Another Thread on Miracles (Lee Strobel book)

There has been some interesting discussion here on miracles over the years, and I thought of you guys listening to this CT podcast yesterday. The title is kind of click-baity because the episode really doesn’t go into the whole “wake up Olive” story at all. But I guess Strobel just spent two years investigating some contemporary miracles and wrote a book, probably less academic than Craig Keener’s.

One story that got discussed in the episode was of MS patient Barbara Snyder, who evidently got up from a hospice deathbed totally healed. Interesting stuff.

The episode touched on a lot of themes that have been discussed here; the embarrassment some scientifically-minded Christians seem to feel over the miracle stories in the Bible, people who deny that miracles happen today, the huge number of reported and verified miracles in countries where the gospel is advancing in new places. Anyway, I thought it was worth a listen for anyone who likes the topic. I have so many books on my “to read” list, I probably won’t ever get to The Case for Miracles, but maybe some of you will.


Interesting. Not sure what I think, as while some stories are impressive, documentation is often sparse and subjective in nature.

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MS is one of those tricky diagnoses that can be more clinical and historic than empiric. Conversion disorder is a real thing too. On the other hand, one man from my church was on Hospice (for heart disease) out over the slotted time, left it, and married his nurse!

But it isn’t always. That was kind of the point of the book. He found pretty extensive documentation of several of the accounts. And it sounded like there was one study not even run by Christians where they went to China and Brazil to these poor rural areas where there were all these accounts of healings as the church was introduced and they did medical testing on people who were functionally blind or deaf before and after experiencing healings, and got they got documented results in both places. I guess you could be a cynic and say the people just lied about their initial condition, but they were brought in by family members who attested to the problems.

I guess for me I am cynical when it comes to this subject because I believe the Bible teaches Cessationism with them end of the apostolic age. Every person I’ve met can never do anything. So because I see scripture as teaching that and can’t never find a real verifiable case or anyone that can’t instantly heal or raise someone from the dead just by laying hands on them. It just makes me not believe anyone who says it.

To clarify the book is not about people claiming to have the gift of healing and whether they are frauds or not. God performs miracles, people don’t. It is about whether miracles ever happen as a result of prayer. The author defines miracles, not like Hume as some kind of breaking of natural law, but as an event that is an exception to the way events naturally would have been expected to go that believers see an intervention from God. So for example, there could possibly be a yet unknown biological explanation for why a person’s cancer inexplicably goes into remission and once damaged organs are regenerated to health. But it could also be God orchestrating biology on some level to heal. I think there is a strong thread of witnesses throughout church history that unexpected and inexplicable things have happened in answer to prayers or as signs of God’s power.

In that case I can believe it. The Bible teaches us to pray to God for anything and even have elders annoying you with oil in prayer. I believe that God answers prayers and people who for not reason start to do better and so on.

To me that’s different from how I see people typically referring to miracles such as the examples I mentioned of automatic healing through laying on of hands of a shadow passing over them and so on. Like in scripture when the apostles or Jesus just tell someone, “ get you can now walk” and so on.

We should ask ourselves what we think miracles to be and why we it would take a miracle for us to believe in God.
“The unexplained happens”,- so God- is not a satisfactory basis for faith, but “the explained happens” is. If our miracle teaching is used to give people rise to the hope of self glorification in the hope for the everlasting self, the miraculous healing for a continuum of our self existence we have to save ourselves from such temptation. The reason that the resurrected Christ was not recognised by his physical attributes but by actions should give us something to think about. The miracle is that he can live in us and we in him, not in being ourself forever, let alone with idealised bodily attributes.
If we pray to God to heal our fellow church members, particularly “for the sake of his son Jesus Christ” we should ask ourselves why Jesus would be in need of “sake” and why we would ask God to heal them instead of making us help towards their healing. Would there be any excuse for doing so in the first place other than wishful thinking praying “my wish/will be done”?

I was however intrigued by the bias of that well used prayer study argument I will have to study further. Why I usually just question the attitude to prayer to begin with I had not heard of the bias of the study


What Marvin is referring to is a study done by Harvard of heart patients that were prayed for or not prayed for where the prayed for group actually did worse. Strobel said the people hired to pray for patients were all from the Unity Church’s SIlent Unity prayer line. The Unity Church is a New Age-ish group that teaches God is your higher self and Christ is the divinity in all people. Not exactly a Christian group that prays for people in Jesus’ name.

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I think Raiser has good comments here:

Also I just read a CSLewis essay on the Efficacy of Prayer…it is copyrighted but cheap. It is really insightful. It kind of points out for example that prayer is trying to get to God’s point of view. An experiment is by definition not seeking His point of view.

what is actually more intriguing is how they claim to get a group that is not prayed for. It is impossible as to the amount of people who pray for all the people who suffer. I guess it was organised by a group that had no idea about the concept of how to set up experimental controls. Even if you would hire the people from the Vatican or the pope himself you should not get a different outcome unless God would be biased.

