Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Review: Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change your Life by Eric Metaxas

“History,” writes Eric Metaxas in the introduction to his book entitled Miracles, “comprises subjective accounts of human beings, and from those subjective accounts we arrive at an ‘objective’ truth” (xii).  He asserts that we need to ask ourselves whether those subjective accounts are reliable by sifting through the information and considering the witnesses as one would do in a court of law.

This, he says, is what we must do when we hear accounts of miracles.  We must “examine (them) with the greatest rigor possible” to determine whether something is truly a miracle.  Otherwise, we could deserve the label of “gullible” that those who reject the very idea of supernatural events sometimes use to describe us.

In the first half of the book, Metaxas explores the basic question of what constitutes a miracle.  While he notes there is no standard definition, he essentially concurs with that given by philosopher David Hume who defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent (11).”  Metaxas simplifies Hume’s definition, stating that a miracle occurs “when something outside of time and space enters time and space” (12).  As to the purpose of miracles, Metaxas says that they are signs that point to God, noting that Jesus performed them to prove that he was divine.

Metaxas then looks at miracles and science, noting that the realm of the miraculous is outside the scope of science (26).  Quoting John Lennox, apologist and professor of mathematics at Oxford, he says, “To force a naturalistic paradigm on everything has the effect of closing down science, rather than opening it up” (29), and adds that, as we gain more scientific knowledge, it points to God, not away from him (32). Metaxas then offers information about the fine-tuning of the universe and intelligent design to support this thesis.  The author ends the first half of his book with a look at three Biblical miracles – the feeding of the five thousand, raising Lazarus from the dead, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second part of the book consists of miracle stories.  Metaxas notes that he chose only those accounts from people he knew and trusted.  They include personal stories of angelic visitations, visions that changed people’s lives, and healing and medical miracles.

Metaxas, best-known for his biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce, has written this book for the popular audience.  Those wanting a more vigorously academic study of miracles should read the massive work of Craig Keener as well as C. S. Lewis’s Miracles.  And, given that his discussion of science and miracles is rather cursory, readers are encouraged to seek out the work of John Lennox or Hugh Ross for further reading.   Additionally, while Metaxas spends a chapter on the resurrection of Christ, he merely introduces the topic.  Therefore, the work of Gary Habermas on the topic is recommended.

Overall, the book provides good food for thought as well as stories of miracles that encourage and astound, making it a solid introduction to the topic.  As Metaxas writes, “the idea that there is a God who loves us and who desires to help us be what we were always meant to be . . . is a staggering concept.  That this God is not far from us, but is at all times right near to us, wanting to communicate with us and wanting to intervene in our lives for our benefit, is about as ‘empowering’ an idea as anyone could imagine” (330).  For this reason, Metaxas concludes, we should not let the materialistic worldview make us shy away from the very possibility of miracles.  Rather, we should embrace the reality of their existence and watch for God at work in the world and in our lives.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist who holds a Master’s in Theological Studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. She holds three other degrees, including one in history, and writes poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction.


Eric Kruep said...

This seems like a good book on an important topic. I have always been a bit perplexed by God's use of miracles and His lack of use of miracles. Matthew 13:58 is clear that Jesus chose not to perform miracles for those without faith. What a call to action for those of us who could use more of His miraculous intervention in our days. Thanks, Mary Lou, for the review!

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