Do We Still Need Miracles Today To Believe? A Response

I’m neither a cessationist nor a continuationist.  Rather, I’m a Christian who is open to the supernatural workings of God, in his world, for his own glory–which leads me to Do We Still Need Miracles Today To Believe? by Lisa Robinson’s post over at Parchment & Pen.

After taking something of a corrective approach to how miracles should be understood in the Bible, the book of Acts, and Jesus’ statement of “greater works” (John 14:12), Lisa Robinson returns to the meat of her post:

So that leads back to the question of needing miracles today.  I say yes but not necessarily in the manner it occurred in the New Testament.  The church of the New Testament did not have access to what we have today nor was the message so prolific as it is.  If we insist on out of the ordinary occurrences to happen, then it implies what we have, what God has given us already is insufficient.  Moreover, it sets believers up to always expect something out of the ordinary to happen and conditions them for excitement.  It negates the quiet working of the Holy Spirit who moves on hardened hearts to motivate a response to the gospel and dismisses any lack of physical expressions as failure of the Holy Spirit’s work.  An over-reliance on physical expressions will possibly make faith rest with the occurrences rather than the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of people both to accept the gospel and to live it out.  And that was never the intention of the miraculous.

While I appreciate her tone and somewhat pastoral approach in this post, I wish Lisa would have addressed the use of miracles in Romans 1:11-12 and 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, which I believe point to the use of miracles in the ongoing life of the church for mutual encouragement and edification, to echo Paul.

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24 Responses to Do We Still Need Miracles Today To Believe? A Response

  1. ljrobinson says:

    TC, thanks for highlighting my article. And such quick turnaround too. Actually, I think I did address the use of miracles today in relation to what was available then. I think this is especially true of 1 Cor 12-14. Regarding Romans 1:11-12, all Paul is saying is that he would impart some spiritual gift for strength. I don’t know that is necessarily referring to the miraculous, only that which edifies the believer. I do believe that in areas with little to no gospel or bibles, the miraculous is possible and maybe needed.

    But as a former Charismatic, there was usually more talk of signs and wonders than what actually existed in gatherings. There was always some prophecy or tongue and interpretation, which at the time I endorsed. In hindsight however, it was nothing that could not have been expressed through powerful preaching. In fact, the latter would have been better because it was the sure word. The main concern I’m addressing is that the miraculous is sought more than the foundation of scripture. Does that make sense?

    • TC says:

      Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by to clarify a few things. But perhaps we need a definition of “the miraculous” and its relationship to “spiritual gifts.” I encourage that you’re open to the miraculous on the mission field, given the fact that most cessationists I know are not.

      Yes, I do agree with your point that many become too dependent on the miraculous at the neglect of the foundational function of Scripture.

      • ljrobinson says:

        Ha, well I often classify myself as one who went from being a crazy charismatic to a crusty cessationist and now lives in a place called tension 🙂 FWIW, my shift did not come as a result of experience but through the doctrine of scripture. I think there is a strong correlation between certain gifts that expressed the revelation of God through the prophetic and apostolic word and the production of Scripture.

        As to your question about defining the miraculous in relation to the gifts, that is a good one and one that I think I need to chew on. I want to say its the signs and wonders and whatever gifts align but I’m open to rethink that. How would you define it?

  2. Reblogged this on jesuschrist1114's Blog and commented:
    God bless you deeply

  3. TC says:

    Lisa – yes, I live in that “tension” as well. But even with such a shift, I can’t help point to a Grudem, who is not only a continuationist but holds to a high view of the doctrine of Scripture.

    And only asked you to definition “the miraculous” to get a better feel of your post. 😉 At any rate, any definition we give of “miracles,” “spiritual gifts” and their relationship to one another must account for a text like 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, which begins thus, “Now concerning spiritual gifts…” I tend to lean on Grudem’s definition of a miracle: “A less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself,” a definition which accords with your own.

  4. Simon says:

    “I’m neither a cessationist nor a continuationist. Rather, I’m a Christian who is open to the supernatural workings of God, in his world, for his own glory”

    This statement was great up until the part about “…his own glory”.

    I would rather reword this as: “I’m neither a cessationist nor a continuationist. Rather, I’m a Christian who is open to the supernatural workings of God, in his world, because he loves us”.

  5. I agree with the comments that I live in a tension between believing that God can do miracles (and does them from time to time for His glory) to seeking to avoid the strange teachings sometimes found in charismatic circles. My family and I attend a Pentecostal church and it seems they swing to the conservative view of the gifts of the Spirit but sometimes I long for them to pray for the sick with a view that truly believes God is going to intervene.

    I guess it can be a hard balance to find.

