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Observations on Robert Winterhalter's The Healing Christ

I am happy to comment on Robert Winterhalter’s The Healing Christ, and at the same time sad at the thought that it is his last book. Robert and I were longtime friends in INTA, in the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research (as it was then known; now the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies), and in SSMR, of which we were among the co-founders. I always admired his academic and administrative abilities. We agreed on most things but had a few intellectual differences, primarily on the question of pantheism: whether God is really all there is, which view Robert continues to support in his final book, and to which I continue to take exception. Closely related to pantheism are the issues of whether God is personal and how God influences other minds.

Before getting into differing viewpoints, I want to express my delight at Robert’s final book, which may be taken as a summing up of his long and helpful leadership roles as pastor, scholar, and administrator. In this book, as in his life, he displayed an amazing degree of integration of his various capacities. This is a practical handbook at the same time that it is a series of lessons in the finer points of language used in the New Testament, which was his main field of expertise. Occasionally in reading it, I was surprised at things that were either new to me or that were particularly well expressed in communicating with the reader of however little familiarity with the material covered. He neither assumes too much nor insults the intelligence of his reader. Even a hasty examination of the endnotes impresses one with the wide variety and quality of writers on whose expertise he has drawn.

As an example of Robert’s scholarship and teaching ability, in "The Man with an Unclean Spirit", the text from Mark reads, "he entered the synagogue and taught". Robert observes:

The image in 1:21 is symbolic. Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches there. The Greek verb translated "to teach" [didasko] is in the imperfect tense, implying continuous action. That is to say, as soon as he entered the building he began to teach and continued to do so for some time. In the same way, the Indwelling Christ is ready to move into our own awareness, to instruct all the thoughts of the mind and the affections of the heart. Here is the Source of healing, waiting to be released and manifested through us (page 2).

Elsewhere (page 70), Robert explains: "Jesus took seriously those elements of the Scriptures that make a vital difference for all people everywhere, that deal with the human heart, that is to say, with people’s spirituality and consciousness, including what modern psychologists recognize as subconscious." This shows the importance of not taking at face value English translations that do not take into account the full meaning of the original Greek word.

Turning from Greek to Aramaic, in "Deaf Man with a Speech Impediment", Robert describes how Jesus changes his usual methods to resemble those of Greek magicians, which is what his patients in a city of Greek culture would expect:

Even in this series of actions, however, Jesus affirmed the spiritual basis of healing, rather than the magical concept of bringing a force in from the outside. Note that he first looked up at the sky and then declared, "Be opened." The Aramaic term ephphatha, translated "be opened," implies openness to heaven, meaning the omnipresent realm of Divine ideas from which all healing comes forth. Ephphatha is related to the Hebrew verb, pathach [good luck, Sam!], which means "to open wide." It has the sense of "to loosen, appear, break forth, draw out, let go free." That is to say, the Divine state of perfection is already present, and the work of a Christian healer is to release this present reality into expression through his or her own trust and inner attunement (page 102).

Here Robert has, in addition to the insights into language, provided insight into Jesus’ overall approach, particularly as understood in Robert’s own worldview.

In "Healing at a Distance", Robert is really on the cutting edge of understanding not only healing, but also in insight with regard to the overall status of influence of one entity on another throughout the whole of existence. Robert may or may not have been aware of the full implications of this, but in any case, he has important observations to make about faith in relation to his central concern of healing:

The Greek word for trust appears both as a noun [pistis] and as a verb [pisteuo] in the New Testament. Generally, the noun is translated "faith," and the verbal form is rendered "believe." This has led to a serious misunderstanding in which people tend to equate faith with blind belief. Belief, however, is only one of several aspects of what we call faith. The Greek words that the text uses both derive from an ancient verb [peitho] which meant "to rely by inward certainty, to agree, to have confidence, to obey, to yield, to trust." A person could conceivably believe anything. Faith, however, is an inner assurance that God is in charge of a situation; a quiet trust that things will therefore work out for good; a way of seeing past appearances to the wholeness of the Divine Presence. The centurion, a Roman military officer, showed a true understanding of faith. He compared the lawful, delegated authority he had over his soldiers to the authority that Jesus exercised over disease, disability, and other outer conditions. He expected, and took for granted, that his men would obey his orders. By analogy, his appeal to Jesus was: If you speak the word for healing, my slave (or "my boy," if translated from the Aramaic in the Gospel of Matthew) will be healed. Jesus fully agreed, and commended the centurion for his understanding of faith (page 56).

Robert adds, after introducing a second example of healing at a distance, "It is significant that in the Gospel of John, the Greek word for faith never appears as a noun, but always, and frequently, as a verb. The emphasis is on action, an inner quickening followed by tangible results" (page 57). It is almost as if Robert were providing us with an opening for consideration of a basic option available to us in philosophy for the past century.

Robert almost certainly knew of a book titled by once-famous philosopher F. H. Bradley (1846-1924), Appearance and Reality. It happens that Bradley was a more-or-less conventional idealist, but his topic applies to any variety of metaphysics. Throughout the remainder of this paper, I am dealing with certain insights from the type of philosophy that emphasizes action or continuing activity: the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).

