Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Miracles: The Majority World Doesn't Buy Into the Enlightenment Worldview

Maasai bracelet, given to me in Kenya

Last week I read more in Candy Gunther Brown's Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. This is an excellent piece of scholarship. It is, simply, the text to read on empirical claims re. the efficacy of prayer (Candy's focus is on "proximal prayer" - PIP [Proximal Intercessory Prayer]).

Today I re-picked-up Craig Keener's massive study on miracles and the supernatural - Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

I'm slow-cooking in these two texts, reading them hand-in-hand. They are the two studies to read, for all who want to look at claims about healing and miracles that are empirical and supernatural (the two are not, of course, mutually exclusive). Plus, in these books you will get a gargantuan, exhaustive bibliography that could send you on expressways and rabbit trails for the rest of your life.

I'm now into Craig's chapter on "Majority World Perspectives." By "majority world" he means: those parts of the world where Christianity predominates. It's not the U.S., BTW.

I'm underlining way too much in this book!

Here's a quote that represents this chapter.

"Most Christians in the Majority World," writes Keener, "less shaped by the modern Western tradition of the radical Enlightenment [esp. Hume], find stories of miraculous phenomena far less objectionable than do their Western counterparts. These other cultures offer a check on traditional Western assumptions; as Lamin Sanneh, professor of missions and history at Yale Divinity School, points out, it is here that Western culture 'can encounter... the gospel as it is being embraced by societies that had not been shaped by the Enlightenment,' and are thus closer to the milieu of earliest Christianity. Encounters with non-Western societies have increasingly challenged the hegemony of many assumptions that the Enlightenment treated as universals. Thus even various Western scholars are increasingly challenging the hegemony of the traditional Western approach of demythologizing, in light of the very different hermeneutical approach of African readers." (221)

Craig gives an example of what this looks like. He writes: "When some Western students pressed a guest speaker from the Kenyan Maasai culture whether he genuinely believed in traditional Maasai healing practices, he laughed and retorted, 'It worked.'" (220)

As I'm typing this I'm still wearing the bracelet a young Maasai pastor placed on my wrist when I was in Kenya a year and a half ago. When I taught my Spiritual Formation class to 60-70 Kenyan and Ugandan pastors, it was easy to see that they had zero buy-in regarding regarding the 19th-century anti-supernaturalist philosopher David Hume (whom Keener thoroughly debunks in the Part 2 of his book).