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Divine help for squirrels, too

01 May 2015

Mike Starkey reflects on a popular-style book about miracles


Miracles: What they are, why they happen, and how they can change your life
Eric Metaxas
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

THOMAS JEFFERSON was so embarrassed by claims of the miraculous in the Gospels that he edited a version of the Bible which removed them altogether. Down the years, the notion of miracles has come under steady fire. From one side, thinkers wedded to scientific naturalism rule them out a priori. From another side, some theologians ask whether the notion of God intervening from outside implies a picture of God as an absentee landlord rather than the One whose presence permeates all creation.

An early statement for the defence came from St Augustine, whose nuanced definition saw miracles as "contrary to what we know of nature". This was broadly the stance of C. S. Lewis's 1947 book Miracles, which remains popular to this day. Our approach to miracles is, of course, about more than miracles: it reveals fundamental assumptions about God, how God engages with the world, the nature of that world, and how we should pray.

Eric Metaxas is best known as author of a bestselling biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He now aims to do a C. S. Lewis for the 21st century, using miracles as a popular-level Christian apologetic. The book is in two halves, the first a defence of miracles. Here, Metaxas is insistent: God is "outside the system", and the miraculous is God "reaching in" from "out there". He includes an overview of recent scientific research on the origins of life and the universe, showing what a miracle it is that we are here at all.

The second half comprises stories of more homely miracles drawn from the author's circle of friends. These range from the frankly unremarkable (a family with an orphaned squirrel finding a lady who looks after squirrels) to the genuinely astonishing (the angelic rescue of a girl falling from a bridge). Most of the stories are inspiring and faith-building. But Metaxas never really engages with the harder questions: Why would God help me find my car keys, while apparently allowing cancer and genocide? What about claims for miracles in other faiths? If we claim God "shows up" in a miracle or time of worship, where is he the rest of the time?

One of the book's more remarkable stories happens at a Miracle Crusade of the controversial televangelist Benny Hinn. If Metaxas manages to arouse in Church Times readers a fresh sympathy for the ministry of Benny Hinn, now that really would be a miracle. 

The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for Church Army and a freelance writer.

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