Being Studious So We Know What and Who the Gospel Is: ‘The Weapons of Our Warfare Are Mighty’

In light of tragedy I often hear pastors and teachers in our 21st century context downplay the Gospel; as if the Gospel ultimately is indeed some sort of insurance policy, but at the end of each day does not have the resource to confront the types of tragedies we are faced with on a daily basis as Christians. As if the Gospel itself is not effulgent with the life of very God of very God. Maybe one reason Christians think of the Gospel in these terms—in domesticated and muted terms—is because they have failed to appreciate that understanding the Gospel requires rigor and work. In other words, we live in a fallen state (still!), and as a result even though salvation is by grace alone understanding what grace alone entails requires great depths of work and study. Maybe pastors and teachers gut the Gospel the way they do, particularly in light of travail and torment in people’s lives, because they are simply lazy; as are most in the church. Maybe the Gospel actually is the power of God, and not in some mystical sense, just as the Apostle Paul has asserted (by the Spirit!). Maybe the Gospel has the resource to actually make the crooked straight even in the in-between we currently inhabit, and we ought to entrust ourselves to it (Him) more rather than less. Maybe if we committed to exerting the necessary energy of putting the work in we’d have a greater depth understanding of the Gospel and see it for what it actually is, and for what it actually has the capacity to accomplish in us and for us.

The late John Webster offers a challenging word on this front as he develops his theme on theological theology. He confronts the sin of laziness, and underscores how important it is for Christians to be studious in regard to gaining proper understanding of the fullness attendant with the Gospel. Webster ties study of the Gospel (he calls this theology) into ends and purposes; and notes the impact that the end has on purpose. But more than that, as noted, he wants to impress how if the Christian is to appreciate what they actually have in the Gospel they need to work and be studious. He writes:

Christian theology pursues scientific ends, that is, the acquisition of that knowledge of its matter which is proper to creatures, in accordance with its cognitive principles. Pursuit of scientific ends is an element of the fulfillment of our intellectual nature, and is a creaturely good. Human creatures are by nature studious. We have an appetite to acquire knowledge beyond what is necessary for the immediate fulfillment of our animal nature, and we possess intellectual powers which we apply to satisfy this appetite. Well-ordered, temperate studiousness is not self-derived or wholly spontaneous; it is creaturely, the exercise of powers which have been given and which are moved, preserved and fortified by a movement beyond themselves. Studiousness is the arduous application of these powers; it is not indolent or casual, but concentrated, determined, painstaking and resistant to premature termination.

All theological activity requires this kind of purposive pursuit of scientific ends: revelation awakens theological science. It is through study that God becomes actually intelligible, and defects in the acquisition and exercise of studiousness threaten the attainment of other ends in theology. However, pursuit of scientific ends is instrumental and interim: necessary, but not sufficient or final. Forgetfulness of the instrumental status of scientific ends arises from disordered intention: our purposes for this activity fail to coincide with its intrinsic ends, and excessive devotion to scientific ends inhibits attainment of the true ends of theological intelligence. Much harm to theology is done by this disordered purpose. Theology’s object becomes one which is ours to appropriate or master by scientia; its cognitive principles become naturalized; the dependence of theology on divine instruction is neglected. Some kinds of institutional setting in which theology is undertaken may provide opportunities for such distortions to flourish, but their chief cause is the crookedness and futility of our intellectual nature after the fall. Only with the restoration and regeneration of that nature can our purposes be taught to direct themselves to fitting ends; theology will be theological as it is caught up in this renewal.[1]

It is important to identify, as Webster does, the internal battle we all are facing as Christians. The struggle is indeed real, and we should not be naïve to this as Christian warriors. We are enveloped in the very life of the living God in Christ, and in this envelopment we have been given the mind and heart of Christ. This is where we have the ‘renewal’ to do genuinely theological theology. Meaning: this is where we have the ability to grow deep into the reality of the pleroma (fullness) of the Gospel. Webster’s points are well taken; sin retards our desire, even as Christians, especially as Christians to seek God while he might be found call upon him while he is near. But we must not give into the baser desires of the old nature that continues to seek to assert itself where it has been crushed like the serpent’s head that it is.

In an even more applied sense: as we continue to mourn the loss of Pastor Andrew I fear that Christians won’t allow this tragedy to forge them into the steely new creations they have been made in and through their gracious union with Jesus Christ. As Christians we are in a spiritual battle, and the means of our battle, the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. But what does this really mean? Is this some sort of mystical appeal that we simply live ethereally into as a New Ager does in their transcendental reflections? No. The weapons of our warfare are exactly what Webster was referring to; it entails work and being studious around the Gospel; around growing into the grace and knowledge of God in Jesus Christ and who he is for us as he is eternally in himself. If we fail to sharpen these weapons, which requires labor, we will indeed reduce the Gospel to some sort of shallow insurance policy shorn of the very power of God that it actually is. Armed with such a Gospel we will remain impotent, and the attacks of the evil one will land hard and furious; we won’t know what hit us till we are on the brink of destruction (even as Christians).

As a brother in Christ I implore you, at the very least, to daily take up your Bible and read it; internalize it. More, I implore you to read sound theology, and learn the tools that will allow you to interpret Scripture in depth ways. The end is to know and love God; the purposes of our activity are to be shaped by this end. If so, if we take this to heart we will be constrained by the love of Christ (the end), and motivated in the proper ways toward reaching the end of who we are in Jesus Christ.

[1] John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers In Christian Theology: Volume 1: God And The Works Of God (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 219-20.

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Thinking About Pastor Andrew Stoecklein’s Suicide and its Spiritual Nature: Mental Health and Spiritual Realities in Confluence

Andrew Stoecklein, as many of us know by now, a thirty year old pastor in Chino, CA attempted suicide this last Friday; succumbing to his attempt the following day in the hospital. He leaves behind his wife, and three young boys. It is a tragic story, and one that is not outside the bounds of God’s gracious mercy; one that is not outside God’s eternal love and peace that he now is extending as the Comforter to Andrew’s wife, boys, family, friends, and church. Andrew and family of only the last three years lost his dad (who pastored the church that Andrew took over) at the young age of fifty-five to a four year battle with leukemia. Andrew said that this began a progression that led him into an intense breakdown resulting in severe depression and panic attacks (debilitating). He had just come back as of the last few weeks to continue in the pulpit ministry; in his first series—entitled Hot Mess—he disclosed what in fact he had been struggling with mentally and emotionally with his parishioners. Unfortunately the swarm of panic and darkness of anxiety overcame Andrew even as he was dealing with and talking about it openly among his family, friends, and church.

