Resonant Theology in Public

The good news of Jesus the Messiah is not necessarily good news to everyone. The Scriptures are replete with examples of how the Gospel (Greek: evangel) forces a decision from people for or against the Lord Jesus himself. As the Lord and his Apostles assert, only those who want to know the truth will welcome the greatest news ever granted to human beings. And those who do welcome the Lord (in welcoming the Gospel) are supernaturally positioned by the Holy Spirit to live out the evangel as resistance to the powers and the ideas who govern this present world.

The Apostle Paul speaks of this power and this resistance when explaining to the believers in Corinth about why and how he conducts himself with others. He serves the Lord Christ by serving people (those in Corinth in this case) by means of supernatural weaponry. And he and his co-workers in the ministry of the Gospel dismantle all strongholds which raise themselves up against knowledge of the living God. (See 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 and Ephesians 6:10-20.) This is an example of what I mean by the evangel as resistance.

We in America and Western countries live in a post-Christian secularist dominated culture. Religion has it limited place, to be sure, within the secularist social system but this shift has effectively meant that the Christian convictions (in particular) have been segregated to the extremely limited range of personal taste, opinion and personal choice. This is an earthshaking culture change when one considers that just a hundred years ago Christianity still retained a profound shaping influence upon Americans’ worldview and moral decision-making. There is now more evidence that further shifts in people’s perspectives is manifesting in a willingness to censor and restrict through legal strictures the practice of historic orthodox Christian faith and tradition (beliefs and moral presuppositions).

A forerunner of this cultural shift is change in the popular conceptions of Jesus in North America, Canada and the Western world away from historic Christian orthodoxy toward a variety of heterodox alternatives. The person of Jesus has been remade into the image and likeness of those doing the categorizing. And further, a new ethic of enforced plurality of perspectives on all matters (outside of strictly “scientific” and technical knowledge) related to morality, philosophy and religion has become the norm. Thus when Christians speak of the utter uniqueness of the Person of Christ, biblical revelation, biblical rooted moral guidance and ethics these are immediately viewed with suspicion or outright hostility.

This circumstance puts us in a unique position and dilemma. For we need to keep clear among ourselves the distinct difference between the popular pictures of Jesus and a biblically informed one and also be prepared to explain what and why we believe the biblical testimony. For the Lord often spoke words which we moderns consider intolerant words of judgment. This fact is embarrassing to many Christians and is conveniently ignored by most others. Frankly I am very comforted by the Lord’s words because in them is demonstrated that no one can hide from the living God and that God will call everyone to account. There will be justice in the end—overseen and executed by the Lord Jesus himself who is the judge of those who call upon his Name as well as those who never did so (see Romans 2:1-16).

I remember vividly how shocked I was by the Lord’s words when I first seriously studied the New Testament. Reading the Gospels I was intrigued, sometimes offended and yet somehow drawn simultaneously to the Lord’s words. Even if I did not like what I was reading I knew that they were truthful words and that I would have to decide if I believed them or not (and if I was going to say “yes” to being his disciple). I have often imagined that those who saw and heard Jesus face to face were confronted with similar thoughts and emotions.

For example, what did people make of these words?

“I have come to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have an overwhelming baptism to undergo and how strained I feel until it is finished! Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? Not at all, I tell you, but rather discord, for from now on five shall be at odds in one home, three against two and two against three—father hostile toward son and son toward father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, Berkeley Version [Zondervan:1965])

I leave this text for the reader to ponder without attempting to give detailed commentary. More generally what this saying (and others) demonstrate is that the Lord’s mission on earth was one which required being offensive to his hearers because he told truth. And since the truth about our actual moral and spiritual condition is not what we want to acknowledge or consider, the words of the Lord must either drive us away or draw us in towards him. His presence is like a fire and those who want to be warmed will risk getting near it to meet that basic need. Those who know the truth but do not want to have their selves exposed before the light of the Holy One will remain cold in the dark. We as the Lord’s disciples have been made his emissaries and thus we come to value the evangel as resistance to the deceitfulness of sin and tangled bondage of iniquity (social pattern of sin in our lives).

This miserable self-life is prized not because it brings happiness or satisfaction to anyone but because it is the only way to retain the pretense of autonomy from God. We can speak of the evangel as resistance because the Gospel is the proclamation of God’s power to deliver from sin, spiritually transform the human spirit, heal the wounds of soul and conform one’s actual thoughts and behavior to God’s holiness. To say “yes” to the Gospel is to open one’s heart and mind and body to God with a willingness to renounce all things at the feet of the Lord Jesus and do what he commands in the assurance of hope in God as Father.

The demons and Satan cannot and will not submit to God. And they are actively seeking to convince people, by all means available and necessary, to stand in opposition to God’s truth. I assert this because I have discovered that often Christians do not understand that this is not merely a theological assertion or opinion but describes the dynamics of the unseen (for us) in God’s creation. Is it not ironic that most Christians, even those who say they believe in the existence of demons and the devil, live their lives in denial of that reality? Most people, and most cultures, have recognized and taken specific measures to appease spirits who are active on earth. We Christians in modern times have conformed to the presuppositions of this age.

I think it is remarkable that historic Christian faith (which preserves the Gospel) has been viciously attacked by people from very different perspectives. Some are religious (say Muslims or Jewish or some other religious tradition) while others are atheistic. Some are more inclined to incorporate Christian doctrines with other religious teachings and holy books (syncretism)—to claim that they are more or less equal to their own. Whether people perceive historic Christian faith as a threat or a fraud matters very little—the net effect is to seek to establish a defensive posture which exudes hostility or (worse) casual indifference towards the good news of Jesus the Christ.

How do we who claim the Name of Jesus the Lord Christ understand the Gospel? I urge that we act on the conviction that to be the Lord’s disciple is to engage in a form of warfare and that we must expect to encounter conflict. And in this warfare of the spirit we participate in warfare of the Kingdom of God on earth.

William Gurnall helpfully clarifies this point. I quote him as I cannot state it any better.

“Spiritual warfare is noble because it is just. It is all too true that most people join in political and military battles without ever knowing why. But there is not doubt about the cause of holy war—it is against the only enemy God has who claims to right to rule His world. For this reason God calls all mankind—some by the voice of natural conscience and others by the loud shout of His Word—to join with Him ‘against the mighty’ (Judg. 5:23). He does this not because He needs our help but because He prefers to reward obedience rather than to punish rebellion. This noble warfare is not only just, but it is also hard. Our stubborn enemy is strong and will do everything he can to try our skill to the limit. Cowards can never hope to overcome him. When sin loses ground it is only an inch at a time, and what it holds it will not easily let go.”[i]

The Lord himself demonstrated that the good news makes it possible for us to resist the presence and power of the demons and to live according to God’s righteousness in the Kingdom of God on earth. This is why we need to arm ourselves with the evangel as resistance. In what way can we stand strong in faith and press forward into obedience?

“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” (1 Peter 5:8-9, NRSV)

Those who belong to God and come to God through the Lord Jesus are tasked with lovingly speaking the truth as they model it for others. To practice faith in God as the Lord Jesus taught us means understanding the evangel as resistance. And this form of resistance brings true peace to those genuinely open to it. To those who enjoy being lawless and sin it represents a threat. Regardless, we are tasked to be bold witnesses in our own time.

 

[i] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust:1989) Vol. 3, p.285.

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