The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Interview with Jared Wilson)
There is never any shortage of fascination with the supernatural. Be it in, or outside of the evangelical world, the miraculous is something we simply can’t ignore. For some it becomes an obsession, while for others it feels safer to pretend it doesn’t exist. For Christians, the subject of miracles is one we should seek to rightly understand, specifically in the context of the Gospels. To this end Jared Wilson has contributed a winsomely and worshipful work which helps us do just that. I was privileged to ask him a few questions about his latest title, The Wonder Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles and the all-important subject it explores. After reading this interview, I highly recommend you pick up a copy for yourself and wonder at our Wonder Working God
In what sense is your most recent book, The Wonder Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles, a follow up to, The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, published earlier this year, and in what ways do Jesus’s parables and His miracles serve the same purpose?
The books are complementary works in that they cover these two unique features of Jesus’ ministry by examining how they function in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth. Both Jesus’ parables and miracles give us “windows” into the kingdom – snapshots, as it were, of what life under Christ’s Kingship looks like and what ramifications Christ’s work has for mankind. Additionally, both the miracles and the parables serve this unique function of simultaneously revealing and concealing. Depending on the heart of the person hearing or witnessing, the parables may reveal Christ’s glory or be utterly confusing. The miracles may strike someone as a signpost to the spiritual healing of the gospel or they may turn someone against it.
How should we define the word “miracle,” and in doing so do we need two separate definitions, one in relation to the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry, and one for our modern context?
My definition of “miracle” is somewhat counterintuitive, because we tend to think of miracles as a “bending” of the ordinary or a disruption of what’s normal for something supernatural. And of course that is true from the perspective of finite minds in a fallen creation. A miracle is a supernatural act that suspends for the moment the ordinary course of the natural. But the miracles of Christ are, properly understood, actually acts of bending the fallen world back into its original normalcy! The miracles are reminders of the world as it used to be, before sin came and corrupted everything, and of the world as it one day will be, when Christ returns to vanquish sin and death finally and set all things back to rights.
I do think we see more miracles in Jesus’ day, if only because Jesus walking around on earth is quite a special thing. We should expect extraordinary ripples in the Incarnational ministry, and even in the work of the apostles in the explosive dawn of the early church. So while miracles have never been common, they proliferated more in the life of Christ and the early church. And yet I would say the definition for the Christian miraculous today would remain the same. If and when God works what we call miracles today, they are meant to point us away from the miracle and to the glory of Christ.
It’s not a false perception. As I said, I think the specialness of Christ’s physical presence, the inauguration of the kingdom, and the launch of the church were all special things in history that should be expected to carry extraordinary signs and the proliferation of them. I think this is why most of the most credible reporting of miracles like we see in the Bible tend to come from the mission field where the gospel is brand new in the midst of unreached people groups.
Is there such thing as counterfeit miracles, and if so how are we to discern between real and fake, authentic versus feigned?
We certainly see in the Bible the working of miracles by ungodly means. Pharaoah’s sorcerers come to mind, as well as some of the pagan exorcists and miracle workers in the New Testament. The miracles themselves were legitimate enough, but they are not works that ought to be trusted because they are done through demonic power and therefore do not point us to Jesus. Even today, we can discern between legitimate miracles and signs sometimes performed in self-proclaimed Christian churches by seeing how much emphasis is put on the miraculous over against the Miracle-worker, how much emphasis is put on material goods or health, how connected the miracles are to the false gospels of prosperity or “word of faith,” and how interested in confession and repentance the miracle-enjoyers seem to be.
Though we only have one recorded instance where unbelief seemingly hindered Jesus’s willingness to perform miracles, what are we to make of this? To what extent does our faith, or lack thereof play a part when it comes to the miraculous?
Our faith plays a huge part, but we have to stay away from mathematical formulas. Sometimes God heals the doubter. This is an act of grace. Sometimes God does not heal the faithful. This is an act of grace too. So we let God set the requirements for how he will work, and we stay away from the idea that we’d see miracles “if only we’d believe.” That is a focus on the miracle rather than the Miracle-worker, and it is a rather common variation of the prosperity gospel that’s infected wider evangelicalism.
C.S. Lewis remarked that we can fall into two errors when it comes to our belief in devils; one being to disbelieve in their existence, and the other being an “excessive and unhealthy interest” in them. It seems the same two errors can be made regarding miracles. What is the danger of falling into either of these errors?
Well, the danger on the skeptical side is failing to take the biblical teaching at face value, but even greater, to assume that God can only work in certain ways. It is, ultimately, an attempt to hem in God’s sovereignty. On the other hand, of course, we see a host of abuses and perversions. And it’s typically these wrongs that push the skeptics further into their trench. We may be in danger of doubting God’s miraculous working today, but many are in perhaps a greater danger of obsessing over them too much, of in fact making an idol out of the idea of the miraculous. And we see in the Scriptures how eternally dangerous it can be to focus on the signs and miss Him who is signified by them.
Whenever Jesus’s miracles are brought up, it seems only a matter of time before the question of “how” arises. People want to know if Jesus preformed miracles as God or man, in his divinity, or his humanity. Some avoid asking this sort of question at all for fear of being irreverent or even blasphemous. Is this a type of question we should be asking, or in doing so are we “missing the forest for the trees?”
I don’t think we can partition Jesus’ dual nature out that way. He was both fully God and fully man. The writers and witnesses of the Gospels can only emphasize certain perspectives, so of course sometimes we see one aspect emphasized over another, but I don’t think this gives us safe ground to begin dissecting or categorizing Jesus’ works and words in this way. There are some clear delineations we can make – for instance, Jesus was killable because he was human, but he also could have prevented his own death through employment of his divinity, and of course God did not die on the cross. But when it comes to the miracles, I don’t think we are blasphemous to follow that train of thought, just sidetracked. Jesus, as the God-Man, performed miracles a man full of the Spirit of God. That may be as much as we can say.
In addition to the Bible Studies you have written and the books you have co-authored, you have published seven books in the last four years, including a novel. Do you see yourself taking a break from writing anytime in the future, or can we expect to see more in the years ahead? Are there any writing projects you have currently in the works we can be looking forward to?
I have always been a writer, even since childhood, so I’m always writing. I don’t think I could foresee a time when I might take a break from writing. Perhaps a break from publishing, but not any time soon. I spent almost ten years trying to get published before my first book, so in a way, I feel as though I’m making up for lost time. And I do see this work as an extension of my ministry and a service to the church.
I have two books coming out next year – a gentle critique of the attractional model of ministry called The Prodigal Church and a unique look at how the coming new heavens and new earth give meaning to everyday life tentatively titled God’s Plan for Everything – both from Crossway. I have also contributed some help to Matt Chandler’s next book, a look at romance, marriage, and sex through the Song of Solomon. And I have a Bible study resource coming out next year as part of a new series called “The Gospel-Shaped Church” from The Good Book Co. and The Gospel Coalition.
Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. His articles and short stories have appeared in a number of periodicals, and he has written the popular books Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness and Gospel Deeps, as well as the curriculum Abide. Wilson lives in Vermont with his wife and two daughters, and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church hosted by the Gospel Coalition.
David Livernois is married to Nicole, the love of his life; they have three amazing children, Riley, Sarai and Abigail, all of which are undeserved miracles pointing to the goodness of our Wonder Working God, Christ Jesus. They live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where they are active members of Missio Dei Asheville.