His story has gone far and wide online, as it should. There have been many responses to what happened, and many points of counsel in regard to what people should do in cases where they know that this is being experienced by family, friends, or even pastors; or if it is being experienced by them. The responses I have read have been from within the church by other Christians; and they have categorized what Andrew was dealing with as mental illness. I don’t want to fully discount that language, per se, but I am going to push back on that a bit in this post. I am going to speak to this from my own experience as a Christian who walked through years of literal hell dealing with exactly what Andrew was dealing with: severe anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. The way I am going to frame this though, rather than mental illness, is through the lens of spiritual battle.

My battle started most intensely in 1995, I had been out of high school since 1992; so I was only twenty-one years old. I had grown up in the church as the son of a pastor (just like Andrew), and had a sensitivity to the Spirit of Christ; but I had grown lukewarm. I knew things weren’t right, and I began praying that the LORD would do something to draw me close to him. In the midst of that I took a weeklong trip to Las Vegas with some friends. As we were getting ready to go out every night I began to have a strong oppression hit me; it was an anxiety attack (the first one I ever experienced). Each night at the same time it would hit me, as if God’s heavy hand was on me keeping me from going out; and it did. I told my parents, and they knew exactly what I was going through; my dad had experienced this in severe ways, years prior, as he as a young Christian began service in pastoral ministry. I had hoped when I came home that it would subside and I’d get on with my life; but it didn’t. Not only did it persist but it intensified and got worse. Associated with this was an intense doubting of God’s existence; even though prior to this I never even bashed an eyelash at such a thought. This began a season of probably a nine year span where I went through the deepest of darkness you might imagine (and you couldn’t unless you’ve gone through it yourself). Because I was doubting the existence of God—who was the core of my being—I also began to doubt the existence of all of reality; so of course I felt like I was going crazy. The most interesting thing about that was that the doubt didn’t seem like it was my own; as if it was from an outside source being imposed upon me. The LORD ministered to me through this in ways that have led me to where I am today, but I almost didn’t make it. During that time, mostly in the first few years, I was in such a darkness that I was on the brink of suicide multiple times (in periods, most of the time). I kept living life; going to work, hanging out with friends, and attempting to somehow survive this. I did survive it, obviously; but barely.

I don’t want this post to be fully about me; but I wanted to provide enough context in order for you to see where I am speaking from in regard to Andrew’s story. As I began this ‘walk,’ as I noted earlier, I told my parents, and I kept talking to my parents. They would talk with me for hours sometimes, and pray with me. They encouraged me to read my Bible, and so I did; constantly. I found a church (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa) that I could attend every day of the week if I wanted to; and I did (about five days a week). My parents discerned that what I was going through was a spiritual battle, and I agree it surely was. The nature of the anxiety and panic was related to God’s existence, and then dealing with questions surrounding the veracity of Christianity versus other belief systems (even though I wasn’t really equipped to fully identify all of that at that point). Not to mention that I was also dealing with an assault of the most blasphemous and dark thoughts you could imagine (and couldn’t). My parents let me know that this wasn’t uncommon; that Charles Spurgeon himself suffered with these sorts of things throughout his pastoral ministry. So these things, I would contend, were agitated by demonic and external forces, and that God providentially allowed such assault so that I might draw close to him and he to me; and I did, and he did.

So what about Andrew? Let me quote something I tweeted earlier:

For many it is called: deep spiritual warfare wherein the demonic attempts to exploit weaknesses in the psycho-physical of our spiritual lives. The battle is real, and represents a complex that only the Gospel itself has the power of God to disentangle. Let me expand: I think the Gospel entails much. It not only entails the recreative resurrection power pro me pro nobis it entails a deep and abiding fellowship among the saints in fellowship w/ the Triune life. it places the mind and heart into a mode of deep captivation of doxology and internalizes the reality that life is given as gift from the living God. it goes beyond simply thinking of such things in terms of intellectualisms but indeed internalizes these deeper realities such that we have space to “get out of our own heads.” i would contend that being in the Christian ministry (pastoral or not) opens us up to a world of heavy spiritual battle that unless we remain vigilant we will easily be overcome. ironically what it often means to be a pastor requires attending to more superficial concerns these superficial concerns of keeping up with a certain look or sound etc actually open pastors up to more attack w/o the proper armor. as such burnout and worse can ensue and deep disaster and destruction of many sorts can take place. but i know that things are a complex. i’m just speaking from my own experience w/ anxiety, depression and spiritual warfare and being on the brink of what this pastor did many times in years past. it’s an absolute battle that the evangelical church culture doesn’t allow for so pastors and other Christians attempting to live as real life Christians bearing witness to Christ often feel isolated and feel like they have to go it alone while maintaining “appearances.” TERRIBLE. DEMONIC stuff.

And then I wrote this later on Facebook:

And I’m certainly not trying to trivialize things or complexities. I know the depths, and in the midst of it there is no easy answer or way out. Christ is present, but sometimes he lets us feel like he isn’t. We need good fellowship with sound brothers and sisters just as Titus et al comforted the Apostle Paul and brought him out of the doldrums of depression more than once. The realities of the evangelical subculture (and other church subcultures in the west) do not fit with the realities of the Kingdom; which typically and often involve being depressed having ‘the sentence of death written upon us’ much tribulation and dark nights of the soul that make us feel in the abyss. The evangelical church culture does not allow for such realities, and most people haven’t attempted to walk deep enough to even know how to comfort others with the same comfort they have been comforted with (II Cor. 1.1-6). In fact the lacuna and silence in these areas of even acknowledging what I’m noting in this comment is highly concerning for me in re to the churches. The lack of depth in regard to learning how to suffer as if it is a spiritual venture of living under ‘light affliction’ is deeply concerning. For those who desire to live holy lives there are all types of affliction just waiting to be stepped into. Often when we first experience that it feels as if we’ve entered a foreign land, and without the proper guide and perspective and understanding of what the fiery ordeal actually is we will fall into pits of despondency that others will not even be able to recognize for us.

