Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Miracles by Tim Stafford

A book is like a horse one hitches one's wagon to. In order to enjoy it, one has to totally trust in that horse. By the time I reached page 199 of Tim Stafford's Miracles, I wanted to unhitch my wagon. Miracles is the kind of book that talks about Miracles yet uses "only those Biblical passages everyone reads" one would expect from a Senior Writer for Christianity Today, has written a book about miracles.

Although Stafford writes as one who is a "journalist" he doesn't include much of the primary document -- The Bible. He certainly doesn't include those verses that might challenge his take. This is what is bothersome: an author thinking he is being fair when he is biased, at worse or Biblically-ignorant at best.

Stafford is trying to be honest.
A good
thing, because many Christian books often strike some readers as dishonest for various reasons. So, honesty in a book about skepticism and faith, is to be lauded. But when an author writes a book on healing that focuses more on human experience, denominationalism, and human reasoning without adequately balancing it with the Bible, then iffy human-experience-based theology is what results. Not that Christians should go about not using their minds, but God's ways -- and His Mind-- are higher than mere human minds, observations, and conclusions. Jesus warned his disciple Peter about looking at John's life. Paul warns his readers to  look to Jesus and to the Scriptures as well. The experience of human life is not to be the basis for any theology and the "this is what I have seen and understood about miracles" ways of discussing theology is problematical at best.

Paul has many letters in his epistles, many of which are prayers that the readers (or hearers) in the churches have wisdom and revelation. Tim Stafford should have prayed those prayers prayerfully before he wrote this book.

There are many things wrong with this book. But I will only state a few.

On page 199, he writes: "God is the master of everything that happens." One is tempted to ask: "WHAT?" John the Evangelist writes that "we know all the world is under the power of the evil one." But Stafford seems to believe the popular cultural sayings "There's a reason for everything" or "God's in charge of everything" or "God is sovereign."  Not that we should blame everything on the devil but many things are not under God's control: human sin, human doubt, human actions being just a few.

Admittedly, this is what most people believe, but that a journalist would state such an untheological common truism shows a Calvinist bias.

There are other aspects of healing which he could have discussed.

One of the largest fallacy in the book is the false dichotomy it presents between "human faith versus God's sovereign will." By setting up this dichotomy, God is made to seem "mysterious" (allowing people to be afflicted for some great unknown good.) Thus Christians who believe God desires healing in all things are made to appear as if they are blaming innocent sick people for lack of faith. Not that miracles come by human work alone. In the Bible miracles comes by love, by faith, by community, by persevereance, by repentance, by know-how. And sometimes it comes by God's sovereign will. But John states that God is light and in Him is no confusion at all.

There are also questionable assumptions. Stafford states, "The Bible doesn't tell how to do miracles." But Jesus taught the disciples --even Judas Iscariot-- how to heal the sick and cast out devils. Peter and John healed the blind man by saying, "Such as I have I give you." The Great Commission seems to imply that all Christians have the power to heal the sick when the gospel --not legalism-- is being preached. From what I see Jesus told people to command if they believe. Plain and simple. This book subtly blames God by calling God mysterious. It never says -- as far as I can see-- that the church needs to understand more about healing or that the church is simply not doing things the way God told us to. After all, few Christians actually pray for the sick the way God has told us to pray.

Stafford also doesn't address the possibility that human illness is often the battleground of the cosmological war between God and the devil, and that miracles are a sign that Jesus has conquered evil and has commanded His church to continue to prove His victory. Stafford doesn't mention the devil at all. Jesus said, "The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that you might have life." Jesus stated, "The Prince of this world is judged." If the darkness is past and the true light shines, the kingdom of God is still against sickness.
But most importantly, He creates a God who is vastly different from Jesus. While Jesus healed all who came to Him --and a few who didn't-- the God Stafford creates is mysterious and unpredictable. An easy answer to a predicament, and the easy answer for Christian believer-skeptics. It would be much more difficult to say God is generally predictable but I have not researched this matter enough to understand why miracles don't happen more consistently.

It is best to read books that promote a faith rather than those which engender confusion under the guise of journalism. And it is best to read one's Bible and ask for Holy Spirit wisdom to understand than to lean on one's own understanding and experience.  Jesuc Christ warned His followers to take heed how they hear.

Unfortunately, Stafford has not researched modern healing miracles as much as he should have and the examples he gives mostly fall into a certain camp of Pentecostalism. For those needing to build their faith, reading this book is like finding someone has poisoned one's Gatorade during a race. Not recommended. Better books than Miracles have been written. A J Gordon's The Ministry of Healing for instance is much more comprehensive about church history, the Bible, the missionary field, etc. (Here is Gordon's on Amazon.)  Also, Divine Healing by Andrew Murray, and The Gospel of Healing by A.B. Simpson. These are old books, written by true researchers whose insight were helped by the Holy Spirit. While Stafford wanted to write of his own experiences, somewhere along the line distinctions got blurred. The book stops being about his experience and his own spiritual journey and becomes a  "This is what I have seen therefore this is what is true because I am a journalist and I know what's true" treatise. Unfortunate because other books about miracles have been written by Christian nurses and doctors, people who see God's miracles daily. Stafford should have read those books before venturing into his own pitiful entry.

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