Jesus as Healer

A Gospel for the Body

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Jan-Olav Henriksen, Karl Olav Sandnes
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , May
     2016.
     272 pages.
     $35.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780802873316.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Jesus as Healer, Jan-Olav Henriksen and Karl Olav Sandnes present New Testament and theological scholarship with a serious and in-depth offering on the significance of the practice of healing in Jesus’s ministry. The main thesis of the book argues for a holistic, non-dualistic approach to inform contemporary christological frameworks on healing. The authors’ understanding of Jesus as healer is informed through historical material, with Sandnes giving readers his perspective drawn from New Testament and early church scholarship.

How Jesus is remembered in history is the foundation upon which Sandnes frames Jesus as distinct from his competitors. Special attention is also paid to the apostles, Peter and Paul in particular, and the ways in which they were like Jesus and yet subordinate in power and ability. Sandnes’s discussion of Paul is particularly illuminating as he describes the apostle as a sick healer, whose very infirmity acts as a test to those who witness his proclamation of the gospel in both word and deed.

In the second part of the book, Henriksen brings the reader into the realm of contemporary theology with expertise as he encourages his audience to question fundamental beliefs about the nature of healing and the miraculous. He also expounds on how false dichotomies can lead to problematic theologies on the nature of God. Binary systems tackled here include science v. religion, bio-medical treatment v. faith healing, nature v. grace, general v. special revelation, and others.

A major challenge to popular thinking about Jesus’s healing activity, which is typically regarded as miraculous or supernatural, this book presents a holistic view of Jesus’s healings which does not leave out the bodily, physical dimension of these acts. As the authors put it, “Jesus as healer testifies to the incarnational dimension of Christian theology” (248). This is an important point, as they argue that historically the Church has tended to box healing into the spiritual dimension, and to disregard or shy away from the embodied nature of Jesus’s healings and how this embodiment speaks to Jesus’s own nature as fully human.

To further their argument for a holistic approach, Henriksen and Sandnes draw out four different experiential realms affected by healing: the physical, the socio-cultural, the inner (psychological), and the indefinable “spiritual” realm. Theological aspects of healing considered here include theodicy, atonement, the call to faith, God’s care of humanity outside the bounds of Christianity, and the ambiguity of healing.

 In my evaluation, Jesus as Healer effectively challenges conventional assumptions concerning healings and the miraculous. Although the authors are writing from a distinctly Christian perspective, their contribution could also be helpful to those working with bio-medical, scientific, or atheistic outlooks who are interested in healing as a natural phenomenon, and how human beings experience it within various belief systems.

For the Christian reader, the section on healing as grace is particularly insightful. Henriksen offers thought-provoking concepts, such as this: “The embodied character of Jesus’ healings opens up to considerations about the relation between nature and grace: as nature expresses itself in and through the human body, one can see the acts of grace for the healing of the body as something that engages with, presupposes, but also transcends the capacities of the body” (231).

Sandnes provides equally provocative concepts, including the idea of Jesus’s healings as living parables or prophetic symbols (121). Even more profound in light of the Gospel accounts, he notes that the Church’s earliest liturgy—“Lord, have mercy”—is based on the pleas for healing from those whom Jesus encountered. In view of this, Sandnes highlights the leper’s cry in Mark 1:40-42: “If you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus’s evocative reply to the leper’s faith takes fresh meaning. “Thelos!”I want (71).

Overall, Jesus as Healer is a valuable contribution to the field of contemporary theology and New Testament studies. Further discussions on Jesus’s healings will be enriched by consideration of and engagement with the ideas pursued in this work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kristin Vargas is Assistant Archivist at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Date of Review: 
August 31, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jan-Olav Henriksen is professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, and professor of religious studies at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. His other books include Relating God and the Self: Dynamic Interplay.

Karl Olav Sandnes is professor of New Testament at Norwegian School of Theology. His other books include The Gospel 'According to Homer and Virgil'and The Challenge of Homer: School, Pagan Poets and Early Christianity.

 

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