Maybe Andrew’s sources of anxiety and panic weren’t the same as mine, but I’m guessing the darkness and abyss was very much so similar. I’m also sure that Andrew and I aren’t the only ones in the church (let alone the world ‘out there’) who have walked through this valley of the shadow of death. But what I want to press is the idea that while I can accept that there is a serious physiological component to all of this, what shouldn’t be read off of that is that this makes this issue a mental health issue alone. In fact since I believe salvation entails an embodiedness, as attested to by the bodily death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and forthcoming second advent of Jesus Christ, what should be read out of these issues is that there is a devil who is a thief and murderer who wants to destroy all of those who seek to live from the righteousness of Christ and bear witness to the name of the living God. And that because this is the reality of the Kingdom, and the in-between nature we currently inhabit, and because our LORD Jesus himself endured untold spiritual attack during his tenure on earth, we ought to read Andrew’s situation through that lens; as if what he was primarily dealing with went deeper than mental illness.

The way I see it is that “mental illness” has almost become trendy, and in our scientistic and hyper-aware times, society at large believes that we can essentially hand off these sorts of issues to the scientists and mental health experts; as if they have magic bullets that can traverse the depths of our hearts and bring us remedy and succor that “regular” non-scientific people can’t. Now, do I think that there is no place for certain medicines to maybe calm the mind down in the intensity of such seasons? No; I probably could have benefited from some of that myself, but I never did take any psycho-active drugs. But, again, these medicines don’t really or ultimately or always suppress the deeper issues; which I am going to suggest that in many cases (if not all for the Christian) are indeed a result of spiritual battle that the Christian doesn’t even know to recognize.

So what is the solution? We need fellowship, as I noted earlier, with other mature Christians. We need to experience the comfort from others that they have themselves experienced from the Comforter-God, and to fellowship in that. We need to be consistently bathing our hearts and minds in meditation upon Holy Scripture which will promote a dialogical (prayerful) interchange between the living God and the sufferer such that the sufferer (like Job) will come to the point of doxological (worshipful) awareness and come to rest in a mind and heart (God’s) that knows nothing but peace, order, and harmony as that is resident in God’s life. We also need to come to expect seasons of deep anguish, of many sorts, as Christians and not allow the surprise of the fire to over-take us to the point that we lose perspective (this is easier said than done when in the heat of the season and moment of despair). But the ultimate key is to learn to look away from ourselves, and look at the face of Christ constantly; and to learn to see him in the faces of others. As we begin the process of learning how to look out and away from our navels (which we were born to do in the ‘flesh’) it is in this that the order of God’s life comes to penetrate our psyches and we begin to experience his well-being as the basis of our being in very personal and internal ways. As these processes become patterns through the purifying fires of God’s depths for us, eventually what used to feel like utter hopelessness and abyss will be pierced through with the Light of God’s life for us.

For the Christian there is no other way of growth. Certainly there are various ways that growth occurs, and various levels of intensity that the LORD walks us through; it won’t all be the same for each of us—as the LORD has a peculiar and particular plan for each of our lives in his Kingdom. But these things need to be borne in mind as we walk this world as Christians. If we desire to live righteously we will indeed bear much tribulation; but it isn’t tribulation greater than what the LORD hasn’t already borne for us (even if it usually feels that way; especially at first).

I am not pretending to know exactly what Andrew was going through, but I am underscoring that what is called depression and anxiety is quite pervasive (as so many of us know). I am, along with you, deeply saddened at the seemingly senseless death of Andrew; but I know that he is now reveling in the presence of the living God at his right hand where there is peace and abundance forevermore. It is tragic. I am praying for his wife and three boys; and the rest of his family and church members. Rest in the Peace of Christ, Andrew. amen.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6

Is The Devil Real? The Bible’s Take Contra Friedrich Schleiermacher’s

Alexandre Cabanel’s Fallen Angel, 1868

Is the Devil real; some refer to this as: is the Devil personal? Yes, I personally think the Devil is real. I can only arrive at this conclusion based upon the Dominical affirmation and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is important, I think, because the biblical reality not only asserts that this is the case, but it frames the ‘spiritual battle’ Jesus Christ undertook, and the same battle that his church continues to undertake, as the church militant, in such terms that are clear that our battle is not ‘against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and powers and principalities’ that inhabit the ‘air’ as it were (read the whole Epistle to the Ephesians). None of this is to mention, of course, the most pivotal section of scripture in the whole of the Bible (it could be argued) in regard to the Fall. Genesis:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

We have other references in the Old Testament that refer to the ‘spiritual battle’, particularly in Daniel 10; note:

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”. . . 20 So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; 21 but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.)

And then of course the infamous battle that Jesus had with the Devil in the wilderness (a recapitulation of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness) in Matthew (and the Synoptic attestation):

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

If we didn’t have the Old Testament witnesses the New Testament account of Jesus’s battle wouldn’t make sense, for one thing. For another thing what we do have in the ‘spiritual battle’ that Jesus undertook in the wilderness and the victory he won (think Irenaeus and recapitulation as far as hermeneutical and soteriological method) is not ‘parabolic’ in literary form but historical prose; in other words its intention is to detail a concrete event with theological depth per the reality of the euaggelion, per the Gospel reality that Jesus is in the incarnation. In other words, the reality of the Devil to this account in Matthew (and Mark) is just as central to the canonical narrative as is Genesis 3 with our first introduction to the Devil. There is a continuity of salvation-history in regard to the character and function of the Devil from the first Adam to the second Adam (to pick up on the Pauline motif cf. Rom. 5), and his role in introducing humanity to an evil that he had already partaken of. This is not to suggest that the Devil is evil, like in a Manichean or dualist sense, or that he helps explain the origin of evil—this would only exceed the bounds and thrust us into a mode of speculation that we dare not engage in as those committed to a revelational theology—but it is to recognize through attention to the text’s development that the Devil ought to be understood in a realist and at least ontic sense insofar as he has agency and volition in his textuality.

In short, the text, I contend, wants us to believe that the Devil is a real entity who is maliciously oriented against God and his purposes in Jesus Christ. The text wants us to think that the Devil wants to undo what God has done, and is doing in and through the resurrection power of the risen Christ in the human and created order in general. The text, as we think this canonically, wants us to think that the Devil is real; has agency, ‘prowls around like a roaring lion’; is leader of a cohort that has been made a public spectacle of at the cross of Christ; is ‘accuser of the brethren’ cast down from heaven in warfare with the heavenly host, that soon, along with the rest of death will be put under the Christ’s foot once and for all never to be heard of again. In other words, the text wants us to think that the Devil, with all his ‘being’ wants to destroy the good and very good creation and recreation of God in Jesus Christ; not to mention all of those who are participants in Christ’s life by the Spirit.

