Let’s think about how we believe. No, not “what we believe” or “why we believe it.” How we believe is what I want to discuss with you.

Craig Keener visited the Credo House last week. On Friday, he gave a presentation on miracles to a packed house. It was based on his excellent work, titled Miracles. During this presentation, Keener shared the fruit of his research; among other things, he has catalogued what he believes to be legitimate attestable miracles from God that have occurred around the world. In the book and presentation he gave examples and demonstrated how these miracles can and should be believed due to the testimonies and evidence he gathered for each. And the evidence, for many of them, was very compelling . . . or at least it should have been.

I have trouble believing things. So when Keener was sharing his stories, even though I am the one who brought him in to give this presentation, I found them all hard to believe. Why? I don’t know. I am skeptical. I don’t normally believe people, when they tell me this or that about how God intervened in a supernatural way. In the back of my mind, I am patting them on the head saying, “I am glad you believe this and I am not going to do anything to take away from your belief, but I don’t.” Maybe “don’t” is not the best word. It is more that I reserve my right to suspend judgment on this “miracle.”

But in truth, I need to believe more of these miracle stories. There are so many for which I don’t have any other legitimate explanation. For example (and this was not part of Keener’s presentation), J. P. Moreland once told me, when I asked him why God does not heal amputees, a story that is continually in my mind when these kind of things are on the table. He said he once witnessed a guy who was missing an ear (there was just skin where the ear should be) and saw it grow back as people (including Moreland) prayed for him. He said they watched as there was a break in his skin, blood came out, and a slight “ear” formed. What is interesting about this story is that the ear did not grow completely back. When the miracle was over, he just had a hole there, a bit of an ear, and could hear out of it.

This is one story I think I believe. Or, at least, I believe it somewhat.

I suspend belief on “miracle” stories for many reasons. One is that most of the stories I hear are not falsifiable. In other words, they can’t be proven wrong. I think this is convenient for fabrications and misunderstandings. After all, back pain, hurt knees, and short legs are very hard to verify. I am not saying healings do not happen. Perhaps many of these are true and I am missing some information that might give some more substance to my faith. But, seeing as how most of the stories are not falsifiable, I wonder why God would perform so many unsubstantiated (from a verification standpoint) miracles and be so absent (relatively speaking) from miracles that would leave everyone speechless. You know, I am referring to miracles such as raising the dead, healing the blind, and making a paralytic walk. Those are the things we see in the New Testament and, more importantly for me, these are the ones that are hard to deny.

The second reason I suspend belief is because I don’t, in most cases, trust the person telling the story. I don’t know his or her character.  I don’t know if they have integrity in this area (not that I am claiming much), I don’t know whether they are critical enough to share these claims. Maybe they just want it to be true so they pass it on (albeit in a more objective sense). It takes awhile for me to trust people, especially when it comes to this stuff. Claims of God’s intervention are too important for me to “just believe.” For me, it is dishonoring to God for me to believe something just because I want it to be true, or because it fits into a worldview I desire to be true. Therefore, I suspend belief because, at least in my mind, I am honoring God. For me to really trust someone takes time. It takes an experience of a person’s honest character, willing to wrestle with weaknesses, able to admit shortcomings. and not believing things just because they fit into a desired framework that makes him feel better.

J. P. Moreland, however, told a story that has all the makings for my belief. Therefore, I think I believe it. The story was certainly not something that was obscure like back pain. As I mentioned earlier, he related how he watched an ear grow back (at least in part). Moreland is no lightweight uncritical scholar. Over the years he has gained my trust, both through personal interaction with him and via his scholarly writings. He has also had the courage to change his theological position on some things that would otherwise be hard to change. Furthermore, the story itself contains an element of embarrassment in that the ear only grew back partially!

So, I think to myself: He is either lying, misunderstood what he saw, or it happened. Assuming I understood the story he told (and I sometimes doubt that), these are the only three conceivable alternatives. The first two are very hard to believe. Therefore, I think I believe the third.

This is the way it is with so many of the stories in Keener’s book. They seem so legit. I think I believe them. I want to believe them.

Then why is my belief so tentative in things like this? If it stands up to scrutiny (which I think it does), why not really believe it? The answer, I believe, comes down to an understanding of how I believe. The what and why are in place. They are defined and strong. But the how is getting in the way of my full commitment here.

Experiences such as these are not and will never be the foundation of my faith (at least I hope). Neither should they be the foundation of yours. However, they do turn a two-dimensional faith into a three-dimensional one. I do want to believe them (at least the ones that legitimately reveal God’s presence in the world). And you should, too. After all, if God is working in miraculous ways in the world today (and I believe he is), we need to be able to rejoice about such actions, even if we never experience them firsthand.

