We know God worked many and mighty miracles throughout biblical times, but for many Christians, we don’t see as much evidence for miracles in our lives as there was in biblical times. You won’t want to miss Scott’s interview with Dr. Craig Keener, renowned New Testament scholar, who has done in depth research on miracles today. This discussion is a summary of the high points of his 2 volume, over 1000 page books entitled, Miracles. Join us for this fascinating discussion of miracles today.
More About Our Guest
Dr. Craig Keener holds the F.M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. A prolific author, he has written numerous bible commentaries and other works in biblical studies, in addition to his 2 volume work, Miracles.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically, Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.
We're here at the meetings at the Evangelical Theological Society talking with Dr. Craig Keener. Craig serves with me on the Board of Evangelical Theological Society. He is the F.M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is, let's just say he is one of the most prolific biblical scholars that I'm aware of and is so productive. He is the author of 24 books and there's a couple of books that I want to talk to you about today, Craig.
So welcome. Thank you for being with us. We really appreciate your taking the time to come be on the podcast with us.
Craig Keener: It's my privilege. Thank you so much for having me.
Scott Rae: Tell me first, one of the books I'd like to talk about first is the book Impossible Love. It's a story of how you met your wife, Medina, and I'm taking I pronounced that correctly.
Craig Keener: Medine.
Scott Rae: Close, Medine. Tell our listeners a little bit a how you two met and why you wrote the book, Impossible Love.
Craig Keener: Well everybody has a love story. Well I shouldn't say everybody, but lots of people have love stories. But this one, I think, we were also able to communicate something of guts, heart in the midst of suffering. Medine was a war refugee for 18 months in her country of Congo. Now that also put me through some struggles because we were already close friends at that point. I wasn't able to be in touch with her for that year and a half, but I didn't know if she was alive or dead. All I knew was the last letter I got from her said that she didn't know if she was going to live or die. And ... Anyway, so it's the story of how we got together.
We originally met when we were, she was an exchange student and I was doing my PhD in New Testament at Duke. She was doing her work in history.
Scott Rae: And she's a PhD also.
Craig Keener: Yes. Here PhD is in history. It's in American History, which is not, well there's a lot of Americans who can teach American History, so she especially teaches French.
Scott Rae: I see.
Craig Keener: Which is her first language.
Scott Rae: So how did, how did she become a war refugee? Did she go back to Congo after her PhD studies?
Craig Keener: Yes. She went back. She wanted to be with her family even though there was a war going on. And when she got there ... It's a long story. She, first of all she ended up having to flee from the capital where she was teaching French at the U.S. Embassy, sorry, she was teaching English at the U.S. Embassy for Francophone Congolese residents. And she'd also been teaching some at the University there, but she had to flee the capital sick with malaria. And then some months later war came to her hometown in [inaudible] and she had to flee again. This time with them pushing her father, disabled father in a wheel barrel and they left a home that they would never see again and ended up basically in the forest, or villages in the forest, abandoned buildings, for the next year and a half. Sometimes running for their lives. At any given time some member of the family was deathly sick from malaria or typhoid or something else. And just trying to stay ahead of the soldiers and the fighting.
Scott Rae: And then she made it safely to the U.S. and then you were reunited again.
Craig Keener: Yeah, she came on a fiance visa, which unfortunately took a bit longer than it should have because by the time we finally made up our minds to get together 9/11 happened right when we were getting ready to send the materials in. So things got delayed. She actually ended up being stranded in a third country for about eight months before she could get to the U.S., but the Lord did so many miracles along the way and we're grateful for this.
Scott Rae: Sounds like an amazing story. If you want to, for our listeners, if you want to read a little bit more about it Craig's written a fairly lengthy book on the whole, the whole narrative of that called Impossible Love. And we'll have a way that you can access that in the transcript of this.
Craig Keener: Thanks. It's not [inaudible] a short book. We had to cut 45% of it to make it as short as it was, but then again, I'm not known for writing short books.
Scott Rae: Well that gets us to the books that I want to talk more about today. I think we could say your relationship with Medine and how you guys, the two of you made it together, counts as one of those major miracles in your life. But you've written a two volume set over, excess of a 1000 pages on the subject of miracles.
