About This Blog

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Miracles" (Tim Stafford)

TITLE: Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God's Power
AUTHOR: Tim Stafford
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (224 pages).

Miracles are one of the most vague and misunderstood phenomena among many today. On the one hand, there are those who call anything pretty much a miracle. Things like sunrise/sunset, natural events, unexpected results, or any ordinary thing that just happens. If everything is a miracle, then nothing is miracle. On the other hand, there are those who are utterly sceptical about everything, refusing to entertain any possibility of an unnatural circumstance. Like unexplained healing, incredible physical feats, or anything that defies common or normal understanding. If nothing is a miracle, then where is hope? Compounding the confusion is the presence of confused labeling. From vague definitions to misunderstood events and misreported interpretations, the need to explain the thinking surrounding miracles increases. Enters Tim Stafford with a reporter's view of modern day "miracles." This senior writer of the popular evangelical publication, Christianity Today gives us a first hand look at miracles from a layperson's perspective.

Beginning with Jeff Moore's miraculous healing of his feet, he goes on to argue about the importance of miracles and offers us a guide to "think about them, pray for them, respond to them (or respond to their absence). The purpose of the book is described as follows,

"This book is a guide for how to live in God's world, and how to walk alongside him as he does his work. It's a book about faith and hope and love as they get worked out on planet earth." (23) 
Miracles have both positive and negative connotations. Positively, the author sees miracles as a way to affirm one's convictions about God, and His love. The presence of miracles strengthens faith. The absence produces doubts, albeit in varying degrees. What Stafford argues for is the greater significances are "prophetic words" rather than the actual works of miracles.Many have even used miracles as a way to prove the existence of God. The possibility of miracles has also drawn many people out to seek prayer and in the process build community. Negatively, the absence of miracles poses a problem for many, and often a mini "victory" for atheists and sceptics. For this reason, Stafford includes a chapter to deal with why people do not believe in miracles. Taking a middle ground, Stafford says that while he believes in miracles, he is just sceptical about most "reports" about miracles. What he essentially says is one cannot let a few bad reports of miracles dismiss totally the reality of a miracle. What we don't know does not mean it is not true. Stafford uses many examples from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Of particular interest is his observation that most Old Testament miracles are "public" while the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament are seen by only a small group of people, less "public." The reason for Jesus' choice of limiting the scope of witnesses to his miracles is because his work of compassion, strengthening individual faith, and personally leading people to God, are deeply personal connections in the first place.

Stafford does not end there. He goes into the history of the Church, the meticulous manner which the Roman Catholic Church verifies miracles or reports of miracles.  He even talks about the non-Christian testimonies of miracles. Stafford engages the difficult question of whether miracles still exist after the time of the First Apostles. His three phases of interaction with Pentecostalism are illuminating. On science and miracles, there is no incompatibility, but greater clarity when science is used as a tool to aid the understanding and study of miracles. Finally, Stafford does not leave readers gasping in agony about what to do about miracles. He offers twenty guidelines on how to understand and engage one another about miracles.

My Thoughts

There has been a surge of books that talk about miraculous happenings, testimonies of how people has gone to heaven and back, and so on. This only adds to greater confusion and misunderstanding when individuals ask: "Why them and not me?"

Stafford has done us a favour by using this book as a focusing lens to help us adjust our blurred understanding of what miracles are. He uses his wide exposure as a journalist to talk to leaders, scholars, theologians, Church people, and to interview individuals, especially those who have gone through a miraculous experience. Quietly balancing honest inquiry with a healthy dose of careful criticism, Stafford makes a comprehensive journey through many common stumbling blocks surrounding miracles, balancing naivete and scepticism, openness and reasonable faith. The twenty things to note about miracles are by themselves worth the price of the book. For readers who find CS Lewis' treatise on miracles difficult to understand, why not begin with this book? For others who want to learn about how to explain miracles clearly, this book is a definite read. For Christians, this book brings some rationale explanation for things we do not understand. For non-Christians, may this book help maintain honest inquiry that is fair and reasonable.

I highly recommend this readable volume.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

No comments:

Post a Comment