Interview with John White
by Julia Loren
Julia C. Loren, a psychotherapist and writer, interviewed Dr John White, psychiatrist and widely read evangelical author, about his life, his books, and about a theology of the supernatural.
An Interview with Dr. John White was originally commissioned by Christianity Today a few years ago. However, the editors declined to publish the article. The information gained from interviews with Dr. White is presented here in three parts focusing on Dr. White the Christian, the Author and an interview with the Evangelical-Prophet. The interview was previously published in Renewal Journal, Brisbane, Australia.
On His Books
Your books seem to reflect various stages of your spiritual life rather than containing a life message, has that been your intent?
I suppose all along God has been laying themes on my heart. For instance when I wrote about depression I was concerned as a psychiatrist because I saw many Christians who were depressed thought the way the church treated them was altogether wrong. I explained the reality of mental illness as I saw it then in Masks of Melancholy. I had my own children and I remember being very bothered about myself as a parent, the inadequacies of myself as a parent and so I wrote Parents in Pain.
For some reason the books have always been seen, or people have made comments that they are prophetic books. I never write them because I think they are prophetic.
You seem least pleased with your book Eros Defiled why is that?
I wrote it because a lot of pastors came to me about their sexual sins and saw that sexual sins were a problem. It was received very well and is still in print, regrettably. I thought at that time that psychiatry held the answer - but it was not the answer. I discovered that later through Andy Comisky. Eros Redeemed . . . I’m not sure if its in print. . . that really tells you how to get out of it.
How do you account for the success of The Fight, which sold over 250,000 copies?
I really do not know, though I believe it accounted for my willingness to start writing. I had been reading the mystics, looking for answers to my quest to get in genuine touch with the living God. I included insights from them and that may account for some of the success of The Fight. I know there is widespread interest in spirituality among conservatives, but relatively few charismatics seem interested in spirituality.
Of all the books you’ve written what was your favorite book?
Probably the ones I’ve written as a relief, my children's books. I wrote them partly to placate my kids, and partly as a light relief from other books. Curiously, they’ve also been my most controversial. I’ve had the nastiest as well as the most heartwarming letters from them.
The curious thing was the adults who read my stories would find emotional healing in them. One letter I received was from a woman in Ontario. She said, " When I read this I realized I was getting away from my charismatic roots and was getting disillusioned. And when I saw the love of one of the characters in this book I started to cry and my children couldn’t understand why I was crying."
And then another woman, who had been molested as a child, realized as she read the book that she had been molested and realized as well that the love of the Lord was there. [The Archives] stirred the most deeply in people. And I have a feeling that the stories in the historical records in scripture are far more important than the doctrines and prophetic utterances based on them. That we read to read the stories first. We need to focus on the stories because I’ve learned from my own experience that the stories are more powerful. They have an allegorical component in them - such as the parables of Jesus.
Theology of the Supernatural and Healing Power
How did you begin shifting towards a theology which included signs and wonders?
An obvious case of a shift in theology was when I met John Wimber. When I arrived at the course [Wimber's course at Fuller Seminary, MC510: Signs, Wonders & Church Growth - Ed.] I realized here was the Christ I was looking for all my life, the Christ who heals, the Christ who does this and it is all happening in front of my nose. The search had been going on for much longer and I’d been having visions for much longer without knowing that I was a charismatic. I suppose I was one then but I hadn’t entered into the fullness of being able to do these things.
Yet God had been preparing for that so-called sudden shift for many years, both by my seeing the supernatural in operation among primitive tribal people and by my encounter with the Pentecostal guy while a medical student. And I thought there must be something in it. But I didn’t know what. I thought especially that I needed to be baptized by the Holy Ghost but the Holy Ghost wasn’t cooperating.
Were you seeking such an experience?
I don’t think I was. Or it never occurred to me to seek it. I had read a writer’s work while in the New Tribes boot camp. He described the Holy Spirit’s activity in the 19th century. He talked about it, described his own experience and I thought, "Oh dear, I’d love that." But it wasn’t clear enough to me to seek it actively.