It is interesting you mention them not to pray for people in Jesus’ name. The question is who would qualify for that and who would not and who are we to judge? If I were to pray in Jesus name I would have to pray to God to let me do his will to his Glory and not to let him do someone else’s will, even if it be to satisfy someones need to create data for a study on prayer. It just does not make sense.

So instead of wondering if others are fit to pray in the name of Jesus if I may not be so myself, I prefer to ask how someone could imagine someone not being prayed for. It tells us a lot about those who conducted such a study. Perhaps they believed that if they are only prayed for by some insignificant primitive goat herder it surely could not make a God of their imagination act upon it. Mercy be upon the soul of those who think that way.

And thanks to @Randy for the link

The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren’t prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

And here is the deflationary outcome:

Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

At 600 I would expect a 4% sampling error alreay, which makes me wonder what significance they attributed to the result. At a rate of 10% positives in the 600 the sampling error would be a whopping 13% for a 95% confidence interval,so 59+/- 7.7, so the 52 would not be significant. Anyone here to check my stats?

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Randal Rauser’s response is a good and important one. He makes the point that prayer is all about relationship, and these prayer studies lose that particular aspect completely.

In fact, they go in exactly the opposite direction. They treat God as if He were some kind of vending machine or laboratory animal. If I were God I’d actually find that kind of approach offensive.

As Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Luke 4:12)

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It’s more than the “He’s not a tame lion”–Rauser does a good job.

It’s kind of hard to control supernatural variables, isn’t it? And it’s not like God is obligated to answer prayer by healing people.

I think Strobel was pointing out that Jesus gave instructions about how to pray, one of them being, “if you ask anything in my name it will be given to you,” and his point was that you can’t test the efficacy of Christian prayer if you don’t have people who believe in Christian prayer doing the praying. But I agree with the general sentiment that trying to scientifically “prove” prayer works or doesn’t work with some kind of controlled experiment is a little ridiculous.

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It really would be odd if prayer was shown to be efficacious in terms of yielding the desired result. It being shown to be true would seem to imply that God was a force of nature to be harnessed by men by mastering the technology of prayer.


Actually there is plenty of very well documented cases. My friend Micael Grenholm wrote a book (in Swedish) called Documented Miracles. He has collected 40 examples of people getting healed where there was (a) clear medical evidence of their illness, and (b) drastic results documented by the medical profession afterwards. Many of these are from Sweden where we have excellent doctors and technical capabilities to investigate illnesses. Several examples also have accompanying spiritual experiences (prophetic leading from the Lord, visions, sensations) making them even more remarkable.

In addition to this we have the research by Candy Gunther Brown, talked about in the episode and the two thick volumes by Craig Keener. Since Keener wrote them he has collected even more stories of the miraculous, with excellent documentation.

Randy Clark wrote a dissertation titled “A Study of the Effects of Christian Prayer on Pain or Mobility Restrictions from Surgeries Involving Implanted Materials”, where he shows of metal implants and other implants in many cases have disappeared, no longer being needed as the bodies have been healed. (Hardly placebo and easily verified using x-ray.)

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I wrote a lengthy response in another thread arguing that miracles and theistic evolution go very well hand in hand and that we must not confuse love of science with scientism and a naturalistic worldview. I think it is well worth checking out.

Miracles happen often, but people who don’t believe in the possibility rarely see them.

A friend of mine raised a person from the dead. And I have seen reports from the Cru (formerly Campus Crusade) Jesus
Film Project that reported many miracles, including raising from the dead.

God hasn’t left the planet.

Even my great-grandfather was visited by an angel who predicted his death 3 days later.

I suppose not many of us here have friends that make that claim! I’d be interested in hearing you tell your friend’s story here if you’re so-inclined to share.

…and not that I don’t find your great-grandfathers vision experience potentially interesting too, but when it follows a casual mention of someone being raised from the dead … are we talking resuscitation after few minutes? or shocking the grieving family already in full Lazarus mode? I just finished a 19th century novel where a much beloved character was taken for dead, and left to lie undisturbed for several days; after which they noticed shallow breathing and she got up and resumed life. While it was fiction, I gather this wasn’t all that unheard of back then (hence the stories about “dead ringers” and all). Of course today EMTs would probably do a bit more than just feeling for a pulse. So one hopes there are no accidental burials any more. Embalming would put a real damper on early resurrection possibilities one should think. But I digress … your friend’s story?


It was the version with shocking grieved family, although it was prayer and laying on of hands minutes (not days) after he had died.

The same friend has called down lightning, and I have spoken to a witness to the event.

For that matter, I have also read about raising of the dead from a confidential newsletter from the Jesus Film Project of Campus Crusade (now Cru), a mission that I support financially.

My great-grandfather came to my grandfather’s house when my mother was a little girl. My mother saw and heard the events and told me the story. He said an angel had come and stood at the end of his bed and told him to get ready, that he would die in 3 days. They did not believe him, thinking it was a dream. He assured them that it was really, with an angel glowing bright white. Three days later they found him dead in the bed, having died in his sleep.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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