Tag Archives | power

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.

Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Blame the Poor

Theodore HiebertWhen social unrest increases, it is easy for a society to blame its poor, who are often disproportionately involved in crime and in prison populations. It requires much more courage to hold accountable, as did Habakkuk, society’s elite and powerful figures and organizations, who customarily project the privileged and institutionalize the disparity between rich and poor.

—Theodore Hiebert, The Book of Habakkuk: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections in NIB VII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 632.

In Control | Victor A. Shepherd

Victor ShepherdMany people understand sovereignty to mean unlimited, unqualified power, or the capacity to coerce and control. However, this kind of power is more typical of evil. God is sovereign, but he is not all-controlling; the problem with the world is that, while God is sovereign, we are in control.

—Victor A. Shepherd, The Committed Self: An Introduction to Existentialism for Christians (Toronto, ON: BPS Books, 2015), 213.

Torrance’s Incarnation 7: The Kingdom of Christ and Evil

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation1) The breaking in of the kingdom

In the incarnation, the king has come to reclaim his people for his Kingdom. Jesus is the mighty one who paradoxically exercises his might through submission to violence. Jesus’ preaching, healing, and exorcising power are all attacks on the power of Satan. His entire life was a conflict with the powers of this world. In Jesus, the light of God invades the darkness and releases the prisoners who sit therein.

2) The human situation as revealed by the breaking in of the kingdom of God in Christ

The Father is grieved by the state of his creatures. Humans are so deeply under the power of sin that they can not extricate themselves. This is why God in Christ acts graciously, never blaming the sick for their sins before helping them. When Jesus encounters the sinner, there is a struggle between God and an evil will, a will that resists salvation. It is precisely here where God enters, taking this “human being and existence upon himself” (242). This is how Jesus sets us free from the power of sin and death.

This is no easy thing for God—he “hazards and stakes his own existence and being in the salvation of men and women” (243). This brings us to the mystery of evil. Evil is more than mere negation, the absence of good. It is positive opposition to God. Evil is ultimately irrational.

3) Sin and alienation in the light of Christ and his crucifixion

The gospel writers allot half of their manuscripts to Christ’s passion. It is here where we will see the depth of humanity’s estrangement from God. Let’s unpack this idea in six ways.

  1. Nowhere in scripture is a doctrine of sin formulated apart from the love of God in redemption. This is evident in the passion narratives. In the cross, God reveals the depth of sin precisely as an attack on God. All this is revealed in the context of his self-giving grace.
  2. Humans were created to be connected with their creator. Sin is the force that pushes God away, resulting in judgment and death.
  3. Sin is more than a subjective reality for humans, it is an objective reality from God’s perspective. This means a change not only in the relationship of man to God, but vice versa. “God personally resists sin” (252), which is why sinners experience God’s wrath, but even that wrath is redeeming.
  4. Sin is a problem that is introduced into human nature. Sin is “a radical enmity in man and woman which amounts to a corruption of their whole existence and a disintegration of their self-relation to God” (253). The amazing fact is that, despite sin, God demonstrates love by willing his relationship with humans to continue.
  5. Now we see why the incarnation was so terrible. Jesus took on our sin and guilt, he “descended into that hell in order to redeem” (255).
  6. Christ’s incarnation exposes the wrath of God but also his “overwhelming love” (256). This is demonstrated by two of the words from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me,” and “Father, forgive them.”

Some Reflections

Whenever Jesus proclaimed his word, that word was an assault upon the enemies of God and whenever he acted in forgiveness and healing that act was in deliverance of men and women from enslavement to the power of Satan, the prince of evil. (237)

When Jesus exorcised demons his power against the works of darkness was plainly visible. Torrance brings up an important point here: his words, his forgiveness of sin, and his healing acts were just as much an assault against Satan as his exorcisms! When Jesus forgives, the darkness trembles. When Jesus heals, the prisoners who sit in darkness are called out of their cells.

Mankind is not only estranged from God but estranged from true humanity, determined and controlled in their self-will by evil power that destroys their very being: they are subjected to evil existence and live in the shadow of death and destruction. (242)

This perspective is important. Humanity-in-sin isn’t making a free choice to rebel against God, they’re undermining and destroying their own humanity. The only way to be fully human is found in Christ.

The very wrath of God is a sign of hope, not of utter destruction – for if God chastises us then we are sons and daughters, and not bastards, as the scripture puts it. (249)

This is hard to understand from the human side. Pain is never welcome. Still, just as a child responds to the healthy discipline of a parent, we (in the end) respond to God’s discipline. His discipline is a sign of his love. The opposite of love is not discipline, but apathy.

Sin is the negative correlative of faith. (253)

You would think that the negative correlative of sin is good deeds. This betrays a misunderstanding of what sin truly is. Sin is more than certain acts, it is a fundamental resistance in human nature to God. The opposite of this resistance to God is a running to God—faith.

← 6.4: The Reformation Doctrine of Christ

Divine Love | Frank D. Macchia

Frank MacchiaWithout divine love at the heart of Spirit baptism, the “power” to be gained through this renewal in the Spirit seems to be little more than raw energy without substance or direction, feeding little more than an emotional release.

—Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 259.

Christian Initiation | Frank D. Macchia

Frank MacchiaMany Pentecostals lessen the power of their focus on Spirit baptism by removing it completely from Christian initiation and identity and making it merely an enhancement of power supplemental to the life of grace.

—Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 152.

Counterfeit Gods | Timothy Keller

The cover of Keller's Counterfeit Gods

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. (xvii)

In Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller exposes the big three idols that attempt to subvert God’s role in our lives: Money, Sex, and Power.

This is the second book I’ve read on this theme. One of Richard Foster’s earlier works was originally called, Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. It’s now known by its subtitle (apparently the original title was too shocking for the ears of Christians living in 1985). I have found Keller’s little book to be just as valuable as Foster’s.

Keller’s greatest strength (among many) is his pastoral insight into human nature. He doesn’t buy the lies we tell ourselves but digs down to root issues. He has counseled enough people to understand the grip that money, sex, and power have in our lives.

In each chapter you’ll find a sermon complete with interesting anecdotes, sound biblical exegesis, and the aforementioned pastoral insight. This is a book worth meditating your way through. After all, it’s only when you “pull your emotions up by the roots” that you find your idols clinging to them (170).

—Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York, NY: Dutton, 2009).

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