And so I guess my first question is, what motivated you to undertake that because your field has been pretty technical New Testament studies. You've written a lot of commentaries on the Gospels. You're an expert on the life and teachings of Paul. So what made you want to go in this direction?
Craig Keener: Well if you ask me what motivated me to write a 1000 page book on miracles I could say nothing because I wasn't planning to do it initially, but it was certainly one of the most enjoyable projects I've worked on. We're all aware of suffering in the world, but miracles is a happy topic. I just was trying to write a footnote for my Acts Commentary because one of the arguments against the reliability of Acts, you know, one fifth of Acts or one third of Mark roughly, deal with miracles. Healings, casting out spirits, nature miracles in Mark and so on. And you just ... Well that was one of the reasons people argued against their reliability. So if I'm dealing with historic, historiographic questions, historical reliability questions, I needed to deal with the issue of whether these kinds of things could happen. So it was just going to be a footnote, but as I researched it more and more it grew more and more. And by teacher time it was 200 pages I decided okay, this needs to be a separate book.
Scott Rae: I'd say that's quite a footnote!
Craig Keener: Yeah, and by the time ... Yeah and eventually it was over a 1000.
Scott Rae: Okay. So tell our listeners some of the stories that you uncovered as a result of your research. What are some of the things that just sort of blew your mind that you researched, heard about, read about, came into first hand contact with as you explored this subject.
Craig Keener: Yeah, I could give you a 1000 pages worth of examples, but I'll tell you one that really blew my mind and that was, because it was something so close to us. I had heard the story before from my wife, but it was actually when I interviewed the, my wife's source, that I got the details.
I was talking with Antoinette Malumbay with my wife translating for me 'cause my wife knew the story only second hand herself. So we interviewed Antoinette Malumbay. She talked about when here daughter Terese was two years old that she cried out that she had been bitten by a snake and by the time her mother had got to her she found her not breathing. There was no medical help available in the village so she strapped the child to her back and ran to a nearby village where family friend [inaudible] was doing ministry. And Coco [inaudible] prayed and Terese started breathing again and the next day she was fine. And now she has a Masters degree from the seminary in Cameroon. So I asked Antoinette Malumbay, "How long was it that Terese wasn't breathing?" She had to stop and think to kind of calculate, well to get from this village to that village with this mountain and that mountain, she said, "About three hours."
Now of course, after six minutes with no oxygen you have irreparable brain damage starting in, but Terese had no brain damage. And this is not by any means the most dramatic story I found. Or even the most dramatic story I found from somebody that I or my wife knows, but this one was particularly mind blowing to me because Antoinette Malumbay was my mother-in-law and Terese is my sister-in-law.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Craig Keener: That got my attention.
Scott Rae: Wow, I guess it did. So that, I mean that would almost qual, I mean three hours. I mean that would almost qualify as a resurrection.
Craig Keener: Yes. Yeah.
Scott Rae: Because I mean by any medical definition she had died.
Craig Keener: Yes. And of course there's no way to test medically because there was no medic op available. But it's the same situation you have in the Gospels. But there are other cases were the person had been dead for eight hours. Somebody we know, actually there were two people we know, who are witnesses of that one. And the person came back after prayer and a number of other cases.
Scott Rae: Tell our listeners a little bit ... How has the book, I mean you've got ... I've read some of the first volume. I confess I haven't made it through all 1000 pages. But there, the book is just full, both volumes, full of these remarkable stories like this. How has the book been received, both in Christian circles and then outside Christian circles?
Craig Keener: In Christian circles it's been received really, really well. In secular circles, well on the Internet at least, Atheists came out with critiques of it right away. Some of them, some of the critiques were based on an interview with me that was published in Christianity Today, rather than the book itself. I mean there was one person, it was so crazy. They were saying "This is all from Congo. This is where they burn child witches," and stuff like that.
