Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing

By Billingsley, Scott | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing


Billingsley, Scott, The Journal of Southern History


Spirit Cure: A History of Pentecostal Healing. By Joseph W. Williams. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. [xiv], 222. $55.00, ISBN 978-0-19-976567-6.)

Joseph W. Williams offers a refreshing interpretation of pentecostals' belief in divine healing in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Arguing for continuity over change, he contends that pentecostalism had always been part of "a broad-based metaphysical tradition within U.S. religion" (p. 15). This foundation made it easy for pentecostal and charismatic healers in the late twentieth century to appropriate the growing trends of holistic medicine in the broader culture, repackage them, and market "them as authentic forms of biblical healing backed by the latest research" (p. 160). This, Williams maintains, helped pentecostals become "major players in the U.S. religious marketplace" (p. 23). He, like other scholars, asserts that pentecostals gradually moved into the mainstream of American religion, but he repositions the starting point for that transition. He maintains that pentecostals' historical ties to the metaphysical tradition and other forms of alternative healing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave them a unique opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of holistic healing in American society at the end of the millennium.

Focusing on pentecostal (and some charismatic) leaders, Williams carefully traces the history of divine healing over the past century, explaining how the changing socioeconomic status of believers and the infusion of charismatics into the ranks allowed pentecostals to accept traditional medicine and slowly integrate "into the larger evangelical fold" (p. 18). He contends that their upward mobility and the convergence of charismatics and pentecostals in the mid to late twentieth century allowed pentecostals to hold on to their belief in divine healing while also coming to accept the legitimacy of the mainstream medical profession.

Williams rejects the notion that pentecostals were subsumed into a homogeneous evangelicalism that stripped them of their traditional approaches to healing. …

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