Book Plunge: Impossible Love

What do I think of Craig and Medine Keener’s book published by Chosen books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re married, do you remember dating your current spouse? Like so many relationships, there were barriers to overcome. There are many events in life that can present so many challenges for a couple just to spend time together. We’ve all seen them.

Take my own relationship. My wife and I had it so that one of us had to travel about 250 miles to get to go on a date together. What a burden! Or take the Keeners! They had to overcome divorces from previous painful marriages, international war, and travel through a war-torn region where you had to eat bugs and scrounge for food and water to survive.

Okay. Now that I think about it, those two aren’t exactly comparable.

This is the love story of Craig Keener and his wife Medine. I have had Craig on my podcast before and he is a real individual. He has responded promptly many times when I have emailed him about something and reading this was a fascinating look into his life.

When I read this, I saw someone who strove to please God, but many times was broken and insecure. I suspect that that played a part probably in his diving into scholarship and producing excellent works, but it didn’t change that there was something he was lacking in his life, which I remember from my own experience, a woman to love.

Many of us who know Craig have not got to know his wife Medine, and yet her story is fascinating as well. You get introduced to Medine’s family and her parents in the book are such incredible people especially. Many people who complain about suffering and evil today can’t begin to imagine what Medine and her family went through and yet her parents had more faith and joy than many of us do today. We are truly a shameful people.

I cannot tell much about the story, but it involves Craig meeting Medine when she came to America as a student and never losing touch with her. Always there was a physical and romantic draw between the two of them, but both of them were hesitant. Also, many people around them were making prophetic statements about their lives and they inevitably led to the two of them coming together.

That being said, I do have this concern about that in that so many people might come away as we often do today thinking that this is how it should be for all of us. We should all receive messages of prophecy telling us who we are to marry and thus make the right choice. I doubt the Keeners would agree with such a sentiment. I think sometimes there are some individuals that need a specific spouse for a specific task and God does the work to bring them together, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

One addition I thought would have helped would to have as much as possible a timeline of what happened. I was wondering when the events took place and one clue I did find was when 9/11 was referenced. Most of us don’t know about when a Civil War hit the area of the Congo. I am sure the Keeners did not take explicit notes of when everything happened, but some idea of chronology would be helpful.

This story is incredibly touching and will leave you thinking of the love that you have. It’s also helpful for those who often are perceived as living in the ivory towers to come out from time to time and speak to us on their own inner lives. It is good to know Craig the scholar, for instance, but it is better to know Craig the man, and now I have a deeper knowledge of his wife as well.

Congratulations to the Keeners on their impossible love and may all who read this be blessed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Case For Miracles

What do I think of Lee Strobel’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lee Strobel holds a special place in my heart. It was his books that really lit my fire in the area of apologetics. Not only does Strobel present great information, he also does it while introducing you to the best scholars in the field so you know where to go to next for more information. It was through him that I came across scholars like Craig Blomberg, Ravi Zacharias, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III, etc.

This book is no exception, though in some ways it is quite different. One obvious way is that it does start off with interviewing a skeptic. The interview is with Michael Shermer. While Shermer is a lot nicer and more real than many other skeptics, many of his arguments are really just as weak. As I read through the chapter, I kept thinking that if this is one of the leading faces of skepticism, then we’re in good hands.

Still, I think it’s a good change to have taken place. I would like to see in his books Strobel interviewing both sides. It’s also quite impressive to realize Strobel resisted the urge to be a debater with Shermer and just let him speak.

From there, Strobel goes on to interview other scholars. Big shock that on this topic, the first person on the list is Craig Keener. Keener wrote an epic two-volume work on miracles called Miracles. Anyone skeptical of the reality of miracles should read it. The good news is if you have read it, you will find still new stories in this one. Craig Keener has more miracles and I understand from my interactions with him that he collects them regularly now.

The next interview is with Candy Gunther Brown on prayer studies. Now I will say that these kinds of studies have never really convinced me. There are too many variables that can’t be tested and you’re dealing with a free-will agent. What is much more convincing with prayer are testimonials like the ones Brown talks about where she goes to third world countries and sees people being healed after they are prayed for in the name of Jesus.

Other interviews on topics related are J. Warner Wallace on the resurrection and Michael Strauss on the origins of the universe. Both of these are interesting and to be expected. Both are also highly enjoyable chapters.

