Does God still perform miracles today?


Dr Gary Burnett offers this review of Craig Keener’s recent book, Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World, Baker, 2021.

Craig Keener is a significant and hugely respected New Testament scholar. If this book had been written by almost anyone else, I confess, I’m not sure what I would have made of it, containing as it does account after eye-watering account of healings and other miracles, including raisings of the dead. And I say that as someone who was involved for many years in a charismatic church, and who believes in a visible ministry of the Holy Spirit, in divine healing, speaking in tongues and so on.

But, over the years, personally, I’ve seen very little in the way of dramatic healings and other miracles and so I suppose you get “squeezed into that same old mould” of thinking as everybody else does, that in our modern, scientific world that sort of stuff doesn’t really happen, or, perhaps, might do rarely. Although I’ve said I believe in miracles, I haven’t really expected to see anything of the sort. And then, of course, many of us have seen the preachers who lay hands on people and push them over and things like the apparent lengthening of legs, and known heart-breaking stories of people believing for a miracle and then being terribly disappointed to the detriment of their faith.

So I came to the book intrigued that such a book might be written by someone like Craig Keener, many of whose commentaries, books and journal papers I was very aware of. His monumental 1,200-page Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, though, had somehow passed me by, so I came to Miracles Today fresh, with no knowledge of the author’s previous work in this area.


The book begins, arrestingly, with an account of the miraculous healing of Barbara Cummiskey, who suffered for many years with multiple sclerosis. She spent many of those years in hospital, suffering a variety of dreadful infections, and became almost blind and unable to walk. Coming to what was assumed to be the final weeks of her life, her body was contracted in a permanent foetal position. One Sunday, as friends from her church were visiting, Barbara heard a voice telling her to get up and walk. And, that’s what she did, something she’d been unable to do for years. She was suddenly no longer blind, her deformed hands and feet were working just fine and she no longer needed the oxygen she’d been dependent upon.

Keener has interviewed this woman and the doctors who treated her and has been able to verify this remarkable story. At this early point I was hooked, I could feel myself beginning to get excited and faith beginning to stir.

The rest of the book consists largely of account after account of miraculous events, mostly healings from around the world that have been shared with Keener by eyewitnesses. Many of these have been verified by medical professionals and Keener provides dates, names and circumstances for each account, approaching the overall task with considerable academic rigour.

After that initial account, and before he begins the various chapters on different types of miracles, Keener helpfully discusses the question of what constitutes a miracle, why people assume that they do not happen and whether science could be said to disprove miracles. He spends a little time, showing, quite convincingly, the difficulties with David Hume’s definition of a miracle as a “violation of natural law,” his view that miracles cannot occur, and his dismissal of eye-witness testimony. After a further discussion of the value of eye-witnesses, the occurrence of miracles in Christian history and in all sections of the church, Keener begins in earnest with his accounts of modern miracles.

He proceeds by grouping miracles into various chapters – so you can read accounts of healings from virtual brain death, from cancer, and from blindness, and of resuscitation of the dead. There are scores of accounts, to the extent that, interesting as they are, it becomes a little difficult to read huge chunks of the book at once. But maybe that’s a good thing. I found, in reading the book over the space of a few weeks, that it was beginning to have an effect on me, chipping away at my…well, let’s be blunt, unbelief. I found my faith strengthened and renewed, not simply at the thought that I might see God work a miracle sometime soon (though I’m not now discounting that), but more that, if God really is at work all around the world, breaking in and doing things we call miraculous, then that means something for my prayer life, and it means something for my expectations beyond this life.


So, if God is mending broken limbs and removing tumours, then I might expect something to happen when I pray for this person or that situation. The book, then, has been an encouragement to pray more and to do so expectantly. And, as Christians, we all believe in the resurrection and being present with the Lord after we die. Of course we do. And, as St. John says, “blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” But somehow, as I read Miracles Today, and I came face-to-face with God being very tangibly at work in today’s world, I found my sense of confidence in God’s future for the world and for me heightened. That’s not unimportant, the older you get.

Miracles as signs, then. That’s very much the way Keener sees them: “extraordinary signs…special acts of God that get attention and communicate something about him.” In a world where Keener recognizes that everybody dies and most people do not get miraculously cured from disease, he sees the miracles he has recounted as “already” signs of the kingdom which “nurture hope for its ‘not yet’ consummation.”

