Thoughts for a Rainy September Friday


It’s one of those soggy days in southern Ohio that presages autumn. It’s also one of those days where my mind reels from a whirlwind of small thoughts, many inspired by the political season now upon us. So consider today a showcase. Maybe one of these will grow up and become a bigger post someday.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about silence. (I guess if you perceive silence as a friend, you HAVE the ability to think.) If “Be still and know that I am God” is one of the hallmark verses of the Old Testament, what does it say about our ability to know God that we fill our days with noise and a blur of activity? I find it strange that I know adults, not children, who confess that they can’t sit in silence for a half hour without squirming and whining about it.
  • One other verse that strikes me as unknown in America 2008 is “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we treat fellow Christians who disagree with us like the spawn of hell, how is it possible that any of us could muster even a mustard seed of love for our genuine enemies? And why is it that we are so quick to disagree angrily yet so slow to pray for opponents? Notice, too, that I use the word opponents. It’s a long road from opponents to enemies. Someone please invite me to the next prayer meeting wherein Christians spend an hour praying for their enemies. I sadly suspect I’ll need a very expensive plane ticket to get there.
  • If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, why is it that American Evangelicals seem to have no concept of what it means to practice peace or work as ambassadors on behalf of it? Time and again, it seems to me that Evangelicals who discuss political issues are quick to include that they are “for the war effort,” yet NEVER, EVER say they are “for the peace effort.” Does a peace effort even exist in American churches outside of dead, liberal mainline denominations and a handful of Quakers?
  • Every year, the comment that “America is a Christian nation” loses more of its cachet. Consider that four people out of five in this country self-label as Christians and then ask a critical question: What would our nation look and act like if those four out of five were replaced by Christians from Palestine circa 70 AD? Am I the only one believes the difference in practice and influence would be a startling one?
  • What is the goal of an education? For much of the history of our country it was to create adults with a high, lasting understanding of civic responsibility. In that, education was never viewed as self-serving, but as a necessary means to strengthen society and the body politic. Now it’s viewed as only a pathway to greater amounts of personal income. Is it any wonder then that our nation is in trouble economically, socially, morally, and spiritually? When George Barna polls Evangelicals and finds that a greater percentage are worried about getting their kids into a prestigious college than ensuring they know Christ, then the wheels have not only fallen off the last vestiges of Christian education in this country, but the entire vehicle has burst into hellish flames.
  • It’s bizarre to me that people seem to be baffled by the denominational affiliation of Sarah Palin. Since when were the Assemblies of God considered to be a fringe group? This is what happens when all your political pundits are lapsed Episcopalians or Presbyterians-in-name-only.
  • An independent is running in the 2nd Congressional District in Ohio, my district. This has long been considered one of the most Republican districts in the entire country. Republican candidates have in the past won this district with nearly 80 percent of the vote. This has not been the case recently as the GOP has consistently let conservative voters down. In fact, when a real alternative was offered to the GOP incumbent now in office, game-playing by party reptiles snuffed out his candidacy. This is just part of the reason why I will be voting for David Krikorian (I). I think many other people will be voting for him also. That an independent has received the endorsement of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police is astonishing to me in these days of party politics. The irony is that the GOP alternative candidate who was torpedoed by the GOP bigwigs in town had consistently garnered the Cincy FOP’s endorsement in the past in the local offices he held.
  • More than anything else politically, I long to see genuine orators and statesmen return to lead our country in the days ahead. I believe they will not be these men and women of privilege, these millionaires we keep electing, but average Joes and Janes of principle and conviction. Those people are out there. We just need to stop voting for the ones who keep them down. I think that every Christian in America needs to stop supporting parties and start support worthy candidates. If that means abandoning long-held party affiliations, then we must. Character counts, and too many people in office today are sorely lacking it.

With the local forecast for the next five days filled with clouds and rain, I suspect that I’ll be doing more thinking in the days to come.

What are you thinking?

Evangelicals and the Realm of the Supernatural


On Saturday, I was out walking my property and something clicked in my head. One of those seemingly obvious bits of insight, yet it only came together at that moment. Call it a Unified Supernatural Field Theory of Evangelicalism, sort of the holy grail of understanding most evangelical churches’ positions on the supernatural.

Consider these passages:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:8

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
—Ephesians 6:11-12

When you ask many evangelicals to name what opposes them, you’re likely to get a number of answers, but I’m not sure the number one answer would be Satan.

M.C. Escher gets all supernatural

If you read a lot of Reformed/Calvinist books or blogs, Satan is barely a footnote—very odd considering what the Bible says of his place as the prime foe of the Christian. My own experience as part of two large, conservative Presbyterian churches would confirm that Reformed/Calvinist churches tend to place sin over Satan as the primary source of opposition, though sinfulness is a state of being not a personal foe. The Bible, on the other hand, is quite clear (as the two passages above note) that the foe is an entity, the devil.

Consider this: If an enemy drops a bomb on you, the bomb is not your foe; the person who tossed it is. Yet if one reads enough Reformed/Calvinist literature, it’s impossible to escape the reality that the devil doesn’t get much mention, with sin getting almost all the press. This, at least to me, seems a major oversight.