Roger Olson was a chapter that was really convicting. The chapter was on being ashamed of the supernatural and while I don’t care for the term supernatural, the point is still there. We often pray for wisdom for doctors in operations instead of for healing. It’s as if we expect God to not do miracles. This really caused me to look at how I approach prayer.

Then there’s the chapter that could be the hardest one to read in the book. This is the chapter about what about when miracles don’t occur. Douglas Groothuis is the person interviewed for that one. His wife Becky had a disease that was killing her memory and brain function bit by bit. Sadly, Becky has since the time of publishing passed away. Groothuis is there to remind us that miracles don’t always occur and how to handle it.

If there was one chapter I would have liked, it would have been one on the philosophy of Hume. Keener touched on that some, but he’s not a philosopher. Perhaps it would have been good to have had someone like John Earman as an interview to talk about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 2.

How do skeptics respond to miraculous healings? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I count Nabeel Qureshi as a friend. My wife and I prayed for him every day when we found out he had stomach cancer of the most advanced kind. There were several people praying for Nabeel all over the world.

Despite this, Nabeel died.

So yes, I am familiar with people talking about faith healing. I do believe that it can happen, but it’s not a necessity. God does things for His own reasons. It is my duty to trust when I don’t know those reasons.

In this chapter, David Pye looks at miraculous healings. I find this an odd place to go to so early on. I do believe there is good evidence that miracles have happened and do happen, but generally, it’s not the best starting point. If you’re a hardened skeptic, you will find a way to explain everything in that lens. If you are a Christian, you are far more prone to see the miraculous.

So let’s go through David Pye’s chapter.

At the start, he does list several conditions people are said to be healed from, but then we get to a problematic statement.

“But what about conditions like Alzheimer’s disease? Huntington’s chorea? Cerebral palsy? Why are people diagnosed with these conditions never healed?”

How does Pye know this?

To begin with, if you don’t believe miraculous healing is possible, then of course, miraculous healings of these have never taken place, but alas, we are arguing in a circle at that point. For Pye to know this, he would have to have exhaustive knowledge of all the Earth past and present. Even if the claim was true, that would not rule out that it could happen. There could hypothetically never have been a miracle in Earth’s history, and yet miraculous healing could still be possible.

In all this chapter, there is never any interaction with the best sources on this. Of course, such a work could have been written before their release, but it would be nice to see more miracle claims looked at. Only one is really examined. There is no interaction with a work like Craig Keener’s Miracles. Keener in this work traveled all over the world collecting accounts of miraculous healing, some with medical documentation.

Pye prefers to speak of surprising or astonishing healings. He does say that these happen in other religions and happen in hypnosis. I believe we are getting into the whole “Why do miracles happen in other religions?” I do not know why that would be a problem for me.

You see, if a miraculous healing takes place, then miracles are possible and the position of atheism is in serious trouble. As a Christian, I can think of any number of reasons. Perhaps it is a demonic interaction taking place. Perhaps God is extending some grace outside of Christianity to bring someone to Christianity. We don’t know. For the former, there is even a Biblical precedent. One could look to the beast being healed in Revelation 13 for an example. Of course, I read Revelation differently than most Christians, but the idea of a healing from a dark source is still there.

He goes on to say that

“If Christianity were true we might expect miraculous healings to occur only through Christian healers. Or we might expect Christian healings to be far more impressive than  healings in other contexts – for example, there being conditions which only Christian healers, but no-one else, are able to heal. I am not aware of any definitive investigation of comparative success at healing in different religions but my strong impression is that all have about the same success rate. Christianity doesn’t stand out as noticeably superior (nor does any other religion).”

I find this again quite odd. He is not aware of any definitive investigation, but he wishes to make a universal statement on a “strong impression.” How is this done? If I say I have a strong impression that many skeptics don’t come to Christianity because they want to continue living in sin, would anyone really accept this?

He also quotes from John Dominic Crossan on Wikipedia about healing shrines. Absent is any data directly from the shrines themselves. Someone like Keener actually did the hard work on that level.

He then tells a story about a man healed from a chronic skin disease. Then, he describes a similar story with someone healed under hypnosis. I do not see how this is meant to be a rebuttal. God could do through miraculous means what could be done through natural means. In understanding miracles, there are first-class and second-class miracle. First class are things that cannot happen by any means we know of. Jesus rising from the dead would be one. For a second, consider Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. The waters stop so they can pass. That in itself is not a miracle. The waters had stopped before and probably have since then. What is a miracle is that it happened when it happened. Keener lists several times in his book where something was healed because of a prayer in the name of Jesus specifically.