I write all of the above to get to Friedrich Schleiermacher; just who you were waiting for! Most evangelical and Reformed Christians couldn’t give two cents for what Schleiermacher thinks; I get that. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting, if not important, to understand where someone as giant and genius as Schleiermacher stood on such things. His theology of the devil is actually pretty scant, and as he notes (as you will see) unnecessary for a Christian theology. Clearly he reflects the ‘enlightened’ thinking of his times, and presupposes upon the developing ‘higher criticism’ of his day. You will see this reflected in what he has to say about the non-importance of the devil relative to scriptural teaching and Christian living. As you read him along with me here, what I opened up with above will become clear; you will see why I wrote what I did in anticipation of what Schleiermacher thinks. He writes:

Thus, even if only a few scriptural passages treat of the devil, or even if all the passages actually cited here and those otherwise still reputable for the purpose treat the devil, all grounds for taking up this notion as an enduring component in our presentation of Christian faith-doctrine would be lacking to us. Accordingly, all grounds would also be lacking for defining the notion so much more closely that everything that is ascribed to the devil could also really be considered together. This is so, for in Christ and his disciples this notion was not used as one that would be derived from the Sacred Scriptures of the old covenant, nor even as on that would be acquired from divine revelation by any pathway whatsoever. Rather, it arose from the common life of that time, thus in the same way in which it more or less arises in all of us, despite our complete ignorance as to the existence of such a being. Moreover, that wherefrom we are to be redeemed remains the same, whether the devil exists or not, and that whereby we are redeemed also remains the same. Thus, the very question concerning the existence of the devil is also no question for Christian theology at all. Rather, it is a cosmological question, in the broadest sense of the word, exactly the same as that concerning the nature of the firmament and of heavenly bodies. Moreover, in a presentation of faith-doctrine we actually have just as little to affirm as to deny on this topic, and likewise we can just as little be required to hold a dispute over that notion in a presentation of faith-doctrine as to provide a grounding for it. What the biblical deposit shows is nothing more than that the notion was a confluence of two or three very different components among the Jewish people themselves. The first component is the servant of God who locates the whereabouts of wickedness, and who has a certain rank and work among the other angels, but of whom there can be no talk of being cast out from being near God. The other main component is the basically evil being of oriental dualism, modified in such a way that the Jews alone would have been in a position to adopt the new version.[1]

Schleiermacher, clearly, was under the influence of his times; as such the Bible was undergoing a radical displacement in regard to being a trustworthy gateway into the strange world operative under the strictures of supernatural reality, as he attempted to theologize.

There are many today, Christians even, who have little time to ponder whether or not the devil is real; many believe we have enough concrete expressions of evil, systemically and personally, to take up our time and attention. But according to the brief survey of Scripture I offered previously this is errant. The Bible, contra Schleiermacher wants us to think that we are engaged in a real life battle with a ‘personal’ satan who seeks to not only destroy our souls, but the souls of every person for whom Christ died; and along with that the rest of creation as that is tied to our stewardship.

From a personal perspective I have experienced all types of spiritual warfare, in fact I’ve experienced some right now as I’ve come to type this post. I’ve had encounters with tangible contact points with the kingdom of darkness, been exposed to people who are demon-possessed, and confronted such realties in the name of the living Christ. This is why this is important; because it’s a real life struggle that each of us as soldiers of Christ faces on a daily basis. Maybe one positive point we could take from Schleiermacher, in a recontextualized way, is that we don’t want to give the devil too much of our time and focus; but along with the Apostle Paul we don’t want to be ‘ignorant of his devices’ or reality either!

Further, I wouldn’t want to close this post without noting that the ‘spiritual’, just as the resurrection of Christ illustrates, is disembodied, per se. In other words, even though the devil is a ‘spirity’ entity (as are his cohorts) does not mean, as we can infer from Scripture, that his means are always or mostly of the so called ‘paranormal’ sort. Typically, especially in the Western enclave, his most heinous manifestations of evil are very material in orientation. We see this extended into space and time in terms of economic, sexual, physical forms of violence and abuse; in systemic and structural ways. But we ought to remember, nonetheless, that standing behind such ‘beastly’ action is indeed the kingdom of darkness in all its grossness. Devil be damned!

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. –Ephesians 6.10-12

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. –II Corinthians 10.3-6

 

[1] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Christian Faith Volume One, trans. by Terrence N. Tice, Catherine L Kelsey, and Edwina Lawler (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 242-43.

The Christian Bodily Hope as Commentary and Critique on Current Politics

What this current season of political carnival has worked into me is a sense of loss, of hopelessness. But this sense isn’t discordant with what I’ve already felt for a long time in regard to human government and institutions; indeed, this loss is associated with the human condition in general. This condition noted by the Apostle Paul in his own struggle when he asks: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”[1] Humanity lives in a ‘fallen’ state, whether it recognizes it or not; that is God’s conclusion about humanity, and His ‘judgment’ is given in the
hillaryincarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ; the judgment, that indeed humanity is in a situation, left to itself: where there is no hope!

The fact that the two candidates we have before us, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as a  fact is rather horrifying. But at the end of the day they seem to be types of a logical conclusion to the human condition, and so their arrival at just this time seems fitting relative to the extent to which the human condition has “flourished” in itself. A “flourishing” of humanity that is fitting with its own self-determined self-possessed path of homo incurvatus in se or narcissism; a path where liars are free to be liars, and larceny gets to run unabated. I know we all like to blame the elites for all of this, but in reality we are all at fault; the human condition, the fallen one, has so cultivated a society[s] such that it gives blossom to what we see in the “elites” of our world—something like self-expressions of our inner-selves projected outward and personified in the so called establishment.

Has the picture I’ve been painting caused enough despair yet? It has for me. Despair to the point that I can no longer handle looking inward; I can no longer sustain any hope in human institutions or personages who embody those institutions of self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. My eyes look elsewhere for hope; my hope is eschatological. It is the hope of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Christian hope of Second Advent; that Jesus, as He promised, is coming again (the parousia). I don’t hear enough Christians speaking about this in North America, but you would think that would be all we were looking to these days. It is what Jesus Himself comforted and reproved the many churches in Ephesus with through his letter to them found in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately things like Left Behind, and Dispensational theology have made many Christians reticent to even speak of eschatological hope when it comes to facing real life crises; such as we face in this current political season. But this shouldn’t be the case, Christians should boldly hope as Jesus wants us to and look to the heavens from whence, as the King James says, ‘our redemption draws nigh’.

