Miracles in Apologetics Part 2

I have long thought that a miracle can be an apologetic. It was one of the chief ways that God authenticated His word and His revelation. Today, with the resurgence of our awareness of miracles, it is important we think about how the testimony of miracles sounds to unbelievers, particularly those who are sceptical and philosophically opposed to Christianity and belief in God.

In order to develop an apologetic for God’s existence that reduces the opportunity for scepticism, based upon the testimony of miracles, I suggest that a miracle X meets the following criteria.

(1) Does X have a natural explanation?
If the answer is “Yes,” then X is merely a case for either God’s providence or second-order causation. What we will be focusing on here is first-order causation where a miracle is any event such that the natural conditions for said event were not present. 

(2) Is the miracle radical enough to assume that there is no yet to be discovered natural explanation to defeat it.

For example, the Egyptian magicians of Pharaoh could duplicate the miracles performed by Moses, but a point was reached when the magicians ability to duplicate the miracle was surpassed due to the large scale and spectacular nature. An ache in the belly with the tendency to come and go, when prayed for may disappear, but such an occurrence, though it may be a genuine miracle, would hardly be convincing. On the other-hand a regenerative miracle, where a blind man sees, a lame man walks, or deaf man hears, or a limb suddenly re-grows is more difficult to wave away as having a natural explanation.

(3) Did X happen within the context answered prayer.

The objection this counters is the chance hypothesis. The skeptic will claim that with six billion people in the world it is not unexpected that some people will be particularly lucky or experience miraculous-like events. However the plausibility of this hypothesis is reduced when it occurs in the context of prayer.

(4) Is X an isolated occurrence, or is there a high frequency of similar occurrences in the same context?

For instances explaining Jesus’ miracles away with natural explanations become increasingly contrived the more miracles there are that have to be explained.

(5) Did X happen instantly, or did it take a while?

This is not to say that miracles that take some time are less miraculous, but to say that miracles that happen instantly are the better spectacle.

(6) Was X permanent?

(7) Is X verified by experts in the field, ie. medical doctors and supporting evidence (x-rays, test results).

It will take skill to weigh and balance the above criteria – though they are not really criteria as a genuine miracle may not necessarily conform to every point. This is only a suggested checklist for use in an argument for divine causation, specifically to refute both Deism and Atheism. It is only a guideline to assessing the convincing power of a testimony, and to reduce the opportunity for scepticism and rejection.

Miracles in Apologetics Part 1

I am deeply concerned about a perceived attitude accompanying our rising awareness that miracles are a part of the normal Christian life. The danger in the resurgence of the miraculous, especially in so-called “healing-evangelism”, is an outlook that says all we need to prove God’s existence, and solve all our apologetic needs, is to believe, pray for a miracle, and let God do the rest.

The inadequacy of this as a principle in healing-evangelism and Christian practice is obvious. Consider the following two reasons.

The evangelistic call of every believer would be restricted to those instances where God does heal. The evangelist’s efforts would be curtailed and the knowledge of God reduced to only an experience. Besides this, if God did choose to intervene with the miraculous every-time so that he might convince someone of his existence, this would turn the universe into haunted house and it is entirely plausible to think that peoples hearts would harden. They might even become resentful of He who flaunts his power, or in all probability conclude His miracle was not a result of divine causation but a natural function of the universe.

The second reason is a miracle without an accompanying explanation of what it represents is near hopeless. The person will know themselves to be healed, but not know who healed them or why they were healed. In the wake of a miracle there is bound to be host of questions asked, concerning His good character, the reliability of the Bible, etc., and this needs someone trained in apologetics.

Let us not forget the pattern given to us in the book of Acts; wherever there is a miracles there is preaching and apologetics; wherever there is preaching and apologetics there are miracles. Both go hand in hand and one is not found without the other.

Now I must say that I do agree that desiring and seeking out opportunities for God to confirm His miraculous power to unbelievers is a very good thing. I also credit God with the intelligence to know what He is doing when he does choose to heal someone. Christianity after-all, is chiefly experiential, and experiencing the power of God; to heal, to empower, to be assured, and of regeneration from a being dead in your sin, is important, but that is not to say Christianity is not also a message of truth and hope that needs to be declared and defended. We must expand the propositional content of the gospel as well as the power of the gospel.

Have you ever wondered why the miracles of Jesus were so effective in confirming Christ’s message? Granted there were of a spectacular nature, but the greater reason, I believe, is that they were performed in a culture suffused with a super-natural worldview. The milieu of the time already believed in a miracle working God and was expectant of a messiah whose ministry would be characterised by the miraculous.

Our culture however is not. We live in a time and place that is post-christian, has a deeply entrenched secularism and an ever encroaching naturalism. In such a milieu, when someone is confronted with a miraculous circumstance the immediate response will be skepticism. If the miracle breaks down this initial barrier, there will arise soon afterward a profound question that is enormously problematic for someone trained to think that God is comparable to the “sugar-plum fairy.” It constitutes what missiologist call a ‘power encounter’ where for the first time, the unsaved man is open to accepting the message of the gospel.

More importantly to consider our culture, where there are alternative explanations of the miraculous, such as; the power of suggestion, hypnotism, charlatans playing mind tricks, and a new age pantheism where the universe heals itself. These alternatives need answering with apologetics. A hedge of prepared arguments is essential for the heeling-evangelist to protect their potential converts from counter-arguments levelled against the occurrence of miracles, divine causation and God’s existence, and to safe-guard the glory of God that He has won for himself by performing a miracle.

So miracles far from being the end of apologetics and arguments, presents a host of new questions seeking to be answered, new avenues calling for intellectual excellence and a renewed effectiveness of the proclamation of the gospel.