The book, although largely recounting many attested miracle stories, is more than that. Keener discusses a range of topics including why there are more miraculous events taking place in the developing world, what happens when healing doesn’t happen, and God being at work in modern medicine. Along the way, I was impressed by his own account of healing and healings within his family.

Since reading the book, I’ve had time to try and integrate it into my thinking and, I hope, to some degree, way of life. God is at work in all sorts of ways, in the mundane and the ordinary, in the trials and difficulties of life, often just through his presence or through the support of others. Sickness and suffering are the lot of all of us at some time or another, and sadly, are what makes up daily life for huge numbers of people in the world, including Christians, many of whom are suffering terrible persecution.

And yet – Keener’s miracle accounts are a much-needed reminder of God’s presence in the world and they are a spur to faith. They help us take our eyes off the trials and the mundane and the ordinary and encourage us that God is, indeed, at work in the world. And, if we have the faith to see it, in our own lives.


Dr Gary W Burnett taught New Testament for many years in the Institute of Theology at Queen’s University Belfast and is the author of a number of books, including the recently published Paul Distilled.


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41 thoughts on “Does God still perform miracles today?”

  1. Great article. My experience has been that western Christians often see this as an optional extra whereas Christians in third world rely on it. See Heidi Baker’s experiences in Mozambique.

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    • Yes it is an interesting article. I think Craig Keener has an African wife? And perhaps more familar with the third world scene.

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    • Agreed. Here in South Africa a few decades ago God mightily used a Baptist pastor, William Duma, from K-Natal to bring well-documented healing to thousands and also the raising of a young Zulu girl from the dead, after she had been dead for days. He tells his story in ‘Take Your Glory God.’ He was a no-nonsense, humble instrument in God’s hand. He would call all those he prayed for to repentance, before praying for them. If he discerned bad motives, he refused to pray. Once a year he would spend a month in the mountains, praying and fast. As a young pastor I heard him preach in his old age. That was William Duma… just saying…

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    • Yes. That attitude being an extension from many in the first world seeing creation as no longer creative – that it operates without God’s active involvement – like a wound up clock – contrary to Col 1:15. Which is at least in part a kind of deism – belief in something less than a personal God.

      I was at a conference years ago where Winkie Pratney was speaking. Someone asked him why miracles seemed to happen more in Africa and South America and less in the first world. I haven’t forgotten his response – that in those continents they see everything as spiritual – they recognise God’s constant involvement in creation and that what is created is more than material.

      Creation is both material and spiritual. And God is spiritual. We should therefore I suggest not use words like nature and natural (because within our western worldview this is only what is material) nor refer to God as supernature or supernatural. We must not when seeking to win people concede to the very worldview from which we are seeking to deliver them.

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    • I dont understand that. People in the west, although blessed with the help of modern medicine which some in other parts of the world dont always have access to, nevertheless often suffer from many illnesses and diseases which modern medicines can either only do a little for or nothing at all, leading to lives of continued suffering or indeed death.

      What I see are many committed western Christians asking God for healing but no healing comes, and suffering continues and then death.

      That is the reality.

      Peter

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  2. I have been involved in the healing ministry for over 30 years and seen hundreds healed from pain. Most of the people to whom I minister healing lose their pain strait away. It’s basic New Testament stuff. Jesus taught his disciples how to heal and then told them to teach others all he had commanded them.

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    • Im assuming youre referring to physical pain.

      Did the healing heal the cause of the pain, or just the pain?
      Was there any follow-up to these people?

      Peter

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  3. I was greatly challenged by this, and have sent for the book. It is so easy to live in unbelief, to make ‘rational’ excuses. Mea culpa.
    I have known real healing in my own body, and others, also ratified by X-rays, etc.
    I was once called out at night in very bad weather to travel some miles to pray for a very sick man in hospital, the drs said he was dying. I went with bad grace and prayed without any conviction it would make a difference. The next day he was sitting up and well. When I was praying about it afterwards, the LORD said to me, ‘Would it have happened if you hadn’t prayed for him?’
    My granddaughter didn’t breathe for 17 minutes when she was born, and doctors said she would be seriously brain damaged, but she is alive, strong and wonderful, perfect in every way. Many people were praying for her.
    And I still find it hard to believe,
    perhaps because I have known many times when people were not healed, too.
    LORD help my unbelief.

