Mar 08

The God of Miracles, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

The subtitle to this book is “An exegetical examination of God’s action in the world. Collins, in this book, attempts to form a Biblical basis for God’s interaction with the world, and to describe the nature of possible interactions with the world. To accomplish this end, Collins presents the three leading camps of thought that describe the nature of God’s ongoing interactions with his creation. They are providentialism, supernaturalism, and occasionalism. Collins begins by describing what we would consider to be unorthodox views of Gods interaction with the world, such as with Deism, which simply put, states that God puts the world into motion and then leaves it alone. Thus, miracles and supernatural interactions with the world do not and cannot exist, according to the Deist. To summarize the three “orthodox” stances, providentialism holds God to have created the world with such intricacy that unusual events are built into the creation and no event violates the natural laws that God built into the world; supernaturalism believes that God created the world with intrinsic laws that govern its normal behavior, yet God interacts with the system and is not bound by the normal laws that govern the system; occasionalism holds that there are no automatic laws that govern the behavior of the universe, but that God is active at every moment in its operation, so that unusual occurrences (miracles) are simply a part of the normal behavior of God in the universe.

The remainder of the book provides arguments for and against each position. First, Collins defines terms such as nature, miracle, and causation. Then, he explores Scripture to see where instances in support of each of these three stances might occur. Collins summarizes with a leading toward supernaturalism. The last chapter of this book discusses primarily the issue of intelligent design and how it fits into Christian thinking about the creation and sustenance of the world.

This book was written before “Science & Faith” but is supposed to be an academic attempt as the same subject matter as Science & Faith. I actually found this book easier to read, and provided better pause for reflection than the Science & Faith text. Both texts are complementary with minimal duplication in discussion, and thus both books are strongly recommended by me. I realize that Collins has come under attack from both the liberals and the 7-day creationists for his stances. I find Collins 100% committed to Scripture, and no way diverting away from proper exegesis of the text. He provides an excellent defense against those who truly deviate from a strong respect for the Scripture as God-breath words, an example being the theistic evolutionists. I would hope the reader maintains a critical but unbiased mind in reading his texts.

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One Response to “The God of Miracles”

  1. Onkel Dennis says:

    I have read none of the author’s works so my comments are based on your review. What he considers the “three leading” views on the interaction of God and the creation, one should keep well in mind, are not logically necessary but merely convenient (for the author) categories of distinction. Consequently, the labels attached to them are of limited value because there is nothing about the subject-matter that requires them. This is an example of academic rationalism run amuck, creating categories (with labels – they love labels!) that have little intrinsic value in clarifying the truth about the subject-matter and often instead tend to obscure it through “pigeonholing”. In other words, the actual view someone might have, or the actual truth of the matter, might not fit any of the rationally-contrived models of the author, yet everything is put into one of the created categories. It is FAR BETTER to dump such labels and instead THINK about actual facts or views rather than contrive to force-fit them into some quasi-academic categorization. This is what the medieval rationalist schoolmen were in the habit of doing. It is not a productive mental habit. It is for people who have given up THINKING and have substituted LABELING for it instead.

    As for the author’s categories themselves, I do not find any of them to be representative of the views of people I know (or me) who have given a large amount of attention to the issue. For instance, the categories of natural and supernatural are not even biblical categories. They trace back to paganism, where what Nature did not do, the gods did in lieu of Nature. This dualism of nature and supernature is found nowhere in scripture and leads to such views as Deism. In scripture, God does not fit either category of being in or out of the creation. He functions in both contexts. So the author has a strike against him in failing to distinguish between biblical and pagan categories of thought. This does not put him in a good light relative to the claim that he respects scripture. If he does, then why does he subject it to pagan categorization?

    “… providentialism holds God to have created the world with such intricacy that unusual events are built into the creation and no event violates the natural laws that God built into the world …”

    The language of this pigeonhole assumes a deistic view of God’s relationship to the creation in that the creation is given some kind of independent operation, by its own self-sustained laws, apart from God. (A reading of MacKay would help here!) Yet scripture very clearly says that God is not only the creator but also the sustainer of the creation, who wills into being every event in it. Consequently, it is paganistic to even talk of “violations” of “natural laws” as though Nature has an autonomous will that is controverted by the gods (or God, to Christianize paganism). How do we even know about these laws? Through science – through observation of the world and deductions about it. Because they are learned this way, what we know of as “natural law” is for us descriptive, not prescriptive. To God, the ultimate truth of the laws are simply facts about his character in how he sustains the universe. Apart from God, they have no independent existence.

    Consequently, God never needs to “violate” natural laws – ever. To do so is to act in a way that violates his own character and makes him inconsistent. The great feature about Yahweh that had the Israelites’ attention was his covenant faithfulness. (There is that Hebrew word again.) They could rely upon God to act faithfully according to the covenant and they could rely upon and even predict how he would act because he was not fickle like the gods. This is the great guiding feature of God’s interaction with the creation, writ large upon the Bible, starting with God’s interaction with his created nation of his chosen people. It is the starting point in approaching the subject and was the starting-point of modern science in the minds of the early scientists.

    “… supernaturalism believes that God created the world with intrinsic laws that
    govern its normal behavior, …”

    Yes, this is an accurate rendition of the pagan view of nature, with God = gods. What is different in the biblical view is that these laws are an expression of God’s character. They have no autonomous existence as though the creation would continue to function according to them without God.

    “… yet God interacts with the system and is not bound by the normal laws that govern the system;”

    This view upholds the pagan view of Nature (and the laws of Nature) being independent of the gods, and that God is sufficiently separated from the creation that he only “interacts” with it rather than sustains its very existence.

    “… occasionalism holds that there are no automatic laws that govern the behavior of the universe, but that God is active at every moment in its operation, so that unusual occurrences (miracles) are simply a part of the normal behavior of God in the universe.”

    This is much closer to the biblical view though what is unusual about “miracles” is what the observer considers unusual. Miracles in scripture are not merely “unusual events” but are intended to authenticate that a message is from God, for the miracle is intended to impress upon the observer the fact that powers not held by the observers are involved in connection with the message. Miracles thus have no necassary connection to “violations” of natural law (God’s character). What is violared is the expectation of the observer who has been conditioned in life to expect or not expect certain kinds of events. That they occur does not mean that something fundamental about the universe has to have been overturned.

    Please pardon my lengthy response. This subject pushes one of the buttons on my panel that is painted red.

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