Toward the end of my time pastoring the Winnipeg church time Ken Blue was at Fuller Seminary finishing his Ph.D., and he called me about this remarkable man John Wimber. I thought that was interesting and I’d like to sit in on his lectures. So Lorrie and I went down to Fuller. Fuller graciously gave us an apartment.
It was the sense of the presence of Jesus during John Wimber’s lectures; I thought, "Oh I’ve come home. This is what I want. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life." And Lorrie was the same. The moment I got in I thought, "Christ is here." It was remarkable. My hunger for Jesus has never stopped. And I felt that the anti-Charismatics particularly also robbed me of Jesus.
This is the first time you ever really encountered the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit?
Yes. What happened in the third lecture he gave - he would have a lecture then a workshop - he finished his lecture and asked people who had sicknesses of some kind to come forward. There were about ten of them. The first guy was a football player who was studying theology at Fuller. He came because his leg had until that week been in a cast and the cast had been removed after a month. It was his Achilles’ tendon that had been torn. So John propped him against the wall and asked him to demonstrate how much movement he had in both his feet. It was very limited in range as it would be after a tendon had been sown up.
Then John prayed for him and he started shaking, finally went on the floor. And I was worried because one leg was kicking wildly and I thought that was his injured leg. So I said to three guys, "Look stop him. Get hold of that leg and stop him from doing this." When they got hold of the leg they were all shaking too. I was mad at them and said, "Stop it! Do what you’re supposed to do and hold that leg." I was concerned about his leg but I was mistaken. It was the other leg that was injured and when he got up he had a full range of movement. I got used to seeing things like that.
I asked John, "How do we get into this stuff? Do we get zapped by the Holy Ghost or what?"
John’s reply was "No, you just stick your neck out and start doing it." He says in retrospect that he saw great faith in me.
See a real Christian has the Holy Spirit and has potentially all the gifts of the spirit. That was suddenly revealed to me. I thought, "Well, I don’t like his answer but I’ll start." So we started praying for people’s headaches and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Had it occurred to you to pray for people to be healed before?
Despite Lorrie being healed just before you were married?
That’s right. And despite the fact that it was my prayers that apparently did it. I know that I was before long doing major stuff. I prayed for a little two year old girl in Malaysia after MC510. I went around the world talking about this, I was so excited about it. The parents brought her - they were Haaka speaking Chinese. She had been running around the room. She had kept her parents awake for 36 hours and when they brought her to us, struggling, she was covered with her execma - And as Lorrie and I prayed we saw the wet area shrinking. This was very exciting to watch the shrinking take place as we prayed. I thought, "Gosh what power I’ve got." And then the suggestion came to me oh but maybe it’s Lorrie’s prayers that are doing it." And I was filled with wild jealousy. I suddenly saw how dangerous it is to have power. After that I was very careful. I saw that my own heart was corruptible.
You were quick to see that and to write about it. You mention in The Pathway to Holiness the error of considering manifestations as evidence of superior spiritual power. Is that also a criticism of the Vineyard movement?
It is more a criticism of people who have been affected by miraculous power whether Pentecostal, or so-called "Second Wave" or Vineyard. I think the Lord saw to it that I recognized it right away and I’ve seen it ever since. I’ve seen what it does to people to have that kind of power. See I think the Vineyard has lost its enthusiasm for the gospel. To me Christ is central to everything. Signs and wonders aren't everything. They probably will be helpful because God loves people and loves to heal their diseases but its no credit to us that we can do it. We should all be able to do it.
After reading about Jack Deere’s theological shift I have a sense that you'd agree with him that the evangelical, intellectual mindset fights against the spirit but that we need both word and spirit.
Yes it does. I feel that intellectuals among the evangelicals are not what the Puritans were. I make a distinction between J. I. Packer and many other Bible scholars and theologians. Packer was part of Lloyd-Jones studying of the Puritan movement. Lloyd-Jones had an experience of the Holy Spirit, an experience of being picked up in the arms of the Father so to speak. He studied the Puritans and the Puritans knew about the Holy Spirit. That is why John Owen, who was a puritan and I think the vice-chancellor of Oxford University at one point, was able to write about the difference between those who have the spirit and those who didn’t.
