This collection of eighteen essays, edited by Regent University’s Distinguished Professor of New Testament Graham Twelftree, examines miracles from a range of perspectives. It includes critical approaches (involving authors skeptical about miracles as well as others who engage with historical figures like Hume, Spinoza, and Voltaire), religiously-informed approaches (that accept the actuality of such occurrences on the basis of their tradition-based and philosophical reasonings with historical proponents like Aquinas in Christianity, Vasubandhu in Buddhism, and Maimonides in Jewish thought), and interdisciplinary approaches (explaining miracles in philosophical debates, and its application for those in palliative care, i.e., care-givers to patients who desire miraculous cures for their ailments). While not organized as sections dealing with critical, confessional/religious, and interdisciplinary approaches, this threefold categorization helped me as a reader to appreciate the complexity behind the volume’s efforts in making sense of the miraculous.
The Companion is divided into four parts. Part I, and its two chapters, frame the volume. The first chapter explains the nature of a miracle and the different methods for evaluating the miraculous. In a nutshell, miracles refer to the unusual, unexpected, and awe-producing events that imply divine intervention. Chapters thereafter refer back to this definition of a miracle, examining it from various perspectives. Chapter 2 discusses questions arising from the different conceptions of miracles and what these conceptions have to say about the point (or meaning) of miracles Bringing scientific, philosophical, and theological concerns, the second chapter asks, on one hand, if creation is mechanistically order or understood, do miracles imply a fallible God who has to intervene to further divine purposes? This brings to my mind (not in this chapter) the example of Voltaire who suggested that miracles disfigure God’s own handiwork. On the other hand, if miracles do not violate the laws of nature, how can they be explained naturally? An example in a later chapter illustrates the point here; Maimonides maintained that ‘miracles’ were predetermined at the time of creation and then actualized without violating God’s will/nature: thus, biblical miracles are to be read allegorically rather than supernaturalistically. The author of Chapter 2 registers that the sophistication of philosophy and theology in the Middle Ages led Augustine and Aquinas for instance to believe that miracles are a result of direct divine action (not solely based on ignorance of natural causes as skeptics would suggest). He further asks, if later advances in sciences may subsequently provide natural explanations to events originally conceived as miracles, and if so, how one may approach miracles apologetically? Chapter 2 concludes that miracles are signs of God’s love and continual involvement in creation.
Part II reviews how miracles were understood in Western antiquity and the Middle Ages. Part III explicates miracles in traditional (folk) religions, Hinduism, Islam, early Indian Buddhism, Christianity and Jewish philosophy. Part IV reviews the history of philosophical and theological debates since the early modern period. The volume concludes with a discussion of how understanding the arguments of miracles would be useful to those in palliative care and other helping-professionals. With regard to the flow of ideas organized in the book, readers would have been better served if the various approaches to miracles, currently located in chapters 15 and 16 of the Companion, were brought forward into the introductory part I since they provide perspective on the development of the understanding of miracles in the history of Judeo-Christianity and the other religions.
Primarily written for scholars of religion, I see that the Companion also offers insights for pastors and those in the ministry. Since the volume discusses how miracles relate with a modern scientific worldview, preachers would be better informed about what is involved in labeling an occurrence a miracle. In addition, the volume provides summary discussions of evidences for miracles in other religions, thus providing resources for more sensitive pastoral and theological proclamation, especially to those informed by traditions that have otherwise been predisposed to labeling such phenomena in other religious traditions as demonic. Further, other religious views about the miraculous might also challenge typical lay Christian notions, such as the early Indian Buddhist attitude that miracles are not for public display, being a counter-perspective to some excessive displays of power in some Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. Church leaders who see miracles as confirmation of their divine authority, support for their theological assertions, and indications of divine approval (for expanding church projects, for instance) would be challenged by this volume to rethink their theological paradigm of miracles. This is notwithstanding the collection also traces how miracles have been appealed to as evidence of divine providence approving expansionism in the history of Christianity.
Finally, ministers are often perplexed as to how they can help those who struggle with trusting God for healing on the one hand, and while embracing advances in biomedical science and technology to facilitate the process of healing on the other hand. To assist pastors and care-givers in palliative care, Chapter 17 offers several points of consideration: a) healing is God’s prerogative; b) that accepting medical treatments (while waiting for God’s healing) does not indicate a denial or lack of faith; c) a healthy faith will result in harmony with self and others; d) patients under the guidance of an informed practitioner will be helped in dealing with painful realities.
Prior to reading this volume, I was anticipating engagements with different conceptions of reality vis-à-vis the miraculous in this companion. Yes, investigating the subject from philosophical, scientific, and theological perspectives, the Companion establishes that miracles defy simple explanations. Some contributions in the Companion follow modernity’s disenchantment with the miraculous, examining miracles through the lens of cause-and-effect approaches that privilege skeptical attitudes to the miraculous. This is evident, for instance, in chapters 4, 6, 7, and 9. Other contributions such as chapters 10-14 and 16 show that the desire to locate miracles in scientific terms is a wrongheaded pursuit, especially in light of overwhelming evidence for reported miracles in various faith traditions.
However, I was still unclear about two issues. First, was the editor confronted with space constraints imposed by the publisher? And/or, was he unable to include more scholars of Asian traditions for this volume? My concern is that only a limited number of Asian and Buddhist perspectives were represented. Most importantly, absent from the discussion, for instance, are chapter on Taoism and Confucianism, especially Taoism’s understanding of the cosmic tao’s transformation of wu with wuwei, by means of the energy chi through which devotee achieves the ability to manipulate the natural world. The Companion’s discussions were instead limited to a narrow Buddhistic tradition (ch 12) and a generalization of folk/traditional religiosity (ch 9) that do not represent the broad scope of miracles across the Asian religious landscape. I am sure that the editor realizes that whole volumes could be devoted to teasing out the miraculous in each of the world’s religious traditions.
Second, I was surprise to find no substantial treatment of miracles in the other sciences such as psychology (in particular, depth psychology), neuroscience, and palliative care (the latter was hinted at several times in the volume, especially at the Introduction, and in Chapters 10 and 17). These ought to be considered as paramount trajectories especially given that miracles today are rejected not only by deconstructionists but also by psychologists and psychiatrists from non-religious perspectives. Hence, I am curious as to the reasons for omission of these sciences in this volume. Oftentimes, reviewers point out what books neglect to cover, and these are sometimes lodged out of ignorance behind the circumstances a volume is put together, as is the case here.
On the whole, the Companion is a high-quality collection of essays that discuss a wide-range of interrelated issues – such as whether believing in miracles requires faith in God, miracles as understood in different religions, and how explanations of the miraculous could affect theology (understanding of God and his involvement with creation) vis-à-vis nature and science. I highly recommend it to scholars of religion and ministers.
* My appreciations to Prof Amos Yong and Esther Ng Ailey for their comments and proofreading to earlier drafts of the review. Any faults remain my own responsibility.
 Walter Watson’s The Architectonics of Meaning (Chicago University Press, 1985) names four shades of realities – existential realities, substrative realities, noumenal realities, and essential realities.
 Harold Ellens, Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal, 3-vols (Praeger, 2008).