Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What kind of evil are we supposed to fight?

There’s a group of us who meet about every three weeks to discuss doctrinal issues. The time is always stimulating, and yesterday’s discussion centered around the subject of angels – fallen and unfallen (the good kind and bad kind), and what role, if any they play in the earth’s history in general and humanity’s in particular. The argument (among those who believe in such things at all) is between those defining evil forces as impersonal spirits who empower structures (such as governments and families), and those defining evil forces as personal spirits who empower people (as in the case of demon possession, or some entrenched phobias and destructive patterns in one's life).

Some theological arguments can seem meaningless, but not this one. The implications are rather profound, leading one to focus energy either on social reformations OR personal evangelism and the transformation of individual hearts. For centuries, it seemed that choosing one invariably meant excluding the other and there was great divide among Jesus’ followers. Now, thankfully, a tribe is rising that is less inclined to either/or positions on such important matters. Among this group, Jesus’ words about setting the captives free are viewed both literally and spiritually: the bondage of demon possession, the bondage of fear and lies believed, the bondage of addiction, AND the bondages of poverty, slavery, prostitution, greed, injustice, isolation.

There are two important effects that come from embracing this holistic approach to battling principalities and resisting the devil:

  1. We are all struck, immediately, with the realization that we can’t fight this battle alone – it’s enormous global scope means that some will be on the battlefield of tribal warfare in Africa, while others are working with addicts in New Hampshire, as others do prayer counseling in Bakersfield. This is one of the most compelling arguments for identifying with a faith community, for Jesus’ mantle is too heavy for anyone to carry alone – and I am strengthened by joining together with others to do what I know I can’t do by myself.
  2. The ‘evil structures’ are suddenly seen to be, not communism, or dictatorships, or democracies – but rather the spirit empowering them. A quick look at history shows every system tending towards emptiness and oppression – even the best of them.

Consider a favorite passage of mine from Malcolm Muggeridge's "A Third Testament":
Standing on the Berlin Wall I tried to imagine what would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer's feelings if, instead of being martyred, he had lived on into post-war divided Germany. Eastwards, I could see the familiar scene of desolation and oppression, the bedraggled houses, the empty shops, the somehow muted traffic and people in the streets; westwards, the other sort of desolation and oppression, equally familiar, the gleaming neon and glass, the exhortations to spend and to consume, the banks for churches and the erotica for dreams. The pursuit of power versus the pursuit of happiness, black-and-white television versus color, the clenched fist versus the raised phallus, guns before butter and butter before guns. And in between, the no-man's land or limbo of vigilant sentries on watch-towers, dogs and land-mines and armed patrols. Was there anything here to risk eternal damnation for, or for that matter to live for? The strip-tease joints and the garish posters announcing the mighty achievements of the triumphant German proleteriat, equally fantasy. Plastic flesh and fraudulent statistics - where's the difference? Perhaps, after all, the limbo is the place, lurking among the land-mines

The battle for meaning, beauty, intimacy and freedom is global and local – inward and outward – societal and personal – spiritual and physical – and we who follow Jesus are called to fight on all fronts. Don’t try to fight alone. Celebrate the victories along the way. And remember the end of the story!


At 20/10/05 14:50, Blogger Matthew Goos said...

"Some theological arguments can seem meaningless, but not this one. The implications are rather profound, leading one to focus energy either on social reformations OR personal evangelism and the transformation of individual hearts"

Don't you think that most theological arguments boil down to this focus of energy? One's view of Jesus, God, the "end times" all seem to lead folks down one of these two paths.

At 24/10/05 14:49, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the church community itself as both the agent of social reform (for those in it and out of it), and the transformation of all the heats in its community, knit together?

Locally rather than globally, I think we have the chance of saying yes to both.

Hopefully that's not just optimism? -- Ben McFarland

At 24/10/05 14:50, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, but an r in "heats" about to get hearts ... well you get the picture. -- Ben


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