The next section is about exorcism. Pye does think something happens, but it is certainly not the expulsion of a demon. I invite Pye to really look at such accounts of demonic possession, such as the ones with super strength and such. Note also exorcism was common in the ancient world and it wasn’t just Christians doing it, but Jesus was the one deemed the most successful and it is widely agreed among New Testament scholars today that Jesus had a reputation as both a healer and an exorcist.

It’s worth pointing out that Pye regularly speaks of the natural and the supernatural. I will not speak of the supernatural save when he does. I do not really like the term supernatural as it is way too vague. My thoughts on that can be found here.

Pye does list many realities of life about suffering. The problem is while these may seem foreign to a Western audience, to the audience Jesus spoke to and Christianity rose up in, while the science would not be there, the reality would be well known. Suffering is real. Many of these people encountered death on a regular basis. Pye thinks Buddhism is more real in admitting these realities up front. Chrisitanity does too though. It has no reason to deny them. This was the world Jesus lived in. The problem for us is our modern Western world treats suffering like an exception. People in many countries today risk their lives if they walk to church. We consider it suffering if we don’t get a parking spot near the church on Sunday morning.

There is something on church politics and how that some people don’t talk about healing lest they be seen as immature and such. My wife and I are both part of Celebrate Recovery at our church. That leads me to think that this is not really valid. In a group like this, people are encouraged to come and let their guard down. In turn, through this, I have come to know this group of people much better than others. I think the church could learn a lot here.

Finally, Pye has something on the disabled. Readers of this blog know that my wife and I both have Aspergers. That awareness is near and dear to my heart. I rejoice at seeing Autism coming into the mainstream through such shows as The Good Doctor.

Pye says here

“So, here we have two viewpoints, two approaches, with regard to disabled people – and the results of both approaches can be evaluated.
On the one hand many Christians have said that disabled people can and should be healed of their disabilities. But, in practice, such healing doesn’t happen.

And on the other hand you have a primarily secular initiative which sees disabled people as full people who have full human rights and who deserve respect, acceptance and opportunities just as much as non-disabled people. And this sort of outlook has changed society for the better (and continues to do so) giving disabled people a better chance of fulfilling lives.

Which position is better? One that promises much but delivers little (and may even cause harm)? Or one that is more modest but has, nonetheless, delivered significant changes for the better?”

I find this to be a radical dichotomy. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone to be healed who has a seriously debilitating disability. (At the same time, I have no wish to be healed of Aspergers. Others would, but not I.) That does not mean that they are any less human. If someone thinks so, this thinking does not come from Jesus.

Yet I have to ask, where does the secularist position come from? Disabled are full people who deserve full human rights? I agree, but upon what are these rights grounded? What makes a human so valuable? Are we not all the result of a cosmic accident? Why should any of us “deserve” anything? It looks to me like a morality floating in air.

This does not mean that I am not thankful that Pye takes the position that he does with the disabled, but I wonder how he could ground it. I think too often skeptics have taken the morality that comes from Christianity, assumed that it is just something everyone really knows, takes it for granted, and then acts like it fits in right at home with their worldview.

When we return to this book, we’ll look at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/24/2018: Edward Wright

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Gospels are the greatest source we have on the life and teachings of Jesus. These four books have changed the world since the time they have been written and they have been tremendously debated. Christians and non-Christians for a long time have not known exactly how to classify them.

For the most part, the verdict is in. The Gospels are Greco-Roman Biographies. We owe a great deal to Richard Burridge for his excellent work in this area. It would be nice to say that answers a lot of questions. As a fan of the show Monk I can’t help but think of when the captain met Adrian’s brother and said it was nice to meet him and “It answers a whole lot of questions. Raises about a 100 more.”

So we do have a lot of questions now about the Gospels and what it means for them to be Greco-Roman biographies. How does this impact our study of the Gospels as Christians? What does it mean to have the Gospels be of the same style of literature as the pagan writers of the day? Does this do any damage to the doctrine of inerrancy?

