowing into our lives . My healed toothache is not unique. Although I prayed about tooth pain, I experienced healing both in teeth and feet—a sign of God’s abundant grace.
Reading Francis MacNutt’s Healing helped expand my prayer life. Stepping out to pray for healing fully expecting God to intervene and heal is risky. Healing prayer assumes we truly believe that God exists, cares for us, and is powerful enough to intervene in our lives—things that I and most postmodern Christians struggle with. MacNutt’s clinical writing style and systemic thinking makes him a credible writer and makes the book helpful in advising people about healing prayer. I commend the book. I have gifted friends with this book for years.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay (Matthew 10:5-8 ESV).
 After leaving the Dominicans, MacNutt received a special dispensation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_MacNutt.
 The Apostle John writes of recognizing the risen Christ through the miracles of abundance: abundant wine (John 2), abundant loaves of bread (John 6), and abundant fish (John 21).