To my encouragement this morning as I was doing some reading I came across something very edifying and hope-filled, especially in light of our two options (Donald and Hillary) as reminders of the human condition. I was reading an essay by Richard Bauckham called The future of Jesus Christ. As Bauckham usually does[2], especially when it comes to things eschatological, he provides prescient words for the weary Christian soul; he writes of the genuine hope that we have for the future, and how that hope breaks in on us trumpcurrently afresh and anew, and how that ought to offer us, as Christians, hope eternal and perspective for the moment that allows us to fulfill our vocation as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Here is Bauckham in extenso:

A powerful Jewish objection to the Christian identification of Jesus as the Messiah is that, when the Messiah comes, the world will be freed from evil, suffering and death. As Walter Molberly puts it, in chapter 12 above: ‘The heart of the Jewish critique is simple: if Jesus is the redeemer, why is the world still unredeemed?’ One form of Christian response, and unfortunate one, has been to ‘spiritualise’ redemption in a way that is alien to the Jewish religious tradition. Salvation is reduced to what Christian believers experience as forgiveness of sins, personal justification before God, and virtuous living, with spiritual immortality in heaven after death. But the Christian tradition at its most authentic has realised that the promise of God made in the bodily resurrection of Christ is holistic and all-encompassing: for whole person, body and soul, for all the networks of relationship in human society that are integral to being human, and for the rest of creation also, from which humans in their bodiliness are not to be detached. In other words, it is God’s creative renewal of his whole creation. Here and now such salvation is experienced in fragmentary and partial anticipations of the new creation, and these are only properly appreciated as anticipations of the fullness of new creation to come. But even these anticipations are not limited to a ‘spiritual’ sphere artificially distinguished from the embodiment and sociality of human being in this world. Significantly, what has most kept the holistic understanding of salvation alive in the church, when tempted by Platonic and Cartesian dualisms to reduce it, have been the resurrection of Jesus in its inescapable bodiliness and the hope of his coming to raise the dead and to judge, which makes all individual salvation provisional, incomplete until the final redemption of all things. Hope for the future coming of the crucified and risen Christ has continually served to counter Christian tendencies to pietism and quitetism, spiritualization and privitisation, because it has opened the church to the world and the future, to the universal scope of God’s purposes in Jesus the Messiah.

It has also been a corrective to absolutising the status quo in state or society: either the transformation of Christianity into a civil religion uncritically allied to a political regime or form of society, or the church’s own pretensions to be the kingdom of God virtually already realised on earth. In such contexts the Christ who reigns now on the divine throne has been envisaged as the heavenly sanction for the rule of his political or ecclesiastical deputies on earth. Resistance to ideological christology of this kind can come from the hope of the Christ who is still to come in his kingdom. The expectation of the parousia relativises all the powers of the present world, exposing their imperfections and partialities. This is why it has often been more enthusiastically embraced by the wretched and the dispossessed than by the powerful and the affluent. It embodies the hope that the world will be different, contradicting every complacent or resigned acceptance of the way things are. It offers an eschatological provisio and a utopian excess that keep us from pronouncing a premature end to history, as a tradition of Enlightenment thought from Hegel and Comte to Francis Fukuyama has encouraged people to do and as totalitarian politics is often minded to do in justification for repressing dissent. Thus the Jewish messianic critique of Christian messianism is a necessary one whenever the church’s faith in the Christ who is still to come falters.[3]

maranatha.

[1] NRSV, Romans 7.24.

[2] See Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation; and Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation.

[3] Richard Bauckham, “The Future of Jesus Christ,” in The Cambridge Companion To Jesus, ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 268-69.

An Invitation: Battle to Be a Theologian of the Cross

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Staying alert theologically can be an outright spiritual battle. There is an array of things thrown at us in our daily lives that would seek to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that would cause us to revert back to the ‘flesh’ (see Galatians 3:1ff). We are born theologians, as we first enter this world through our mother’s womb we are conceived in sin, and so it takes the unilateral and gracious work of God in Christ to take our hearts of stone from us and give us hearts of flesh (see II Cor. 3:1ff) that are soft and malleable to His ways and not ours. If we quench this work of salvation, this work of reconciliation between God and humanity that has taken place in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us then we will be theologians of glory. We will seek out ways and systems of thought that take shape in the ‘idol factory’ of our minds and hearts (pace Calvin); we will construct civilization in a way that caters to our god, to ourselves and our desires; we will worship the creation rather than the Creator (see Romans 1), this world is always attempting to subvert and quench the work of the Spirit in our lives – the work that would make us to be theologian’s of the cross who take up our crosses daily and follow Christ (see Matt. 16:22ff). So being a theologian, a Christian theologian, a deep thinker who contemplates upon the depth realities of all that we are and have in Christ is a battle; one where we are required and implored to take every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ and to cast down every thought and imagination that would seek to elevate itself over God (see II Cor. 10); one where we are to cultivate a posture of gratitude and nourishment from the simplicity of the Gospel, in simple devotion to Jesus Christ (see II Cor. 11) submitting to God and resisting the devil (see James 4:7-8) who would attempt to make us into theologian’s of glory worshiping the angel of light rather than the Son of His glory (see Col. 1:13).

I am in this battle, so are you. We live in a world system that is busy. It is busy with “good things,” like making money at all costs, sacrificing our families for Mammon, and subsuming our time under the banner of lust and lampoon, but not under the banner of His love (see Song of Songs). I am in this battle. I have been working really hard at my new job with the railroad. I have been in Railroad school which requires all of my time (literally everyday), and yet I am a theologian, I am a Christian who worships the Triune God of life and hope. It is a battle to not give in and simply become a theologian of glory; not because I have rejected the cross of Christ, but because I simply have no time to devote to my Lord. Not that I can’t do my railroad school work and job as unto the Lord, I can and I will by God’s grace, but I want to do so with understanding. It is important to have the capacity to feed the soul with the depth reality of who God is in Jesus Christ. Otherwise the things of the world, even if they might appear necessary and “good” can lure us into patterns of life that subtly lead us away from the cross, and ultimately lead us to ourselves. Remaining a theologian of the cross is a battle. I can attest to this, as I am sure you can.

I am dedicated, to my dying breath to being a theologian of the cross! There are Christians suffering and being killed all over the world simply because they love Jesus Christ. The least that I can do is press on in the resource and circumstance the Lord has given me, and on their behalf, and as a member of the body of Christ I can and will (Lord willing) grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; I will pray with understanding (by God’s grace) on behalf of my brothers and sisters who cannot (see Hebrews 4; 7:25). I will bear their burdens (see Galatians 6), and hurt when they hurt (see I Cor. 12), and cry out as if in prison with them (see Hebrews 10), and I will do so (by God’s grace) through studying and research and writing as unto the Lord, and from the Lord. I will be a theologian of the cross, not so I can be smarter than you, or more knowledgeable than you, but in service to God’s body in Christ, in service to his sacred Church.