  6. TC says:

    Simon, I understand. But it’s precisely because he loves us why he does all things for his own glory. I don’t think we should want it any other way.

    Seeking Disciple, yeah, it’s a hard thing to balance, as we many other controversial issues.

    • Simon says:

      TC, given that basic Christian doctrine asserts that God himself is a community of three persons existing in a relationship of selfless love for one another, I fail to see how He does things for his own glory. God does things for others, because he loves them. Yes this brings glory to his name – but this is not cause of his actions (rather it’s our response in praise of him). The point is that he loves – and that’s all God does 😉

      I fear that “Christian hedonists” (just saying this phrase out loud should make us pause and consider the absurdity of such a term!) have turned God into a self seeking utility maximizer. It is a way of saying that God is selfish – this is really the top and the bottom of such a position. And because we are a reflection of God, we also are selfish. I mean, the hedonist position is that we are fully ourselves when we find satisfaction in God (this is quite abstract actually). Rather than the traditional Christian position that humanity was made to love one another, an image of the life-giving Trinity.

      • TC says:

        Simon, yes, caution duly noted. But I can’t help tracing those statements throughout Scripture which speak of God doing things for either his glory or his name’s sake. For example, his rescue of sinners, salvation, is for his name’s sake.

        But whether one chooses to emphasize God’s glory or God’s love should not be put at odds with each other. They were never meant to be.

        While I believe Christian hedonism may suffer for misunderstandings and confusions here and there, but neither should it be denied the Christian community. I see it’s advantages, especially in Pax Americana.

  7. Lon says:

    I’m not a cessationist, because I can’t see anything in Scripture to tell me that’s God’s plan. But, as a former Pentecostal, neither can I claim to have witnessed any miracles (and I doubt the validity of the spiritual gifts that were commonly expressed). More to the point of your title: “Do we still need miracles today to believe?” I can’t answer for “we,” but I’ll answer for me: No. The resurrection was enough. I believe.

    (btw – as the protestant reformers cried sola scriptura, the Catholic church answered back, “Where are your miracles?” (i.e. transubstantiation, etc)

  8. Simon says:

    TC, there is evidently a fundamental difference in the way we each understand Scripture. Christians start with the Gospel, (according to Matt, Mark, Luke and John) and this is the prism through which the rest of the Scriptures are interpreted. The Reformed, and traditional Protestants, see the Bible in a similar way a lawyer looks a piece of legislation (legalism much?!). They give equal weight in understanding what God is like to OT passages as to the Gospel accounts (perhaps even less to the latter!) – as if all parts of the Bible reveal to us equally what God is like. Astonishingly, little attention is given to what Jesus of Nazareth was like – except to say that he talked about hell a lot. This is a fundamental difference. Is God a self seeking glory hogger who happens to be good sometimes and horrible at other times, which the Reformed can explain away by simply saying that he is God.. so there, he can do whatever he wants nah nah nah nah nah.. and, btw he agrees with us and no one else so unless you’re like us (i.e. God) you’re going to burn forever? Or is God love? Is God truly good? Is the Trinitarian God truly selfless and abounding in mercy for all? That is what is at stake here. When the Reformed say that God is only interested in his own glory and that everything stems from this, I think they are getting it all wrong. Rather the Scripture says that God is love, and this the motivating source of his actions. Creation was an act of love. Love, by definition, is selfless – it does not seek it’s own glory. God’s dealing in and through creation are likewise acts of love, not vain attempts to glorify himself. This is truly where the glory of God is revealed most fully (rather ironically).

    • TC says:

      Simon, you’ve made a fundamental mistake: to say that God seeking his own glory is wrong is to say that as a mortal you’re somehow able to evaluate the actions and motives of God. My friend, that is not for us to do. Yes, God is love. But God has created this cosmos and mankind for his own glory. This is the witness of Scripture that we simply cannot escape.

      • Simon says:

        I simply disagree. We are made in the image of God, so in some marred and obscured way, we can glimpse what God is like because we are his image bearers. I am big on the apophatic approch to theology. So I don’t like to say things about God, ascribe motives to him etc. But one thing we can absolutely say positively about God is that he loves mankind. God did not have to do anything to increase his glory. What you are saying about God creating the universe for his own glory is tantamount to saying that he was somehow incomplete without creation. I wouldn’t want to go there personally. Rather creation is an act of love (mirrored in our acts of procreation through the union of male and female in love). Reformed theology of God still comes back to this self seeking glory hogger image. I think this image does violence to the character of God – making him rather like the pagan gods… seeking only their own welfare. It’s almost as if, for the Reformed, loving one another other is an arbitrary by-product of God’s self-seeking glory. This is also why, i think, for conservative evangelicals, God’s law and Christ’s commandments are treated as arbitrary markers put down to divide us from them, the saved v the lost. They are not seen as being good in and of themselves. Furthermore, where they can, they marginalise Christ’s love commandments as much as possible. We aren’t really to apply the turn the other cheek commandment and so on. These love commandments are literally set in a limited context for conservative evangelicals – to make way for their real objects of worship like guns and violence.

