The Miracle Lady | Book Review


Readers of a certain age remember Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976). She was “the miracle lady,” whose catchphrase, “I believe in miracles because I believe in God,” inspired millions to seek faith in Jesus Christ and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements even described her as the “world’s most widely known female evangelist.”

Younger readers are likely unfamiliar with Kuhlman, however. Her miracle services, radio ministry, and syndicated television show, though well attended and widely consumed in her day, lost influence after her death. This decline was not unexpected. The ministries of charismatic leaders rarely outlive them, especially when, as in Kuhlman’s case, their estates are diverted away from ministry maintenance toward personal gain by unscrupulous heirs.

And yet, Kathryn Kuhlman should be better known because she played a crucial role in what biographer Amy Collier Artman calls “the gentrification of charismatic Christianity.” Until the middle of the 20th century, classical Pentecostalism was the primary bearer of “Spirit-filled Christianity.” Starting on the wrong side of the tracks, socially and ecclesiastically speaking, classical Pentecostalism had increasingly moved toward respectability by mid-century, as symbolized by the Assemblies of God joining the National Association of Evangelicals as a founding member in the early 1940s. (Today, it is the NAE’s largest denominational member.)

It was charismatic Christianity that accelerated the popularity of Spirit-filled beliefs and practices in the second half of the century, however. “Kuhlman was a leader in the transformation of charismatic Christianity from a suspect form of religion to a respectable form of religiosity that was accepted and even celebrated by mainstream Christianity and culture by the end of the twentieth century.” The Miracle Ladytells the story of how this happened, focusing especially on Kuhlman’s skillful use of talk-show television.

Rather than broadcasting her spiritually charged miracle services themselves, Kuhlman invited people who had been saved, healed and filled with the Spirit to share their own testimonies, first on Your Faith and Minein the 1950s, then on I Believe in Miraclesin the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. These television shows presented normal looking, intelligent people calmly telling others what God had done for them. Out were the pyrotechnics of the Pentecostal revival service. In were normal folk talking normally about the supernatural. Artman says that Kuhlman and charismatic Christianity “came of age” together. The same could be said of them and television. Kuhlman was an early adopter of the talk-show format, which was perfectly suited for introducing otherwise cautious viewers to charismatic Christianity.

By the same token, Kuhlman in her day made it clear that she was not a “faith healer,” an appellation she shunned. Unlike Word-of-Faith evangelists, she did not believe healing was dependent on the character of one’s faith, or that faith would inoculate a person from suffering. Additionally, she did not use her television show to make continuous appeals for money, despite the high costs of production. (In this respect, she needs to be distinguished from televangelists such as Benny Hinn, who despite implicitly claiming Kuhlman’s “mantle,” never actually met or worked with her.)

Artman also discusses how Kuhlman navigated the tensions of being a woman leader in a theologically and morally conservative movement. Kuhlman adopted a rhetoric of “negation,” often stating that she wasn’t God’s “first choice,” but no man had been willing to step up and do the work, so she volunteered. “Take nothing and use it,” she often said.

Artman contrasts this rhetoric of negation with Adele Carmichael’s rhetoric of “affirmation.” She recounts a 1974 interview Kuhlman conducted with Carmichael on the set of I Believe in Miracles. (Carmichael, five years Kuhlman’s senior, lived until 2003, dying on her way to teach Sunday school at 101 years of age. She continues to hold the record as one of the Assemblies of God’s longest-serving ministers, having been first credentialed in 1918.) In that episode, Kuhlman remarked to Carmichael, “It was not the easiest thing in the world to be a woman preacher. How did you master it?” Carmichael responded, “I had a wonderful husband who was 100 percent for women preachers. As I study the Word, I believe God needs women, has a place for their ministry.” In fact, she went on, “Many times I’ve prayed thanks that God gave you your ministry and not a man,” Kuhlman demurred, saying “I always thought I was second or third choice.” But Carmichael boldly declared: “I think you were his first choice.”