In the next blog post I am going to try to do what I originally intended here and explain more about how we believe.

I suppose, for now, a good question would be this: do you believe the Moreland story? Why or why not?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    130 replies to "J. P. Moreland’s Story About God Healing an Amputee"

    • @tw: Indeed us “theologs” have our idiosyncrasies, I mean were still sinners! But indeed hopefully we who are, ‘In Christ’, are after ‘faith, hope and love!’ It does appear your right about not being a so-called “devil’s advocate” after all, you have now shown a psychological “preference”, which to me is even worse! Sadly the psychobabble has come to stay it seems. And preference surely is much more deceptive here, then theology, but then that is my opinion too as a pastor.

    • Luke

      @ thom waters: I can only guess that you have no idea how arrogant and condescending you’re appearing here. We get that you’re convinced that faith is beneath you. Meanwhile, we’ve wandered rather far afield from the topic at hand. Like J. P. Moreland, I have experienced what cannot rationally be explained.

    • Indeed “tw” is quite exhibiting much non-Christian language and lack of biblical theology, real ignorance here! Who cares what HE thinks personally, when it rejects faith and truth. His “tradition” seems to be himself. Which btw, simply is modernism-modernity & post-modernity!

    • thom waters


      You are quite right that we have drifted far afield of “how” we experience what we believe. That you have experienced something that you cannot explain rationally is something for yourself to figure out and deal with, as you choose.

      With regard to the pastor’s most recent remarks much could be said. I will be brief:

      1–There might be, and I believe there is, a difference between rejecting biblical theology and an ignorance of it.

      2–Standing in the tradition of Jesus’ teaching to love your neighbor as you love yourself seems to be something quite different than one adopting one’s self as your tradition.

      3–Back to 1. It might be that the biblical theology you refer to is actually the “Christ of Faith” so promoted by the Apostle Paul. That gets us deeper into the theological world of which you appear to be so inclined. You seem to be committed to the “rightness” of your theological beliefs. Nothing wrong with that as long as you do no physical harm to another or wish ill upon your neighbor who might not see things as you do or believe what you believe.

      4–I was going to respond to the well-meant and charitable remark about “psychobabble”. I will allow others to reach their own conclusions about it. As I have tried to express before, we are all in this together and we all choose our paths for negotiating the terrain. If I find little room for Faith in traversing the ground, I would like to think that others might respect that decision.

      5–When you talk about rejecting Truth, it reminds me of what I had said earlier about Belief and believers. Every Belief system seems to seek this Truth Seal of Approval to support it. That is to be expected. The operative question to be asked ultimately is this: What do we actually know to be true? This is where you must begin and the starting point to this for Christianity seems to be the Resurrection of Jesus. It is here where your search to answer this question must begin.

    • Brian

      It sure isn’t hard to sit back and estimate who is acting more like Christ in this comment thread in what they are saying and how they are saying it. I know who I am more inclined to listen to. (John 9:25) There is a difference between rightness and righteous which “christians” seem to forget.

    • @tw: I see that you said nothing about “modernity and postmodernity”? Which is where I see “your” sort of epistemology, i.e. theory or study of understanding and belief. And surely here is where modern psychology, especially psychoanalysis & psychotherapy reside! I somewhat respect clinical psychology (note I am a hospital chaplain now, as semi-retired), but psychotherapeutics has been a failure in my opinion! And I have had academic studies in both Freudian and Jungian disciplines or studies. But indeed my doctorates are in philosophy & theology. So it is there that I see the real discipline, i.e. Biblical Divinity and Dogmatics! So here I place the great premium on epistemology, knowledge and its methods to know and understand! Indeed we are human beings, but fallen so, and so it is only to God In Christ that we can turn and truly know! That’s the way I see it at least. 😉

    • Btw, so-called “sloppy agape” is not real love to me, I never saw it on the literal battlefield that’s for sure, nor on or in the true/real “battlefield” of life! Truth demands much more reality…

      “Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in self-giving and unlimited in demand.” (Evelyn Underhill)

    • thom waters

      In a nutshell.

      What do we actually know to be true?

      Once we begin to answer this question it seems to throw light onto the place and role that Belief and Faith play in our lives.

      We know, for example, that each of us is going to die. Belief and Faith are in large measure responses to what we “know”. And the answer or the response? Live forever. Ray Bradbury, the great Sci-Fi author said that as a young boy the most influential idea he ever encountered was the idea of “live forever”. It motivated him throughout his entrie life. And who of us isn’t happy to trade what we “know” for the belief of “live forever”? You still have to muddle through the nuts and bolts of everyday life. How best to accomplish this knowing that we do so in community?

