What's Tony Thinking

Men and Church, Continued


A number of you picked up on and responded to my blog yesterday on “Men and Church.”

One of you (a woman) wrote,

“This is excellent, Tony. We don’t need to revert to ‘muscular Christianity’ but somehow we need to engage with the idea of evil in the world without using all the battlefield metaphors.”

I agree, no reversion to so-called “muscular Christianity,” which I associate with Billy Sunday in the 20th century and Mark Driscoll in the 21st. Both adjusted Christianity to cultural ideas of masculinity rather than re-thinking what it means to be masculine in light of the gospel.

In Advent, I turn to Fleming Rutledge and her 2018 collection of essays and sermons, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.

Relevant to yesterday’s blog and the failure of the liberal church to take evil seriously, Fleming writes, “There are three actors, or forces, on the stage (in the New Testament), not two. Most accounts of the Christian life refer to two actors: there’s God, and there’s the human being. The human being is pictured as making a journey to God. A great deal of what’s being taught in . . . mainline churches is based on the idea of a spiritual journey we are supposed to be making. And yet there is remarkably little of this in the New Testament.”

“The New Testament is not about our journey toward God. It’s about what Karl Barth calls ‘the journey of the Son of God to the far country.’ And when the incarnate Son arrives in this far country, what does he find? He finds that it is occupied by a great Power. So in the New Testament story, there are not two actors, but three: God, humanity, and the great Enemy — Satan, the devil, wielding what Paul calls the Powers of Sin and Death.”

This cosmology of three actors is behind an Advent hymn like, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” A captive world cries out, desperate for God and for liberation. “O Come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.” And in verse 2, “O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” Death here is a ruling power which holds us captive.

By reducing the Biblical cosmology to the two actors, God and humanity, we have no way to speak of the powers of evil and Christ as liberator, effecting our exodus from bondage to Death/ Sin and their tyranny. About the only place I find this kind of awareness is in the recovery community and those who have known the enslaving powers of addiction. Help from the outside, “a Higher Power who can restore us to sanity” is required. Addicts tell the truth of their bondage and call upon a power greater than their own for liberation even as individuals work their program in the context of a community committed to healing and new life.

Maybe we’re all addicts, some addicted to alcohol or drugs, others to success, a self-image or work. I appear to be addicted to venting my views on the world via this blog.

In this framework, according to Rutledge, the church is analogous to . . . resistance fighters in the territory occupied by the enemy, who participate in establishing ‘signs and beachheads’ signifying ultimate victory. Insofar as is possible in ‘this present evil age,’ the form of such resistance will be non-violent.”

This cosmology of three actors is at work in something like C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, which is part of the reason children find it (and others like Lord of the Rings) more compelling than saccharine admonitions to be “good little girls and boys.” There’s a battle going on and you have a part to play.

In the end, the big contemporary emphasis on our spirituality and our spiritual journey is no match for the compelling story of God’s journey. The gospel isn’t about our search for God but God’s search in Jesus Christ for us. It is the story of God’s coming to find us and to reclaim what is God’s own from the jaws of death and the powers of evil that disfigure, distort and destroy life.


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