TE and Miracles

After reading a lot of material from John Walton over the past year, I’ve become convinced of his views on Genesis, and I now consider myself a theistic evolutionist. Lately, however, I’ve been struggling with miracles in the Bible, even the reported miracles of Jesus. I’ve found myself trying to find ways of justifying being a Christian and somehow explaining away the supernatural happenings in Scripture, but I don’t see any way around it: to be a Christian (seems to me) necessitates a belief in affirming the miracles reported in the Bible - especially the works of Christ. I could see how one could explain away the miracles of the Old Testament as being symbolic (like God parting the Red Sea for example), but when I get to the New Testament, it becomes more difficult. It seems like you either have to believe it all or nothing.

Is there anyone else who has dealt with this issue and come to any position they care to share? I am really having a hard time with it. TIA

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Could you elaborate a bit on why you feel the need to explain away supernatural happenings? Is that what you see TE/EC as doing, or as John Walton’s goal in his books? When you say you have to believe all or nothing, do you still see “all” as including the most literal interpretations of every book, especially the first few chapters in Genesis?

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Now that you have read Walton, it’s time to see what Keener has to say.

Where do I begin… looks like Walton and Keener teamed up on the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

Keener is no kidding one of the top NT scholars alive today, and his 2 volume work on Miracles is legendary. It began as a 200 page footnote to a 4 volume work on Acts.

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Good question. I guess since I’m coming from a YEC perspective of Genesis/the Bible, and now since I no longer believe that Genesis 1 is talking about creation ex nihilo (I also am convinced of Walton’s view of the Flood not covering the entire earth), my trajectory is more of seeing the Bible now through a different lens. I don’t see TE as a way to try and see everything in naturalistic terms, although I feel like that’s where I find myself, currently.

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Yeah I’m familiar with this work by Keener but I haven’t read it yet. Sounds like I need to. Do you ascribe to TE also?

Yes, I would have said I leaned OEC before I read Longman’s Confronting OT Controversies a couple years ago.

I’m not a big reader, so for me personally, the audiobook of Keener’s Miracles Today was a good introduction to his thinking and research. MT was written to be more accessible than the 2 volume work, and it doesn’t get into miracles before recent history.

His audio lectures on Revelation are also outstanding.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/12006960

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Yes, I can understand that point of view. I am also coming from a YEC perspective, and many times heard people like Ken Ham say or imply that if you accept that the earth is millions of years old you basically have to “throw out the entire Bible.” Obviously I don’t believe that now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still affected by those initial views. Sometimes just coming to a new understanding mentally doesn’t change the way those underlying assumptions have affected your thinking in other ways.

So it’s perfectly reasonable to have to ask, basically, “Now how do I see the Bible and what do I do with it?” I don’t want to throw it out. But I also know that I can no longer read it as if it were a National Geographic article.

I hope you know you’re not alone – many people have had to wrestle through these questions, and when it’s such a huge shift in your thinking, it doesn’t always just magically resolve itself – maybe that’s where the idea of “deconstruction” comes from – if you’ve built a lot of ideas on a (partially) wrong idea, it can feel like taking everything apart in order to figure out what to get rid of and what to rebuild.

One thing that has helped me is to keep reminding myself of what I’m most sure of and start from there. I believe in Jesus. And if he is the foundation of the Christian faith, then I’m allowed to start with faith in him and build from there – I don’t have to get everything else about the Bible “right” in order to have faith in Christ, which is what hardcore YEC talking points can sometimes imply. In other words, if Jesus is the foundation, then he doesn’t need other, lesser foundations under him that determine whether he stands or falls.

As far as Jesus’ miracles go, I acknowledge I was not there and did not see them, so to believe in them requires faith not just in him, but also a degree of faith in those who wrote the stories down – to believe that the Holy Spirit moved them to record correctly. For someone who is naturally skeptical in nature, this can be difficult, especially during a faith shift. I’ve had to remind myself that faith is not just a set of proposition that you mentally check off – it’s an active process, and I’m trying to explore more contemplative practices of faith that welcome questions and mystery rather than just focusing on absolute knowledge.

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My difficulty is in believing that God would be inconsistent in making the universe operate by natural law (and for a very good reason) and then arbitrarily breaking those laws Himself just to impress a bunch of ignorant people who couldn’t possibly know the difference anyway. But I don’t see any good reason to equate miracles with breaking or suspending the laws of nature. I do believe that God interacts with the world and alters the course of events and that is a sufficient definition of miracle for me… something which reveals God’s interaction with the world. Dale calls it providential timing, though He thinks it requires God’s control of everything and I do not. For me it is sufficient as a physicist to understand that the laws of nature are not a causally closed system. Things happen for which there are no hidden variables determining the outcome. This opens the door not only to God’s involvement but also to free will of the incompatibilist variety. For this reason I can be both a scientist and a Christian – though I suppose you can say this would be a Christian of the non-magical variety who believes that the difference between reality and a dream world is logical consistency where the ends are not independent of the means and thus God’s omnipotence is not merely the omnipotence of a dreamer but of one who creates things which are real according to a knowledge of how this can be accomplished.

Whereas I see no reason why these miracles could not have happen mostly as they are described but with a non-magical scientific explanation. There are numerous explanations for the mana coming down out of the sky, events which could cause the water of the Red Sea to withdraw, and the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night sound an awful lot like a volcanic eruption to me. Though none of this means they are not miracles because being a miracle doesn’t mean a violation of the laws of nature but the involvement of God in our lives. In this way, we do not have to resort to cessationism and saying that there are no more miracles in Christian life.