Well first of all, the stories weren't all by any means from Congo, but my wife is from Congo. So that's why Christianity featured that part. It was from a different Congo so the person who did that doesn't know their geography. Plus these were not from people who burned child witches or anything like that. I mean these were mainstream Evangelical Christians and anyway, some of the critiques, and actually some of the praises from the Christians showed that they hadn't actually read the book either.
Scott Rae: Sorry to hear that.
Craig Keener: Yeah. But I'm grateful for the, the engagement that's come since then because there has been a lot of good engagement and people have taken it seriously and taken to heart some of the arguments in it.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I mean you could see it, the stories are so compelling that just based on the empirical data that you have, I found the case for miracles pretty hard to refute. So as you've cataloged these different stories and different accounts, what's been the sort of the breath of the geography that's been involved?
Craig Keener: Well I tried to get accounts from all over the world. I mean I tried to get accounts from all sorts of different cultures. It was easier for me for some cultures than for other cultures. I had a lot of connections with Africa, different parts of Africa. A lot of these things were published in Asia. A lot of accounts have been published from Asia. And of course, accounts from the west, it was easier to get the medical documentation so there were strengths with a lot of these. I had to work harder to get stuff from Latin America because a lot of it's in Spanish. So I got what I could. But I think there's a good representative sample. I mean it's only a fraction of what's out there, but there was a Pew Forum Study done in, I think, 2006 of Pentecostals and Charismatics in 10 countries that concluded ... Well if you look at the percentages of Pentecostals and Charismatics who claimed to have witnessed divine healing and then the hard numbers of those in those countries, it comes out to somewhere around 200 million people in those 10 countries alone, who claim to have witnessed are experienced divine healing.
What is more striking, especially for people who don't like Pentecostals or Charismatics, what's more striking is that the survey also in those 10 countries dealt with Christians who didn't consider themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic. And around 39% of them claimed to have witnessed or experienced divine healing. So we're talking about something like hundreds of millions of people. It's not just a few people. Now obviously those numbers, none of us would say that all of those can only be explained as a miracle. None of us would say that all of those are authentic, but still we're talking about an awful lot of stories. And when you dig in and you start interviewing some of the people and looking at some of the medical documentation, we're not talking about a little bit of evidence. We're talking about a lot of evidence.
Scott Rae: Yeah. So it seems to me you can't discount it all.
Craig Keener: Yeah.
Scott Rae: It's just that overwhelming.
Craig Keener: Yeah.
Scott Rae: So tell ... Give our listeners a story from the U.S. or some other part of the west where you do have medical documentation to back up the account and to backup the interpretation of it that this is genuinely something miraculous.
Craig Keener: Greg Spencer is a case of this. This one actually is, I think this one is not in the book because I came across this afterwards. But Greg Spencer had been going blind due to macular degeneration. He was 2200 in one eye and 2400 in the other and had already been through training for the blind. He already was on disability for this. And he went to a retreat for the healing of the mind. That's what he was praying for. He wasn't praying for healing of his physical vision, but when the Lord healed his mind, he opened his eyes and he could see. And there were a number of other people who also, who were there at the occasion, who knew him before and after, who could testify to this. But we also had the medical documentation. And the reason ... Usually people don't get medical documentation even when it's available. And sometimes there's also a catch-22 because after so many years the medical documentation has been discarded. But if it hasn't been after so many years people say, "Ah, it might just be temporary."
But anyway, all healing is temporary because sooner or later we're gonna die unless the Lord comes back before then. But in this case, he had to have the medical documentation be he'd been on disability. He wrote to the Social Security Administration saying, "I'm not blind anymore." And they said, "Macular degeneration doesn't undegenerate." So they investigated him for fraud. After a year or two of investigation they finally concluded, and we have all of the medical documentation, that no, he had, the way they put it in their letter from the Social Security Administration, "You have received a remarkable return of your visual acuity, therefore, you are no longer qualified for disability." Now there's a downside to everything. Now you got to go work! But there are a number of cases like that.
