It's Okay to Expect a Miracle
Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set)
Keener, Craig S.
November 1, 2011
1248 pp., $43.34
Craig Keener has the brain of a scholar and the hands of an activist. The New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary has authored 15 books, 70 journal articles, and more than 100 articles for religious and general interest publications. He and his wife, Médine Moussounga Keener, are deeply involved in ethnic reconciliation ministry.
In his New Testament commentaries, Keener has investigated biblical miracles. But his newest volume—Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic)—focuses on contemporary miracle accounts, citing hundreds of recent occurrences.
Keener is ordained in a historic African American church and served as an associate minister before moving to Asbury's campus in Wilmore, Kentucky. Christianity Today senior writer Tim Stafford interviewed Keener this fall.
Miracles are an unusual subject for a New Testament scholar. What led you to it?
I was going to write a footnote in my commentary on Acts, and was dealing with questions of historical reliability. Many scholars dismiss miracle stories as not historically plausible, arguing that they arose as legendary accretions.
I was familiar with [contemporary] reports of miracles taking place. There must be thousands of such reports. It was inconceivable to me that people would say eyewitnesses can't claim to have seen such things.
What do you want to accomplish with this book?
Primarily, to challenge scholars who dismiss miracles in the Gospels as legends and not historically plausible. Eyewitnesses say these kinds of things all the time. I also want to challenge the bias that says these things can't be supernatural. I believe God does miracles, and I don't see why we scholars are not allowed to talk about it.
You're trying to break open the naturalistic tradition of writing history that scholars have followed for centuries.
I understand the historical paradigms within which we work, and I'm able to work within those by bracketing out certain questions. But I wonder who made up the rule that we have to bracket out those questions, and why we are obligated to follow such rules. The way the discipline of historiography has been defined, such questions get punted to philosophy or theology.
How is the world today different from philosopher David Hume's world, or theologian Rudolf Bultmann's, who said that a modern man who turns on an electric light can't possibly believe in a miracle?
In Hume's day, nobody he knew had experienced a miracle. But there were miracle accounts, and he addresses them in a very circular way.
Blaise Pascal's niece was instantly and publicly healed of a running eye sore. Hume cites the documentation for that, which most people would say was pretty good, then dismisses it by saying we know that miracles don't happen. It's a circular argument: We know that miracles don't happen because it's the common experience of humans that miracles don't happen.
It was Hume who first spoke of miracles as violations of nature. But Christians don't believe that the Legislator is subject to any of the laws of nature.
In Bultmann's day, there also weren't a lot of miracle claims. Today, we know so much more. Scholars need to go back and look again. A Pew poll I mention in my book surveyed Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in 10 countries who claim to have experienced miracles. If you total those up, we are talking about 200 million people. To dismiss miracles because they run against uniform human experience is an ethnocentric argument.