Book Review – The Case for Miracles
Lee Strobel’s “Case for” series (including The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith and 6 others including The Case for Miracles) is one of the world’s most popular book series regarding Christian apologetics. Strobel, a former atheist and a one-time legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, investigates the evidence for and against miracles through a journalistic lens in order to lay the case out for the reader to draw their own conclusion on the matter.
Despite knowing of Strobel’s books for years, this is the first of his books I have actually read (I have read parts of The Case for a Creator, and have watched many presentations Strobel has given on apologetic material, but haven’t previously read any of his work in its entirety). He writes in an engaging style, and steers clear of the philosophical language or Christian jargon (‘Christianese’) that often appears in theological or apologetic material. I expect this would ensure that readers do not get lost in the language but stay with Strobel and understand the full meaning of what is happening at each moment through the book.
A brief run-down
Apart from the introduction and conclusion, the book is divided into five sections, each with two to three chapters. These sections are built on interviews Strobel conducts over a period of more than a year (based on what he notes in the book). Importantly, while Strobel does offer his experiences to provide examples relevant to what each interviewee says, he does not make judgement calls as to the content of their responses – this leaves the decision-making up to the reader.
Strobel introduces his topic by recounting four anecdotes that have been documented as miracles, with a further recount of an illusionist’s attempt to create similar ‘miraculous’ events through psychological manipulation. Strobel also gives some stories from his own life that he believes are genuine miracles to give some sort of backdrop to the investigation he will conduct through the rest of the book.
The first section after the introduction is an interview with editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, Dr. Michael Shermer. A former Christian, Shermer goes back and forth with Strobel on the reasons why he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. They discuss Hume’s argument, scientific studies that appear to defeat the reality of miracles and anecdotes from Shermer’s own personal experience (including a story he finds particularly ‘miraculous’ despite not believing in miracles).
The interview with Shermer seems to draw a roadmap for the rest of Strobel’s book – he spends the next three sections finding reasoning against Shermer’s arguments, while also building a positive case for miracles. Some of the individuals interviewed include Dr. Craig Keener (who himself has written a lengthy academic work on the reality of miracles), Dr. Candy Gunther Brown and Jim Warner Wallace, among others. In addition to Shermer’s arguments, these interviews bring in topics such as visions and dreams, the Resurrection and the relationship between God and cosmology. On top of all this, there are ample anecdotes.
The fifth section has a two-fold focus: firstly, the fact that miracles often seem to be sparse in the industrialised world; and secondly, the fact that sometimes miracles don’t happen despite having faith they will. Strobel interviews Dr. Roger Olson and Dr. Douglas Groothuis to discuss these topics.
Overall, I found the book largely engaging and interesting, although this may simply be because I have an interest in the subject matter. It’s important to remember that this book is written with the interests of the layman at heart, and as such, its conversational style can sometimes come off as overly informal . However, I don’t believe this compromises on the quality of the information Strobel conveys.
As for the overall message, do remember that rather than proving the reality of miracles with 100% certainty, it is often easier to illustrate their possibility and then build a cumulative case. This is what Strobel has attempted to do through his book, and as such, anecdotes play a major role in his case. Many (especially on the naturalistic side) will say that this is not rigorous enough to prove that miracles are a reality. However, in my view, given that miracles are merely a temporary distortion/suspension of physical laws, the truth of even a handful of examples at least shows that the way we describe the world using physical laws is at best incomplete. Nevertheless, do note that Strobel raises examples of scientific studies that do appear to suggest the reality of miracles – I would argue that the anecdotes are supporting evidence, so to speak.
Strobel’s exploration of the difficulties with miracles impressed me most about his book. Rather than pretending that miracles are commonplace and should be a part of the everyday human experience, he is not afraid to delve into some of the difficulties people often face faith-wise when it seems like things aren’t going to improve. He bares his own struggles in this section as well, making it as personal and emotional as this topic can be (if you’re familiar with Dr. Shermer’s story, you’ll know that God’s apparent failure to deliver a miracle was the nail in the coffin for his own faith).
All in all, I do believe Strobel’s book achieves what it set out to do – he lays out both the positive and negative case for miracles and allows the reader to make the final judgement call. The book is accessible for the layman and will not bore the academic-minded, and should at least provide the naturalist with some food-for-thought when it comes to the topic of miracles and the supernatural. I highly recommend this book to all who are interested.
(P.S. I’m currently reading Dr. William Lane Craig’s ‘Time and Eternity’, and will try and get a review out on that as soon as I can; in the meantime, there will be other posts though)
Biographical and bibliographical information taken from https://leestrobel.com/