Friday, November 1, 2013

Responding to Hays' Article on Critically Thinking About Miracles

Critical Thinking on Miracles - Steve Hays
i) It's striking that MacArthurites like Ed and Fred are utterly oblivious to the fact that their objection to modern charismata parrots the atheist objection to God's existence. If there is a God, why doesn't he heal amputees? If God exists, why doesn't he cure every patient in a cancer ward?

Same thing with atheists and prayer studies. If God answers prayer, then that ought to show up on double-blind experiments. 

Charismatics can respond to the cessationist objection in the same way cessationists respond to the atheist objection. If a cessationist defends himself by saying God doesn't heal amputees because it's not God's will to heal amputees, and God has a good reason for not doing so, then a charismatic can defend himself by saying God doesn't empower a modern-day Christian to heal amputees because it's not God's will to heal amputees, and God has a good reason for not doing so–either directly or indirectly. 

ii) Likewise, Jesus and the apostles didn't try to prove themselves by searching for sick people to heal. Rather, sick people came to them. 

iii) Now, bad arguments can be persuasive because they contain a grain of truth. The element of truth lends a specious plausibility to a bad argument. And that's the case here. 

I think Fred is calling the bluff of charismatics. And up to a point, there's nothing wrong with that. It's like calling a psychic's bluff by taking the psychic out of her controlled environment, where she can manipulate the variables, and putting her in a situation where she has to do cold readings. 

Notice how Fred prefaces the challenge:
if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands. 
And there are undoubtedly continuationists who claim that. So that's a fair challenge.

iv) However, there's no reason to think the alternative to cessationism must be believing that "signs and wonders are a part of the normalChristian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people."

v) For instance, how do cessationists define faith-healers? Let's take a comparison:

a) A Christian prays for a cancer patient. The next day, the cancer is gone.

b) A Christian lays hands on a cancer patient and prays over the patient. The next day, the cancer is gone.

Is (b) a faith-healer, but (a) is not? Is that the distinction? If not, is there some other differential factor?

vi) What if a Christian has the "gift of healing," but doesn't claim to be a faith-healer? Suppose he or she simply acquires a reputation for having the ability to heal, without doing anything to cultivate that image or advertise that fact? Is that Christian a faith-healer? 

vii) If a Christian is a healer, does that mean he or she must be able to heal anyone and everyone? If a serial killer with terminal cancer comes to her, and she lays hands on him or prays for him, and he still dies of cancer, does that mean she's a fraud? 

What if it wasn't God's will to heal the terminal serial killer? Unlike the faith-healer, God knows who this individual is. God knows what this individual will do if miraculously cured. Therefore, God blocks or withholds healing. 

viii) If someone claims to be a faith-healer or miracle-worker, then we have every right to demand evidence. That, however, is different from proposing an artificial litmus test. 

If Jesus heals a women who suffers from internal bleeding (Mt 19:18-26), but he doesn't heal someone dying of radiation sickness, the latter doesn't cancel out the former.  We should judge each case by the evidence for (or against) each case. The fact that nothing happened in one case isn't evidence that nothing happened in another case.    

ix) It's also illogical to prejudge the question of modern charismata by charismatic claims. Whether or not modern charismata occur is irrespective of what charismatics claim, one way or the other. It's undoubtedly the case that many charismatics make exaggerated claims or entertain exaggerated expectations. However, disproving exaggerating claims–which is a worthwhile exercise in itself–does nothing to disprove modern charismata. 

If a weather forecaster predicts that it will rain 5 days in a row, and it only rains 3 out of 5 days, his prediction was false. But his mistake doesn't falsify the reality that it rained 3 days out of 5. He was partially wrong, but he was partially right. The event is independent of his claims. Disproving his specific claims does nothing to disprove a weather event. 

Cessationists and charismatics can't prescribe or proscribe reality. It will be whatever it will be, regardless of their prognostications. 

Ultimately, you need to judge the question of modern miracles, not by what cessationists or charismatics claim, but by what really happens–or doesn't. If the incidence of miracles is lower than the rate which Pentecostals optimistically predict, the mismatch disproves Pentecostalism, but it does nothing to disprove the miracles which do occur–assuming they occur. It's unfortunate that so many cessationists fail to draw that fundamental distinction.
I wanted to take a moment to respond, albeit briefly, to Hays' criticism. Cessationists do not assert that God cannot or never heals cancer patients through the prayers of believers. The fact that God heals someone of cancer through prayer does not indicate that a person has the gift of healing.

The only thing you need to understand in order to recognize the extreme weakness in Steve's argument is the fact that we are not talking about facts here. Steve is not talking about anything real. Steve is talking about hypotheticals, speculations, what-ifs, possibilities, the abstract. Notice that Steve's healers, miracle workers, and tongue-speakers never have names. They are nothing more than components of Hays' arguments. They do not rise to the level of actuality. With all due respect to Steve Hays, what we are interested in, what I think Fred Butler is interested in, what it seems John MacArthur and the rest of us are interested in is what is actually the case. What is the actual state of affairs that have obtained in terms of the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the NT era?

In addition, Steve spends more time arguing for the possibility that these gifts have continued than he does really interacting with our very real, very pastoral, very loving concerns. It is not the case that we simply don't like this theology so we pick a fight with those who subscribe to it. That isn't it at all. What we know for sure is a clear and serious issue from Scripture is the practice of claiming that God is speaking and working in certain ways. We know this claim is incredibly serious. In other words, if anyone says God said, then God most certainly had better said! If someone says, behold! The work of God in your midst! Then it better be the work of God. In and of itself, such claims are as serious as any claim could be. In addition, the people who naively accept these claims, if they are false, are being lied to and hurt by the millions. That is a very serious matter. However, it seems to be something for which Steve Hays show little concern.

Concerning whether miracles ever occur, that is a red-herring in this argument. It is one Hays continues to parade about as if it means something. It does not. John MacArthur does not deny the possibility that God may work miracles and/or heal if such is His will. Strange Fire has never been about that! Hays, in my opinion knows better. His latest post seems more like a bit of a retraction to me than anything else. I am thinking of the current political debacle known as Obamacare. Strange Fire is concerned with the claims that faith-healers and miracle workers along with open revelation continue to this day. It is a distinguishing mark among modern Charismatics. Those who reject these views are in the small minority, a fringe element of Charismatics that are so small, they don't show up on the Charismatic radar.

What Hays needs to do if he wants to advance his argument and regain any credibility for his position is to provide some actual evidence that healings and miracles are a routine occurrence within a specific person's ministry. That would be helpful. Otherwise we are left to counter his hypothetical, non-existent miracle workers, pointing to a massive lack of any empirical evidence for his imaginary world, and that just isn't much fun nor is it much of a challenge. These are real concerns about real claims of real miracle workers and the real impact they are having on real people. That is the state of affairs we are concerned with as opposed to the imaginary miracle workers and healers that Hays loves to pretend could exist somewhere in the world. In my opinion, there is very little critical thinking in Steve's article on that subject. Steve seems to be saying the same thing as Alice:

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" 

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