Moreland, J. P. A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles: Instruction and Inspiration for Living Supernaturally in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021.
This review is from the audiobook.
Even though I think his arguments are sound, I will not agree with everything he says. I need to make that disclaimer up front. The rest of his book is so strong that my argument will appear like an endorsement of his book, and to a large degree it is, but there will be points of disagreement.
Even for cessationists, this book should be a welcome read. Moreland clarifies what we mean and do not mean by “miracle.” Moreover, it should be a challenging foil for those who say that God does not do miracles today. Perhaps he does not, but a critic better be able to analytically interact with the leading figures from the other side (e.g., Michael Brown, Craig Keener, and Moreland). No longer can one attack the Benny Hinns of the world. This is a much stronger challenge. Furthermore, regardless of what one thinks of God answering certain types of prayer requests, Moreland gives some gentle advice on persevering in prayer and the like.
Moreland defines a miracle along the lines of “an event caused by God or a supernatural being outside the law-governed course of nature.” Such a definition brings him to challenge the hegemony of David Hume and his disciples today. Simply put, a supernatural act does not require an overwhelming support of evidence. Nor does all evidence need to be scientifically testable. Disciplines such as forensic science do not even operate on such principles.
But that raises another question: how do we really know x is a miracle and not just a normal event? This is the single most important contribution Moreland makes. For example, let us pretend I get the flu. I ask God for healing and relief. A few days later, I am feeling better. Did God answer my prayer or was this just the nature of the case? Or both? We really cannot know for certain.
Intelligent Agent Principle
To answer this question, Moreland adopts “The Intelligent Agent Principle.” A miracle must meet several criteria:
- It has to be improbable by the nature of the case (at least <50%).
- It must be independent and have specificity.
In other words, there must be
- An intelligent agent involved.
Does this criteria prove miracles exist? Of course not. It simply delineates, with varying degrees of certainty, between natural providences and supernatural actions. Moreover, and this is a valid epistemological point across the board, one can have legitimate knowledge with varying degrees of certainty. Let us say that I only have 75% certainty that x is a miracle. That counts as legitimate knowledge. I might not bet the house on it, but in terms of practical, day-to-day living it is knowledge.
Moreland neither claims that the entire church always believed miracles continued, nor does he claim that they were Macarthurite cessationists. He actually goes to the evidence. The best is Augustine, since Augustine was a cessationist for much of his life. He then started investigating miracle stories in his diocese. This was not a man who wanted to be convinced, since he actually rejected the idea. Rather, like a good searcher of truth, he followed the evidence. You can read about it in City of God 22.8. It reads like the headlines from Charisma News. Similar, though less documented, claims can be found in Irenaeus.
Praying for Healing
This chapter is not so much on how to heal people (since only God can do that), but on how to be a blessing to people who are suffering. It gives gentle, yet specific suggestions on when you are praying for someone. But what if God does not heal them (or less spectacularly, does not answer my prayer)? The simple answer is “I don’t know.” Why could not Paul, a man who had raised the dead, heal Trophimus?
God might not answer prayer for several reasons:
- He might delay answering your prayer because he wants you to get others involved. God is teaching you the connection between prayer and partnership with him. That in itself is a good. If God teaches you to get more people involved and they learn that connection, then more “goods” have been created.
- Let’s say you want a job. Your prospective employer initially does not want to hire you. Other things being equal, should God coerce his will that he hire you? What if the employer simultaneously prayed that God would make you stop asking for this job? Should God listen to his prayer and coerce your will? Of course not. The point in this thought experiment is to get us thinking about how specific we are in prayer and what we really want in prayer.
- Do you even know what you are asking? This is not simply a cliche. Many times we are not specific in prayer. If God answered your prayer, you might not even know since you did not specifically ask for anything. How many prayers have you heard end with “lead, guide, and direct us”? If God answered that prayer, what criteria could you possibly use to verify it.
- In short, we might not know why God does not answer prayer.
Angels, Demons, and the Like
They exist. They are real. There are two dangers: one in seeing angels and demons everywhere, the other in a deistic overreaction. I have written enough elsewhere on angels and demons, so I do not need to belabor the point here.
For what it is worth, this book helped me to grow in holiness. I do not want to be the type of person who is crippled by unrepentant sin. I do not want that to get in the way of any partnership with God. This book might be Moreland’s swan song. We hope not, but we are glad he was able to write it.