I invite you to fight this battle with me, and I further invite you to rebuke any thought that would allow you the role of apathy; you are not allowed to do that, and neither am I! We are soldiers for Christ, and part of that, in our part of the world and circumstance in particular means that we avail ourselves to study of God’s Word which includes availing ourselves to the riches that God has given to us in his body in the past and into the present. I could say more, but I will stop. I invite you to the battle, take up your cross daily and follow Christ before it is to late to do good, there is opportunity yet (see Galatians 6).

Spiritual Warfare, It Is Real

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness inthe heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:10-12

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I hardly see any blogs—maybe this is because of the kind of blogs I usually read (if any, anymore)—dealing with this real life topic; furthermore, I hardly hear any pulpits (that our healthy, anyway) engaging with this topic in critical and fruitful ways. And so to remedy this dearth, at least for me, personally, I am going to reflect (versus, exegete) upon the above passage, and upon my own ongoing spiritual warfare as one of Christ’s “soldiers.”

The ubiquitous, N. T. Wright, writes on this section (pericope) of Scripture:

What then is the battle? Who is fighting against us? And what are we to do about it?

Paul clearly supposes that the forces of evil that put Jesus on the cross have been seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection. They are now positively panic-stricken at the thought that the message of this Jesus is everywhere challenging their power and authority, and that communities loyal to Jesus as Lord and king are springing up, bringing together peoples and communities in a new unity, a new humanity, that shows evidence of the creator’s sovereign power and hence of their own imminent destruction. They are therefore doing their best to oppose this gospel, to distract or depress the young Christians, to blow them off course by false teaching or temptations to anger or immorality (see 4.17–5.20, where these are the main themes).

Sometimes this attack will take the frontal form of actual authorities in towns and cities who try to prevent Christians from spreading the message. Sometimes it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side-issues, or to become fascinated by distorted teaching. Sometimes it will be simply the age-old temptations of money, sex and power: But in each case what individuals and the whole church must do is, first, to recognize that attacks are coming; second, to learn how to put on the complete armour which God offers; and, third, to stand firm and undismayed. [1]

I was pleasantly surprised when I read Wright’s ‘For Everyone’ on this passage; I was almost sure that he was going to focus on the anti-Imperial context of this passage—as is so popular nowadays—and miss how concrete and real this is in our individual and daily lives (he holds a good balance on both of these realities in his short comments. But I really don’t want to focus on Wright, so much; I want to talk about how real, and moment by moment this attack is, and how we usually are not even aware of it.

In my own life, and where I find spiritual attack most acute (there are actually many identifiable areas for me), is in the area of simple Bible reading. I read a lot! And I most often read works of theology and biblical studies, alongside my daily schedule of reading Scripture. But there is, and has always been this battle when I am intent on reading Scripture. Interestingly, I don’t experience this kind of acute attack on my theological or biblical studies reading; and I don’t even experience this kind of attack on my Bible reading when I am doing so from a posture of critical or academic engagement with the text (and I want to be careful not to imply here that critical Bible reading is not spiritually adept Bible reading, it can and should be, but it is not always—unfortunately—for me). But I do experience massive attack when I am attempting to read Scripture as if I am sitting at the feet of Jesus; I do experience acute attack when I am intent on reading Scripture in a way that is attuned to feeding my soul as an exercise of worship with the hope of growing deeper in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I do experience this attack when I try to read Scripture with the hope that it will be able (as it breaks off in its reality in Jesus) to keep me from sin. I experienced this kind of attack today.

What I conclude from this (not being ignorant of the enemy’s devices as I am, cf. II Cor. 2), is this: God’s Word (Scripture) has something very potent associated with it. Something so potent that the enemy of our souls, who like a roaring lion is seeking whom he may devour, realizes that if we are in it, if it is in us, if we read it and think it prayerfully and meditatively; somehow (not mystically) has the power to rip our inward focused souls asunder—by causing us to look away from our bellies, and instead to look at the navel of God’s life in Jesus Christ. I know this attack is real, and I am sure many of you, as you have attempted to read Scripture in this way, and with the hope that I have mentioned, have experienced this same reality as well.

Just remember, any time you encounter systems of thought (even theological ones), that have embedded in them, the premise that God’s Word might not be all that it is cracked up to be; just remember that this is the same venomous bile that the serpent fed Adam and Eve so long ago. And just remember that ‘doubt’ of God’s Word brought rebellion into our lives; it is by God’s Word that this seed of the serpent has been crushed (Jn. 1:1). And try not to think of what I just wrote in academic or novel ways, try and think of what I just wrote in ways that are prayerful, and in ways that are coordinate with your day to day life and reality. This is the way I am approaching this. Not as an academic exercise, but as an exercise of worship and meditation before the throne of God.

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[1] N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 66-7.

Good Works, The Work of the Great Deceiver

I am starting to become less and less convinced that Christians, at least in America, actually struggle with things like I am about to highlight in this post. It seems as if a folkism has overtaken American Evangelicalism in a way that pragmatism and utilitarianism rues the day, and principle and doctrinal concerns no longer, for some reason are important—I am somewhat rabbit trailing from where I want to take this post. I hit on this because I think that what this post is going to talk about might be down on the pole of significance for many of us; in fact I think that American Evangelicalism, in general, has so imbibed our feel good pop culture that the concept of ‘good works’ and right standing before God really have no functional meaning for people’s daily lives and spirituality. We are so busy with everyday concerns, trying to make ends meet, watching TV, and entertaining ourselves to death; that serious reflection about doctrinal concerns—like the relation between good works and saved by faith alone—really have no place of import in our lives.

