Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Entertaining angels unawares


“There's plenty of Christian silliness to go around. Think of televangelists who sell blessed 'healing handkerchiefs' or 'miracle wafers'. Think of Christian groups that refuse to use modern medicine and have their children die as a result. It's not as if there's a few Christians tainted by bad experience with supernatural claims and the rest are lily-white innocents who happen to have chanced on exactly the right combination of beliefs, so they don't have to worry about being critical of such claims. Every Christian should be equipped to critically test other people's claims. Even if Scripture is (rightly) part of that critical apparatus, the Christian must exercise reason to properly interpret Scripture and apply it to claims she encounters.”

How is that supposed to create a general presumption against the occurrence of miracles (or, conversely, a presumption favoring naturalistic explanations)? Your illustrations undercut the principle, for the presumption is only as good as the examples you cite to illustration your objection. But, in that event, it doesn’t turn on taking a presumptive stand, but judging individual claims on the merits of the case.

In cases involving manifest charlatans or deluded cult-members, then of course we’re justified in dismissing their testimony. That goes to the type of witness, which also goes to the credibility of the witness. The credibility of a claim has always been tied to the credibility of the claimant. That applies with equal force to claims about ordinary events.

To “critically test” miracle claims doesn’t mean we treat every miracle claim as suspect unless and until it is proven otherwise–any more than we treat every mundane claim as suspect unless and until it is proven otherwise. A liar is just as prone to lie about something mundane as he is to lie about something miraculous.

Had Abraham slammed the door on the divine foot (Gen 18:1-10; Heb 13:2), he would have missed out on God’s gracious promise. Don’t flee into the arms of David Hume to escape the clutches of Elmer Gantry. In the end, one is just as diabolical as the other.


  1. Cessationists say that certain forms of the miraculous - gifts of the Spirit like prophesy, healing, speaking in tongues - ended with the closing of the Canon and that they were necessary only for laying the foundation of the Church. Certainly, they discard the modern display of these forms of the miraculous as self-delusion and emotionalism.

    Why, then, should any other form of the miraculous be displayed by God in today's modern world? As far as I know, there has been nothing witnessed on the level of the parting of the Red Sea, water issuing from rocks or Balaam's donkey speaking.

    It seems consistent and likely, then, that true miracles ceased along with the gifts of the Spirit and that we should be skeptical of any claims to the contrary.

  2. Divine miracles serve a divine purpose. To repeat the Red Sea crossing every year would be superfluous and pointless. History is unique, progressive, and irreversible.

    Moreover, I'm not a cessationist.