Friday, April 8, 2016

Miracles, by Eric Metaxas

Probably a lot of people who read this blog believe in the biblical miracles, though I'm sure not all my readers do.

But what about modern day miracles? Still exist? Thing of the past, only for Bible times? And do some people still have miracle gifts from the Holy Spirit, or is the idea that miracle gifts ended with the apostles correct?

These questions have been floating around in my mind for years. I knew what I thought, but I wanted a more objective view of what I thought, so when I saw Eric Metaxas' new title Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life last year, I was excited.

I just finished it this week. Unfortunately, it's the first Metaxas book that I've been ideologically disappointed with.

The Book [from Goodreads]
What are miracles, and why do so many people believe in them? What do they tell us about ourselves? And what do we do with experiences that we cannot explain?

In Miracles, Eric Metaxas offers compelling -- sometimes electrifying -- evidence that there’s something real to be reckoned with, whatever one has thought of the topic before. Miracles is also a timely, thoughtful, and civil answer to the books of the "New Atheists" -- Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris -- who have passionately asserted not just the impossibility of miracles and the supernatural, but the outright harmfulness of belief in them.

Metaxas -- whom ABC News has called a "witty ambassador for faith" -- provides the measured and wide-ranging treatment the subject deserves, from serious discussion of the compatibility between faith and science to astonishing but well-documented stories of actual miracles from people he knows.

A more current, anecdotal, and personal version of C. S. Lewis’s 1947 book on the subject, Miracles is a powerfully winsome challenge that miracles are not only possible but are far more widespread than most of us ever might have imagined.

My Thoughts 
Last year tarnished a bit of Eric Metaxas' flawless position in my mind. 7 Women, while excellent, seemed rushed, under-researched, and distracted in sections, almost as if he let a research assistant do the bulk of the work while he focused on other things. When I read Miracles, I understood why. Miracles was his passion point, and this book is lovingly and thoughtfully crafted. 7 Women may have suffered because of that, though with book contracts it's hard to say if he was working on them at the same time.

Miracles are an important subject in the modern world, and I was excited to learn what he thought. However, as I got in, warning bells started going off in my mind. Metaxas' book is divided into two halves: one the discussion and proof of miracles in science and in the Bible. The other, a collection of modern-day miracles he's learned about from people he knows.

In the first half of the book, Metaxas starts with scientific miracles to get people to question their "no miracles, only science" slant and then brings the Bible miracles into play after he's chipped away at closed minds. Unfortunately, in reconciling science with the miraculous, he uses the main premise that if God was powerful enough to overcome the challenges of a big bang to create the earth, he's more than able to bring about Jesus' resurrection and feeding the five thousand.  It took a while for Metaxas to actually come out and state his belief in evolution clearly (maybe because he believed it and took it as a given) but I kept wondering if evolution was a theory or a fact to him. Later in the book, he makes it pretty clear that he considers it a fact.

Because evolution is a significant idea in his proof that God can do miracles, the theory section of the book is pretty disappointing. Needless to say, I'm of a young earth mindset, and while I certainly believe you can know God and think old earth, that's not the correct way to interpret the creation account in Genesis. Because Metaxas' foundation is skewed, the rest of the book doesn't have solid ground to stand on, and it was harder to take the modern day miracles quite as seriously when the scientific proof was so flawed.

All the evolution aside, he makes some excellent and encouraging points on God's willingness to reach out and communicate with us, the importance of not believing a miracle is a result of our faith, and most of all, an emphasis on how God cares for even the smallest details of our lives. Also, his sections on the Bible miracles and the resurrection were for the most part spot on.

Another strength Metaxas brings to the book is his ability to spark conversation with people of different beliefs. Miracles is a book written straight to nonbelievers, without all the Christianese. It's respectful, rational, and if it had a better creation theory, would be a really beautiful ambassador for the sensibleness of the Christian faith.

So much for the first half of the book. Now for the second--the personal miracle stories.

At this point in my life, I don't fall completely into one camp on miracles. That's subject to change since I'm still quite young and need to research things, but for the present I believe for fact that God did miracles in Bible times and still does miracles today in extraordinary ways. I also believe that God gave certain people the ability to minister miracles in Bible times. Beyond that point, I need to do some more research and wrestling through Scripture. But that's the premise from which I approached Metaxas' miracle stories at the date of this reading.