Fortunately, a volume has been presented looking at many of these questions. Dr. Keener is one of the main editors of this volume, which alone is enough to tell you it’s excellent, but we are having the other editor on our show today. He will be telling us about the research behind the book and what we can get from it. His name is Edward T. Wright.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I grew up in Austin, TX and attended Baylor University for my undergraduate work. I majored in Business Administration w/ a specialization in Management. I worked in the private sector for a few years in the steel industry before deciding to attend seminary. I did my M-Div at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of that I was accepted into Asbury where I am currently a candidate in the dissertation phase of the PhD in Biblical Studies w/ a specialization in New Testament. I am studying/working under Dr. Craig Keener as his TA/mentoree. My dissertation is on the historical reliability of ancient biographies and I hope to complete this work by the fall of this year.

We’ll be talking about the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. Does this change the way that Christians approach the text? How should we study them? Does it really make a difference to say that the Gospels fall into this genre and why should anyone really think they’re in this genre beyond “scholars think so” to begin with?

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. The nature of the Gospels is an important one for study. Also, if you have not done so, I urge you to please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I look forward to your feedback!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Biographies and Jesus

What do I think of Keener and Wright’s book published by Emeth Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Burridge caused a revolution of sorts in Gospel studies in the 20th century by making a thorough demonstration that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. Today, most scholars would agree with that. Still, that is the start of the journey. We now have to ask what difference it makes. Is this just knowledge that will answer a question for us on a game show, or are there some ramifications for this?

In this volume, Keener and Wright have brought together several students doing graduate level research at Asbury to talk about the issue. There are some chapters by the editors of Keener and Wright and one by Licona, but for the most part, this is done by students, which I find refreshing. It’s good to see new faces rising up and taking on the task of serious scholarship.

The students look at what difference it makes to say that the Gospels are biogarphies. One at the start is that we have spent so much time trying to trace the communities that received the Gospels that we forgot the point of the Gospels. The point of the Gospels is to tell the story of the life of Jesus. An average person in the pew might not consider this much of a shock, but it does affect how we read the Gospels greatly. The Gospels don’t have a community and then they shape the story. The story is written in such a way about Jesus and telling about Him that hopefully it will shape the community.

Helpful also are notes about the dating of the Gospels. We can accept testimony about historical figures on far weaker grounds than we do the Gospels. Too often, it’s easy to dismiss all the evidence that is there for one position and then say that there is no evidence of the position. It needs to be realized that bias cuts both ways and we must all make sure prior worldview assumptions aren’t changing the way we view the data.

One helpful source in here are the comparisons across other biographies. Those who say the Gospels are unreliable because of differences in the accounts should see differences in other accounts of the same event. Very rarely would we reject the primary event because the secondary details are disputed. Sadly, this is done with the Gospels constantly.

Also helpful to readers will be Keener’s section on oral tradition. He points out problems with the idea of telephone and shows how memorization was taken extremely seriously in the past. Again, this is often a case of a double standard. The Gospels are looked at through one set of lenses and all other ancient history is looked at through another set.

Keener and Wright have put together excellent material that will be helpful for any student of the Gospels. To have new minds going through the material and presenting their thoughts is an excellent treat and as far as I’m concerned, they certainly wrote like professional scholars. I look forward to more research like this being done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/5/2015: Craig Keener

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Acts. It forms a connection between the Gospels and the Pauline epistles. It is in this book that we are introduced to the man who is the apostle to the Gentiles and we get to see how the early church spread. It’s a wealth of historical information and it has also been of great apologetic significance. We can track down many of the dates in the book of Acts and many of the places and there are claims that Luke is certainly an excellent historian. So how accurate are these claims? To discuss that, I figured I’d have someone on the show who has recently written a little bit on the book of Acts.

That is, if you consider a little bit to be a 4,000+ page commentary that is so large it fits on four volumes and the bibliography is on CD.

And the author is of course, Craig Keener. (Might I add that I was surprised to get a brief bio.)

