Charismatic ombudsman, Steve Hays, was annoyed by one of my recent tweets. I had twittered out a link to a documentary trailer on UFOs in which wide-eyed enthusiasts passionately testify to the overwhelming evidence that extraterrestrial vehicles dominate our skies. How can thousands of eye-witnesses be wrong? Well, of course they can’t be; the evidence is just too powerful.
I merely noted that the eye-witnesses to UFO activity are just as confident and absolute certain that UFOs exist (because they saw them) as Pentecostal/charismatics are certain modern day miracles happen (because they saw them). Watch that video. Switch the word “UFO” with “miracle” or “healing” and the testimonies are so similar it’s uncanny.
Now some will suggest, like Steve, that I am being borderline atheistic. Witnesses to UFOs are the same as witnesses to miraculous healing? Really, Fred? I mean, that’s like the kind of skeptical arguments David Hume puts forth, or so am I am told.
But let’s consider the broader picture here.
Certainly there are objects that fly around in the sky that are unidentifiable. I’ve seen my share of unidentifiable objects flying in the air on a few occasions during my life. My first inclination, however, is not to conclude when I see one that they are aliens scouting out a cow to mutilate or a lumberjack to probe. Those people who draw those conclusions are wildly off in left field.
None the less, UFO believers still claim they have evidence. Not only their very own eye-witness testimony, but also photographic and video evidence and even in some cases, tangible evidence in the form of debris, or landing spots, or even implants that have been removed from abductees.
Yet, even with that weight of crushing evidence, I still remain unconvinced that what UFOs there may be jetting around in the atmosphere, they are extraterrestrial in origin. I further do not believe folks are being picked up and medically probed or having their DNA harvested to make hybrids. It is just not happening. Call me a doubter if you want.
I can also say the same about all the claims of the miraculous that are said to be happening. I remain unconvinced that a major portion of it is the Spirit of God working through gifted individuals.
None the less, charismatics attempt to challenge us MacArthurite naysayers with the evidence. They trot out the countless eye-witness, baffled medical doctors, and in some cases the before and after X-ray pictures to document the proof that such-and-such a person was healed or healed some other person.
The current go to charismatic apologist for such “evidence” is quasi-evangelical, Craig Keener, professor of NT at Ashbury Theological seminary. He has published a two-volume work on modern day miracles that documents hundreds of alleged miracles that happen all over the world, like, everyday.
Because he is a seminary prof, that lends him a bit more credibility than your average Pentecostal tent revivalist or TV preacher. Moreover, everyone agrees that his two books are impressive. He and his graduate assistants have managed to collect a ton of footnoted documentation. The last 1/3 of the second volume is bibliography so that shows you the level of research that has been put into his work.
Charismatics and their sympathizers elevate Keener’s books on miracles to almost an infallible status. In the online discussions leading up to and after the Strange Fire conference, whenever us MacArthurites even dared to question the legitimacy of modern day faith healing claims, someone would always drop Keener’s name thinking it would silence cessationist opposition immediately. I guess folks believe when they ask “what about Keener’s books on miracles?” cessationists are to just bow their trembling heads and confess that they have no answer.
Yet, as I have noted on previous occasions, Keener’s work is fraught with some problems. The most glaring in my mind is the fact that he attributes miracle working power and miraculous happenings to heretical individuals and aberrant groups. For example, Roman Catholics, metaphysical cultists like the Bethel Redding group, and false teachers like Oral Roberts. I can’t recall off hand if he mentioned all the miraculous claims among Mormons and Hindus but I could be mistaken.
Now Keener doesn’t seem to be bothered by the lack of theological purity among those claiming to be miracle workers or the miraculous happening among spiritually aberrant groups. In fact, he even suggests in his book that the theological orthodoxy question, though perhaps an important one, isn’t really the focus of his study. He goes on to write how he believes God, being the benevolent deity He is, will work miracles among theologically unorthodox people, even among non-Christians, because God is loving and compassionate on His creatures desiring to alleviate suffering and misery among humanity. Sort of a continuationist ecumenism. I am not as accommodating as he is.
When someone raised the specter of Keener’s work against cessationism on some Facebook forum, I left a remark asking if the commenter agreed with Keener’s affirmation of the miraculous happening among those heretical groups. Steve, always alert to such online obscurities, wrote a head-wagging response chastising my even raising this problem. He noted Kathryn Kuhlman as an example, because Keener has an extended section in his book on her specifically and he lays out the “medical evidence.”
I’ll say up front that I believe Kuhlman was a flim-flam artist who was never used by God to heal anyone. All of her alleged “healings” pale in comparison to the countless, desperate souls she destroyed. People who went to her crusades pleading with God for a miracle of healing only to be shuffled aside by attendees and left alone in despair asking themselves “why didn’t God want to heal me?”
Those individuals Keener never mentions, but he does provide, as Steve points out, “medical evidence” of Kuhlman’s claims. But it really isn’t “evidence;” It’s more like eye-witness testimony from medical doctors, a lot of it taken from Jamie Buckingham’s hagiographies on Kuhlman’s career.
Keener cites from Kuhlman’s book, I Believe in Miracles, in which she gives high praise to medical doctors. In Keener’s words, “Kuhlman respected the healing work of doctors.” But if one would actually read the entire section from where Keener pulls that citation, she didn’t really.
Kuhlman first equated the natural ability of the human body to heal itself with the “miraculous.” Certainly we can all marvel at the human body’s capability to heal itself and recover from some of the most catastrophic injuries. But that is not the supernatural gift of healing. Certainly not in the supernatural, miracle type Keener is suggesting. Moreover, while she paid lip-service to the medical profession as “miracle workers” like in the setting of a bone for example, she did so only for the purposes of covering her failures, or in the broader case, the victim’s failure.
After she goes on talking about how wonderful the medical profession is, she states, “If you are ill, and have not yet received the gift of faith so that you do not believe in miracles, get yourself the best medical assistance possible, and pray that God shall work through the human vessel…” Notice how if you are ill, whatever that means, but you haven’t yet received the gift of faith so that you do not believe in miracles, then seek out a doctor.
In other words, if you are Joni Erickson Tada, you know, the girl Steve says I was hiding behind, and if you got shuffled aside at one of Kuhlman’s crusades and totally ignored, why it isn’t her fault you didn’t get healed, it was your own lack of faith that God hadn’t given you yet, so go try the best medical assistance you can find in the meantime.
You see, it’s that sort of “evidence” that is compelling to me, the kind brushed off by Keener and his fans. Desperate people with incurable illness and handicaps who are promised they can be healed, but when the healing never comes they are essentially at fault for not believing hard enough. That is the clearest evidence available, the kind that is undeniable, and proves to me the claims of charismatic contiuationists are largely bankrupt.