Q & R: Miracles?
Here's the Q:
Brian, I am quite enthralled by your work and I do not exaggerate in
telling you that reading your books, listening to your lectures, and
even meeting you once in Nashville has totally changed my life. You
are an amazing man. Since becoming a fan of yours, when people ask me
about what kind of Christian I am, I say that I am a combination of
Brian McLaren and Bill Johnson.
Bill Johnson, in case you aren’t aware, is the pastor of Bethel church
in Redding, CA and has become globally known speaker and author,
though not receiving the same attention as yourself. His ministry is
focused on the Kingdom of God coming to earth. I think you two have
much in common in that regard. But Bill emphasizes miracles as
fundamental to Christians’ everyday lives. (I do not mean miracles in
the sense that childbirth is a miracle, but rather when a woman is
missing a hand, is prayed for, and sees her limb restored). He runs
schools training people to pray for the sick and see them healed, and
other miraculous activity.
I’m sitting here reading The Story We Find Ourselves In, and enjoying
it immensely. Having read your latest book, I think I have a good
idea of your stance on miracles: that you believe they happen, you
don’t judge those who do emphasize it, but you hesitate to expect them
on command, and you wouldn’t want a world where that did occur (I hope
I have described that well). Since reading A New Kind of
Christianity, actually the first of your books I read, I started to
doubt the concept of the miraculous myself, even though I have prayed
for sick and seen them restored in real, tangible ways. You seem to
take an even more extreme tone in The Story, which has prompted this
note and caused me to reconsider the notion of miracles.
I observe, as Bill Johnson does, that a bulk of the ministry of both
Jesus and the Apostles was working in miracles. I won’t make the case
in depth here (though you may find interesting Bill’s book When Heaven
Invades Earth), but I’d love for you to respond to the notion of
miracles as the practice of Christians today. Thank you for the time
taken to read this and for your incredibly powerful work.
Here's the R:
Thanks for your questions. I spent many years in charismatic/Pentecostal circles, and although I saw a lot of prayer, I can't say I saw physical, visible miracles. Through my years in ministry, I prayed for many people with various diseases, but again, my track record for seeing clear, visible physical miracles was not very impressive at all.
When I've seen God at work in powerful and visible ways, it has almost always involved people acting in compassion, people using their skills and gifts (including medical skills and gifts), people become the "hands and feet" of Christ to love and serve others.
I never shut down the possibility of more dramatic miracles occurring, but I do doubt any claim that they are available on demand. (BTW - if you can point me to a bona fide case, with sufficient evidence, of an amputee whose hand was miraculously restored, I'll gladly report it here. Sadly, through the years, many reports I've heard from a distance turn out not to be real when you track them down.)
So I find myself, the older I get, resonating more with the lyrics of this song ...
Be assured (as you'll see in ">Naked Spirituality) I think prayer is absolutely essential as we face situations of human need - but as something more profound than a plea for a quick intervention or fix.