Seeing is Believing (A Review of Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case for Miracles’)
The Case for Miracles

My Little Miracle

By the time I was in sixth grade I’d rejected the Christian faith of my childhood and become a committed atheist. I believed there was no case for miracles or God. And during my senior year of high school, I was beginning to feel an almost imperceptible tug. Like a quiet whisper, it haunted me every night as I laid down to sleep.

“Does science really explain everything?” it asked. “What if you’re wrong? What if your childhood faith isn’t as childish as you seem to think?”

And then, one night, God gave me a miracle. I was trying my best to fall asleep when that quiet whisper returned. Only this time, it carried an image with it: the image of a book sitting on our kitchen counter. I didn’t know whether there really was a book on our kitchen counter. I certainly hadn’t noticed it before. But every time I pushed the image from my mind, it returned. So finally, in hopes of banishing the voice for the night, I went upstairs to look. And there it was.

It was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith. Hoping to get back to bed, I quickly picked it up and asked the voice, “Now what?”

There was no reply. So I sat down, opened to the table of contents, and scanned. My eyes continued down the page until I read the heading for chapter eight: “I Still Have Doubts, So I Can’t Be a Christian.” There was that quiet tug.

For the past year or so I had been swimming in doubts about God and the universe and science and the Bible. Something inside of me wanted to believe – wanted to hope – but I couldn’t shake the doubts. So I flipped open to chapter eight and began to read.

Introducing ‘The Case for Miracles’

If you’ve never read any of Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case For…’ books, now would probably be a good time for me to explain how they work. Years ago, Strobel worked as an investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune. He was a committed atheist and skeptic but when his wife came to faith in Christ, he decided to put his journalistic background to use by investigating the claims of Christianity. Long story, short- he became a Christian. So most of his books involve him interviewing various experts about a particular subject in order to make a case for that subject. Hence, the ‘Case for…’ titles. The Case for Faith is all about objections people have to faith in God, particularly the Christian God.

So what happened after I read his interview in chapter eight of The Case for Faith? I realized that doubt didn’t have to be banished from every corner of my mind. God made himself known to me in such a powerful way that night, that I was able to cry out “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NRSV). And since then, I’ve believed. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t doubted. In the 15 years since that night, I’ve had plenty of questions – and yes, doubts.

In fact, my doubts have started multiplying recently. “Is it rational to believe in miracles? How do miraculous things happen? Can everything that happens in our universe be explained through science and reason? Is there still room for God in the world?”

Just in the last few months, I’ve picked up Craig Keener’s Miracles and Andrew Root’s Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs, and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science so that I could work through some of my questions. And though I read Root’s book and found it to be moderately helpful, I hadn’t gotten time to read Keener’s tome (it’s 1248 pages!) when I heard that Strobel was releasing a new ‘Case for…’ book: The Case for Miracles. So I pre-ordered it and waited.

And 4 hours after opening it, I’m not disappointed.

I Like His Style…

Like all of Strobel’s other books, The Case for Miracles will take you on a journey from one scholar to another – experts in a variety of fields – in hopes of discovering whether miracles are reasonable.

Before I examine the content, I’d like to say a word about the style. Strobel writes like a journalist. He’s engaging, readable, and makes the reader feel like she’s taking this journey of discovery with him. The questions he poses to the experts are often the questions that I had on my mind. There’s a reason the ancient philosophers often wrote dialogues – they’re easier to follow than a treatise. Strobel makes excellent use of the format to keep your interest.

So, what about the content? Does Strobel actually make a case for the miraculous?

The answer to that is probably debatable. If you’re committed to a purely naturalistic explanation of the world, then you likely won’t be convinced. Though I do believe that if the door of your mind is ever slightly open, Strobel might just give you enough to push it open further – even if it doesn’t swing wide.

So how does he make his case?

An Overview of the Case For and Against Miracles

Strobel begins by visiting Dr. Michael Shermer, a well-known skeptic who has written a number of books about science, skepticism, and belief. Shermer shares his testimony with Strobel. Though he grew up in a non-religious household, as a teenager, he became a Christian, though the faith didn’t stick. He eventually turned his back on religion and became an agnostic because of a lack of evidence for the supernatural. This first chapter acts as a sort of prelude to the rest of the book, setting up what is to come. In fact, all of the issues that Strobel deals with in subsequent chapters are originally brought up in this conversation.

After visiting with Shermer, Strobel interviews Dr. Craig Keener, a scholar known for an epic commentary on the book of Acts and for the book on miracles that I mentioned earlier. Keener shares his own testimony of moving from atheism to faith and then begins discussing the probability of miracles. He argues that the biggest argument against miracles (one perfected by David Hume) was based on circular reasoning and then discusses a number of miraculous healings that he’s collected in his research on miracles. And these aren’t just anecdotes. Many of the accounts that he brings up are highly credible and even medically verifiable. I get the feeling that this section of the book is like a very brief summary of Keener’s larger book, Miracles. This chapter made me want to immediately dig into that work.

