Creepy Miracles

By: Jason Wermuth
Saturday, May 29th, 2010

In the interest in full disclosure, Dr. Clark [mentioned below] recently had some sharp words for our own Dr. Dale Coulter. While this post was initiated by reading Dr. Clark’s blog as a result of his prior comments about Dr. Coulter’s earlier blog, this post is in no way a response to or attack of Dr. Clark for his previous comments.

Recently I read a blog article written by Westminster Seminary California Church Historian Dr. R. Scott Clark entitled “Rome, Pentecostals, and Credulity” and was very surprised to read that he thinks that the one thing “Romanists and Pentecostals” share is our creepy miracles. On this topic Clark writes “I use the pejorative adjective intentionally because, at bottom, despite the formal differences between them, both are peddling magic and superstition and that’s creepy.”

Are “Pentecostal/Charismatic” miracles really creepy?

I could argue against this sort of simplistic perception using exegetical arguments or by lowering myself to the same sort of rhetoric that Dr. Clark resorts to, but I am sure that this approach would just send us around the merry-go-round again and again, so instead I want to approach this by providing a testimonial. I know, the appeal to personal experience is so anti-intellectual, but let’s leave the enlightenment need to rationalize everything here for a minute and deal with the existential realities of human experience, however subjective this form of argument may be. This does not mean, as many Pentecostals and Charismatics are accused of, that we leave our minds behind, but I am asking that we set aside the old way of using our minds for just a few minutes. I do not intend to address all of Dr. Clark’s statements in this post, but I intend only to offer a story about how the love of Christ has manifested itself in my life with the hopes of opening a dialog whereby ones lack of analogous experience does not serve as justification for immolation.

Throughout the beginning of my adolescent life I questioned whether God really existed. I would often lay up at night asking God to show me a sign, something that would unequivocally prove that God did indeed exist, and every night I was left disappointed by a God who apparently did not care about my longing. I was eventually satisfied to say that I was simply an agnostic who did not know whether God existed or not. If he did exist, he was probably ambivalent to my cries and in some other world. Like the god of our forefathers, Jefferson and Paine, God might exist, but he didn’t seem to care.

The Clearwater Miracle

By the time I was 13 I wasn’t sure what I believed, but I wanted to believe in something. It was around this time that word began to spread in my hometown about an image of the Virgin Mary that was appearing on a building in Clearwater, Florida. I lived in St. Petersburg at the time and my mom and I wanted to go see what this “miracle” was all about. At dusk I walked out to my mom’s car and as I walked around the right side of the car, I placed my hand on the still warm hood (my mom had just arrived home) and for a split second I saw an image in my mind of the front right side of the car smashed in. That “vision” startled me so much that I walked around the other side of the car and crawled in the left back seat of the car. My mom thought this was peculiar, but I just told her I was tired and she left well enough alone, so on we went to witness a miracle. About 10 minutes later my mom made a left turn at a green light and WHAM! I don’t know how many times the car spun around, but when it came to a stop, I thought we were going to die for sure. A car had run a red light and smashed into the right side of our car. There was smoke pouring out of the front of the car and the automatic locks on the doors were stuck. We were eventually able to open the doors and when we got out, my life changed forever. Standing on the side of the road waiting for the ambulance, I knew something had happened that would change everything. The implications were clear: had it not been for that “vision,” I would have been dead! I had seen some sort of God-thing and it wasn’t an image on the side of some building, it was an image in my mind, put there by God to save my life. Creepy? Maybe… Real? Absolutely.

I began my search for God again after this event and my best friend who was raised in a godly Christian home bought me a bible and started to tell me about Jesus. He told me how this Jesus performed miracles and that people were healed by him, and saw visions and spoke in tongues… all things that seemed very creepy, but I couldn’t help but hunger for a God who encountered his people and touched them in this way. I began reading the bible and I still remember when I first read that Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Having never been raised in the church, I knew nothing of these stories, but this sort of Jesus came alive to me. Funny enough, the first book I read was Revelation, and it helped me to make sense–in some strange way–of my own experience that one night in December. Soon after I gave my heart to Jesus (literally after reading John 3:16 for the first time), I began to hunger to experience this God again in the way that I came to believe I had on that frightening day on the way to see the “miracle” Mary, albeit hopefully under different circumstances.

