The High Cost of Holistic Healing (part 2)

Dear Reader,

This is my second post on Dr. Nolan Byler’s book The High Cost of Holistic Healing. In my first post I looked at my own background with regard to medical issues so you would know where I as a reviewer am coming from and also what I can discern of Dr. Byler’s own background and presuppositions.

Now I would like to look more closely at how Dr. Byler evaluates the various forms of alternative medicine. In this post we will look at general principles; in the next we will look at specific practices.

Dr. Byler lists his criteria in two categories, positive and negative ones (pp. 26-27). The positive ones (the ones to which one wants to be able to say yes) are:

  • Is it consistent with biblical teaching?
  • Does it harmonize with what God says about health and healing?
  • Does it make sense scientifically?
  • Is it an act of faith in God? (like anointing with oil)

And the negative ones are:

  • Is it mystical with no credit given to God?
  • Does my spirit have reservations concerning this treatment?
  • Are there powers of darkness involved?
  • Does it involve entering an altered state of consciousness?
  • Does the practitioner rely on healing energy passing through him to me?
  • Does the practitioner refer to a mysterious energy that must be blocked or balanced?
  • Is it based on New Age philosophies?
  • Does it promote that the body as the total healer?

I will not go through each of these, but I would like to make comments on a number of them.

In the first group, the positive questions, my only issue would be with the third one: Does it make sense scientifically? Not that I have a problem with doing things that can be scientifically proven to work. But I am not sure I would use this as a distinguishing criterion. My own very unscientific observation is that there is still quite a lot western medicine does not know. They don’t know what causes migraines. They don’t know what causes a woman to go into labor. They don’t know why my type 1 daughter’s blood sugar rises eight hours after she eats a high fat meal. There may be theories about some of these things but they have changed within my memory. There are not definitive answers. And when it comes to treating illnesses, there seems to be a lot of just poking around trying things till they find the one that works. This was my experience with my son’s headaches. They didn’t know what to do for him; they just tried a bunch of things that had worked for some people previously, but there really was no effort to fit a specific cure to the specific illness. It was no more scientific than what his acupuncturist and homeopath did and perhaps less so. But I am okay with not knowing all the answers. We never will. I don’t have to be able to explain why something works to make use of it.

Turning to the negative questions, those to which one wants to be able to answer no, a number of them deal with the source of healing. And a lot of the issues that I had with Reiki would echo these concerns. The biggest problem I had with it was that it sees healing energy as coming through the practitioner from particular spirit guides. This strikes me as nothing less than voluntary possession by demons and I cannot accept it. So I would second some of these questions. I would add though that western medicine does not seem to me to be inherently more holy on this point. I have a wonderful godly pediatrician for my kids but most doctors I have known are not Christians themselves and I do not think they would attribute any healing to God. On the other hand, my acupuncturist did seem to attribute my son’s healing to God. Byler’s last question asks “Does it promote the body as the total healer?” I know that all healing comes from God but my understanding is that most doctors would attribute healing to very mundane earthly forces, whether the body heals itself or the medicine they give does.  If the practitioners’ beliefs about where healing comes from are so important, I think there are going to be just as many western doctors who fail the test.

Which brings me to another but related issue: to what extent does the practitioner’s belief or the origin of the alternative practices matter? For comparison, I believe that all wisdom comes from God. Your child and mine, when we educate them, learn everything they learn through the power of the Holy Spirit. But if you disagree and do not attribute their learning to God, that doesn’t affect where it comes from. Great scientific breakthroughs and new innovations have come through non-believers, but their ultimate source is always God. I don’t want to take this too far and argue that any healing practices are okay a long as they work. That is not what I believe. As I tried to show in my posts on Reiki, Satan often does do “good” things like healing for his own evil ends. In fact, I would go so far as to say healing is a pretty common way for him to draw people in. If your alternative medicine provider is talking about being some sort of spiritual channel or if he seems to rely on larger, non-personal spiritual forces at work, then I would definitely agree with Byler that you should be wary and probably walk away very quickly.

On the other hand, my own experience with acupuncture and homeopathy did not include such things. I would say the homeopath had a very scientific mindset. He was trained as a medical doctor as well and I don’t think he ever refered to higher energies or anything I would call “New Age”-y. My acupuncturist spoke of the energy chi that is in the body but she did not speak of it being connected to things outside the body and to the extent that she attributed healing to anything beyond herself she seemed to be speaking of one, personal (meaning a Person, not a force) God. We will look more at these specific practices in the next post.

Which brings me to one last point, Dr. Byler seems to have a very mundane view of the body and of healing which brings everything back to physiological forces which we can quantify and measure. He mentions at one point the role of stress in ulcers, but for the most part he seems to reject any connection between our physical bodies and larger emotional or spiritual forces. At one point he says that:

“The idea behind holistic healing is that if one part become sill, then all the other parts become ill as well. It actually relates to New Age thinking.” (p. 16)

I don’t know a lot about New Age thinking but this actually sounds pretty biblical to me. Does Paul not compare the church to a body and say that when one part becomes ill it affects the whole body? He is speaking of spiritual things but the analogy depends upon the physical being true.