Does Prayer Work? Do People Still Dream Dreams and See Visions?

Strobel leaves Keener and visits Dr. Candy Brown who has done research on prayer’s effectiveness. In the first chapter, Shermer brought up a study on intercessory prayer which showed that it had no effect. While Strobel talks with Brown, he finds out that there were serious issues with the methodology of that study. In addition, Brown introduces him to original research that she has done – and that has appeared in medical journals – that shows prayer can have a significant, statistical impact on the recovery of sick individuals. This chapter was definitely a highlight in the book for me.

After looking at the potential impact of intercessory prayer, Strobel goes to see Tom Doyle, a missionary to the Middle East, in order to learn about the prevalence of dreams and visions among Muslim converts to Christianity. Near the beginning of this chapter Strobel writes, “…more Muslims have become Christians in the last couple of decades than in the previous fourteen hundred years since Muhammed, and it’s estimated that a quarter to a third of them experienced a dream or vision of Jesus before their salvation experience” (p.141). I had maybe heard of this phenomenon once of twice before but I had no idea that it was as widespread as Doyle claims. These stories will give you chills. This chapter is another one of the major highlights.

The Two Greatest Miracles: Creation and the Cross

In chapters nine and ten, Strobel interviews Dr. Michael Strauss and discusses the improbability of the universe as we find it. Not only does science tell us that the universe has a beginning, it also tells us that the universe we find ourselves in seems to be perfectly fine-tuned for life. Even the massive size of the universe has a role to play here. This is a great couple of chapters but ultimately, it’s a summary of several arguments found in The Case for a Creator. While I agree with Strobel that once we believe God created the universe, it’s an easy step to saying that he can intervene in that universe, I don’t think this chapter adds to Strobel’s larger body of work. Rather than read these two chapters, just read The Case for a Creator.

Everything I said about chapters nine and ten could be applied to chapter eleven. In it, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace regarding the evidence for the resurrection. It’s good. And the resurrection is the miracle par excellence. But if you’re actually interested in learning about the evidence for the resurrection, why not just read Strobel’s The Case for Christ or J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity?

Addressing Doubts About the Miraculous

Strobel caps this book off with two of the most important chapters of all. The first one deals with the way that the supernatural embarrasses many modern, Western Christians. In it, he interviews Dr. Roger Olson. This conversation was electric. It made me want to throw the book down and start praying. We have such a tendency in the West to trust God for the invisible but not for the visible. We’ve broken our lives into a spiritual part and a natural part. But that’s not Christianity. It’s Platonism. God wants us to trust him with our whole lives. He wants us to live unashamedly aware of the supernatural. This chapter serves as a good reminder of that fact.

Chapter thirteen may be the most important chapter of all as it addresses the question: What about when the miracle doesn’t come? This hit home especially hard for me because a 52-year-old friend of mine passed away less than a week ago due to cancer. Hundreds of people around the country were praying for his recovery. But there was no miracle.

In chapter thirteen, Strobel talks with Dr. Douglas Groothuis, a Christian philosopher whose wife suffers from a progressive brain disorder that has taken her ability to speak and will eventually take her life. It’s obvious that Groothuis suffers along with his wife. He would love to see her healed. But it hasn’t happened. And yet, that hasn’t broken Groothuis’ faith. Instead, he looks to the suffering and lament of Jesus on the cross. He looks forward to the hope of resurrection. And he prays a prayer of “relinquishment” or acceptance (p.250).

Miracles are, by their nature, unusual. We won’t always understand why God does or doesn’t heal. But in Christ’s suffering on the cross, he recognize that he does not merely look down on our pain – he enters into it.

The Final Word…

Overall, The Case for Miracles is a powerful summary of the arguments for believing in miracles. And if any of the topics spark your imagination, Strobel includes a fairly lengthy list of other resources to explore.

The main drawback to this work is its bias. Obviously, Strobel is a Christian apologist who is making the case for the Christian God. He doesn’t mention the miraculous that may or may not occur among other communities around the world. And the ‘skeptic’ is only given a token opportunity to make his case at the very beginning of the book, before the barrage of apologetic missiles are launched. As a result, I doubt whether many committed skeptics will be convinced. But that’s not really the point of a book like this. These books are better for the doubting and struggling believer, for the open-minded seeker, and for the interested, young apologist.

Honestly, my biggest complaint is simply that it was too short. Strobel could expand each of these chapters into a full book of its own. Nevertheless, this is a great place to start exploring.

You can pick up The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernaturalon Amazon.com.

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Thoughts from Canaan by teslathemes