  9. TC says:

    Simon, whoever said God is not love? Whoever said God created to increase his glory? Where did you get these notions? To say that God created mankind for his glory is simply to restate what is already in Scripture. Reflect on these texts: Isaiah 43:6-7, 20-21; 44:23; 48:9-11, for a start. 😉

  10. Simon says:

    TC, I want to affirm the full force of what it means to say that God is love. I also want to affirm the full dogma of the Church as expressed in the Scriptures, the Fathers and the 7 ecumenical councils.

    I don’t think those verses mean that God is a self seeking hedonist – i.e. the way the Reformed understand what God’s glory means. No wonder Piper is a Christian hedonist. You become like what you worship. If you think God is a self seeking hedonist, then that is what you’ll be too. I think this best explains why the Reformed think this way. Not only is it all about me and my salvation. But your satisfaction is all about yourself and your relationship to God – with no real place for others. Hedonism is individualistic and selfish by definition. God’s glory is manisfest in his love and his mercy. God’s power is manifest in love, because his love conquers all in the end.

    • TC says:

      Simon, I know Piper and others are not saying that God is a self-seeking hedonist. I don’t know I would call a Christian hedonist like Piper individualistic and selfish, precisely because of his Christian hedonism.

      Yes, God’s glory is manifest in his love and his mercy. This is the essence of that theophany in Exodus 33. We so have an accord.

      Now when I consider the Christian hedonism to the glory of God in Paul’s injunction in 1 Cor. 10:31 to seek the glory of God in everything, whether we eat or drink. 😉

      • Simon says:

        TC, What precisely is Piper saying about hedonism? If he doesn’t mean what this term normally means, then this is rather misleading.

        I’m not sure where the concept of hedonism comes in to that verse in 1 Cor. The glory of God is revealed in love for others – exactly because we are being like him (his image bearers) when we do so. I hope that your not looking for verses discussing the “glory of God” and simply assuming that hedonism is being talked about. ” Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” That whole passage is talking about being considerate of others, giving “no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God”. Completely the opposite of seeking our own satisfaction. 😉

  11. TC says:

    Simon, here is a summary: “Christian hedonism is the truth that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Therefore, if we are going to glorify God as we ought, the pursuit of joy is not optional—it is essential. We not only may, but ought to pursue our maximum pleasure—in God.” There’s an accompanying sermon here.

    Yes, in this context, the glory of God is revealed in our love for others. But our love for others from a motive of obedience of Christ is so that our joy may be full (John 15:11).

    • Simon says:

      TC, I disagree concerning our motive for loving others. Christ commands it because loving others is good and true. By your reasoning, Christ could have commanded us to do something evil if he had wanted and doing so would have been correct just because he said so. Loving others (and any other command for that matter) is an arbitrary command according to that reasoning.

      • TC says:

        Christ commands it because it brought glory to the Father (John 15:8). For Christ to command us to do evil, means that doing evil is within his character, his essence. And we both know better.

  12. Simon says:

    yes, evil is not in his character or essence. This is an ontological (emphasis!) reality. unfortunately the Reformed, because of their rigid forensic mindset, can’t seem to grasp ontological ways of thinking. God is good. What he does is good. This is what brings him glory, not simply glory for its own sake (which sounds like what the Reformed are saying). He does what is good and true. To put it simply, he loves because love is what is good and true. This is his glory.

    For the Reformed what does “glory” mean? Is it an abstraction, like how they would describe “faith”? What does it mean that Christs commandments bring glory to the Father? What is it about them that is glorious? I say that God’s goodness, mercy and his love is what is glorious about God. And when we move towards being like him (obeying his commandments), we bring glory and honor to God’s name. Ironically, the way the Reformed carry on (blaming tornados on God against Lutherans etc) does the exact opposite of bringing glory and honor to God’s name.

    • TC says:

      Simon, you’ve got this all wrong. I wish you would do your homework. For example, Calvin’s Institutes is all about the glory of God. I’m afraid that we’re in no position to accurately assess God’s glory on display. For example, Scripture says that God raised up Pharaoh to show his power and glory (Rom. 9:17).

      I’m afraid that you’re encouraging in caricatures and sweeping generalizations when it comes to the Reformed.

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