Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fierce God At War: Part I

I've just finished reading Satan and the Problem of Evil, by Gregory Boyd, a scary sounding book with an even scarier front cover. Apparently eyebrows were raised when this book was delivered to the children's charity where my wife works! Far from being some dark nefarious tome, filled with incantations and insights into the demonic, this book is actually a thesis of how free will and God's ultimate control (omnipotence) balance out. I haven't got the space and time to delve into Boyd's full thesis, but rather I want to reflect on his dominate theme: God is at War. Contrary to the idea of the somewhat Greek philosophical concept of the omnipotent God in complete and utter control of creation, Boyd asserts that the scriptures themselves do not paint such a picture. Rather, the primary motif we find in the bible is one of divine, heavenly and spiritual conflict. Something has gone seriously wrong with the fabric of creation: the whole world, seen and unseen, is rebelling against its creator. Greg calls this viewpoint the trinitarian warfare worldview.

I may at some point delve into the philosophical implications of this viewpoint, but at the moment I want to stay on the theme of warfare: the idea that God, the Father-Son-Spirit, are in some sense in a battle against evil, against Satan and his "hosts of spiritual wickedness". I also want to explore a parallel idea: the notion that Christians, being "in Christ", join in with this spiritual battle.

I find this idea in the writings of another favourite author of mine, John Eldredge. In a fantastic book called Waking the Dead, Eldredge warns his readers concerning the danger of dismissing the warfare worldview, by which he means, the notion that as Christians we are fighting a spiritual battle against Satan and his allies. Jesus himself told us that "the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy", yet according to both Boyd and Eldredge we often just roll over and accept much of our life as "God's will".

The warfare paradigm of scripture is not very popular these days. Our bible translators do their very best to hide it from us. We read words like "Lord Almighty", and think of some lofty god, when the actual Hebrew means something like "the God of angel armies", or "the God of the armies who fight for his people" (Waking the Dead, p160). Over at The Resurgence, Anthony Bradley tells us the story of Jesus In A Pink Dress, a mural he saw in a church building which has subsequently shut down due to the death of the congregation. My point? That perhaps the feminisation and pacification of Christianity, Christ and Creation is doing more harm than good. I know this is going to be controversial and offensive to some, and I welcome pushbacks. But I believe I am onto something here.

Eldredge writes further on:

The attitude of so many Christians today is anything but fierce. We're passive, acquiescent. We're acting as if the battle is over, as if the wolf and the lamb are now fast friends. Good grief -- we're beating our swords into plowshares as the armies of the Evil One descend upon us. We've bought the lie of the Religious Spirit, which says, "You don't need to fight the Enemy. Let Jesus do that." ... Seriously, just this morning a man said to me, "We don't need to fight the Enemy. Jesus has won." Yes, Jesus has the won the victory over Satan and has Kingdom. However, the battle is not over."
-- Waking the Dead, p168.

I've got loads more to say on this topic, but I'll leave you with the words from one of my favourite films:

Théoden: "I know what it is that you want of me. But I would not bring further death to my people. I will not risk open war."

Aragorn: "Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not."

Is the contemporary church and the contemporary Christian more akin to Théoden or Aragorn? Why has Jesus been seen in a pink dress? And are the rumours of Jesus driving around the Middle-East in a Volkswagen Cabriolet offering aromatherapy really true?! Watch this space... (and feel free to comment!)


Anonymous said...

Hi Albo, did you know that Boyd here picks up one strand of a teaching commonly associated with the heretic Socinius, who taught the following: "They also believed that God's omniscience was limited to what was a necessary truth in the future (what would definitely happen), and did not apply to what was a contingent truth (what might happen). They believed that, if God knew every possible future, human free will was impossible; and as such rejected the "hard" view of omniscience." Open Theism is endebted to this point of view which suggested that God can change is isn't eternally perfect. One fear people have ofthis teaching is that it can make out that God is as much part of creation as all of us, and that it takes away his deity.
Interestingly, this is exactly what Socinius went on to teach, following Atius et al: that Christ was only human (wlthough he was deified in some way). Socinius was also clearly Anti-Trinitarian in 't his views. I don't think Greg Boyd is following either of these latter teachings, but its interesting to see that the centre of his teaching (that gos is not immutable, which Richard Bauckham would teach as well) was also an element of the Socianian Heresy.

Alastair said...

Very interesting, Paul. I am not sure if I can travel down the same road Boyd has, as his open theism, whilst being very attractive, does very much leave in question why we can trust in God, given the infinite amount of variables he apparently cannot influence. He also hasn't left much room for the cross, but then again, I haven't read his first book which I believe expounds his version of Christus Victor.

This whole question of whether or not God is immutable is rather silly, IMHO. Does the character of God ever change? Of course not! He is always the same. Can he change his mind? According to the scriptures, he can. Just because someone changes their mind (i.e. decides to do something contrary to their previous inclination) doesn't mean they have changed who they are in essence. Rather, they are simply responding to a changing world.

Quite how we understand this theologically is another matter, but the bible clearly shows a God who can be placated and a God whose declared course of action can be changed by intercession.

Reading Boyd has reinforced for me the urgency and importance of prayer, which can only be good!

BTW, the fear you state over open theism is basically that it will lead to Process Theism, right? I understand that Process God is really the sum of creation, and is not distinct from it.

Sensuous Wife said...

Every good redemptive thing that has come into my life, every bit of healing and restoration was twofold:
It was a gift of God.
I had to fight for it.

Freedom and healing do not come to us by default. Even the woman with the issue of blood pressed in, she pressed in through the crowd. Jesus healed her. and. She pressed in.

Tanesia said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

What we need NOW is a "Modern Day Mt. Carmel"