While I can't prove the veracity of the stories, most of them are fairly believable and quite conservative--dreams that later had important meanings, seeing angels (quite powerful beings), being saved from death, etc. It was God working individually according to the need in these people's lives, sometimes using unexplainable phenomena, sometimes using people to accomplish his purposes. Metaxas divides this part into different miracle subjects: conversion (which I appreciated him pointing out, is itself a miracle) physical healing, inner healing, angelic miracles, and even a heaven visitation. Even for the healing miracles, though, it seemed to me that healing took place not because a specific person touched the ill person, but because a person known for having a vibrant prayer life touched the sick person and prayed. The only miracle I'm not accepting on face value is the man who was healed and prophesied over by Benny Hinn. I know God can use any means he chooses to accomplish his purposes, but that one I'll admit had me scratching my head, along with the follow up story. But all in all, they're fascinating stories to read through and consider.

In conclusion, while I highly respect Metaxas' thoughtfulness and logic, I strongly disagree with the foundation on which he bases his premise. This leaves me not much farther than I was before I started. I might try C.S. Lewis's Miracles sometime to see if it's any more informative.

Do you believe in miracles? What's your favorite Metaxas book?

5 comments:

  1. I still haven't read any of Metaxas, though his biography of Bonhoeffer seems to be a modern classic I need to read, but I am probably pretty close to you on miracles. When you've got thousands of Muslims receiving dreams in which they meet Jesus or are otherwise prompted to convert, resulting in a historically unprecedented conversion rate in the Muslim world, I think the strict cessationist viewpoint doesn't agree with the facts.

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    1. Suzannah, I agree! :) When one sees what God is doing in the Muslim world, with Christ appearing to them in dreams and visions and the miraculous, it's impossible to believe that miracles is a thing of the Bible times only. But it's not just that - I find Christ's Words before His Ascension and the promise in Hebrews that He is the same yesterday, today and forever, a confirmation of that truth in a glorious way!

      In a smaller scale, I've seen the miraculous in my own life so many times. I cannot not believe in it.

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    2. Suzannah, I hope to be reviewing Bonhoeffer in a couple of months. I would heartily recommend it! In fact, it's probably the biggest inspiration for War of Honor in terms of books I've read, so if you want a handle on the ethics I'll be using, Bonhoeffer would be a fantastic read. (Though just as fantastic in his own right aside from WoH.)

      I'm with you ladies on the miracles, I think we all have some similar beliefs on this topic. It sounds like both of you are well informed on this topic, so I should pick your brains sometime!

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  2. This was a fascinating review, Schuyler. Having not read this book myself, I was unsure about what Metaxes' view on Miracles was and what your thoughts on it was as well, but yes, that is a skewered view if he believes in Theistic evolution as a basis for the miracles of God. I've never actually heard such an idea/theory before! :P That's really disappointing, and while it does not deny God the Creator, it compromises from Scriptural truth to appeal to the world which I think is wrong. Nonetheless, despite this, I am still keen on hearing Mr. Eric Metaxes speak later this month when he comes over to visit QLD - hoping it will be good! :)

    In regards to miracles, that topic would be really interesting and wonderful to study further in the Scriptures, even together sometime if you are keen :). I know it is a topic of discussion and disagreement among many Christians, but I personally strongly do believe in miracles and that God can work wonders with His people now as He did two thousand years ago. In fact I know He's worked miracles in my own life and in my family, supernatural means of intervention in times of trial and even in healing and spiritual renewal. I also personally believe in the Gift of the Holy Spirit as a gift we can receive as it was received in the New Testament Church, because it is promised in His Word! However, I also believe that God's power at work in our lives, His willingness to work miracles, and praying in faith, does not remove pain and sufferings in our lives, and that believing in a God who Provides and Heals His children, does not mean we're promised a flowery-bed of ease, or comfort, or luxury. (Aka, I am very cautious of the Prosperity preaching mentally and some of the modern mega-church manifestations of miracles put me very much on guard because they feel very unbiblical.)

    For me, some of my favourite encouraging passages in Scripture regarding the theme of miracles and God's promise to hear our prayers are in verses and chapters such as Mark 16: 15-18, Acts 15:12, Acts 19: 11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:9-11, Acts 3, Romans 8, Matthew 7:11, and Luke 11:13.

    It would be lovely to chat about it more in the future :).

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    1. What an incredible opportunity to see Mr. Metaxas speak! He's done such incredible work with his Wilberforce & Bonhoeffer biographies, and it must be amazing to hear him! Let me know how you enjoy it!

      I'll have to look up these miracle passages...would love to hear more of what God's done in your family's life in regard to these things and what you've learned on this topic. I have a lot to learn!

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