C-head-Africa

According to his bio:

Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University) is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is author of seventeen books, four of which have won major awards, more than seventy academic articles, several booklets, and more than one hundred fifty popular-level articles. One of his books, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, now in a second edition, has sold more than half a million copies. His books include commentaries on Matthew, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Revelation, a two-volume commentary on John and a four-volume commentary on Acts, plus a two-volume work on miracles, works about the Spirit, ethnic reconciliation, women in ministry, divorce and various other topics. (These include works published by Baker Academic, Cambridge, Eerdmans, InterVarsity and Zondervan.) Craig is also the New Testament editor for the forthcoming NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Craig is editor of the Bulletin for Biblical Research and the former program chair for the Institute for Biblical Research; he is coeditor with Michael Bird of the New Covenant Commentary series, and coeditor with Daniel Carroll R. of Global Voices, which includes interpretive contributions from readers from various cultures. Craig is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who was a refugee in her home country of Congo for eighteen months. His blog site is http://www.craigkeener.com/.

Let me also say that normally, I have read the books that are talked about on the show (Yes. I read a lot), but in this case, I just could not pull myself to read through 4,000 pages, especially with my own schoolwork going on.

We’ll be talking then about the book of Acts and the information Keener learned while doing this research. (I also am wondering if Craig Keener is secretly the Flash that Allie and I watch on Tuesday nights because I can think of no other explanation for how he produces so much material.) We’ll be discussing its relevance for apologetic discussion and quite likely discussing some of the classical situations, such as what really happened in the Damascus Road case of Paul since we have three accounts that all seem to differ and what is the relationship to the book of Acts and Paul’s letters.

I hope you’ll be listening!

Book Plunge: Keener’s Historical Jesus

Who does Keener say the Jesus of the gospels is? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener is a massive work showing Keener’s highly impressive scholarship in the area of Historical Jesus studies. As with many of the books, the bibliography, indexes, etc. are about as massive as the book itself. In this case, I’d say about half the book is the last half listing all of these numerous references. If there’s one thing Keener cannot be accused of, it is not doing sufficient research.

Keener starts with a brief history of NT scholarship on the historical Jesus and then moves to modern ideas, dispensing at the start with one of the easiest to deal with, the idea of Jesus as a cynic sage. Keener deals with issues such as the life of peasants, the nature of the cynics, and the Greek problem. No stone is left unturned for Keener.

Keener moves on then to talk about the relationship of Jesus to Judaism, which is where the third quest has landed us. I, for one, anticipate a fourth quest soon that will look at the social context even more of Jesus and see how he fits into an agonistic society.

From there, he deals with the objection of other gospels and why it is that the four canonical gospels that we have are in fact the best sources for information about the life of Jesus. As you can tell, Keener has made it a point to deal with common objections today. In fact, if you are familiar with internet debates on Jesus, the ideas that others consider so powerful in refuting Christianity, Keener deals with in just a paragraph or a footnote with the idea of “This idea is so far out there it’s not even worth serious time.”

Next, we deal with the nature of the Gospels and in this case, Acts as well since Luke and Acts are seen as one volume. Keener lists the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies with the possible exception of Luke which would be more historiography. Even if one says that, I would still contend there are Greco-Roman biographical tendencies within the work of Luke. The position of the gospels as Greco-Roman biographies is held by the majority of scholars today and is in fact growing. This further gives us evidence to treat the Gospels as serious historical works.

Keener also deals with the nature of them then by explaining how they would show their sources, which is not by modern styles today, and also how they would be read as works of rhetorical writing. This is not to say they’re all just word games, but rather they were written in a style to engage their reading audience and their listening audience since more people would hear the gospels rather than read them.

Speaking of the oral factor, Keener does deal with how oral tradition would be spread and why we should trust its reliability in the case of the NT. This is an important aspect for scholars and apologists both to grasp since in our world more modern analogies are drawn to ancient events when such comparisons really don’t fit.

At last comes the heart of the matter with the discussion of who Jesus was. The heart of this I leave to the reader who wants to find out more, but the reader will find the teaching of the Kingdom, how Jesus interacted with others, and Jesus as prophet, teacher, Messiah, and perhaps, something more.

The main body of the work concludes with a look at the historical events surrounding the death of Jesus and his resurrection, although there will not be a full apologetic for the resurrection. That has been written elsewhere.

After this main body, there are a number of appendices that deal with issues not fully argued for in the main text itself. These will provide helpful insight to the reader who wishes Keener had been fuller on some topics. (Whoever such people might be. It’s hard to imagine what more he could have said)

The only possible downside I can think of is that Keener does give a bit of how he came to Christianity by examining the arguments and hints about an experience that led to him becoming a Christian and abandoning atheism. This is all well and good, but my fear is that too many atheists would get to this part and say “Ah! Now I have a reason to just dismiss everything!” Of course, this would be fallacious to do as the arguments stand on their own independently of why one holds them, but I do see it as a possible reason some will give for discounting Keener’s work.