Nevertheless, for those who might be the exception to my sketch above, this post might mean something to you. As you might have already picked up, I want to bring up the issue of ‘good works’ in the Christian’s life. And in particular, I want to get more insight into what Martin Luther, the Reformer thought, who is primarily known for emphasizing sola fide, ‘faith alone’. Maybe though, maybe I am wrong about what I was getting at in my first paragraph above; maybe in fact good works for Christians are alive and well, maybe good works (whatever those are) are what provides salvation, psychologically, for so many of us. Maybe when we do good things we feel good before God (coram Deo), and maybe when we do bad things we feel guilty before God; so maybe that’s why we try to comfort ourselves by the good that we do, and brushing the bad under the good in a way that makes us feel ‘justified’ before God (and of course we attribute the good to the power of God in our lives, and thus we even feel more justified when we see our good works; in fact we start to look at our good works as the basis for our assurance of salvation). According to John Webster, Martin Luther would totally disagree with you—if you think your good works are a sign of your salvation or something—here is how Webster describes Luther’s view here:

[…] Luther’s doctrine of justification b grace through faith severs the bond between acceptance and self-realization which he found in scholastic anthropology; in effect, his moral ontology calls into question the notion that self-conscious, self-actualizing selfhood is anthropologically primary. Indeed, in a crucial phrase he notes how, in good works as traditionally understood (i.e. as ‘religious’ works), ‘the self has been set up as an idol’. He acutely sees that religious works, and the understanding of the human person through which their significance is expounded, have become an exercise in self-preservation; good works are in league with human egotism, and their consequence is accordingly the deepening of human depravity and not release from it. For such works have become ‘merely acts of appeasement and self-righteous attempts at self-salvation. Luther recognised the depth of the corruption of the self which attempts to turn all goods to itself’. The target of Luther’s critique is thus the prudential calculation of benefits which might accrue to the agent on the basis of certain kinds of moral performance; acts undertaken in anticipation of rewards are ipso facto disqualified as good works, because within them lurks the sinful, self-realizing ego. If the Christian is related to his or her good works ‘self-centeredly’, the result is that chronic inflammation of the self which is the curse of sin. [John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology, 163.]

This seems like a dilemma! If good works aren’t the sign of my salvation; if good works can’t provide me with assurance of salvation, then what or who can? If good works which are done by natural Pelagian impulse only serve to really further my own self-deception about how sinful I am—as T. F. Torrance would say ‘all the way down’—then I am of all men most to be pitied.

Of course the answer is ‘faith’, the faith of Christ at work in us by the Spirit. This is the ground of assurance, it is the faith of and the faith in Christ that resolves the dilemma. Good works, the ones we have been recreated in, in Christ (Eph. 2:10); are a result of the overflow of relationship that we already have with Christ. We don’t look to our good works as if those are our ‘Yes’ before God, He already said ‘No’ to them at the cross; instead, with the Apostle Paul we look to Christ where ‘all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory’ (II Cor. 1:20).

What Luther’s emphasis can provide is a way out of a moralistic Christian spirituality that can only produce introspective navel gazing Christians who ultimately are driven by angst, instead of the power of God, which is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ; the one that we are not ashamed of (Romans 1:16).

The ‘Beast’ in the Book of Revelation, He’s Here

I have been reading Richard Bauckham’s The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation; I was spurned to read this because I read his smaller book The Theology of the Book of Revelation a few months ago, which was excellent and a must read. In fact I would say that if you haven’t read either of these books you haven’t really ever studied the book of Revelation. What I want to highlight is a bit of Bauckham’s discussion and identification of the Beast in the book of Revelation. Now, if your reading this as a dispensationalist you will be challenged (to say the least); but I think if you read Bauckham’s development in full you would be hard pressed to refute what he has to say. He looks at the internal structure of the book, and really presses the ‘Epistle’ genre of the book (then also the ‘Apocalyptic’ and ‘Prophetic’); resulting in taking seriously that John was writing for the seven churches he is speaking to in 1st century Graeco-Rome. Bauckham is at his best as he situates the apocalyptic genre of Revelation in its proper literary context. Meaning that he identifies how all of the picteresque and emotive language of Revelation was understood within its historical context, and what the prophetic significance would have been for these 1st century Christians; and then what it means for us today (by way of application). I uphold what Bauckham here communicates about the ‘Beast’, and I want to commend it to you for your consideration. What he brings out on the Beast and Empire presents a paradigm shifting proposition in the way that most Evangelical Christians have understood this amazing book. I am going to share this quote on the Beast and Empire from Bauckham, and then I will close with a few parting comments.

[T]he images of the beast will probably become most easily accessible to us as we realise that it was primarily in developing the theme of christological parody that John found the Nero legend useful. It enabled him to construct a history of the beast as paralleling the death, the resurrection and the parousia of Jesus Christ. Some interpretation of Revelation has made the theme of christological parody seem a mere creative fantasy which John projects onto the Roman Empire, which of course had no intention of aping the Christian story of Jesus. In fact, as we have seen, the christological parody corresponds to real features of history of the empire, to the character of the imperial cult, and to contemporary expectations of the future of the empire. It is a profound prophetic interpretation of the contemporary religio-political image of the empire, both in Rome’s own propaganda and in its subjects’ profoundest responses to Roman rule. This religio-political ideology, which John sees as a parody of the Christian claims about Christ, was no mere cover for the hard political realities: it entered deeply into the contemporary dynamics of power as they affected the lives of John’s contemporaries. He sees it as a deification of power. The empire’s success is founded on military might and people’s adulation of military might. By these standards Christ and the martyrs are the unsuccessful victims of the empire. Instead of worshipping the risen Christ who has won his victory by suffering witness to the truth, the world worships the beast whose ‘resurrection’ is the proof that this military might is invincible. The parallel between the ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the beast and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ poses the issue of what is truly divine. Is it the beast’s apparent success which is worthy of religious trust and worship? Or is the apparent failure of Christ and the martyrs the true witness to the God who can be ultimately trusted and may alone be worshipped?

The ambiguity of the period of the beast’s reign, in which to earthly appearances the beast’s ‘resurrection’ has established his eternal kingdom, while those who acknowledge God’s rule are slaughtered by the beast, cannot be permanent. God’s kingdom must come. The parallel between the beast’s ‘parousia’ and Christ’s poses the issue of what will turn out ultimately to be divine, whose kingdom will prevail in the end. The cult of military power contains its own contradiction: the city which lived by military conquest will fall by military conquest. But beyond that, military power which aims only at its own absolute supremacy must prove a false messiah. It overreaches itself because it is the merely human grasping for what is truly only divine. It is only the parousia of Christ that can establish an eternal kingdom, because it is truly the coming of the eternal God who alone can be trusted with absolute supremacy.