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  4. Within a self-healing body (somewhat of a miracle in itself) going from better to worse and going from worse to better are no more or less a miracle than one another. Anything positive affects us positively in measurable ways. When our body is fighting against infection or disease the net aggregate of positive and of negative influences will determine which wins at a given time or where the tipping point takes place. COVID for example has been a barometer both of our overall health rating (which will often help determine our degree of susceptibility) and of where our personal health weak points lie.

    The radiance brought by a loving person, just like other positive factors, increases the positive in our life, and so helps the positive side to win this struggle sooner or easier.

    The stronger it is, the more it helps.

    There is no known limit to how strong it can be. The stronger it is, the more startling effects it will have.

    No doubt this can include the restoration of a psychological or physical status quo, which was not a miracle when it was first present, so nor (within a self-healing body) should it be regarded as such when it is restored. Removal of cataracts is not a miracle though its effect may seem so. The clicking of a body back into place may seem to have miraculous restorative effects, but in fact if the clicking was not a miracle nor are its effects. However, the addition of a limb and things like that are of another order.

    A bad spiritual state can clearly bring all kinds and dimensions of disorder. It is no more nor less clear that a good spiritual state can bring all kinds and dimensions of good and improved order.

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    • Hi Christopher,

      The idea of a self-healing body is not a Christian one.

      Nothing in creation – even if it happens according to known laws – happens without God’s active involvement. See Colossians 1:17.

      The only thing which distinguishes miracles is that they are events which seem to operate in a way that isn’t consistent with how God usually sustains creation. I make further comment on this issue elsewhere here.

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      • ‘Nothing in creation – even if it happens according to known laws – happens without God’s active involvement. See Colossians 1:17.’

        Hi Benjamin

        Agreed. That;’s what I mean by the sovereignty of God which underlies everything including the doctrines of salvation. Sorry. Not trying to be argumentative it just seemed such a clear point of agreement.

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    • I find that an odd view, which seems to rely on mind over matter. The placebo effect can sometimes be powerful, but it doesnt cure cancer or heart disease, or any other manner of disease. And of course it is typically of a temporary nature.

      “going from better to worse and going from worse to better are no more or less a miracle than one another.”

      Eh, no. The reason why doctors have become quite good at predicting the outcome of disease is because whatever disease takes a typical course in the human body. Whilst the body is self-healing, that ability is limited. Otherwise, why was the discovery of antibiotics probably the most important ‘eureka’ moment in the history of medicine? It has saved countless lives which would not have been saved otherwise.

      So going from better to worse describes the typical course of disease without intervention, whether medicinal or divine, and is not miraculous in any sense. However, going from worse to better is not the natural course of disease, and only normally happens with said interventions. It is reasonable to view non-natural interventions as ‘miraculous’.

      I also think your reference to ‘spiritual states’ is wrong. Many ‘saints’ down through the ages have suffered from physical disease and illness and they have been people of deep faith. Im afraid you sound like one of Job’s friends.

      Peter

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  5. This issue has exercised my mind a lot over the years. “Well documented” is the key issue here. I have seen too many cases of false healings, wishful thinking and embellishment which I confess has made me rather cynical when reading accounts of healings, and too many people who have continued to suffer, despite being prayed for and then get worse as they think it is their fault they are not healed and then live with guilt. Nonetheless, if this is really happening, then it is great news.

    Maybe I need to get a copy.

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  6. What a refreshing article.
    If we believe that the written word attests to the God of the word, Word made flesh, and poured out, it is intellectually flaccid and illogical not to believe in miracles today, unless we revert to a closed material world system.
    As it happens, the opening of the article, referring to the person getting up and walking, chimes with our home group study this week on John 5: 1-30.
    While much ink and many words used to describe the pprocess or how, at its simplest and most profound, it is the creative command from the One of John 1 that effects the miracle, the third sign.
    It has been well said that cesssationists interpret the word from a lack of experience and continuationist from experience.
    The why and why not questions : why them and not me? are the self-centred Spirit revelations of our heart motives; hearts softened or hardened towards God snd others.
    And what about where healings can not in all conscience be gainsaid, yet the beneficiary remains in the dead state of unbelief, unsaved? That is something to lament and greive over in prayer, is it not.
    In all of this just who gets the glory?

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    • Not forgetting in all of this, death and dying is the end point, test of our faith, when prayer for healing can mask unbelief, that while death is an enemy, for Christians it is there where there is healing and further manifestation of life eternal with God.