This book is definitely a must-read. If someone was wanting to start historical Jesus studies, it would be harder to think of a reason why a work like this would not be listed as essential reading.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Miracles: New Essential Reading On The Topic

What do I think of the two volumes of Craig Keener’s “Miracles”? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For my birthday back in September, my in-laws got me the two-volume set of Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” There are 884 pages of content here and several pages of notes. The message you should definitely get from that at the start is that Keener is not taking a lazy approach. Keener has done plentiful research on the topic of miracles. I can say without reservation that from now on, anyone who has not dealt with the claims found in this book is not qualified to speak on the topic of miracles.

To the surprise of most people, Keener spends relatively little time on the miracles in the gospels at the start and answering questions concerning early Christian claims of miracles. Why? Because he is not writing this to explain how the early Christians saw miracles, as important as that is, or the historicity of the miracles, also an important question, but rather to deal with the treatment of modern thinking today in regards to miracles. Many will say we cannot take the gospels and Acts seriously if they contain miracles since we all know miracles don’t happen. Well, all of us except these ignorant religious people. Educated people know better!

Keener is educated. It seems that he didn’t get that memo.

Of course, he does spend some time looking at the miracles and in conjunction with his main claim that miracles are possible and in fact ongoing, he states on page 25 that none of the sources in antiquity responding to the claim that Jesus did miracles tried to deny that. (Note also to some others out there ignorant on another related front, none of them tried to deny that he even existed) Most of them would say he did his miracles by dark powers. This is an important claim. They realized that strange happenings were connected with the ministry of Jesus and could not be denied. This would mean it was part of the essential historical kerygma, something central to the teaching of the early church, and something so well-attested that no one wanted to deny it.

In fact, Paul in his epistles in Romans 15:18-19 speaks about working wonders, and there is no doubt that Paul wrote Romans. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul lays claim to his right to be called an apostle by telling the Corinthians that he worked miracles amongst them. Note this is a letter where his credibility is being called into question. It will not help that credibility to make a claim that his opponents know to be false. He is appealing to knowledge that they already have.

Of course, when miracles come up, the question asked is “What about Hume?” As one who has done internet debates, I’ve reached the point several times in the debate when miracles comes up that I will say “Okay. Go ahead and give Hume.” You would think that no one else really said anything worthwhile about miracles after Hume came out, as if he put the nail in the coffin with an argument that no one has dealt with.

The reality is its more likely that in philosophy everyone and their mother has dealt with Hume. His argument was criticized then and it is being criticized now. People who automatically assume Hume is the last word are more likely looking for something to cement their beliefs that they already hold and are unwilling to go looking further. It is odd that these people will usually tell us about science being so much better since it can correct its mistakes and relies on the latest study (Which is true by the way, that is the way science works), but they seem to reject that when it comes to philosophical dialogue.

Of course, Hume being 200+ years old does not make him wrong. I am a Thomist, for instance, and I realize Aquinas was around 800 years ago. That does not make him wrong. The difference is I have also done some of the reading in Thomistic thought since then. I realize that people have critiqued Aquinas since his own time. (Yes people. Back in the medieval period, the theologians critiqued one another’s arguments and wanted only the best ones) There are several people who still hold strongly to Thomistic thought today, like myself, but it also does not mean we have to hold everything he did. (I’m Protestant, for instance, although some have argued that Aquinas would be considered a Protestant today as well. That is not the purpose of this review of course.)

In dealing with Hume, Keener does admit that he is not a philosopher, but his sources are the philosophical sources. This is important to admit. Keener knows when he is not speaking from his area of expertise, so he has gone to others who are experts and shared their thoughts. Most devastating is a critique he shares from David Johnson in Cornell University Press:

“The view that there is in Hume’s essay, or in what can be reconstructed from it, any argument or reply or objection that is even superficially good, much less, powerful, or devastating, is simply a philosophical myth. The most willing hearers who have been swayed by Hume on this matter have been held captive by nothing other than Hume’s great eloquence.” (Page 169)

Ouch. That’s quite an indictment.