Early one morning my phone rang and I jumped off my bed and ran over to the phone hanging on my wall before the call dropped. As I was running I smashed my foot against a desk, tripped and fell to the floor writhing in pain. I had broken my foot before, so I remembered the sound and the pain, and I knew that my toe was broken. It immediately turned black and blue and I was in excruciating pain. My mom called the doctor and made an appointment for me to go in the next day, but the doctor said they probably wouldn’t be able to do much with the broken toe (I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know why). That night, laying on my bed, I remembered the stories about Jesus healing the sick and raising the dead, and with barely an ounce of faith I asked Jesus to heal my toe so that I wouldn’t be in pain anymore. The next morning I woke up and walking into the kitchen, opened the fridge and began making something to eat for breakfast. All of a sudden I remembered my toe! There was no pain at all! I was not an emotional kid but I started shaking … this was the real thing. God showed up and healed my toe. I don’t know why, but I know I once was broken and then I was healed.

It was these miracles that helped me to embrace a Charismatic “piety,” the same kind of piety that Dr. Clark calls creepy. Was this some sort of voodoo or magic? Did I need some faith healer dressed in white linens to breathe on me for me to be healed or see a vision? No. God, the sovereign God, just wanted to touch me. And he has touched me in many more ways since those early days. Do I see miracles daily? No. But miracles aren’t the point. The point is Jesus and that is something I think we can all agree on. What these miracles did is what Jesus’ “canonical” miracles did, they proclaimed that the kingdom of God was and is at hand. The miracles of Jesus proclaimed with power that the reign of God was upon them and that it was time to follow the Way. The question is, if Jesus was performing miracles while also forgiving sins, why do we accept that Jesus still does one and not the other? Did miracles save me? As Paul often said, me genoito (may it never be!). Miracles today are the same as they were when Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh, they are sign posts pointing to the miracle-worker, and the miracle-worker is always Jesus.

Are miracles for today? Perhaps the better question is, do we think that Jesus is for today? Jesus was a miracle-worker, whether we like it or not, and he just happens to still be in the miracle working business. So is Dr. Clark right? Does the miraculous really “usually [come] down either to lowering the standards of what happened in the apostolic (or more broadly) the canonical period or in elevating what is alleged to have happened in our time?” Perhaps Dr. Clark would simply say that the miracles that I and my Pentecostal/Charismatic brothers and sisters experience are simply “elevated” coincidences, but I know friends who have literally been healed of cancer. I also know friends who have had prophetic visions that were so vivid that they leave you with no more room for doubt. Perhaps the problem is simply that like me in my adolescent youth, Dr. Clark and others in the cessationist camp simply wish they could experience what others claim to but have not yet had the chance or perhaps they gave up years ago. Maybe that is why, for some, miracles are creepy. But for others, they are utterly life altering!

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Jason Wermuth
This entry was posted by on Saturday, May 29th, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Renewal Studies, Worldview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Creepy Miracles”

  1. Ken says:

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciated the posts by Dr. Coulter. I hope he writes a book called the, Westminster Captivity.

    Much like hyper-calvinist, if Dr. Clark isn’t careful(which he isn’t with his rhetoric) he could derail much of the Calvinistic renewal that’s happening in North America. Clark has narrowed who can be Reformed and who cannot and clearly anyone who believes that God is sovereign over the gifts and is a giver(1 Cor 12:11) cannot be Reformed.

    But with that said, Clark has had a positive effect on my theological studies. Because after my run-ins with him I’m no longer looking toward Westminster with their limited history on the Reformed theology, but have dug deeper and returned to my Pentecostal roots and am also studying the Reformation sources.

    I’ve been living in Asia for the last 2+ years now and have seen my share of the Charismata. My mother in law who converted from Buddhism to Christianity and she was healed completely from a tumor in her chest. Many Chinese have seen miracles, something that doesn’t fit into our protagonist radical cessational views.

    Thank you again,

    Ken

  2. Ken,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I really do believe that the cessationist view is becoming less and less relevant as people from all different theological perspectives encounter God through the charismata. I am saddened that some have still hardened their hearts to the gifts of God, but I am encouraged to see what God is doing anyways.

    Blessings.