      I am not familiar with the concept of “sloppy agape”. It sounds somewhat derrogatory. If the Good Samaritan is guilty of it in Luke 10, then I can only hope to measure up to it. At the very least, it is a good measuring stick. I have thought for some time that the most telling aspect of the story is the Samaritan’s willingness to pay for additional expenses that might be assessed for the man’s care. What qualifies as “sloppy”?

    • Luke

      @ thom waters:

      You said, ” If I find little room for Faith in traversing the ground, I would like to think that others might respect that decision. ”

      That would be rather less difficult for Christians to do here if you didn’t disrespect our decision to live by faith in your posts. Just sayin’.

    • Brian


      I think you are personalizing his comments.

      Thom said “Live your life as best you can. Let the chips fall where they might. Try to avoid the arrogance and condesension that so often accompanies Faith, as if your efforts have received some seal of approval beyond the rest of us who trudge through life as best we can with no motives beyond following the admontion to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And we respond to it because it seems a reasonable and productive way to live. At least we won’t portray ourselves as different than we are.”

      The You here is generally speaking and not aimed at you personally.

      I think that comment generally can be very fitting for Christians.

      Even if its a judgement, acknowledge there is validity, for truth’s sake and not put yourself as a defender of something that is not in keeping with Christ. Unless you would like to argue that believing humans do not have legalistic and rightness (not righteousness) tendencies.

    • @tw: It seems in every biblical reference you make, it is towards some aspect of moral behavior, and surely Christian or Christ-like ethics is important, but it is not way of salvation itself! This has always been the problem with the “worlds” idea of human salvation, i.e. a works righteousness. And part of this battle was seen in the Reformation, and still exists today! But faith itself is always God’s gift, and our response is the out-working of this grace itself, as we can see in Eph. 2: 8-9-10, with Phil. 2: 12-13…”work out your salvation with fear and trembling (awe & responsibility), for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure.” (Phil. 2: 11-12) We must not get the cart before the horse, however, Christian salvation is never a “works righteousness”, but God’s grace at work “in us”, that is always seen in repentance & faith. As St. Paul teaches in justification & sanctification, Romans chapter 5 thru 8! But again as our Reformers taught, we see this in the preaching and teaching of Law & Gospel. Law must always precede the Gospel or Good News, as we can see in Gal. 4: 1-7, noting the NT doctrines of imputation and adoption!

      The Pauline Gospel honours and fulfills Law/Gospel ‘In Christ’! And again, this is the Gospel of our Reformers! No dishonor, or “sloppy” so-called agape, but the Gospel and Righteousness of Christ! (Rom. 1: 16-17)

    • Btw, in this day and age, the Reformation (Luther and the Lutheran) Gospel, as the Reformed Gospel, (Calvin and the Geneva/Genevan) Gospel, is sadly fully seen or quite understood! One can surely see this, i.e. lack of.. on this blog also!

    • Luke

      @ brian:

      You said, “The You here is generally speaking and not aimed at you personally.”

      Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

      I will grant that some people of faith come across as arrogant and condescending. I point out in turn that 99% or thereabouts of the people of non-faith that I encounter here and elsewhere (mostly elsewhere) are at least equally prone to such display. As far as I can see, arrogance and condescension are human traits, not traits of faith per se.

      I will try not to respond to further off-topic comments; this isn’t the discussion I came here to have.

    • Brian

      “Thanks for pointing out the obvious.” -Luke.

      You make the point perfectly.

      So you agree that humans all act the same. Just some use Christ as a means for their arrogance. Great. What then was your disagreement about?

    • Wow! Then old St. Paul was one arrogant dude, with this logic… amazing!

    • thom waters

      Sorry to have intruded into this thread.

      And Luke, forgive me if at any point I indicated or gave you the impression that I was disrespecting in any way people of Faith, whatever the Faith. That was never my intention. I still find disagreement with the “rightness” of their approach where they seem to be the curators of Truth and the rest of us are viewed as mere saps.

      And pastor, thanks for excusing my lack of faith and placing it squarely in the hands of God, absolving me of any responsibility when you remind us that ” . . . faith, itself, is always God’s gift . . . ” Nice to be chosen. Mr. Rogers thought that we were all “special”. Maybe not.

    • It appears they have shut the blog comments off now? They do that sometimes.

    • Not sure, since I wrote a rather longer piece (just before my last), and it went who knows where?

    • Btw, people should note.. I am rather critical of all para-church structures, even P&P. Though I like CMP personally, I am certainly not a fan of evidential apologetics!

      Just shooting straight! 🙂

    • Luke

      @ brian: Your mischaracterization of my words is duly noted.