Looking at the question of history, one statement that has driven my research in this area is that that Bart Ehrman gave to my father-in-law, Mike Licona, in a debate at SES. Ehrman repeatedly made a statement along the lines of “History can only tell you what people do. It cannot tell you about the actions of God.” Keener says in a statement that seems to have Ehrman in mind on page 186 that

“History as history might not pass judgment on whether or not an occurrence (such as the resurrection) was a miracle ( a theological judgment involving philosophic questions about God’s existence and activity), but it can seek to address whether or not an event literally happened.

In a radio debate on Unbelievable? with Licona, Ehrman was stating that historians can agree universally upon a number of events in history, but they don’t agree on the resurrection. How can we treat it as historical then? The problem would be that too many historians are likely approaching with presuppositions beforehand that state miracles cannot happen. Therefore, they come to the account of the resurrection and can say “I don’t know what happened, but I know right off it wasn’t resurrection.” This is no longer doing history. It is doing philosophy under the guise of history.

It is not fair history to come to the data beforehand saying “The conclusion of a miracle cannot happen” and then looking at the data and construing it in such a way to exclude the miracle. In that case, it is clear that the belief one holds is influencing the data rather than the other way around. Of course, for the sake of argument, it could be that the resurrection did not happen, but that needs to be determined on historical grounds and not philosophical ones.

Before we get back to Hume, Keener wants to point us to the Majority World, that is, the world that has not been saturated with Enlightenment thinking. On page 212 Keener states “The claim that no one in the modern world believes in miracles (a claim once seriously offered by some scholars as an answer to the question of miracles, as I have noted) is now too evidently irresponsible to be seriously entertained.”

Will Keener back this statement? Yes. It is a strong statement in the face of academia and if Keener is correct, as I believe he is, it is not because of new data or arguments per se, but it is because of an unwillingness on the part of the academy to consider perspectives apart from their own. It has been by an arrogance that has written off too many people as “uneducated” and thus not worthy of contributing to the conversation.

And sadly, this is shown well in Hume. On pages 223-4, we have a quote from Hume:

“I am apt to suspect the Negroes and in general all of the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No indigenous manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”

Some could answer “Okay. Hume was a racist. It doesn’t mean he’s wrong.” On its face, no. It doesn’t. There is something important here. Hume is automatically excluding the testimony of anyone that is not amongst his circle of people he considers educated. Who are the educated? Those are the ones who don’t believe in miracles. If anyone believes in them, surely he cannot be educated. He must be some backwater person. Therefore, all educated people don’t believe in miracles. It is a lovely piece of circular reasoning.

Hume goes on to say

“Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity, tho’ low people without education will start up amongst us [whites], and distinguish themselves in every profession. IN Jamaica indeed they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning, but ’tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”

To say “‘Tis likely” indicates that Hume has heard a claim and has not bothered to really investigate it. He has just made an assumption based on his prior notion of the black race. Keener, however, does know who the Jamaican is and says “The Jamaican whom Hume compares with a parrot stimulating speech was Francis Williams, a Cambridge graduate whose poetry in Latin was well known.”

Sound like an uneducated parrot with slender accomplishments to anyone else? I didn’t think so.

Okay. But surely today claims or miracles aren’t common. If they are, it must be amongst the Pentecostal movement (Of which I am not one) and we know they really like to talk about miracles! No. In fact, under the sub-heading on page 239 of “Such claims not limited to Pentecostals” Keener writes “But those who would simply reject all healing claims today because Hume argued that such claims are too rare to be believable should keep in mind that they are dismissing, almost without argument, the claimed experiences of at least a few hundred million people.”

So let’s give a quick synopsis then of the data that Keener has because it covers several hundred pages all over the world. Keener admits he is not a doctor, but he tries to get medical documentation of such claims. Even if he does not have them, he realizes that we should not reject testimony ipso facto just because it disagrees with our beliefs. People may be wrong about seeing a miracle or interpret some event wrongly or have a psychosomatic healing. Some of these do not fall into this category. If someone knows someone who is blind, as an example, and prays for them, and they suddenly regain their sight, would that person not be justified in believing a miracle has taken place? Keener says some healings could be coincidence, but that they are consistently connected with prayer goes against the idea that they are coincidence.

