Author: Brian Onken
Publisher: Ambassador International
I’ve written lots of book reviews over the years at my blog, but those reviews were of books I wanted to read and review. This is probably my first ever review of a book that I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing. I said “sure,” and the folks were kind enough to send me a copy.
The person who contacted me from Ambassador International, the publisher of this book, has asked me in the past if I would be interested in others to review, but honestly, judging from the publicity material sent to me, each one of them sounded like it was written for women and would be sappy. (Not that solid, godly women only read sappy stuff, but I hope you get my drift). This book, More Than His God Card, piqued my interest, because the subject was a study on the miracles of Jesus.
The author, Brian Onken, is an instructor with a biblical equipping ministry called, The River located in South Carolina. His bio page says he has degrees from Talbot and Regent Universities and that he has pastored both small and large churches. He has also been a researcher and teacher with the Christian Research Institute (not sure if that is pre or post Hank), and he has worked with the Walk Thru the Bible ministry.
The thesis of the book is to show the reader how we can see Christ’s character put on display in the various miracles recorded throughout the four Gospel narratives. Rather than understanding that all of the miracles Christ performed were designed to manifest His deity, the miracles had other, special purposes in the ministry of Jesus.
The author considers the following miracle stories:
– The wedding feast from John 2
– The catch of fish from Luke 5
– The healing of the leper from Mark 1
– The raising of Jarius daughter and the healing of the bleeding woman from Mark 5
– The healing of the paralytic from Mark 2
– The healing of the man with the withered hand from Mark 3
– The stilling of the storm from Mark 4
– The healing of the deaf and dumb man from Mark 7
– Jesus walking on water from Matthew 14
– Jesus healing the demonized girl from Matthew 15
– The feeding of the multitude from Mark 6
– The resurrection of Lazarus from John 11
– Jesus appearing to Thomas in John 20
The overall study of the subject of Christ’s miracles was commendable, and in many instances encouraging, but I thought that the author was trying too hard to prove his thesis. He made desperate attempts with explaining away the miracles of Christ as Him showing forth His “God card.” In a way, it was like he was intentionally avoiding those clear passages that obviously display Christ’s deity.
Let me provide a couple of examples.
Consider his study of the healing of the paralytic from Mark 2. With this story, a group of friends bring a man who was paralyzed to Jesus so that He would heal Him. When the friends lower him through a hole in the roof in the middle of where Jesus was teaching, He tells the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven him. Shocked by such blasphemous words coming out of His mouth, the scribes grumbled among themselves that no one can forgive sins but God. Knowing what they were grumbling about, Jesus asks, “What is easier? To say ‘your sins or forgiven’ or take up your bed and walk? But to show you that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins, I say take up your bed and walk,” and immediately, a man who was severely crippled with what amounted to a spinal cord injury, was completely healed.
With just a simple reading of the passage, especially the exchange between Jesus and the scribes, it’s pretty clear that He was pulling out His “God card.” The reason I have authority to forgive sins, Jesus says, is because I am God, and to show you that I am God, I will deliver this man from his paralysis and restore him to complete health, which He did. Onken, instead, seizes upon the description Jesus gives Himself, “the Son of Man,” and concludes,
Although we might hear that title as one with a divine ring to it, it is a title that would have been used to refer to the Messiah — God’s appointed and anointed deliverer. By itself, it would not have been heard as claiming, “I am God.” 
So in other words, Jesus wasn’t claiming He was God when He healed that man, but that He had merely been given authority as the Son of Man to do it.
But while it is true that the title “Son of Man” is a Messianic title, it is one that is linked to divinity and only one specific person can rightly claim that title for Himself, a man who is God.
Look at Daniel 7:13ff., where the prophet sees in a vision “one like a Son of Man” coming to the Ancient of Days and He is given an everlasting kingdom and will rule the nations with absolute sovereignty. Only God rules with absolute sovereignty and He does not share His glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8). Mark later retells how Jesus cited that vision from Daniel and applied it to Himself when He was on trial before the religious leaders, (Mark 14:62). The reaction by the high priest after hearing Jesus apply that passage to Himself was that He blasphemed, which means he recognized Jesus was calling Himself God.
Another example is when Jesus fed the multitude in Mark 6. After reviewing the passage about the miracle, Onken draws a rather simplistic observation that focuses upon the left over fish and bread and Jesus calling the disciples to come and rest with him. The take-away principle, he notes, is how we as Christians are called to do life with Jesus and trust Him that He will always provide what is necessary when we are challenged with overwhelming needs .
Okay, I suppose; but can we really say that is the point to the miracle? That Jesus wasn’t putting on display His “God card?” What is missed in Onken’s study is the follow up to this miracle that is found in John’s gospel in chapter 6, and in fact, he doesn’t even mention John’s account.
John recounts what happened the day following Christ’s feeding of the multitude. Those people Jesus fed chased Him around the Sea of Galilee so as to force Him to set up a divinely ran welfare state with Jesus as king. They had recognized immediately after the miraculous feeding that Jesus was divine because only God can create food out of thin air (John 6:14-15).
When they found Jesus, He rebuked them for fixating upon the miracle rather than who He was and His mission to give men eternal life. Jesus then identified Himself with the manna from heaven when God divinely provided food for Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt (Exodus 16) and used that OT event to picture the salvation God provides through Him. So while it is true that the feeding of the multitude shows how Jesus meets basic, daily needs and provides what is necessary when we are confronted with overwhelming need, the greater purpose of the miracle was bringing us to the dialog Jesus had with the crowd the following day in which the sign was designed to display the divine person and work of Jesus.
In addition to the strained attempts that explain away those clear miracles that were meant to display Christ’s deity, many of the devotional principles the reader is supposed to take away from the stories were a bit contrived. For example, the healing of the man with the withered hand from Mark 3 was meant to show us how Jesus will never embarrass us or put us at risk [110-111]. The stilling of the storm is (of course!) the confidence that Jesus will still the storms of our lives . And Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus shows us God’s invitation to a life of adventure with Him [155-156].
I can say for myself that I thought the book was an “Okay” study of Christ’s miracles. I commend the author’s attempt to highlight the many facets of Christ’s miracles we may tend to glance over with a quick read of the Scriptures. However, I think his avoidance of the so called “God card” miracles is forced and ultimately causes his study to fall flat. But the book can definitely serve as supplemental devotional material for a preacher teaching through the Gospel narratives and who may need some fresh insights with practical application of those texts.
My final take on the book: I think his study would be remarkably improved if he would shift his focus away from trying to disprove the “God card” option with Christ’s miracles and instead show how those miracles subtly reveal Christ’s deity when Christ perfectly demonstrated His divine attributes during His ministry. His miracles were His “God card,” but they manifested His deity by revealing how He is a perfectly loving, gracious, compassionate, sovereign, and saving God.