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Monday, March 13, 2017

Robert M. Price : In Defense of the Miraculous: A Clarification

In Defense of the Miraculous:
A Clarification

By Robert M. Price

 
I welcome the opportunity for clarification provided by Dr. Carter’s interesting response to my “The Centrality and Scope of Conversion.” First, I would like to follow up a couple of Dr. Carter’s less serious objections. He regrets that I paint evangelicals with too broad a swath, implicating them all as "hard-liners.” But of course the whole point of the article is that there are at least two groups among evangelicals, the "hard-liners" and the “soft-liners.” And these two designations are meant as "ideal types,” implying that most evangelicals would fall somewhere in between the two axes. Beyond this, my analysis is supposed to be "severely flawed" by my militant antipathy to the "hard-line" believers whom I describe. Yet he doesn't explain how my vitriol distorts my picture of things. As for myself, I fail to see the distortion, but of course I would. But if the “hard religious line” is as psychologically dangerous as I believe it is, why not get a little indignant about it?

Next, I would like to address the most serious difficulty noted by Dr. Carter. I had not supposed that my train of thought was so hard to follow. Basically, the point was that conversion is commonly conceived as a miracle in the sense that, in conversion the action of God overrules normal psychological cause-and-effect to produce rebirth. 
When some “soft-line” psychologists become uncomfortable with this understanding, they seek to redefine subtly the concept of miracle so that divine action is seen as parallel to, and not disruptive of, normal cause-and-effect. In so doing, they open Pandora's box theologically by inviting an essentially Liberal understanding of God’s "mighty acts in history," similar to that of Schleiermacher and Bultmann. Yet some kind of redefinition of evangelical conversion would seem to be in order, since many converts expect the ensuing processes of sanctification and maturity to come about in analogously miraculous fashion. This expectation leads them to shun the inevitable processes of growing up in the world, and in their faith. So some reconception of "conversion" seems desirable, but the price seems too high if the “miracle” concept is thereby weakened theologically.

This much, Dr. Carter feels is probably valid, if the average reader can manage to find some order in my confusing tangle of ideas. His real difficulty is with what he believes I am proposing as a solution. I join him in rejecting the “double upper-story leap” he describes, since I never meant to propose it! I have somehow inadvertently misled Dr. Carter (and perhaps some other readers as well) into believing that I wish to remove the miraculous from the realm of actual events. In fact I did not suggest that “miracle" be restricted to the saving efficacy of doctrinal truths. On the contrary, I sought to make it clear that my solution would leave the meaning of “miracle" intact, as a divine intervention in the ordinary process of cause-and-effect. Thus we can leave undisturbed the traditional conservative understanding of events like the parting of the Red Sea or the Resurrection of Christ.

As for conversion, we should refrain from calling it "miraculous" in any sense at all. Instead, we should say that in conver­sion, one turns (in normal psychological fashion) toward belief in saving truths founded upon truly and literally miraculous events (e. g., the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ). No theological compromise is entailed since "miracle" is not being redefined. Though I wish I had been even clearer, I do not believe that I was so unclear as to grossly confuse the reader. For example, I remarked, "One need not revise or weaken the concept of 'miracle.'” Again, "So ‘soft­ line supernaturalists’... do not need to trouble themselves about redefining and compromising the miraculous quality of conversion. They would be well-advised instead to leave the meaning of 'miracle' intact and deny that conversion is miraculous at all! ... The decision to believe the Gospel message is 'merely' a decision like any other decision.” In my brief remark about Calvinism, I also underlined this point, suggesting that conversion, like any other decision, be considered an instance of God's general everyday providence, unlike the Resurrection of Jesus which must be deemed a special act of divine causation (a miracle) discontinuous with the normal laws of nature and circumstance established by God.
So I do not mean to challenge the idea that God may work through both natural law and its occasional suspension. I believe that Dr. Carter's viewpoint is not very far from mine. I regret that he did not recognize this, though I am not sure I understand the occasion for the confusion. Yes, Virginia, there are miraculous events, but conversion is not one of them.
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