Robert and I occasionally disagreed on the subject of pantheism. I originally embraced it, but over the course of some years came to abandon it, whereas Robert continued to espouse it, particularly in the form found in Divine Science. It is commonly found in New Thought. Whenever a New Thoughter affirms that God is the only presence and power, he at least implies acceptance of pantheism, since if God is the only power and presence, there is no room left for you or me or anything else. Free will is a power. Even if you deny that you have free will, in the next moment you are likely to act as if you do. This is known as what process philosopher David Ray Griffin describes as a performative self-contradiction, saying one thing and doing the opposite. Griffin illustrates this with the example of a solipsist, someone who believes that only he is real. The moment he states that, he has shot himself in the foot, because to whom is he saying it if he is all there is? If he writes the statement on paper or a word processor, things get even more complicated, for neither of them exists. Pantheism could be described as divine solipsism. I am not saying that we and God are separated in any way, only that we are differentiated. Certainly everything that is, is related; and process thought is often called process-relational thought, because it emphasizes this.

If we grant that there is indeed a world, and a God, and such things as definitions, we must grant that there is a difference between an actuality and an abstraction. To define Christ as "God’s perfect idea of humanity" (page ii) suggests that Christ is an abstraction, for what is an idea but something held in a mind, a definite, concrete mind? Ideas are only powerful when they are incorporated in an actuality. It is the actuality that is powerful and can exert influence on other actualities. Have you ever been to a theater and observed a troupe of ideas performing on stage? Walt Disney did not make a movie titled "The Idea of Snow White and the Ideas of Seven Dwarfs". It is simply nonsense to think of ideas or any other abstraction, such as blueness or honesty, or even love, acting independently of some actuality (other than as a figure of speech, which admittedly can be very powerful). Thus it is not hard to dismiss the often-cited aspects of God, which are abstractions but are powerful because they describe the activities of the ultimate Being.

One of the main aspects commonly attributed to God is principle. Robert quotes Divine Science founder Malinda E. Cramer: "We do not work toward Principle. We work from Principle." A principle cannot be a person. Although many New Thoughters are reluctant to call God a person, a person is the highest sort of entity of which we can conceive. If we as creatures can conceive that highly, our Creator must be at least that high. Quoting from Deb’s and my New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (2003):

Person does not always mean human being. As personalist philosopher Edgar S. Brightman puts it,
A person is a self that is potentially self-conscious, rational, and ideal. That is to say, when a self is able at times to reflect on itself as a self, to reason, and to acknowledge ideal goals by which it can judge its actual achievements, then we call it a person.
All normal human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings. If certain animals, such as dolphins and whales, are advanced as we are led to believe, they may be persons; if there are angels, presumably they are persons. There may be many kinds of non-human persons inhabiting planets throughout the universe. Above all other persons is the ultimate Person, God, personal not only in relation to us, but in Godself. God is the only complete person; we are fragmentary persons. There is no impersonal Ultimate beyond or underlying the personal God. (page 136)

God as conceived in the pantheistic view cannot be a person because "it" is not able to do what a person can do. For example, an "it" cannot love; only a person can love. God can and does love, but the universe collectively cannot love. God influences others by inspiring, by leading, never by forcing.

As a sign that I may have mentioned to Robert the poor translation of the good Greek word pantokrator (all-sufficient) into the Latin omnipotens (all-powerful) and the no end of theological trouble that it has caused over the centuries, on page 51 he has modified the traditional New Thought affirmation into "THERE IS ONLY ONE PRESENCE AND ONE POWER IN THE UNIVERSE, GOD THE GOOD, ALL-GOVERNING" (rather than "God the good, omnipotent"). To be fair, this statement can refer to a denial of ethical dualism (there are two powers: good and evil) as well as to an affirmation of metaphysical monism. Robert makes it clear that he doesn’t buy into the existence of demons, let alone an organized power of evil. As Dr. Seuss once observed, "This may not seem very important, I know, But it is. So I’m bothering telling you so."

Finally, it makes no rational sense to claim that there is only one mind, as Robert and many New Thoughters frequently do. God is a mind, has always been, and has always had the body known as the universe, although it may have been unimaginably different from one cosmic epoch to another. The glue of the universe is what father of New Thought P. P. Quimby called the mingling of minds and what Whitehead called prehension, one entity’s feeling the feelings of others, which is the philosophical way of expressing what in physics is called energy. Prehension is the means by which everything is connected to everything else. This is what allows for the nonlocal healing practiced by Jesus, Quimby, and physician Larry Dossey, cited by Robert.

Robert has written a remarkably well-informed and exceedingly practical book on healing, a real how-to book for New Thought or for anyone concerned with healing. It is so good that in some ways I am sorry to raise some essentially philosophical points, which may seem of little importance to many, but need to be faced in order to contribute to the most adequate foundation for New Thought in theory as well as in practice. For more information on process New Thought, see our web site at