Paul Cain has been known to preach, "Say no to sin and you say no to cancer." Do you see a relationship of sin to sickness?
I believe a relationship of sin to sickness exists. An obvious example would be drug-addiction, homosexuality and AIDS. But I do not understand the relationship well enough to talk about it. My feeling is that the sin potential within us (our carnal nature) will always leave us vulnerable to sickness.
You have emphasized the healing gifts of the Spirit in recent years. Do you believe that people can operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit without having an experience such as a "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" in the Charismatic sense?
Yes. I think the focus on the baptism of the Holy Spirit came with the Pentecostal movement. It was the Holiness movement at that time. They decided to wait on God until they had something like that. I’m not even sure that the disciples needed it. When Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit", at that point they received the spirit of God. It was in them. But I supposed they needed something extraordinary to initiate the powerful testimony that came. That’s how it was in my own life anyway.
I don’t think there is any difference between Charismatics and non-Charismatics. That is to say, I think those Christians who do have the Holy Spirit in them, many don’t, may never have repented and those are not true Christians. There are many who are powerfully anointed and that is why their speaking is so effective. They may not realize that they can heal the sick but that seems to come in waves anyway. It seems to build somehow.
Voices and Visions
How have you learned to hear the subjective voice of God?
That’s a tough one. You see, nobody explained to me as a child that such communications had ceased, so that from earliest childhood I did hear, or else I thought I did. I subjected my impressions to "scientific" checks. I am most certain of God’s voice now as I read Scripture.
Even when I was a psychiatrist I would be listening to the Lord. I would pray with my patients whether they were Christian or not. And I would have hunches about them which really were prophetic.
He speaks to me on many channels now. He speaks to me in the night when I sleep and I remember it exactly when I wake up. This is something new for me. He also speaks in night visions which are not the same as dreams - which may emerge out of dreams - but suddenly you know that you’re in a different space. In a dream you don’t usually recognize you’re in a dream but there becomes something different about it and I can’t explain what it is.
You went from hearing God’s voice to seeing visions?
Though I resisted it at the time, I was also having visions during my residency and I knew those weren’t hallucinatory experiences. There is something about a vision that you know that you know that you know. First of all in a vision I can understand everything. It’s immediately self-apparent. I can’t explain this but it is. Even though the vision is symbolic I don’t need anyone to tell me what it’s about.
In other words, you know what your vision means but with psychiatric patients suffering hallucinations and delusions, they don’t know?
They don’t know. Many of them have hallucinations that they are demonized. They hear demonic voices. I think psychosis reduces your ability to discern, to discern between the demonic and the differences between the two. Satan mimics God’s voice superbly. But God has taught me to distinguish by the darkness that comes on me. I can’t explain it.
Do you have a sense that those who walk into a growing awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit also come into greater awareness of the demonic?
You can’t be with one without the other. The moment you are in touch with the Lord you are open to the whole bang shoot. It’s spiritual sensitivity. Sensitivity to spirit beings.
Thoughts on Counseling Psychology
Your shift in thoughts on psychology that seems more along the lines of Larry Crabb’s beliefs that counseling should be contained under the auspices of the church. How did that shift come about?
I suppose its been gradual. Certainly when I was studying psychology I was prepared for the anti-psychology mindset and prepared to resist it. And of course all my psychology is learned through psychiatry.
Was there a time when you were looking at psychiatry or counseling psychology and saying this is not the answer?
I suppose I recognized it when I went down to Columbus, Ohio to speak to a conference organized by the Vineyard. After one of the meetings I asked the psychologists and counselors to come forward if they were willing to counsel only by the Holy Spirit’s prompting. I was bothered by conartistry, seeing it at that point as evil. I did not suggest that no psychological techniques be used, but that such insights be used only when the Holy Spirit prompted. Well more than 200 came forward and some of the worst demonic manifestations I have ever seen broke out.