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  7. Well, I have a huge problem with this – based on the basic ideas in my head about what constitutes `general revelation’, what constitutes `special revelation’.

    The natural laws are God’s creation, what God reveals about himself through His natural laws all falls under the scope of `general revelation’. If something seems recurrent (some form of `miraculous healing’), then it falls under the category of `laws of nature’, which scientists should be investigating, to figure out something about the mechanisms of God’s natural laws, so that some sort of more systematic treatment can be derived for the ailment that was `miraculously healed’, based on observing possible causes of the `miraculous healing’.

    The miracles documented in Holy Scripture are all connected with the category of `special revelation’, pointing to the fact that Jesus was precisely who he said he was, the Messiah, Son of God, a unique once-for-all event at a specific time point in human history, `crucified under Pontius Pilate’ (the lowest point in human history).

    I’m sceptical, mainly because after the time of the eye-witness apostles, and the accompanying sign miracles to prove that they were who they claimed to be, I no longer see the function of miracles. I also no longer see the key property as something extraordinary, something not recurrent, something part of the `special revelation’ rather than the category of `general revelation’ (which is where something belongs – part of God’s natural laws – if it is recurrent).

    This doesn’t fall within my understanding of the Christian faith and how God works in the world.

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    • Isn’t that a priori rather than empirical? We live in a world chock full of empirical data, which far outweighs in volume one assumption that may or may not be correct.

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      • Christopher – well, what I wrote certainly was a priori, but I think it also stands up empirically. In your own comment above, you pointed to miracles which are all part of the framework of recurrent things, which can be understood as belonging to the natural process and pointing to the fact that this doesn’t make the effect any less miraculous.

        The world is indeed chock-full of empirical data concerning counterfeit miracles and the healing epidemic – and if I wanted to gather the data and do a proper analysis of it, I have seen and heard enough of it that no doubt I’d come to a negative conclusion about the extra-special events that are classed as `miracle’.

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        • (a) The trouble with being chockfull is that there is so much data that it is exceptionally unlikely that it will all point one way; and also unlikely that even if most points one way, the remainder would easily fall in with that.

          (b) Plenty of counterfeit – exactly.

          (c) How do Jesus and the apostles differ here? What they did they did through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same power is in people today. I was analysing Jesus and the apostles according to the same model as other ages whereas you were seeing them as an exceptional case.

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    • The Holy Spirit is for the church; so, if the gifts of the Spirit are absent from a church, is something wrong?

      Following Paul’s exposition of commitment-love (agapē) as the setting for use of the gifts, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says that “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is [supernatural] knowledge, it will pass away.” Does this mean that the gifts – or those gifts at least – would dwindle after the apostolic era?

      This suggestion is known as cessationism. Assuredly no more prophecies will be given for all believers, because scripture closed after that era. But prophets might still speak locally, and Peter explained in Acts 2 that Pentecost brings fulfilment of Joel’s words that God will pour out his Spirit on all people, who will prophesy and the Day of the Lord will come. (This means Jesus’ return in glory.) Peter would not have cited Joel’s passage if prophecy ceases sometime between Pentecost and the Second Coming, and Revelation 11:3 mentions prophecy that will be spoken before Christ returns, yet ahead of the present time. Paul says that these gifts cease “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10). When is that? Paul goes on: “Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (11:12). Paul is speaking of Christ’s return. Zechariah (13:2-3) confirms that this is when prophecy will cease. So the gift of prophecy is available today. It would make no sense that the peoples represented at Pentecost have prophets, but other peoples would not.

      Cessationism arose as an excuse for the absence of the gifts. Since the gifts are available today, what is the reason for their absence from many churches? Jesus could do no miracles where the people did not believe in him (Mark 6:5), and He is present today through the Holy Spirit – so corporate belief is not strong enough in these churches. If that seems shocking, remember that the first congregations were liable to persecution. How many people in your congregation would refuse to deny Christ if it meant execution?

      Cessationism has gained further impetus from distaste at the muddle between the emotional and the spiritual within the charismatic movement, which often leads to lack of reverence. This muddle is most apparent in worship, because of the stirring effect upon the human spirit of music (classical and modern!) Confusion has come about partly because the emotional is mistaken for the spiritual. Many charismatics chase after signs and wonders when they should be seeking Jesus Christ. They have “sought to possess the power of the Spirit before they have gone under the flesh-severing knife of the cross” deeply enough (to quote Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, p.259).

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      • Thank you for your helpful comments Anton.

