IV. Miracles, meddling and modernism

NT (Tom) Wright is a highly acclaimed New Testament theologian and author of the landmark The Resurrection of the Son of God. In a recent interview with Justin Brierley on Unbelievable?, he had the following helpful and pertinent comments on miracles and questions of God acting in our world:

Justin Is there any evidence for miracles claimed by the New Testament other than the resurrection, for example, Jesus feeding the five thousand? Now are we supposed to go looking for tell tale clues that these miracles also have some sort of evidentiary basis?

Tom We are still with these questions, like the others, we are still in the world of modernism, which is to say we’re trying to live as eighteenth century rationalists. Please folks, let’s give that up.

Justin But isn’t that what you’ve done with the big book on the resurrection?

Tom No, it precisely isn’t. That is how some people use it. The real argument of the big book on the resurrection is to say, to challenge the skeptics, to say as we look at all the evidence that is out there, and it’s a big book because there is a lot of evidence of different sorts of worldviews etc. etc., then you will see as you ask the question “Why did Christianity begin and take the shape it did?” that the answer the New Testament gives is Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. But the skeptics have said oh no we know that this really happened or that really happened or some other solution. And actually, what history is very good at doing is unmasking all of those and showing that all the alternatives are wildly implausible…This doesn’t prove in some mathematical sense that Jesus rose from the dead. What it does is create a context in which the challenge comes back “are you prepared to believe that maybe there is a living creator God who actually has raised Jesus from the dead?” You can’t fit the resurrection of Jesus into the modern rationalistic worldview. It explodes that worldview and gives you a new sort of rationality the other side of that. … You don’t abandon reason; you’ve still got rationality at the end of it. But what you lose is the rather tight nervous eighteenth century rationalism. Hence the point about the word miracle… Let’s give up the world miracle because the word miracle comes to us now in our culture from that Epicurean or deist worldview which envisages a God who is outside the process and occasionally reaches in and does something funny and then pushes off again. Now, that is not what the New Testament is talking about. So when people say can we believe in miracles I say no, because the word miracle gives us this sense of a normally absent God sometimes reaching in, that’s not the God of the Bible. What we have, and I talk about this in Simply Jesus, is the launching of space, time, and matter in a new mode. And it’s not discontinuous with our present space, time, and matter, but this is God’s new creation. And the thing about what we call the miracles, is not … ‘wow! there seem to be radical abnormalities within the old world.’ No. The point is that these are the things that are starting to be normal in the new world which we see close up and personal with Jesus and then which, through the ministry of the gospel thereafter, start to happen in different ways in the wider world. It’s about the launching of new creation not about an invasion into the old creation.