    • Btw tw, GOD does not “absolve” per se any of us, the question is, have we absolved ourselves ‘In Christ’? It is an I/thou relationship! And only the elect-sinner can say, “I know in Whom I have believed!” (2 Tim. 1:12)…”and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed (entrusted) unto Him against that day.”

    • JB Chappell

      I’m not familiar with the story in question, but with claims like this I always wonder – why no documentation? I have heard people claim all sorts of medical wonders have occurred to them, and I have always urged them to get their medical records together, because it is something that should be shared. But they never do. Of course, there are always those who might claim a photo or X-ray was photoshopped, but there are ways of determining that as well. But myself, it seems to me far more likely that someone thought they saw something they didn’t, or is lying, as opposed to an actual miracle having occurred.

    • Luke

      @ JB Chappell: You think that it’s “far more likely” that J. P. Moreland is lying or hallucinated about seeing an ear form than an actual miracle occurred?

    • JB Chappell


      That’s not quite what I said, but yes. There are more options than lying or hallucinating. Just being wrong is one of them. Perhaps he did see an ear grow (partially) back, but there’s a perfectly natural explanation for that. The difficulty with supernatural explanations is that they so often have become an unnecessary add-on to what laws of nature can explain. Is God behind the rainbow? Perhaps, but it isn’t necessary to go there, although we can understand why people may have done so in the past.

      Of course, the truth of the matter is that I have no idea what the probability of a miracle in this matter is, and I doubt anyone else does. So when we say “more likely”, it’s a completely subjective evaluation. In my experience, when people claim miracles happen, they are either appealing to the supernatural for something rather mundane (easily explained by coincidence), lying, or otherwise mislead/ing, etc. and so the collection of these possibilities outweigh the probability of a miracle.

      Which isn’t to say that I am not open to evidence. I would love to see medical records, photographs, or other evidence (other than anecdotes) of the account in question here.

    • Shane

      Yes, I believe the Moreland story about the ear. I’ve heard about partial healings before. God must have a reason for not doing a full restoration. God seems to do some strange things sometimes…..for reasons we don’t understand. Gulshan Esther, a Muslim woman who prayed to Jesus for 3 years for healing, finally got healed but it was not a 100% healing. She asked why? And the reply was because Jesus wanted her to be His witness. Gulshan’s story is available on Wikipedia. She became a Christian through her experience. Maybe the partial ear restoration was for the same purpose. Anyway, regardless of the reason (we won’t know until we go to Heaven), the main thing is that the man was able to hear again through that ear. God bless.

    • Gary Sellars

      It’s bad enough when pagan mockers refuse to believe, but when people who call themselves “Christians,” in light of the clear and unequivocal promises of God that He will do *ANYTHING* that we ask believing, I marvel at the “Christians” who are PROUD to add their names to the long line of “I don’t believe it” and make excuses why God doesn’t, when the fact is stinking unbelief only means the “unbelieving believer” won’t see any miracles.

      I’ve seen dozens right in front of my face and heard of far more and since I’m a “believing one,” I don’t have any problem believing that, since the Bible really is true, it’s only unbelief standing between “Christians” and miracles.

      That’s so simple that one would think one would have to have help to misunderstand it, yet, I hear Jesus saying, “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Yes, Lord. I’ll believe for miracles and I know many others will too. It just seems the unbelieving believers like to be so vocal about their unbelief.

      It was that way when Jesus was walking the earth and since Mark 16:17-18 is still in Bible, and (for a second witness) we were told that God never changes, and (for a third witness), the Master Himself told us in Mark 11:23 that whatever we say and believe and doubt not, it will happen.

      Yet, interestingly, the same “unbelieving believers” not only pretend that Mark 11:23-24 doesn’t exist, they blaspheme the people who believe and disparagingly refers to GENUINE BELIEVERS as “blab it and grab it heretics” when the heretic is the one who refuses to believe the Bible.

      Oh, wait… that’s not a heretic; that’s an unbeliever, right?

    • Kevin Harris

      There may be precedence for a progressive healing from Christ and could apply to the partial-ear healing. In Mark 8:23-25 Jesus touches the blind man and he can partially see (“men look like trees”). Jesus touches him again and the restoration is complete. Why the two-stage miracle? (Did someone already mention this and I missed it?)
      As a side note, I’ve often thought that a radical healing (like an amputated limb growing back) could be extremely hard on the person healed. I think if it happened to me, I would be too overwhelmed to ever have a “normal” day again! It would probably throw me into a radical mindset that would make me hard to be around! My whole world would be so centered around the event that everything else would become mundane! I would be unable to balance my checkbook or engage day-to-day necessities. Maybe that’s just me, but if God did something like that for me, he would have to give me the grace to handle it as well.

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