Do You Believe in Miracles?


No, this is not a post about sportscaster Al Michaels and his famous call of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team victory over the Soviets.

This is a post about actual miracles.  Over at Commonweal, noted biblical scholar and Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson makes a case for them.  Here is a taste:

The fourth element in recovering a sense of wonder about God’s presence and power in the world is embracing the truth-telling capacity of myth. Secularity’s success in shaping Christian consciousness is nowhere more evident than in the double-minded discomfort of educated believers with mythic language. We have been taught by our learned theologians that such language, in which divine forces are said to operate within the world, may have been appropriate for ancient people who knew no better, but cannot in good conscience be reconciled with a “scientific” worldview. Whatever is good and lasting in Scripture, they say, must be stripped of what is false about the construction of the world, so that what is true about God and humans might be saved. Others have gone further, observing that “God” is just as mythic as the three-decker universe, and all that Scripture ultimately teaches us is about the cosmic projection of human alienation and longing. All this is long past argument for religion’s contemporary critics; for them, “religious myth” is a redundancy, since religion is as false as the stories it tells.

Discomfort with the language of myth pervades the religious life of the double-minded. Listening to the stories of fellow-believers eager to share how God is working in their lives is positively painful, and recounting such narratives to others embarrassing. Teaching or preaching on the miracles found in the Torah or in the gospels becomes an excruciating exercise in avoidance or explaining-away. Even the public prayer of the church gives the sophisticated pastor pause, if he or she really pays attention to the wonders for which liturgy gives thanks and the wonders it seeks from God. This discomfort with mythic language forms a huge stumbling block, and believers need to challenge secularity’s pretense that its discourse is sufficient to understand human existence in the world. We need to demystify, and reverse, secularity’s epistemological overreach.

Read the entire piece here.

One thought on “Do You Believe in Miracles?

  1. This was an excellent piece of writing. Years ago I read two of Johnson’s books and this article prompted me to put several others on my list.
    I was slightly but not overwhelmingly surprised that the article ran in Commomweal which has a reputation for emphasizing rather more mundane religious topics.
    It is noteworthy that Dr. Johnson is still at Candler which probably has a significant percentage of faculty falling within his double-minded category. Maybe he just likes Atlanta or possibly feels called to be a missionary of sorts at Emory.
    Johnson’s balancing of genuine scholarship with a Biblical sense of the miraculous is a hallmark of conservative/traditional Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, this healthy balance is scarce within liberal Mainline Protestantism which probably partially explains the rapid disappearance of this second type of ecclesiastical expression. Parts of Evangelicalism do a decent job keeping an equilibrium, but sometimes the evangelical scholarship falls short stopping at Biblical languages,textual criticism, and a smattering of Christian history.
    All in all, three cheers to Luke Timothy Johnson! I plan on re-reading this piece.


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