Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination

Article excerpt

Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination. By Robert Bruce Mullin. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. x + 322 pp. $30.00 (cloth).

In this exciting and important study of the Anglo-American religious world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Robert Bruce Mullin examines debates about miracles, faith healing, and the relationship of the supernatural to the natural during a critical period of intellectual transition. Although this era (1850-1930) has often been viewed as a time when advances in scientific knowledge undermined the credibility of miracles, Mullin argues that what is most remarkable about the period was the increasing curiosity about miracles and the miraculous displayed by learned theologians and ordinary people alike.

From the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, Mullin notes, the idea of "a limited age of miracles" (p. 1) had differentiated Protestant from Roman Catholic believers-Protestants recognizing only the miracles of biblical times and rejecting as superstitious ("lying wonders," Luther said) the marels associated with the medieval cult of the saints. With the rise of modern science, however, this Protestant-Catholic division was altered, and a variety of Protestants began to tout the importance of contemporary miracles in an effort to preserve both faith in the Bible and adherence to the historic creeds of the church. Yet Mullin also sees ironies within this shift, for it did not take place along a predictable liberal-conservative fault line. Proto-fundamentalist Benjamin Warfield, for example, challenged the existence of modern miracles, while agnostic William James stressed the reality of the spirit world. Nineteenth-century medical advances further accelerated this trend, encouraging Protestants to abandon the venerable Cavinist idea that sickness and pain were necessary components of the human condition. Leading Anglicans, too, had a key role in strengthening belief in miracles-their sacramental and incarnational emphases fostered an interest in faith healing and their concern for credal conformity demanded assent to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Although the advent of neo-orthodox theology after World War I temporarily halted this movement by reviving the reformers' stress on divine transcendence and on the suffering and death of Christ, the desire to have God engaged with the world-a key feature of liberal theology in the 1960s-restored attention to spirituality and charismatic gifts in the popular religious imagination. …

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