Category Archives: Charismania

Modern miracles and the failure of empiricism

Recently I was listening to a preacher on AM radio when he went on a tangent condemning what is commonly referred to as “signs and wonders.” He appeared to be quite set against the modern proliferation of prophetic utterances and so-called miraculous healings dominating “Christian” radio and television. I agree with his sentiment; my concern with his message is not that he opposed the so-called apostolic gifts of modern charismania but rather the way in which he framed his argument.

Basically, the argument was as follows: “How do we know that there are no charismatic gifts of healing today? Because we do not see any happening. Charismatics can talk all they want about gifts of healing but we do not see these miracles being performed today and so we can rest assured that such gifts have ceased.”

For this gentleman, whose opinion concerning the continuation of gifts given to the NT apostles I am in agreement with, the lack of empirical evidence was sufficient to dismiss such an alleged spiritual phenomenon. The problem with this argument, however, should be pointed out so that we do not make the same mistake in our zeal to defend against the excesses of charismania.

The premise upon which the conclusion (that miracles have ceased) is built is: we do not see them happening. First, this preacher appears to miss the fact that his opponents—the advocates for continuationism—would simply retort that we do see them happening. In fact, the epistemological method employed by both parties here is the same: empiricism. Certainly, while I have not personally observed such purported miracles myself, there are many who claim that they have indeed witnessed them. The fallacy of induction is evident because neither party is capable of observing every case in history across the globe in order to definitively say, empirically, “miracles do not happen”. If someone claims to have experienced a miraculous healing by way of a Word of Faith healer in Africa (even though the smartphone-laden generation did not take it upon themselves to document such a rare and miraculous occurence), who am I to argue against his experience? Likewise, if I insist that I have yet to observe a purported miracle by way of a Word of Faith healer, how can the WoF advocate insist that I must have in fact observed such occurrences?

The point is, in fact, that all of this is beside the point. Rather than a discourse on the flaws of empiricism (which would itself invalidate the claims of the WoF movement), I want to show that this probably well-intentioned preacher was delivering an argument against modern miracles by appealing to his experience and not by appealing to the Word of God. My criticism is not of his position as a cessationist, nor do I disagree that there is a lack of the empirical evidence you would expect to find if such miracles were happening today,[1] nor will I here attempt to exegete the necessary Scriptures to make a case for cessationism. My point here simply is that the man’s authority on this subject was his personal experience—his appeal was to the same authority as the advocate of modern miracles! Word of Faith advocates appeal to their experience which is what validates the movement, putting us in a stalemate. Only when one is willing to appeal to the only authority (Scripture) can we find a legitimate basis for either accepting or denying post-apostolic miraculous healings. If knowledge is propositional truth as revealed in Scripture and not a collection of universals formulated by a posteriori reasoning, then it is the biblical text which must be the foundation upon which our position rests, irrespective of the experience had by continuationists and cessationists alike.

-Nick Sabato


[1] Justin Peters’ comments are of interest here. On page 72 of his 2002 Master’s thesis (An examination and critique of the life, ministry, and theology of healing evangelist Benny Hinn) he writes: “The proof of Hinn’s purported healings is conspicuous by its absence. Even if documented miracles were common in Hinn’s ministry, they would not in and of themselves legitimize it (Matt. 7:22-23). It seems that nearly all of those on stage claiming to have been healed suffer from maladies that are not readily visible, such as stomach ulcers, cancers, or bad backs. If God is truly healing people through Benny Hinn, where are the amputees, the blind, the imbecilic, the maimed, and the crippled? They are sitting, or sometimes lying, on the back of the floor area safely away from the watchful eyes of the numerous television cameras. If some do venture forward, they are ushered away just as was this author.”

Dr. Ronald Cooke on miracles

“It surely is noteworthy that the scriptures tell us that one of the characteristics of the false prophet is this: ‘Through covetousness they shall with feigned words make merchandise of you.’ That is he finds out what it is people want to hear and then pretends that is his message in order to get money. True Christianity has had to battle not only secularism and agnosticism but the erroneous teachings of those who claim to be her prophets.

“To claim to heal someone miraculously is quite a claim to make. To claim to heal someone who has abused his body is an ever bigger and more impossible claim to make.

“One of the problems never discussed on our Charismatic forums is the problem of abusing the body. The question needs to be asked and answered, ‘If we abuse our physical bodies is God going to miraculously intervene to heal them?’ We have seen grossly overweight people complaining of back problems and leg problems going forward to be healed by Faith healers. Now is God going to do for us miraculously what we refuse to do for ourselves by heeding his command to let our moderation be known to all men? If God miraculously healed those who have become broken down in health by intemperance, he would be working contrary to His Word.

“Gluttony is a sin seldom mentioned by biblical preachers, and yet someone has said that over-eating is the number one sin in the church today. Another speaker once said that we know the fundamentalist preachers by their pot-bellies. So with pot-bellied preachers filling our pulpits (no pun intended), it is no wonder that we hear nothing about the number one sin. Fat preachers blast smoking and drinking, but if they were honest, they would blast the sin of intemperance in eating also, but their own sinful intemperance silences their tongues.

“To watch while a faith healer tries to heal the sore legs and knees of a grossly over-weight person is one of the most pathetic sights in the church. God’s fixed principles demonstrate that if a person eats too much, his legs will not be able to support his body and also his heart is being strained and his back is being strained to support all the weight. So God is not going to heal that person of sore knee caps, back spasms, and heart strain in some miraculous way. The only way that person will be genuinely helped is if they take off about 100 pounds. Even Christ is never reported to have removed 50 or 100 pounds of excess obesity miraculously from the human body.

“The miracle workers of today are trying to do what we might call ‘miracle impossible.’ If a person uses tobacco and has ravaged the fixed principles by which man breathes, is God going to give him new lungs or restore his old ones? One of God’s fixed principles is you reap what you sow. Now it is possible to stay the harvest if the bad sowing is changed into good sowing soon enough, but if it is allowed to come to full fruition then the fixed principles which God has ordained in this situation demand that the harvest is reaped. God cannot change the harvest no matter how much faith we may exercise if it has come to full fruition.

“Some people who have smoked have stopped and their bodies have not suffered. But the person who continues to smoke may contract lung cancer or emphysema and the damage is irreparable.

“To tell people to come to a meeting and expect to be healed through the touch of a fallible man, when it is apparent that not even God would heal them if He still was performing miracles for they ignored His precepts, is surely one of the most deceptive practices going on in the name of Christianity.

“God imposed his principles on the world after the Fall and nowhere does it indicate in the Bible that He sets aside those principles to come to the miraculous aid of those who ignore His principles in the first place. In fact, that is the very thing the second part of Christ’s three-fold temptation teaches. Christ did not tempt the [Father] by casting Himself down and ignoring the principles of gravity which God made a part of His creation. Christ refused to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple for He knew in so doing that He could not expect miraculous aid if He carelessly and presumptuously ignored the normal principle of gravity. He answered the devil plainly and firmly, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’

“Man at best is an erratic creature. Even the best of men are fallible. They are susceptible to being deceived even by their own hearts, as well as their own sense perceptions. Therefore it stands to reason that we need the more sure Word of Prophecy to keep us straight and not the alleged miracles of fallible men.”

-Ronald Cooke, Do Miracles Then Continue?, Manahath Press, Hollidaysburg, PA, 1984, pp. 108-111.

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