Cheap Parlor Tricks…

… are not miracles. 

My daughter recounts a conversation we had on her tumblr blog… she writes gooder than I talk.

I read THIS and asked her the following question:  If God’s kingdom is breaking miraculously into this world, would it look like a cheap parlor trick?  Perhaps she could would answer that here or perhaps you might?

Oh, and were you asking these questions at 16?  Me either.  I love a Christ centered Classical education.

al sends


17 responses to “Cheap Parlor Tricks…

  1. I agree that God’s kingdom will break into this world. I would ask you this, were Christ’s miracles cheap tricks? I think we, especially as Calvinists, tend to dismiss the physical world as somehow trite and passing.

    N.T. Wright is one of the best theologians I have heard on this matter. He says (roughly) that the New Heavens and the New Earth will be brought into being by the Church, not by God causing a radical destruction of the known universe. This seems to fall more in line with the dominion mandate, as it gives a purpose to the whole idea of taking dominion in the New Covenant. If this is not true, then all we have to do is either reach a certain date at which point we will be whisked into heaven and watch it all burn, or we will one day reach that final tribe that needs just one soul converted at which point God will wipe His brow and say, “whew, sure took you all long enough!” and then whisk us into heaven and burn it all up.

    By the way, I dont’ believe this quite yet, but for some reason I find it amusing to argue someone else’s position by slightly mocking your own.

  2. I’ll take a shot. (Nice place ya’ got here by the way–mind if I make myself comfortable?)

    So does Christ’s kingdom breaking into the world look like cheap parlor tricks? No. I think it looks like many things, including miraculous, but certainly not cheap.

    One might approach belief in miracles as some kind of wish fulfillment. This line of reasoning is as problematic for the skeptical faithful as it is for the atheist. The trouble with arguing against a position by questioning the motives within the holder of such a position, is that such an argument is impossible to disprove — and is thus not very useful. (Doug Jones recently pointed out this tendency in conservative arguments that brand all anti-capitalists as merely envious).

    But even if we plumb the depths of the heart of one who believes in miracles, we may find more than just superstition and desire to escape the ordinary. Perhaps believing in miracles could also stem from a commitment to realism. After all, our faith is founded on the reality of a dead Man come back to life.

    I think the Kingdom does break forth through “ordinary” means. Almsgiving, forgiveness, the breaking of bread. But I also think that scattered throughout the story of the world’s redemption are glimpses of a promised glory, when “this corruptible shall put on incorruptibility”. These glimpses, or windows are signposts serving to remind us of the already/not yet glory that is filling the universe. They were in Holy Scripture–don’t see why they shouldn’t be now.

    –jon paul

    p. s. If we don’t believe in extraordinary miracles, what on Earth do we pray for?

  3. Jon Paul… what an honor! Of course you may stop by here.

    I am not discounting the miraculous nor am I trying to delve into the heart of others. I the human condition is such that we all are a bit Gnostic and we all tend to despise the ordinary and physical. Usually this takes the form of longing for an experience of “Biblical Proportions.”

    So, when I hear of miracles being performed in the name of Jesus I ask, what is the purpose of such an event? There were reasons for the miracles of Christ and the Apostles and they were expressly not for the entertainment of the crowds. Much of what goes on today is exactly that, entertainment. There is more Tele than Telos in them.

    If the purpose of the biblical miracles was to stamp “This one speaks for God” on the forehead of the prophet, which is what I think it was, then that purpose has ended with the coming of the word of God in the Canon.

    Jesus said that the Kingdom comes slowly like a mustard tree. Not in bursts and fits like a fireworks display.

    al sends

  4. The miracle does seem to mean more than authentication of the prophet to the one healed, no? I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

    (and “more Tele than Telos”…that’s funny!)

  5. You know what, Pastor Hadding? You are just not a spiritual guy, that’s what. I bet when Christ put mud on the eyes of the blind man, that guy’s first thought when he opened his eyes was “Holy cow, that dude is important, nay, He’s the Son of God! He’s got to be because in Isaiah 35:5, page 532 of my synagogue’s Torah, it says that the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind. Wow. And to think that the Messiah is here.”

    Of course, that’s a little far-fetched. After all, they didn’t have pages in the Torah, it was on scrolls.

  6. Kaleb, Kaleb, Kaleb (and a little Rob)…

    Your spiritual enough snark is misplaced! You seek a sign and no sign will be given you except the sign of Jonah. Believe that and it is sufficient.

    When Christ was healing folks those people immediately benefited, but the miracles pointed to something larger. (John 9)

    We are enthralled by a dried chalice of blood turning into a goopy liquid. Why? A dead guy’s body is not decomposing and this is so that God’s works might be displayed? Cheap parlor tricks if you ask me. No one is raised from the dead; no one born blind receiving their sight; no limbs growing back immediately.

    The “miracles” we have today make for good television. The miracles of Jesus’ day made disciples.

