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Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible, Part 4, by Wayne A. Grudem

25. Isn’t it wrong to place emphasis on present miracles? In the Bible, when “signs” and “wonders” are mentioned, it is usually in the context of calling people to look back to God’s great works in the past, such as the Exodus or the resurrection of Christ. We should call people to remember those past great “signs,” not to trust God for present “signs and wonders” today.

This objection has been stated well by D. A. Carson and James Montgomery Boice, following an argument by John Woodhouszse, an Australian scholar. Carson places such emphasis on believing past miracles that he calls into question the value of present miracles to encourage faith. He says one of the major purposes of signs and wonders in Scripture is “to call the people of God back to those foundation events, to encourage them to remember God’s saving acts in history.”68  Regarding Old Testament signs and wonders, he says, “Unbelief in Israel is nothing other than the reprehensible forgetting of all the wonders God performed at the Exodus.” And in the Gospel of John, “John’s readers are called to reflect on the signs that he reports …especially Jesus’ resurrection, and thereby believe. The mandate to believe here rests on John’s reports of God’s past, redemptive-historical signs, not on testimonies of present on-going ones.”69

Boice argues in a similar way, quoting with approval the following statement of John Woodhouse:

Faith involves remembering the signs and wonders by which God redeemed His people …unbelief is precisely a failure to remember those wonders …a consequence of this is the fact that a desire for further signs and wonders is sinful and unbelieving.70 But if it is sinful and unbelieving to have “a desire for further signs and wonders” after the death and resurrection of Christ, then it is hard to explain the activity of the Early Church. (1) The Christians in Jerusalem prayed that God would give them the ability to speak the Word with all boldness and that while they spoke, God would stretch out His hand “to heal,” and that “signs and wonders” would be performed “through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30). They certainly demonstrated an eager desire for further signs and wonders. Was their desire for “further signs and wonders” after the Resurrection “sinful and unbelieving?” (2) Similarly, the ministry of Peter and Paul in the New Testament was characterized by miraculous deeds. Shall we say that Peter and Paul were “sinful and unbelieving” in their prayers for further miracles after the Resurrection? (3) In addition, people in the church of Corinth and in other churches who had gifts of miracles and healing and prophecy (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-30; 14:1-40; Galatians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:20; Hebrews 2:4) certainly were right to desire (zeloo “desire, exert oneself earnestly [for],” 1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1) that those gifts be operative in the life of the Church.

Boice and Woodhouse have adopted an incorrect line of reasoning. Because we are to remember God’s great redemptive deeds in the past should not discourage us from praying for miraculous events to occur today, but rather should encourage us to pray that God would still work in miraculous ways today. This is exactly the point of James 5:16-18: “Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves” and then encourages us to pray with the same kind of faith that Elijah had, reminding us that “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” This is specifically set in a context of prayer for healing (James 5:14-16).

Because we are to remember God’s great redemptive deeds in the past should not discourage us from praying for miraculous events to occur today, but rather should encourage us to pray that God would still work in miraculous ways today.

In Carson’s argument, he has only told half the story. He says belief based on reports of signs and wonders that God did in the past (such as the Exodus and the Resurrection) is to be a belief that God did signs and wonders in the past. But this is just a tautology: Belief that God has acted in the past is belief that God has acted in the past. What Carson fails to note in this section is what happens in the New Testament Church. The apostles not only say that Jesus in His earthly ministry was “attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst” (Acts 2:22), but they also perform present signs and wonders when proclaiming the gospel. Scriptural faith surely is not to be restricted to a belief that God has acted in the past. It must also include a belief that God will act in the present in our lives.

So I fail to see the force of Carson’s argument, if it is intended to discourage the use of signs and wonders today. He is just saying that biblical reports of the past are to be believed as reports of the past. But any implication that we should discourage present signs and wonders is setting up a false alternative. When Carson says that in John, “The mandate to believe here rests on John’s reports of God’s past, redemptive-historical signs, not on testimonies of present on-going ones,”71  this is because John is writing a Gospel—a story of what happened in Jesus’ life. Of course, he does not present any people who come to faith after Jesus returned to heaven, because John’s Gospel ends at that point. To find people who come to believe because of miracles that occur after the life of Jesus, we should not search the Gospel of John. For that we need to look to Acts and the Epistles—and they do show present, ongoing miracles in connection with proclamation of the gospel.

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Category: Fall 2000, Pneuma Review, Spirit

About the Author: Wayne A. Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, Arizona. He has authored over twenty books, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994), Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (2010), The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (2013), The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, and "Free Grace" Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (2016). He was also the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year, 2009). WayneGrudem.com

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