Thursday, February 14, 2013

N.T. Wright on Jesus, Healing, and Miracles: Getting Skeptical about Skepticism

Green Lake, Wisconsin
N.T. Wright, in chapter 6 of Simply Jesus, addresses the issue of Jesus, healing, and the miraculous. Wherever Jesus went, people celebrated his coming. wright writes: "You didn’t have to look far to discover the reason for the celebration either. People were being healed— healed of any and every disease you can think of." (N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, p. 57)

Wherever Jesus went, he healed people. “He went on through the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, healing every disease and every illness among the people” (Matthew 4:23)

But some people are skeptical that Jesus actually healed sick people. Wright responds to such skepticism with four points, three of them historical and one of them skeptical about skepticism itself.

  1. Jesus attracted large crowds. Historically, this is beyond doubt. Why such large crowds wherever Jesus went? "The gospels [historical documents, BTW] all say it was because he was healing people. The link between healing and crowds is made in all the sources." 
  2. There are historical reports of opponents accusing Jesus of being aligned with the devil. These reports were not invented. "Those who loved and worshiped Jesus wouldn’t have invented tales of his being involved in dark arts. People don’t accuse you of being in league with the devil unless you are doing pretty remarkable things."
  3. "The explanation Jesus gave for what was going on was that something new was happening - something powerful, dramatic, different. If all he'd been doing was encouraging people to feel better about themselves and not actually transforming their real lives, there would have been no sign of anything new. There would have been nothing to explain. His explanations only make sense if the thing they are explaining is sufficiently startling to raise questions."
  4. Finally, we should be skeptical of skepticism itself. There were many people during Jesus' own day who didn't want to believe his message, because it challenged their own power or influence. "It would have upset their own agenda." It would be cool if Jesus was just some "soul doctor" who made people feel better inside. But don't tell us that there is a God who actually does things in the world, because "we might have to take that God seriously." "Skepticism," therefore, is no more "neutral" or "objective" than faith.
Note: we teach last point in logic classes. See, e.g., the text I use in my classes - chapter 2 of Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking, which shows that skepticism is itself a non-neutral, biased worldview.