The riddle of the number of the beast pointed specifically to Nero as the figure whose history and legend displayed, to those who had wisdom, the nature of the Roman Empire’s attempt to rival God. Any contemporary reappropriation of Revelation’s images that aims to expose the dynamics of power in the contemporary world in the light of the Gospel would also have to be specific. [Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 451-52]

Theological Implications

The first thing I want to draw our attention to is Bauckham’s last paragraph. What he is doing with this is delimiting the application of the book of Revelation to a particular set of boundaries. In other words, he is using its original audience and shape as determinative for how we can appropriate and apply it to our own context and situation today (just as in principle we should interpret the so called Minor Prophets or Book of the Twelve). What this does, by implication, is that it disallows the Dispensationalist interpretation of the book of Revelation. It won’t allow for providing the kind of the nitty-gritty detail that Dispensational exegesis of this book is known for. There is a general understanding of end time events revealed in this book (as it pertains to the end of the current world system), and only a more particular understanding of the consummate age or heaven. In other words, to read stuff into Revelation (like identifying the European union as the ten headed beast, or taking the “Mark of the Beast” as a literal mark or bar code embedded on your hand or forehead) will not work; and this is convincingly revealed as the exegete studies the background context and Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition from which John wrote and received the revelation of Jesus.

Bauckham’s prior development, to the quote above, has highlighted how the history in the 1st century (second Temple Judaism) supplies all the historical referents for which John’s apocalyptic language finds a referent. In other words, the language of “Beast” was common moniker for the Roman Empire, and its gone wild military power. The ‘Mark of the Beast’ was required in order to buy and sell in the Roman Empire (or allegiance to Nero and the Caesars). So as Bauckham notes, if true, then the application of this (prophetically for the future) is that the power of the Beast (represented by empires who have their strength through military might and power) will not last (which was immediately realized in the Roman context as ultimately the Roman empire collapsed, but this kind of “power” has continued to persist into the present). Also there is an interesting note, historically in regards to the language of the Beast receiving a fatal blow to the head, and then his resurrection (which was also common apocalyptic language directed toward the Roman empire and the Nero legend by other apocalyptic writings during this period like the Ascension of Isaiah etc.); Bauckham identifies how this was something that had already happened in reference to the Beast (in particular Nero legend, whom the number 666 through Gematria [the common usage of Greek letters that have numeric value to identify people or places, in this instance, the Greek letters for Nero add up to 666]); that after Nero committed suicide, it appeared that the Roman empire was doomed, but at the time of 70 AD Titus Vespasian resurrected and coalesced the empire through the sacking of Jerusalem and the military might of the Rome. It appeared that the Beast had died, but within a short period of time he rose again to excessive power. These are just a few examples of how Bauckham reorientates the book of Revelation through providing a thick account of the context in which the book of Revelation was written. The exegete, if genuine, cannot simply over-look what Bauckham has provided if he or she is going to honestly engage the book of Revelation. Which leads to my last implication.

For all too long, personally, folks I have been around who want to continue holding onto their particular interpretive schema of things (especially dispensationalists) will caricature other interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation in particular. There usually is a sketch of the other positions (like historist, idealist, preterist), but then this is only used to relativize the interpretive situation (or confuse); at which point the dispensationalist steps in and offers his clarity of interpreting the book of Revelation through a futurist lens alone. This is not good practice, and it ultimately turns people like me off. True, each one of us has to make our own decisions when it comes to principles of interpretation; but I would like to think that that involves being honest, and taking all the evidence (we are aware of) into account. That we are not so locked into particular denominations and their distinctives that we are afraid to change our minds, and allow our preunderstandings that we bring to the text to change in accordance with the relative weight of the evidence on the ground that we are confronted with through the kind of rigorous study that Paul admonishes us to (cf. II Tim. 2.15). [I am of course not talking about essential things here, I am talking about so called secondary things like this issue entails]

One more implication. If what Bauckham writes is true, then this has paradigmatic consequences for how we view our current situation, especially as Westerners and Americans in particular. We should not conflate being a Christian with being a Patriot, a Republican-Democrat-Independent, or simply with being an American. In fact insofar as America’s strength is rooted in her military might, then she exemplifies the features of the ‘Beast’ and not the City on the Hill that Ronald Reagan attributed to her. What the book of Revelation does is that it places any empire (like, really the emerging Global Empire we inhabit) on notice; that its time is short, and that all of its wanton desires are coming to an end. You can kill the Christians (and the ‘Beast’ has, statistically more so in the 20th century by itself than the previous 19 added together), but it is through the martyrs blood that the Beast only proves his own demise; the blood of the martyrs cries out, and signals that the Lion-Lamb’s kingdom has come and will finally come at the last trumpet. What Bauckham’s insights implies is that the Beast (or Anti-Christ) is not necessarily embodied in a single person; instead Nero and the Roman empire exemplifies or symbolizes the kind of power that is embodied by empires or empire in the world. There will be, according to the unfolding of the judgments in Revelation (the Seal, Trumpet, Bowl) an intensification of the Beast and empire just prior to the return of Christ (where the Danielic ‘Stone’ will crush the kingdoms of this world cf. Daniel 2). In other words, Jesus could come at any moment!

The ‘Spiritual Realm’, And Theologians

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:12

I have read quite a bit of Dogmatic Theology, and I have as of yet to come across any that deal directly with the stuff of Paul’s passage above. ‘Spiritual Warfare’ usually isn’t the stuff of academic papers presented at theological conferences; it’s usually not the stuff of theological journals; and it’s usually not the stuff that most popular theological and biblical blogs ever engage at even a cursory level. If anything this kind of stuff is relegated to pastoral theology (whatever that is).

I wonder why most academic Christian theologians don’t deal with this kind of stuff in their theologies? I have read some theologians who don’t really believe that what Paul is referring to in this passage represents personal beings (i.e. like fallen angels or something); instead some of these theologians identify these “world forces of darkness” as an all pervasive ‘principal of evil’ or something. They may go as far as identifying it as systemic evil or power structures (like political) that seeks to thwart the purposes of God. Indeed, these evil forces certainly entail such things; but the Apostle Paul’s language in this passage is much more personal in nature. He seems to believe that there are personal evil agents of power and doom whom we as Christians are in battle with on a daily basis. The Apostle Paul experienced this reality more than once; as I recall in Acts 19 Paul came up against the evil spirit who physcially worked the seven sons of Sceva over.

Anyway, I wonder why some modern theologians don’t really deal with this kind of stuff in their theologies? And I wonder why some modern theologians interpret passages like this to be referring to a principle of evil instead of personal (demonic) evil?

I believe that there are real life fallen angels (or demons) who along with the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12) seeks like a roaring lion whom they may devour. In fact, I believe it is important to remember this reality in our daily walks as Christians; in sanctification. To remember that we live from and through the victourious resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ; the one who has disarmed the principalities and powers by making a public spectacle of them through his cross. Interestingly, this spectacle, in context, takes on a first century Roman and Jewish political form. I have more to say on this, but I will save it for another post.