Even today, unfortunately, Spirit-filled women continue to navigate the difficult waters of leadership, sometimes justifying their ministries through negation rhetoric like Kuhlman’s. Carmichael’s affirmation rhetoric offers a better way forward, it seems to me.

The Miracle Ladyis not a who-did-what-when type of biography. If you’re looking for a more traditional biography, I’d recommend Wayne Warner’s excellent Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Behind the Miracles. The strength of Artman’s The Miracle Ladyis that it uses Kuhlman’s life as a lens through which to view a crucial period and a key mover in the transformation of charismatic Christianity. A 2008 Barna study estimated that 80 million Americans self-identified as either “Pentecostal” or “charismatic.” This happened, at least in part, because of the efforts of Kathryn Kuhlman to mainstream Spirit-filled Christianity and broaden its appeal. For that, Kuhlman deserves to be remembered.

Book Reviewed
Amy Collier Artman, The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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The Case for Miracles | Book Review


On Pentecost Sunday evening, 1981, a young woman walked down the aisle of Wheaton Wesleyan Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Church attendance wasn’t uncommon in that city, which housed the headquarters of many evangelical institutions, including Wheaton College. And yet, this young woman’s steps elicited gasps from those in attendance.

Why? Because Barbara — that was the young woman’s name — had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. She hadn’t been able to walk for seven years. Indeed, at that point, the progression of her illness was so severe that she was in hospice care at her home, with a life expectancy of six months.

What accounted for the change? A prayer request for Barbara had been communicated to Moody Bible Institute’s radio program. Over 450 people wrote letters to her church, indicating they were praying for her. As Barbara’s aunt read some of those letters to her at her bedside, Barbara heard a man’s voice say, “My child, get up and walk.” And she did. She’s been free of MS ever since and now lives with her husband, a pastor, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Lee Strobel recounts Barbara’s story in his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and an atheist before coming to Christ in the early 1980s. Since then, he has written The Case for Christ and other books investigating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity.

Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Among its supernatural truth claims are the existence of God, the creation of the world, the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, among many other miracles. In the modern world, under the influence of science, many have come to doubt the reality of the supernatural.

To understand their doubts, Strobel interviews Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine. Shermer agrees with the critique of miracles outlined by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay, “On Miracles.” Hume defined a miracle as a violation of the law of nature. He believed that claims of miracles come from uneducated persons in less advanced societies, people and places unaware of how the world works. And he argued that, in any case, it was more likely that there was a natural explanation for an event than a supernatural one. Shermer considers this the best argument against the miraculous.

Barbara’s case provides evidence that Hume was wrong. Here was a modern person, treated by doctors at the Mayo Clinic no less, whose instantaneous healing was documented by her doctors in two separately published books. And that healing took place in the context of a spiritual experience. Those facts indicate that naturalistic explanations — remission, psychosomatic cure, placebo effect, etc. — are insufficient empirically.

And Barbara’s case is not the only one Strobel cites. Strobel interviews Craig Keener for further evidence in favor of miracles. Keener was an atheist who became a Christian. He is a well-known New Testament scholar and author of the two-volume book, Miracles. While writing a commentary on the Book of Acts, Keener realized that too many scholars believe Acts is unreliable historically because it contains accounts of miracles. Keener decided that if he could provide evidence that miracles happen today, it would buttress the historicity of Acts. He provides documentations for hundreds of modern miracles, including Barbara’s.