Barbara Snyder is another one that's not in the book. But I heard this one from somebody who worked with Craig Evans, followed up with Barbara Snyder and her doctors and passed this onto Lee Strobel, who followed up on this too. But Barbara Snyder, she had been dying from a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis. For 15 years she had been going downhill. And this time the doctor said she won't be coming back to the hospital. She was healed just suddenly. She heard a voice saying, "My child, rise up and walk." Well she couldn't walk. But she, but it happened. She did it. And her hands had been curled up so much that every few months they had to uncurl her hands to get the dead skin out. She said she'd been curled up like a pretzel. She actually had to have a breathing tube because even her diaphragm didn't work on its own. And she'd also gone blind. And so when she was healed, the first thing she noticed was her feet were flat on the ground. Second thing she noticed was her hands were open. And the third thing she noticed was she was see it with her eyes. And she began dancing around.
Now normally somebody's healed, they're still gonna have, their muscles are still going to be atrophied if they've been unable to walk for a long time. But she starts dancing around, jumping around. Even her muscles were unatrophied. And I talked with two of her doctors from the time and they both testified, "Yes, this is, there's no medical explanation for this." This was in 1981 that this happened. She's had no recurrence.
Scott Rae: That's staggering to think about. And it's all very well documented too. So I guess, what surprised you the most as a result of your study from when you set out to do this to when you got to the end? What surprised you?
Craig Keener: Probably what surprised me the most was the real evidence for it. I mean I, at the beginning I was expecting to find some reports of different kinds of healings that had already been collected in the booked. At the beginning I didn't find all that. Eventually I found some of it, but what surprised me was the dramatic nature of some of this. I had been an Atheist before my conversion. And as a Christian I naturally did believe in miracles. As an Atheist, of course it didn't. But even though I believed in them in principle, I kind of was like ... In principle I believed it, but I was questioning witnesses with kind of a skeptical approach to try to whittle away anything that wasn't necessarily accurate. But after a while it just becomes so overwhelming, but I said, "You know, I'm too skeptical myself."
Scott Rae: Yeah, so you had to, I guess you had to check your own-
Craig Keener: Yes.
Scott Rae: -semi anti-supernatural vibes.
Craig Keener: Yeah, and part of it was inherited through my academic training. I mean not that it was deliberately anti-supernatural, but it was deliberately non-supernatural.
Scott Rae: Right. The conventional wisdom that we hear kind of over and over again is that the prevalence of miraculous activity, is much more the developing world than it is in the west. First of all, is that true? And then if so, then how do you account for that?
Craig Keener: I think it's true in some places more than in others. J.P. Moreland points out that, well this was a number of years ago, maybe 10 years ago, he pointed out that in the previous three decades about 70% of all Evangelical growth had been due to signs and wonders. So where there's cutting edge Evangelism, God does more dramatic things. But God often heals us here and yet when he does it we don't always recognize that it is God because of our world view here. And also, a lot of my African friends say, "Look, life in Africa's a miracle. We have to have miracles. But you in the west, you have this wonderful medical technology. That's a gift from God." We should celebrate that. It's not something to feel badly about. God can heal us through medicine. God can heal us through exercise or just the things he's placed in our body. It's still healing. It may not be a dramatic sign or wonder, but it's still an answer to prayer. It still could fit James, Chapter Five or gifts of healings for those of us who believe in that.
But in some places ... Like I had a student from India, a doctor of ministry student, who said almost everybody that he prays for in India gets healed. And he said he prays for people here in the U.S., but it doesn't happen. Back home it happens. It's just his Baptist church group from just like maybe a half a dozen people to 600 members from, almost all from non-Christian backgrounds. And he said because these precious people that never had a chance to be exposed to God's extravagant love, He works in extravagant ways to let them know.
But even with miracles, life expectancy is higher here than in Africa. The maternal mortality rate in childbirth is so much higher there. So miracles aren't meant to be [inaudible] for the world's problems. They're meant to be signs of the Kingdom. That is their foretaste of God's future promise to us when there's going to be no more sorrow, there's gonna be no more pain. God is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes. So even when, you know it doesn't happen to all of us. We all don't get a sign or a wonder. Sometimes we don't even get healing in this physical body in this life, but when it happens to any of us it's a reminder to all of us of God's plans for us. That we all will be ultimately healed if we have trust in Jesus because we'll be with him forever.