I remember one young man was grinding his teeth and growling. They could not release him from the demonic. Apparently he was into sexual sin of some sort and wasn’t willing to give it up. He was a "Christian" counselor. What of his counsel? We have now come to the place where demonized, manipulative counselors are counseling other Christians.
I’ve discovered that people should be willing to be prompted only by the Holy Spirit. I don’t mean that they shouldn’t use their psychological training but only as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Do you believe that counselors should be separate from the church, incorporated into the church, or that the church should be everything?
I think the church should be everything. I think the church is the only final answer. I believe that God would give the church all the answers whereas miraculous events have come in waves and sunk as waves, I believe that in the future they will move into a far greater move of the Spirit.
Would that eliminate the need for psychologists and doctors then?
I think it will.
Give me an idea of how you see an ideal church functioning as a healing environment.
I feel that some people are naturals in counseling. Now, I think there will always be that kind of person in the church and their function will always be a natural one. I think the home group will be the center where everything can and should take place. When we come together in a larger group it is really for celebration, for perhaps somebody who is more gifted in expounding scripture than somebody else to expound scripture. So I think all the things that make a human being a better human being are to be founded in the church.
All change and transformation?
Character transformation. I believe that in the future even things like major depression and schizophrenia like diseases will no longer be a problem that God will give discernment to the church. I know that the issues looked at from the analytical point of view are very complex. I realize that.
You are talking about counseling being one of the healing gifts of the Spirit, then. How would you encourage counselors to develop their gift?
It is a healing gift of the Spirit. I think if they would not have the pride of their certificate and so on, but would let the Lord rule in their lives and seek the face of the Lord constantly it will develop. See a lot of this stuff has come to me from seeking the face of the Lord and a lot of the changes in my life have come through that. I begin with an open Bible in front of me - I begin now with worship- and I read the scriptures. I ask myself analytical questions about the text and I meditate and that makes a difference in my life. It changes me and what I offer to others as healing.
Warnings for The Church, the Future and Apostasy
Where do you believe the church is going?
I’m concerned about apostasy and the parable of the wheat and the tares. All the reformers spoke of apostasy. Certainly Calvin did, Arminius did. Calvin said it was impossible for them to have seen the light but John Owen explains it the best of all.
The Seventh Volume of Owen’s works is a careful exposition of Hebrews 6, focusing particularly on versus 4 through 6. His attempt is to understand apostasy. Owen maintains that one may operate in all the power of the Holy Spirit, without any of the inward graces of God’s character, that is, without being "saved" at all. You do not have to be a Christian to display spiritual gifts. Non-Christians can display them also, since the Spirit falls on whom He will.
What John Owen says is that you can have the Holy Spirit and still apostatize and you do that because you opt for power rather than for the brightness of the glory of Christ himself. In other words you are not pursuing Christ, you are pursuing power. So it means that on both sides of the Charismatic curtain, there are wheat and tares.
Apostasy as you see it, is more than lapsing into chronic sin, renouncing Christ and abandoning the profession of faith. It is an abuse of power. Frightening thought.
It is a very frightening thought. When I first began to understand this I thought, well, what about me? My fear about this personally was countered when Jesus said to me, ‘He who comes to me I will never reject.’ And that filled me with great relief.
Throughout your ministry and particularly in The Pathway of Holiness, you mention a vision of darkness "that falls on men and women when they do not let God be God in their lives," referencing Romans 1:21-23. What do you foresee will happen if the darkness is not lifted off of the church?
The darkness will be lifted off of the church. There are some Christians who develop so far and then they loose their curiosity and become worshippers of mammon or whatever unwittingly. God doesn’t seem to go on doing things in them. See, in my life, God has been merciful and constantly dragging me into something new. Sometimes against my will.
The church free of darkness would look marvelous. The marvelous church cannot occur unless there is a split - a split between those who have the Holy Spirit and those who haven’t - the wheat and the tares. At what point that would occur I don’t know except that somehow it’s involved in world war and all that’s going to happen in the next little while. Individuals will have to give God control and they will find one another.
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