Strobel goes on to interview other scholars about Christianity’s supernatural truth claims: Candy Guenther Brown on the efficacy of prayer and Michael Strauss on the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. And he summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus through an interview with atheist-turned-Christian J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen. They’re exceptions to the laws of nature, not the way that nature ordinarily works, after all. Strobel interviews Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis (pronounced GROTE-hice) to understand how Christians can remain faithful in the absence of miracles. Groothuis’ wife, Rebecca, a scholar in her own right, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which has slowly robbed her of her ability to speak and to think. It’s been agonizing to watch, but Groothuis’ faith has helped him. “I’m hanging by a thread,” he says. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”

Whether through their presence (Barbara’s case) or through their absence (Rebecca’s case), miracles are signposts pointing to God. On the one hand, if readers approach miracle claims with an open mind — i.e., one that doesn’t rule out miracles because of a dogmatic naturalistic worldview — they might come to believe that there’s more to nature than meets even the scientifically trained eye. On the other hand, if they realize that this-worldly suffering poses unavoidable questions of meaning and significance, they might come to believe that they need more out of this life than this life can offer.

Either way, that “more” is God. If you’ve never thought about the case for miracles or the importance of finding meaning in life, I encourage you to read The Case for Miracles and reach your own verdict.

Book Reviewed
Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.P.S. In my article, “When the Healing Doesn’t Come,” I wrestle with the problem of miracles that don’t happen, based on my own experience with chronic illness.

Do Miracles Really Happen? | Influence Podcast


Easter is a few days away. Around the world, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event, so pivotal to Christian faith, is a reminder that Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Unfortunately, in the modern era, many disbelieve in miracles, their skepticism fueled by appeals to science. So, the question naturally arises, do miracles really happen?

To answer that question, I interviewed Lee Strobel about his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel began his career as the award-winning legal editor for The Chicago Tribune. After his conversion from atheism to Christianity, however, he turned his attention to apologetics and evangelism and has written bestsellers like The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for Grace. He currently serves as professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University as well as teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

If you’d like a video of Lee Strobel making the case for Jesus’ resurrection, which you can download and use in your church, go here.

P.S. This is reposted (with minor edits) from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. Here are my two previous podcasts with Lee: (1) “Why Evangelism Needs Apologetics” and  (2) “Raising Your Church’s Evangelistic Temperature.”

The Spirit, Preaching, and Listening (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)


In the course of my life, I have heard thousands of sermons, and I myself have preached a considerable amount. Some of these sermons–mine and others–have been excellent. Some of them have been unmemorable. And some of them–to be quite frank–deserve to be forgotten. Yet each week, I go to church to listen (on rarer occasions, now, to speak) and expect that God will say something to me through the preaching of his word.

Why?

In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Paul, Silas, and Timothy provide an answer: “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” We need to read these words in context. In Greek, they are part of a single sentence that begins in verse 2: “We always thank God for all of you…” The missionaries express their gratitude by continually mentioning the believers in their prayers (v. 2b); by remembering faithful works, loving labor, and hopeful endurance; and now by acknowledging God’s election of them for salvation.

How did the missionaries know that God had elected the Thessalonians for salvation? Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, which provided both external and internal evidence. The missionaries say their preaching was “not simply with words but also with power.” Most likely, power refers to miraculous works that the Holy Spirit performed through the missionaries. These miracles are external evidence that the gospel is true.

The internal evidence is “deep conviction” in the minds of believers, an assurance that the gospel is true for me. Theologians refer to this deep conviction as the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 2:20, Paul depicts it this way: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Wouldn’t you love to experience both power and deep conviction each time you go to church? Wouldn’t you love to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit when you hear the word of God preached each Sunday? Is this even possible?

Yes, of course it is! For it to happen, preachers must humbly invite the Spirit to guide them as they prepare for and deliver the sermon. And listeners must expect to hear something from God, not just from their preacher.

This doesn’t mean that miracles will attend every sermon or that we will feel deeply assured every Sunday. Some years ago, when my dad retired from his church, the chairman of the board said that he had forgotten most of my dad’s sermons. But, he went on to say, he had forgotten most of his meals too. But they nourished him anyway.

That’s a good lesson. When we come to church, we should come expecting the Holy Spirit to nourish us through the sermon. That’s what ordinarily happens. But sometimes, we come to a feast, and then we know for sure that God is present and at work in our lives.