Scott Rae: Yeah, see that's the big miracle that's coming.
Craig Keener: That's the awesome.
Scott Rae: When we meet the Lord face to face. So what's your response when you pray, lots of people pray, and a miracle doesn't happen?
Craig Keener: Yeah. Yeah, I think of my friend Nabeel Qureshi. I know we, we were really, really praying for him.
Scott Rae: Nabeel Qureshi, for the sake of our listeners who might not be aware of him, was one of the most, the most compelling apologists to Islam having converted to Christianity out of Islam himself. He died of stomach cancer at a, I think what was he? In his early 30s?
Craig Keener: Yeah. Yeah. And that was, that was really hard. You don't understand why it happens to this person and not to that person. I mean I can explain theologically the already not yet of the Kingdom why it doesn't happen to everybody, but why this one and not that one? I, sometimes I'll joke it's obvious looking at me that healing doesn't always happen. Look, I have male pattern balding. I wear glasses. But my wife and I have also been through a series of miscarriages. So we understand it's not, it's not saying that somebody has lack of faith. Sometimes God uses things. Just, was it last night I think, we were talking and David Dockery was sharing about Grant Osbourne, a scholar friend of ours who passed away just this past month after an amazing career of scholarship, but when he was young he had asthma. He had asthma all his life. But because of the asthma he ended up not playing sports with the other kids. He ended up reading and it led him into a life of scholarship. A blessing to the rest of the Body of Christ. So sometimes we don't see the outcome.
And each of us have different tasks. You look at the seven churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation. Some were tested in prosperity. Some were tested in persecution. We don't get to choose what our test is. But all of us are called to overcome. And in each case, it's a witness to God's Glory where God gives grace to overcome in different kinds of situations. It doesn't mean to stop praying for healing. I mean Grant still prayed for healing all his life. And sometimes, well it's wonderful when God does it and when he doesn't we still know that we have that hope. We will be fully healed with our resurrection bodies.
Scott Rae: I love how you put that, that healing now is a foretaste of the Glory of the Kingdom. That's such a good way to frame that. I mean there are, there's lots of Kingdom fortes that we're experiencing now. And we give Glory to God whenever we get the opportunity to be a part of those, but it's, we don't expect that, that the Kingdom, that we'll have experienced the Kingdom in its fullest now. That's for when the Lord returns.
Craig Keener: In Matthew 11 and Luke Chapter 7, John the Baptist sends to Jesus because he hears the works of Jesus, he hears of these healings taking place and he says, "Are you the one the come or shall we wait for somebody else?" Because God told him the coming one was going to baptize in fire. He didn't see any fire so people are getting [inaudible] what's this about? And Jesus answers him with words from Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61 saying, "The disabled will walk. The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will be raised." And so on. The good news will be preached to the poor. He says, he's going back to these passages about the coming of the [inaudible] and saying, "John, these are signs of the Kingdom right now." And so he's already saying in his ministry the Kingdom is being expressed. But again, it's a sign. It's not the fullness. It's not the consummation. Or in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 where is says, "If I by the finger of the Spirit of God drive out demons, the Kingdom of God has come upon you." So these are signs of the Kingdom, their foretaste of the Kingdom, but we're still longing for the day we're gonna see him face to face.
Scott Rae: Here, here. Craig thanks so much for being with us. This is incredibly compelling stuff. I want to refer our listeners to your two volume series on miracles. I don't think that there's an abridged version of that coming out anytime soon. But it's a wonderful volume. You've done tremendous work on it that is a huge benefit to the Kingdom, not only with your technical biblical scholarship, but with this incredible stuff you've done on miracles. I want our listeners to be totally aware, Craig Keener, just the two volume entitled Miracles. And then the book that tells the story of your relationship to your wife called Impossible Love. Both great books that I encourage all of our listeners to get hold of and to digest.
So Craig thanks so much for being with us.
Craig Keener: Thanks so much for having me Scott.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically, Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn about us and today's guest, Dr. Craig Keener and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically.
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