Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God's Power
Professionally, Tim Stafford is a journalist, practiced in the art of asking questions, particularly in the field of religion. (He’s a senior writer for Christianity Today magazine.) Personally, he’s a Presbyterian, grounded in a faith that values reason and orderly practice. This combination captured my interest. What would be his “take” on modern-day miracles --- events not so neat and tidy?
"[D]on’t let me lead you to think that Stafford’s tone is overly historic or academic. He has researched well, but is also a good storyteller."
Early on he explains, “This book is not addressed to the person who is convinced there are not miracles.” And “Neither is this book addressed to those who see miracles every time they turn around.” Right off the bat, you see that Stafford believes that miracles happen. Chapter one relates a before-and-after story of Jeff, a teen in his church who for five years had navigated life in a wheelchair, because his feet “would no longer carry his weight,” despite five foot and leg surgeries. Then one Sunday, Jeff’s mother quietly told Stafford’s Presbyterian congregation that Jeff “had been healed” at a different church.
Three years later, Stafford interviewed Jeff, who had never relapsed. This follow-up was important to Stafford, because when he asked healing ministries for documentation, he often received a brush-off; ministries seemed to have a hard time coming up with contact information of people who had been healed five or 10 years earlier. I note that, though Stafford mentions other types of miracles, his main thrust is physical healing.
The book eventually includes chapters on miracles in the Bible --- Old Testament and then New --- and looks at periodic waves of miracles throughout church history, including Augustine’s dramatic accounts. He postulates why the Protestant Reformers, particularly Calvin, downplayed the role of miracles. “Calvin was pointing everyone’s attention away from present-day signs and wonders and back to Jesus.” As for miracles reported by his contemporaries? “Calvin made a theological judgment that those miracles were illegitimate, because he believed the gospel those churches preached was illegitimate.”
Eventually Stafford considers the revival of “signs and wonders” particularly in a Pentecostal (and charismatic, though he rarely uses the word) milieu. And in a chapter titled “Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?” he gets down to more precise definitions of what a miracle is. (Though they may be wonders, a beautiful sunset or the birth of a baby is not a miracle.)
But don’t let me lead you to think that Stafford’s tone is overly historic or academic. He has researched well, but is also a good storyteller. This is obvious throughout and also in chapter 12, “When No Miracles Come.” Why are some people spared or delivered from suffering and others not? Why was he not healed when he went to a church known for its healing ministry? Here he waxes pastoral in a reasoned way. The mystery unfolds, or maybe not. We don’t know the ways of God. We should always seek the Giver more than the gift. We should live in and with hope, seeking, asking that God’s kingdom come, knowing that “it is in God’s very nature to astonish us by his goodness.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on August 15, 2012