Is it realistic to expect miracles today?

At the start of this series I outlined how some churches – usually charismatic evangelical – have transitioned to an ‘over-realised eschatology’ where they advocate a return to the spiritual basics of the first century in which the disciples, guided by Jesus, performed many incredible healings. Miracles that were facilitated by God as the disciples acted upon divine authority with the only limitation being on God’s power and a willingness to go and act on Christ’s behalf.

This attempt to ‘recapture’ the early mission context has resulted in many churches finding renewed vigour for healing. However, the theology behind the ‘everyone gets healed’ model is questionable in many regards, not least because of the way it juxtaposes twenty-first century problems with the need for first-century miracles.

A central feature of the ‘everyone gets healed’ doctrine is the idea that a believer need only ‘name and claim’ the healing required from God. Not surprisingly, this theology is more frequently associated with ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching that asserts the frequency of miracles is directly proportional to the level of faith in the praying believer – the assumption being God is ready to  heal but often unable to do so because followers are reluctant or unprepared to respond. A way of thinking that is completely at odds with patterns of miracles seen in the Bible of which philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig observes:

‘There’s no reason to expect [miracles] to be as frequent or as evident as they were with Jesus. Miracles tend to cluster around great moments in salvation history, like the Exodus or the ministry of Jesus.’

Craig’s observation that miracles cluster at certain points of history is useful because it suggests these are not commonplace events that have become absent through lack of faith or disobedience. More importantly, they signpost a specific time in human history where the Kingdom of God broke into the world for all to see and remember. As such, there’s little reason to presume these healings will occur with the same frequency in the present age as adherents of the ‘everyone gets healed’ approach would have us believe. It also suggests miracles are not controlled by the caprice of those who do or do not pray, but by the will of God and His advancing kingdom.