Keener also points out that many people in these settings are in fact educated. He has testimonies of his own wife who is quite educated. PH.D.s and doctors and others all claim to have seen such events. Again, even if some people are uneducated who see these claims, they may not have the full knowledge of the natural world, but they know enough to know when something happens that does not normally happen.

Keener also readily admits that miracles do not always take place. I took special note to highlight several times in the book that he makes a claim along those lines. There are people who are not healed in response to prayer. That does not negate the fact of the many people who are. If just one of these numerous numerous claims is true, then it seems that the idea that miracles do not happen is highly suspect, and it is quite likely that more than one is true. (Indeed, I found myself praying for the healing of the loved ones in my life. My own wife suffers from depression and when I read about people being healed of depression, I made it a point to pray more for that. I realized in my own thinking I too had taken on more of skepticism than I realized. If God can raise His Son from the dead as I proclaim, then healing depression is simple. Of course, if He does not, then I must just trust He has some reason. He is not obligated to tell me what it is)

Keener also looks at healing ministries. One noted case he looks at is Kathryn Kuhlman. Many of you, like me do get suspicious hearing that name, but Keener wanted to be objective in his analysis. He does point out that Kuhlman said that not everyone gets healed and that she has no problem with modern medicine. God gave us brains and we should use them. She would not have objected to someone checking with a doctor to see about their healing.

In fact, he points out that some journalists sent to investigate the claims of Kuhlman came out believing the cases after research. Of course, not all cases are bona fide. Healing doesn’t always happen and there could be times someone thought themselves healed when they were not. Keener’s warning for times like this is that you do not look at the false reports and lump all the reports in with them.

Keener also does in fact tell of times when people had fingers grow back and legs grow right before the eyes of people. So in answer to the question of “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” Keener would reply “Who says He doesn’t?” Keener has some cases of such events taking place. It is more likely that those who do not find such cases do not find them because they have not really looked, or perhaps think the only people worth listening to with such a claim would readily have access to YouTube and film such an event, because everyone knows when a miracle is going to take place after all.

Keener spends most of book 2 dealing with objections to his idea, and these are quite weak. He does point out objections even from Christians who would often want to discredit healing ministers who came through an area. Now of course, one should always be cautious. One must also realize that healing does not mean all the particulars of theology are correct. There are healing at Lourdes, a Catholic site, and there are healings in Protestant communities. Still, too many have stacked the deck in advance by saying they will only accept natural explanations or some natural explanation must be forthcoming eventually and one day we’ll find out what it is. Such thinking would fall into a “Naturalism-of-the-gaps” paradigm.

Also, there is the stigma against miracles in the academy where one by claiming a miracle has happened can automatically have their intellectual stature lowered. Such an approach encourages scholars to not really be open to the claims of miracles, which is a tragedy for the history department since one is no longer doing history at that point but more philosophy. Keener contends we need more openness to opposing ideas in the academy. I agree.

Keener also takes the time to answer the question of “What about video tapes?” I find such an objection quite absurd, as one does not normally know when a miraculous event will take place, nor can one set one up as if God was a machine to respond the way we want Him to when we want Him to. Still, there is an obvious problem with video tapes we all know about today.

A show my wife and I have watched together numerous times is “Fact or Faked?” It has a group of investigators trying to see if an event normally caught on video tape is in fact a paranormal event or if it is a mistake or a hoax. There are some times where they approach someone about the video they’ve made and asked “Is this a hoax?” and get the answer of “Yes.” People do hoax videos quite often. We live in a day and age where we can go to a Cinema and watch events that would supposedly be “filmed” that we know are not real. We know about what photoshop can do. Yet with all of this, some people still think that if there had been video tape, that would conclusively settle the matter. Keener does point to some sources on video, but I will contend that to those who are not open, the response will be “faked!”

Finally, Keener ends by looking at cases in the appendices of exorcisms, demonic activity, visions and dreams, and how people saw the natural law in antiquity and later on prior to our time. Each of these sections is worthwhile in themselves. Going through these sections, as well as the rest of the book, I found myself thinking that I need to realize that God could be active in far more ways than I realize. No doubt, I’ll still be skeptical of a lot of claims, but I’ve found myself for my own research asking people if they know of any miracle claims, and it’s quite amazing to see how many people do have such examples.

Overall, Keener’s book is essential reading on the topic of miracles and the question of if they have them today. No one in the academy will be able to argue against the possibility of miracles without dealing with Keener’s excellent research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters