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Miracle Accounts: Majority World Perspectives, by Craig S. Keener

An excerpt from Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, by Craig S. Keener. From Pneuma Review Fall 2013.

Crag S. Keener

From Part 3, “Miracle Accounts beyond Antiquity”

Chapter 7, “Majority World Perspectives”

Pages 238-241

For these countries alone, and for Pentecostals and charismatics in these countries alone, the estimated total of people claiming to have “witnessed divine healings” comes out to somewhere around 202,141,082, that is, about two hundred million. Among Pentecostals, an average of 73.6 percent claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing, and among charismatics the proportion is 52 percent; given estimates of possibly half a billion Pentecostals and charismatics worldwide, we might be looking at claims of closer to three hundred million among them alone.154 My estimates extrapolate on the assumption that numbers and percentages above are roughly accurate; in fact, all such figures are merely estimates, but they give us the best current ballpark figure to work from. Even if for some reason we later estimated only one-third of these figures (a much greater margin of error than seems likely), the numbers are already enormous even before we add (below) the noncharismatic claims.

Lest I be misunderstood, I must emphasize that in noting the prevalence of healing claims, I am not offering a blanket endorsement of all the beliefs on all issues that command majorities among these groups (elsewhere in the same survey), including beliefs about healings. I am also not suggesting that all claims of cures are authentic; still less am I suggesting that none of the claims could have alternative explanations,155 though from my research I suspect that the majority of those who claim to have witnessed some miracles could specify some fairly substantive claims.156 My point here is simply to invite attention to what this survey indicates about the vast numbers of people worldwide who claim to have witnessed supernaturally effected healings. The examples that I offer in the following chapters may make this observation more concrete, but my examples obviously pale before the statistics.

Such Claims Not Limited to Pentecostals

What may be more interesting in this survey, however, is the category of “other Christians,” with somewhere around 39 percent in these countries claiming to have “witnessed divine healings.” That is, more than one-third of Christians worldwide who do not identify themselves as Pentecostal or charismatic claim to have “witnessed divine healings.” Presumably many of these claimants believe that they have witnessed more than a single case. Note that these are not simply people who say that they believe that supernatural healing occurs; these are people who say that they believe that they have witnessed or experienced it.157

Of course many of these claims would not withstand critical scrutiny, and presumably an even higher percentage would fail to persuade others predisposed not to believe. 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. (Even if one were to err extremely on the side of modesty, one could easily speak boldly of “tens of millions” of claims.) In contrast to starting assumptions on which Hume built his case, it is no longer feasible to consider such claims rare.

As noted above, the greatest concentration of these claims is in Africa, Asia, and Latin America rather than in the West, though in chapter 11 I shall note abundant examples from the West as well. Non-Pentecostal Western Christian workers active in such areas often report dramatic phenomena similar to those reported by Pentecostals.158 Worldview is probably one important factor in generating more faith recoveries in many non-Western regions;159 for example, nearly a decade ago one of my students, a sincere Baptist pastor from India, complained that Americans he prayed for were rarely healed, but almost everyone he prayed for in north India was healed.160

Accurate or inaccurate, reports of prophetism, dreams, visions, and healings (sometimes of incurable, terminal illnesses) on a massive scale characterize many areas where Christianity is expanding rapidly and with intense religious fervor among non-Christian populations.161 Although some162 Westerners historically used cultural dominance from colonial cultures or (especially in Latin America) force to spread Christianization, many indigenous evangelists today instead embrace the missiological model they encounter in Acts and believe that they are following Paul’s model.163 One Western charismatic missiologist argues that whereas some Asian Christians appreciated Western missionaries bringing teaching about God, many Asian missionaries are now demonstrating God’s power through miracles.164 Another writer recounts that missionaries to one region in Africa who merely left behind Gospels returned to find a flourishing church with nt-like miracles happening daily, “because there had been no missionaries to teach that such things were not to be taken literally.”165 Indigenous readings of Scripture often noticed patterns there “that the missionaries did not want [local believers] to see.”166

Although the most visible growth has occurred in the last three decades,167 already in 1981, at one large U.S. seminary with students from many nations, Christiaan De Wet of South Africa wrote a thesis on signs involved in church growth around the world. He surveyed more than 350 theses representing most of the world and interviewed countless missionaries. He complained, “My research has turned up so much material on signs and wonders that are happening and churches that are growing, that it is impossible to use all of it.”168 He noted that miracle claims help drive Christian growth in many parts of the world.


This excerpt is from Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 volumes, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2011. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

Footnotes appear in the full digital issue of Pneuma Review Fall 2013 and in the book from which this excerpt is derived.

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Category: Fall 2013, Pneuma Review, Spirit

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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