        The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” gifts of the Spirit (see elsewhere here where I argue that we should not be using these words at all in the first world). But we do! But how do we?

        Pharisaism is welcoming God’s word while not welcoming him (John 5:39). And liberalism the opposite (John 14:15). These are the two ways to sin. The former will see someone resist God’s presence in a way that will see them also resist gifts that do not function at all without experience of his presence (not that word gifts such as teaching not require God to be present to be of edifying value!)

        When it comes to the presence or absence of gifts in a church here is how I put it – that the presence of supernatural gifts of the Spirit is not proof of a church’s maturity – but the absence of such gifts is likely evidence of there being something wrong. However the something wrong might only be ignorance. I confess that I spend much time dreaming of having the chance to reason with believers using the pharisaism and liberalism distinction above – as I believe this will see people whose default position is to be highly suspicious (suspicion is IN NO WAY a sinful attitude – the Bible doesn’t condemn suspicion!) change direction.

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        • I agree that the world ‘natural’ is not biblical, but scripture does speak of “the fixed laws of the earth and heavens” (Jeremiah 33:25-26) – laws ordained by God – and I am using ‘natural’ as a shorthand for these laws. Granted that we don’t know them exactly, but it is not necessary to understand Newton or Einstein to say that Peter walking on water and sinking as his faith wobbled, as described in Matthew 14, is a violation of them.

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          • Sorry for any confusion Anton.

            My comments above were supposed to be an addition to what you were saying – not a correction. I was trying to explore the link between cessationist views and pharisaism.

          • Got it! There is one very grave danger in cessationism, which is that if a cessationist accepts that a miracle has occurred then he must ascribe it to Satan, and if it is a godly healing then he is committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which Jesus warned against in the direst terms imaginable.

    • Hi Jock,

      I ask you to consider whether your beliefs concerning particular points in time where God’s power and character were exhibited in miracles relate to how you see all faith.

      All relationship with God is charismatic in nature. The only reason why we experience God’s presence, leading and empowering is because he reveals himself Spirit to spirit. Our minds are fallen – this means that if God’s revealing himself was merely Mind to mind it would not be possible for anyone to have authoritative faith. Our minds can only think – they cannot receive power from God – they cannot experience God’s presence – they cannot receive truths about God which contradict them.

      Focusing specifically on God’s communicating truth to us I believe the biblical position is that God is ‘prophesying’ to us minute by minute about us and about him – for example he might reveal how much he wants us – or that in some area we should be more gentle. This revelation is constant – whether we are with or away from the Bible – however his revelation of himself using scripture is the only revelation which is authoritative. The cessationist is saying that either this isn’t happening or when it is that God NEVER reveals anything about anyone else (or otherwise this would make prophecy or words of knowledge active gifts). So for example he would never say to us – “don’t be impatient with this person – their anger is due to their having been let down over and over again” because in doing so he would have given us special revelation about someone else.

      My challenge to you is therefore this – how do you believe we are able to experience God’s presence, leading and empowering (presuming you believe that we are able to experience all three)? Do you agree that our mind is only capable of thinking – not experiencing? Or put in a more sophisticated way (since someone might for example believe that God reveals himself in away that INCLUDES our mind but isn’t solely to our mind – do you consider the mind able to supervise its own renewal? If not do you concur that what God reveals Spirit to spirit must supervise our faith – that it alone can bypass our minds while both informing and contradicting them?

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    • As I understand it there has been a continuous experience of miracles and healings throughout the history of the church. Ive never understood the argument that such workings and gifts ended after the apostles, as if people no longer needed ‘signs’ that what Christians were saying was true. Although I dont limit such happenings to evangelism.

      A few years ago I remember watching a tv programme made by explorer Bruce Parry. I think it was an island tribe he was visiting, and many of them were Christians. It transpired that many had been converted following a visit by Christian missionaries years earlier and it was due to the healings that occurred through them that many were converted. I have little doubt that was real. I just wish I could rewatch the episode but that’s all I can remember! But it stuck with me.

      If you’re interested, Id recommend John White’s ‘When the Spirit comes with power”. He was a very well-respected Christian author and psychiatrist who eventually became involved in the Vineyard church. I think he spoke truth.

      Peter

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  8. Hello Jock,
    How is counterfeit determined, unless it is contrasted with genuine?
    A priori, are you not deciding it is all counterfeit? And without even reading the book, the testimonies and evidences.
    And where do you place the miracles of revivals and indeed salvation itself. They are far from the natural order, even while you may place them in the category of special revelation. By what or whose criteria
    are you doing so?
    *Pray is the chief exercise of faith*. It may be worth pondering the import of the expression, let alone its author.
    Is the church intellectually acute yet chronologically barren in prayer, corporately and individually?

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  9. For chronologically, read chronically. Though, chronologically also may be apt, for in our intellectual and scientific and sociological church
    cultures we may indeed be engaging in *chronological snobbery*.

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  10. I have been unable to find a single case of a truly Christ-like miracle (immediate, complete cure of an incurable disease which would not naturally remit and where no treatment was given) in 50 yrs of searching. My findings have been published in “Science & Christian Belief” Oct 2017, and a response to my critics in April 2019.

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    • Hello Dr May,

      God hid even the events relating to the birth of Jesus in a veil of scandal. Had you examined the events of Jesus’ birth at the time would you have concluded that they concerned the birth of the Son of God or would you have concluded that two teenagers had sex and then lied about it when the woman got pregnant? What do you believe is the reason for some concluding the former and others the latter – then – and now – keeping in mind that the difference between the two conclusions is as big as the difference between heaven and hell? Is believing Jesus’ birth to be a sex scandal primarily a question of historical competence? Is this why those who come to the wrong conclusion on this question end up in hell? Because their historical skills were found wanting?

      Doesn’t Jesus’ birth deserve to be considered a miracle? Isn’t it God breaking into the normal order of things? If so why would we not expect God’s miracles now to be similarly veiled – allowing people eager to reach their predetermined conclusion to do exactly that?

      If God wants to he can enable a blindfolded driver to drive across a city without hitting another car. I have heard a US pastor who was exhausted the night he finished his PhD thesis report that he fell asleep while driving only to wake up in his garage – his wife reporting that at the time he was travelling she was woken by the Holy Spirit to pray for him. Similarly God can ensure that a perfectly sighted driver crash into the first vehicle he encounters. Whether we come to understand anything spiritual is of the same nature. If we don’t come in humility – with our physical eyes shut and our spiritual eyes open – God will ensure that we see nothing.

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      • Yes, humility is essential but so is truthfulness. The question is not about what God can do but what he is actually doing. Keener’s book “Miracles Today” doesn’t even include a question mark. My medical critique was offered initially to some Christian outlets, but they did not take it up. It has now been published in The Skeptic, whose strap line is “Reason with Compassion”.

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    • Dear Peter, If I were to divide your “Christ-like miracle ” criteria into four (a) immediate (miracle), (b) complete cure (c) no natural remission and (d) no treatment given, then how would (d ) fit in to your criteria in relation to Luke 8: 43 – 44?

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    • Jesus had to pray twice on at least one occasion (though I doubt that was the only time) for complete healing to occur.

      So it seems Christ Himself fails at your first criteria!

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  11. So far in this debate, no one has challenged the statement quoted previously:” The natural laws are God’s creation”. Are we therefore to assume that, on this basis for example, Isaac Newton had nothing to do with the law of gravity or the laws of motion? We need to careful here concerning how we use such terms in this context. On the one hand we can say (as many still do) that “Newton discovered gravity” when in reality Newton determined scientifically and mathematically the principles on which the phenemenon of gravity operated – i.e. the *law*of gravity.Words like”creation”and “miracles” can have more than one meaning!
    And this leads into the topic of miracles with reference to the miracles of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels:
    (1) The context – They are set against an historical and philosophical background in which the whole of creation is continually to be seen in total dependence upon God’s sovereign purposes and will; moreover a world that depends upon God’s continual, intervening sustenance. The distinction between *natural* and *supernatural * is, in fact, comparatively recent. Neverthetheless, this should not detract from the biblical assertion that God was – and is – fufilling His glorious purposes for his world; not least towards His created humanity.
    (2) The miracles of Jesus – In the synoptic gosples, there are several words used to translate “miracles”: “wonders”, mighty acts, “powers” etc. Alongside the teaching of Jesus they are demonstrations of the coming of the Kingdom of God, mediated through Jesus, the One who is empowered through the Holy Spirit as Messiah and Son of God. In John’s Gospel they are *signs*; whose purpose is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God —“[John 20:31].

    God’s greatest interventation into our humanity is manifested in the events surrounding *the incarnation*. At the very least, and in this context, this should affirm within our understanding two powerful biblical truths:
    First, God’s miraculous interventions are revealed to his people in terms of addressing the wholeness of being; not simply the *individual parts*. Such a mentality derives more from (a) Greek philosophy ( a soul/body dichotomy) and (b) The Enlightment ( a mind / body dichotomy). The Judeo/ Christian model addresses a holistic/ psychosomatic unity – reflecting the incarnation!
    And secondly, how often have I heard the following interpretation of divine intervention: ” The medical services were unable to do anything – but God!!!” – thereby indirectly implying that God’s *spiritual*?intervention supersedes the healing methods of the health system. This is not to deny the reality of God’s healing hand independently of human intervention. Rather it is to affirm that God’s intervention penetrates to the core of all aspects of human existence! When Paul, for instance speaks of the miracle of the reurrection of the body; speaking (as in First Corinthians) of a “spiritual body* , he cannot mean the raising of an ethereal substance. Rather he is speaking of a renewed humanity ; created not through the normal birth process but directly by God himself? Yes! God truly does manifest himself in direct ways, but equally did He send his Son into the world merely as an appendage to the “normal” processes of human existence? Surely not! After all, was not one of his most loyal and profoundly skilled disciples a doctor?

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  12. Geoff – by `countefeit’ I mean something spectacular (e.g. a healing that the medical sciences would not have expected), which gives authority to someone who is not proclaiming the truth and therefore ultimately leads people away from the life-giving Word.

    Do you think that people are actually brought to faith by miracles? Because John’s gospel makes it clear (at least to me) that miracles do not produce faith – they only ever give faith a reason for the hope it has. At that time, Jesus had not yet been raised from the dead and people who wanted to believe were looking for a confirmation. Many, despite the miracles, turned away.

    The loaves and fishes in John 6 is very clear. Pointing back to the bread from heaven in Exodus, Jesus feeds the 5000 – and it is completely clear what he is claiming about himself by performing that particular miracle. He then goes on to give a discourse about the cost of discipleship – and by the end of that chapter, despite the amazing miracle, almost all have turned away.

    This tells you everything you need to know about the usefulness of miracles and of signs and wonders in bringing people to faith.

    If anybody claims to have seen miraculous wonders – and then says that the outcome, in terms of bringing people to faith was *more* successful than the success that Jesus had in John 6 (when everybody turned away) then I’m sorry – but I’m simply not prepared to believe it.

    Yes – when people come to faith, that is a miracle. I’d say that it is the `special revelation’ breaking in on a person’s life, when they hear the gospel and are conquered by it. This is clearly an event, whenever it happens, that is `out of the ordinary’.

    But we’re not talking about the miracle of someone coming to faith here – this is about sign miracles, miraculous healings and such events that are supposed to engender faith.

    As I said in the post above, the continued sign miracles really do contradict my understanding of the way God reveals himself and I have found the categories of general revelation and special revelation very useful. (I got them from Emil Brunner’s book `The Mediator’, which I would recommend to everybody).

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  13. Philip was a young, strapping 20-year-old lad in good health. One January he caught a cold which quickly penetrated into his brain. He was quickly admitted to the Royal Derby Hospital and transferred to the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham. His aunt rang me one Friday evening and asked me to pray for him. I set off immediately. I found the ICU and an anxious family gathering – parents, sisters, boy-friends, another aunt, etc. I prayed with them all, then took his parents with me into the Unit itself, where Philip, all tubed up, literally lay at death’s door. We prayed again, for the doctors and nurses and all involved in his care. I anointed Philip in the Name of Jesus and prayed for his healing. I returned the following day and prayed once more with Philip and his parents. A few days later the first aunt rang me again. Philip should still have been in ICU, but a couple of days after my visits, when the staff had switched off the machines, he had opened his eyes and ordered ice-cream! Even the nurses couldn’t believe what they saw.

    Divine healing? Yes, accelerated through scientific medical care, the body’s natural healing processes and believing prayer. I claim no special healing gifts. I was/am just an ordinary minister doing what we are commanded to do whenever we are confronted by human need. Jesus is the Healer. We are called to believe and obey. Let’s stop arguing about the minutiae, shall we, and just get on with it?

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  14. Keener’s book reviewed here is excellent and I highly recommend it. (In fact, I wrote a short “book note” style review of it which will appear in the next issue of RELIGIOUS STUDIES REVIEW.)

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