And I do not find the miracles of the New Testament to be any more difficult frankly. The most important, Jesus resurrection, not being a zombie or vampiric animation of the dead but a bodily resurrection to a spiritual body that does not stick around to continue living on the earth as if this is merely a return of biological life to a corpse.

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Ah! I think I might see where your dilemma arises.

Short form result. You can fully accept Walton on Gen 1-11 (and discard YEC in a trail of dust). Simultaneously, you can fully accept the miracle accounts in the gospels. Yes, holding both is perfectly possible. And below (long form) is how and why…

The first part of your statement is about the first few chapters of Genesis (creation up to and including the flood). Genesis 1-11. A small portion of one book in the entire multi-book Bible.

The second part of your statement is about “the Bible”. The whole, complete “Bible”.

Spot the difference?

It’s extrapolation. Extrapolation from a small scope (Gen 1-11) to a hugely greater scope (the Bible as a whole; or even just a hugely different part of the Bible: the gospel miracles). And extrapolation is a “red flag” something we always, always, always have to try to recognise, be alert to and be aware of. And when we spot extrapolation, we then hedge it about carefully and are very cautious about it, even critical of it. Just because some “X” is applicable and/or true in one scope doesn’t mean it remains applicable/true when extrapolated out beyond that scope.

Your statement has extrapolated. It has extrapolated a principle from something small (Gen 1-11 and Walton) to something bigger (the whole Bible).

The relevant part of Walton here is specifically about Gen 1-11. And about the context and interpretation of that specific small-scope sub-portion of Genesis. But Walton would almost certainly be the first in the queue to say “don’t extrapolate out to the rest of scripture”. Probably “don’t even extrapolate over the page-turn to chapter 12 (Abram) of Genesis”.

Walton’s work on creation and the flood and the similar Ancient Near East stories is addressing the particular literature within Gen 1-11. That is his scope. But that analysis does not really extend out past the end of the Noah story. Even to the most casual and inexperienced reader, there is massive, huge gear-shift as one leaves behind the Noah story and turns the corner into the Abram/Abraham narrative.

What Walton says about Genesis 1-11 (and note again how I stop at ch.11) has no bearing about how we read the miracles in the gospels. (OK, when we get really nerdy and really geeky one can make links.) To an extremely good first approximation when trying to get a foothold on all this, it is perfectly possible fully to accept Walton’s work on Gen 1-11 and simultaneously fully accept the miracles in the gospels.

Hope that helps.

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One thing that may help is looking into the various interpretations out there surrounding cessationism. Some threads go into detail about it.

I don’t take the 1st 11 chapters literally, but I’m fine with miracles. There doesn’t have to be either/or thinking here.

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God’s sovereignty does not mean that he has to intervene in everything, it means he can in anything and is never surprised.

Since he is free from the constraints of time and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”, then he is at the same time present in the present and in the future. To orchestrate whole sets of providential interventions also involves innumerably many necessary precursor events (think “the butterfly in Beijing” effect, actually multiple butterflies ; - ).

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For me this is indistinguishable from control of everything. Regardless of whether such a God intervenes or not He is the one making all the choices and deciding what will happen. Choosing not to act is still an action responsible for the result if you know what the results will be. And I don’t believe consciousness is possible unless one is making a choice between possible futures.

Freedom from the constraints of a particular temporal ordering does not free one from the constraints of logical coherence, except in a dream world. A conscious person, who is not just a character in an already written story, must choose between participating in the writing of a story and knowing its ending.

Maggie and Rich Stearns were puppets and not free to make any choices, nor were any of the others involved? Whose free will was countermanded? No one’s, but all of the events and sequences, their timing and placing, were by design.

The great mystery is how it all comes together when you see it happening.

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Maggie and Rich never had reason to doubt their choices or God’s intervention in their life.

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Why should this be symbolic?
I know that some people have a problem with supernatural miracles but, having had experience of such things in real life I do not have any problems at all. God is sovereign of HIs universe and therefore free to make or break whatever He wants. Besides, many of the Biblical miracles that were deemed “impossible” can now be explained by modern science, so who is to say that other things might not have an explanation as our knowledge increases?

Richard

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Since you mention it that way, I had an intense month long discussion with a person who claimed to be a PhD physicist last year. At one point in the discussion, quantum fluctuations were used as an explanation for recombination in the heat death of the universe.

My response, “but it’s still not an infinite number of future events” :sunglasses:

I agree that there is no need that all miracles in the OT are symbolic.

I also agree that experience helps crossing intellectual barriers caused by speculative interpretation of the biblical scriptures or the universe. Naturally also experienced phenomena need interpretation, so there is a need to be cautious in both types of interpretation.

Lets say 100 million people report witnessing miracles by God, either personally or within their close family. Probably the real number is currently larger than 100 millions but 100 is a nice number to play with.
Then assume that 95% of reported miracles are either misunderstandings (good luck) or partly fake reports. With this sceptical assumption, that would leave 5 million real miracles.
Even rising the 95% to 99,9% would leave 100’000 real miracles.

There are people who have decided that miracles do not happen, partly because they have not experienced any, partly because their philosophy excludes interventions by God. People like the famous Hume with his faulty assumptions/logic. Nothing could convince these people.
For a person with an open mind miracles are a real possibility, based on the numerous reports of miracles. Some miracles have been listed in the books by Keener, as noted above. Countless others in other books that are not academic.

Believing that miracles happen is not dependent on being a cessationist or non-cessationist because even cessationists believe that God can and have made miracles. Miracles are only problematic for persons that are convinced that there is no God or gods who are interested in the life of humans and willing to help.

If miracles happen today, there is no reason why the miracles told in the biblical scriptures cannot be true. The reports might be told from personal viewpoints, with no scientific knowledge, but that does not mean that the events reported would be false.

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