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Miracles as Reality: An Interview with Craig S. Keener

This set the default often used today, even in dismissing medical documentation for miracles: no evidence is adequate to make the case, and any naturalistic explanation, no matter how weak (even, “Someday we’ll have an explanation”), is preferred to a miraculous explanation. In other words, the anti-miracle approach is not falsifiable, and therefore it does not even enter into dialogue with its detractors; it simply rules them out by fiat, assuming its intellectual superiority. To illustrate: one of my professors told me that he would not believe in God even if someone were raised from the dead in front of him. I asked him why he considered himself open-minded.


PR: What role did faith play in the healings and miracles you wrote about in the book?

Keener: Although the question you are asking was not part of the book’s focus, I did pay attention to the stories that were shared with me. Often miracles happened in the context of faith. I should also point out, however, that the majority of those I interviewed believed that God is sovereign and that faith does not necessarily guarantee a miracle. Miracle reports included instant healings of blindness and raisings from the dead, but those who shared these reports acknowledged that these events do not always happen. For example, one physician who reported that he witnessed a man raised when he prayed also reported that his own son died and was not raised when he prayed for him. A friend told me that he only ever prayed for two people to be raised from the dead. One was a boy brought to him by neighbors in a place where he was evangelizing; the boy returned to life. The other was his close friend; the friend did not return to life.


PR: Do you think that Christians in the West have greater difficulty accepting the reality of miracles than our brothers and sisters in the Majority World?

Keener: Certainly many of us do; I know that I did. I think that the legacy of Hume is a major factor in academia. In many disciplines we rule out divine explanations a priori; while that approach introduces does helpfully force us to rigorously explore natural causes, it sometimes screens out the best explanation (and often screens out compatible ones). Much of Western academia moves from that method, which from the start refuses to discuss divine explanations, to simply assuming that miracles have been disproved, but it is back to Hume’s circular argument. Most of the world does not share the frequent Western assumption that what we would call miracles cannot happen. It also seems that God lavishes miracles where they are most needed, among the needy physically and spiritually, particularly in places with the least exposure to the gospel.


PR: Your book contains accounts of healings and miracles that have taken place through the ministries of Pentecostal and Charismatic believers and through the ministries of non-charismatic believers. Could you speak briefly to that?

How to dismiss healing: no evidence is ever adequate and any naturalistic explanation, no matter how weak, is always preferred to “miracle.”

Keener: I recount a number of concrete examples of miracle claims from around the world. Some of these could be explained in multiple ways, so in chapter twelve I turn to some particular categories of miracle claims, especially the healing of blindness and raisings from the dead. In some of the reports of healed blindness, cataracts visibly disappeared during prayer. In some cases, we also have medical documentation, even of eye scarring disappearing. I received a number of reports of raisings from the dead, even from my own circle. This is significant because some people dismiss miracle claims as merely statistical anomalies. I don’t know how one would quantify the statistical probability of someone apparently dead returning to life specifically during prayer for raising in a given person’s circle. But whatever that improbability would be, it must be compounded ten times over if there are ten such accounts from my own circle (there are in fact more than that). I believe that the odds of coincidence are so low at that point that a skeptic might have to postulate that I am the only person in the world with such a coincidentally high incidence of these reports, and this is not true. Rather, the statistical coincidence argument has an abysmally low probability. Some, though only a minority, of these raising reports in my circle involve Pentecostals.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Summer 2012

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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