Though out physical bodies will die and our spirits live on (till we get resurrected bodies, that is), I do not think that the biblical picture is to view our physical natures as so separate from our spiritual ones. While we are here, they are bound close together and I do think the one can affect the other. I would still be very wary of practitioners who claim to heal the spirit, but I do tend to think that there can be greater forces at work in our bodies than we can quantify with western scientific studies. and I am not willing to say that when Chinese medicine, for instance, speaks of the chi which flows throughout the body that they are not onto something that we have yet to discover. This does not require to believe everything they teach; truth is often hidden among falsehoods and they too may have some measure of truth.

To sum up this far (and I tend to think as I write so I can’t promise that my thoughts won’t change as this series progresses), I would agree with a lot of Byler’s criteria as at least questions to ask oneself. Here are the ones I have no problem with: Is it consistent with biblical teaching? Does it harmonize with what God says about health and healing? Is it mystical with no credit given to God? Does it involve entering an altered state of consciousness? (I haven’t discussed this one but I agree that one should not subject oneself to such things) Does the practitioner rely on healing energy passing through him to me?

As for the others, “Does my spirit have reservations concerning this treatment?” is very subjective but if you have reservations you should certainly at least look into it more before proceeding.  “Are there powers of darkness involved?” almost seems too obvious. I think that is what we are trying to determine, but if you know there are such powers involved, yes, run the other direction. “Does it promote that the body as the total healer?” — I am not sure this doesn’t apply to western medicine as well. And as for “Does the practitioner refer to a mysterious energy that must be blocked or balanced?” and “Is it based on New Age philosophies?” I think we need to return to these two. They have to do with the ideas behind things and I think we may end up needing to evaluate them on a case by case basis. As a kind of preview of what my thought may be in that next post (in which I will look at individual practices more specifically) I wonder if some of these things are not a bit like meat sacrificed to idols in New Testament times. To those who have a background in such things, it does seem like idolatry and by extension demon-activity are definitely involved. But for others the idols behind them really don’t matter; it is meat and it is okay to eat it. So too I plan to ask if the theory and history behind these alternative practices really matters or not.

Until then



9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Naptime Seamstess on April 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with this,
    “Does Paul not compare the church to a body and say that when one part becomes ill it affects the whole body? He is speaking of spiritual things but the analogy depends upon the physical being true.” too.

    I think we, as Americans, don’t put enough emphasis on the body/mind as a whole. It’s so much easier to find a pill to pop than to change a diet or a lifestyle (which would include exercising and things like complaining and gossiping).

    Good post, Nebby.


  2. […] « The High Cost of Holistic Healing (part 2) […]


  3. I am in agreement with the statement “if one part become sill, then all the other parts become ill as well.” (that Byler says he disagrees with).
    We have utilized a bit of alternative medical care.
    My husband was uncomfortable with NAET treatments (just from what he read, he did not attend the visit) that I tried for my son’s eczema so I did not go back after the first visit. Thankfully God blessed us with other natural ways of helping the eczema.

    In my experience, my mainstream medical provider shared my religious beliefs (same reformed denomination), but we still did not end up agreeing on much. I believed that my fearfully and wonderfully made body was capable of giving me clear signs of when I was ovulating, he poo-pooed that. I believed that in absence of any symptoms or signs of problems, labor could start on it’s own, he would prefer to intervene in order to pre-empt possible problems. We both presumably believed in a well-designed body affected by the fall but it really was expressed in different ways.
    I have found that my home birth midwife (not a Christian) is allowing me to make choices that reflect what I believe about my own body and how God made it.
    I’m not sure midwifery care is considered very “alternative” (it’s fairly well-studied by western-medicine type studies, and common in other countries), but I suppose one should use discernment in evaluating any type of medical provider and what they ask you to do.


    • I don’t know a l


      • Sorry I hit send my accident.
        I don’t know a lot about NAET. The kinesiology part makes me wary. I’d be interested in knowing what you have done for eczema. My 8yo gets it. Mostly we have just eliminated things from her diet.


        • Probiotics (we used a lot of homemade water kefir) and hazel wood jewelry (which supposedly works by adjusting the pH of the body) seemed to both help. At this point we’ve continued the probiotics just because I think it’s good for the whole family, but he no longer needs to wear the hazel wood…when he was younger I would take it off for a few days because it was broken or I didn’t want him to lose it swimming, and the eczema would come back quickly.

          His also seemed to be triggered by stress (he was less than two years old so I mean things like travel and schedule disruptions).


          • Thanks, Hannah. We tried hazelwood and didn’t notice any differemce. I have slacked off on probiotics lately though.


  4. This is a fascinating post, Nebby!

    My husband is an alternative practitioner, and a Christian. Of course, he *also* believes in allopathic medicine, which isn’t sometimes the case with alternative medicine. I look forward to reading your next post…which I see is already in my reader. 🙂


  5. […] Cost of Holistic Healing: part 1, part 2, and part […]


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