    I’m just saying. Rob.

    Al sends

  7. Oh, and I took that “possibly related” thingy off. If any of the Basketeers would like that readded let me know. It wont take a miracle.

    al sends

  8. The answer, of course, is yes.

    Beside the glory of the Risen Christ, the glory of Augustus is a cheap parlor trick. Beside the justice of the Risen Christ, the justice of Augustus is a cheap parlor trick. When Christ’s kingdom breaks through, this world becomes like a cheap parlor trick.

    But when Christ’s kingdom breaks through, it often seems like a cheap parlor trick. Isn’t that how Orual saw Psyche’s palace? Isn’t that what the Pharisees thought the voice of the Father was? Have no skeptics thought Jesus’ miracles cheap tricks?

    As to the question in the link: whatever problem veneration of relics may have, it isn’t gnostic. To honor the physical body of a dead saint is about as anti-gnostic as it gets.

  9. Matthew,
    Are they cheap parlor tricks when compared to the miracles of Christ, the prophets and apostles? Let me say again, I do not doubt the miraculous. I simply doubt what most call miraculous today.

    Now as to your point about relics… Do you actually think that those who venerate a relic are honoring “the physical body of a dead saint?” I think the veneration is toward the ascended saint and not his or her finger. There is an expectation that touching the common thing will bring one into the presence of the saint where grace is dispensed in the form of miracles.

    So, far from anti-Gnostic, the veneration and expectation surrounding the cult of the saints and their body parts (there rarely is a whole body after all) is Gnosticism in its most visible form. It rejects the life lived as it was and looks for something more spiritual. It is not sufficient that Augustine wrote his Confessions we long for something more. A touch from God via the spirit of a man, directed through his shinbone. The shinbone is incidental to whole affair.

    Trent put it this way:

    “Moreover, that the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints, are to be had and retained particularly in temples, and that due honour and veneration are to be given them; not that any divinity, or virtue, is believed to be in them, on account of which they are to be worshipped; or that anything is to be asked of them; or, that trust is to be reposed in images, as was of old done by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols; but because the honour which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which those images represent; in such wise that by the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover the head, and prostrate ourselves, we adore Christ; and we venerate the saints, whose similitude they bear: as, by the decrees of Councils, and especially of the second Synod of Nicaea, has been defined against the opponents of images.

    al sends

  10. Al,

    That passage isn’t dealing with relics, but with icons. Though their theology of relics and images is similar, it is different in important respects. A relic is important because this is the saint. Veneration of relics is like a lover returning to his beloved’s tomb and embracing the ground weeping. This physical body of the physical saint is holy because it is this physical body which shall rise, and hence is still holy. It is the physical body of a saint in heaven, and thus is a location of heaven on earth. And it was instituted precisely as a belief in the Resurrection of the Body. The book The Cult of the Saints deals with it excellently.

    The Catholic (or Orthodox) view of icons is roughly the same as the Reformed view of Sacraments. I think we both agree the Reformed understanding of Sacraments is not Gnostic, but anti-Gnostic. But if it is anti-Gnostic, so is the Catholic understanding of icons. It may still be wrong, but it isn’t gnostic.

  11. I totally agree, Matt. Veneration of relics is as anti-gnostic as it gets. For the Manichees, the body was a prison, for Christians, it is a temple. Jews don’t make pilgrimages to the Western wall, because it reminds them of the temple– they do so because it IS the temple.

    At an Orthodox funeral, parishoners line up and kiss the body of the reposing. Plotinus and Manes would find such behaviour blasphemous and nauseating.

    Also, I agree that it is vital in this discussion to distinguish between the theologies of relics and icons. Along those lines, the similarity between icons and the Reformed view of sacraments never occured to me until now. Interesting…. I suppose it depends on what you mean by “Reformed”– Calvin, Luther, or Zwingli. My guess is that you will say “Calvin”, no? Or do you think the saint is consubstantial with his icon?

  12. Jon,

    As far as I can tell, the Lutheran view of the Eucharist is essentially the same as the Catholic and the Orthodox one. Yes, there are differences, and important differences, but it’s more like the differences between the Catholics and the Orthodox about the Eucharist.

    So I had in mind Calvin, and even specifically Westminster. “The outward elements in this icon, duly set apart to the uses ordained by the Church, have such relation to Him, as that, truly, yet pictorally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, Christ Jesus and the saints; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only wood and paint, as they were before.” That’s a relatively cogent explination of icons. But it’s Westminster on the Eucharist.

  13. Rob – first the baptist (ie. you) have to begin by defining ‘this one’. Are you going to comment on miracles and Gnosticism or do you prefer to chase the wabbit of Orthodox vs. Reformed (specifically Calvin/Westminster) on relics vs. icons….

    Al – does your daughter always so eloquently stir the pot? I’m not thinking those thoughts TODAY!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s