In many other Evangelical churches today, especially nondenominational, the devil gets a minor mention (as does sin), but the real enemy is made out to be negative thoughts patterns and practices. Again, this avoids the very real teaching that our foe is a being.

There’s a reason why these blinders exist.

The problem with these two viewpoints is they both avoid the truth that the enemy of the Christian is a supernatural entity that can’t be dealt with by human knowledge or through behavior modification.  Yet this is how we deal with him in too many of our churches because to deal with him as a supernatural being necessitates holding a worldview that is consistently open to the daily intersection of the supernatural world with our own.

And the supernatural is…well, messy. It involves all sorts of nonrational thinking and practice, which scares the willies out of folks who like to be able to wrap their brains around everything they equate with the realm of God.

So I think that the reason you hear almost nothing about the prime foe of the Christian in large swaths of Evangelicalism is that acknowledging him as a supernatural being mandates believing that the supernatural is the “natural” state of the Christian life. By relegating the devil to a mere mention now and then some evangelicals think they can avoid dealing with the plane beyond this existence. In fact, I would say there’s a distinct inverse relationship: The more an evangelical places the opposition to the Christan in non-demonic sources, the less likely he or she will be to accept visions, charismata, and “mystical experiences” as part of the normal Christian life.

This argument may seem obvious to some of you, but it explains a great deal.

I also find it interesting that we possess this tendency to write off the devil and blame our problems on everything BUT him. Again, though, the Bible clearly states that he and his minions are the foe. And by purposefully downplaying his position as the opponent of the Christian, we naturally underestimate him.

This makes for problems for a Church not given to seeing the devil in his true guise. If anything, the entire book of Revelation depicts an entity doing its damndest, quite literally, to cause as much anguish and horror as possible before it’s cast into the lake of fire. We underestimate such a foe at our own peril, and I would say that, in many ways, we already have. Worse, by underestimating him, we’ve reduced our reliance on the supernatural power available to us Christians to combat the Enemy and use the tools the Lord Jesus gave us to defeat him.

Remember folks: This is not a flesh and blood battle, but a supernatural one.

When Believers Stumble: Underestimating Satan


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:8 ESV

One of my post from last year that generated considerable buzz in the Godblogosphere was “The Chthonic Unmentionable.” Beyond the unusual word that everyone puzzled over, the gist of the post dealt with the odd lack of discussion of the demonic in many Evangelical circles. Considering Peter’s admonition above—and the prevalence of verses referring to demonic activity in the Scriptures—it’s foolish to be silent on this issue. Yet we play dumb and continue to blame ill on chance/fate, rather than on the Enemy of our souls.

Here’s just a few grenades out of Satan’s arsenal:

  • Causing disease—Job 2:7
  • Counterfeiting miracles—2 Thessalonians 2:9
  • Accusing the Righteous—Zechariah 3:1
  • Snatching away the message of God—Matthew 13:19
  • Tempting men to sin—Ephesians 2:1-2
  • Tormenting the saints—2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Mishandling the word of God—Matthew 4:6
  • Disguising himself as an angel of light—2 Corinthians 11:14
  • Opposing believers—Ephesians 6:12

And the list goes on and on.

One of the sad outcomes of scientific rationalism is that Satan has been transmogrified from a real entity into a myth, a psychological malady, or a pointy-tailed object of mirth. Long before Nietzsche announced the death of God, Satan was well on his way to being mentally expunged from his role as ruler of this world, relegated by sections of American pseudo-Christianity to a box in the far corner of the basement. Keith Green, assuming the voice of the Enemy, once sang:

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I’m gaining power by the hour
They’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

With the inroads that modern psychology made in the 20th century, evil had its persona stripped away. Our culture of victimization effectively eliminated the idea of a personal devil even as we chatted up Jesus as our personal Savior. 21st century devil?The language of psychology routed the hellfire and brimstone language of the 19th century Church and Christians bought the lie. Pay no attention to the devil behind the curtain!

The result is that too many of today’s Christians have a pathetically underdeveloped understanding of the Enemy and the strategies he uses to oppose us.

Now yes, there are some parts of the American Church that have elevated the Enemy to a place of importance he does not deserve. As C.S. Lewis once opined, there are two errors: ignoring the demonic and giving it unnecessary attention. I’ve seen both sides. I once visited a church where people carried around copies of This Present Darkness with their Bibles (no joke) and would try to cast demons out of the metal folding chairs set up for use by congregants for the morning’s church service. Stupidity doesn’t file a flightplan.

Still, for every church that shows an unhealthy obsession with the chthonic, there’s a dozen shrugging it off altogether.

Bitterness has derailed more than one Christian, and when it’s directed at God it’s an especially foul misplacement. Satan long ago threw up his hands and said, “Hey, bub, don’t look at me,” so we did. Instead, we made God the culprit when evil creeps into our lives and the seed of bitterness takes root. We’re told that it’s okay to get mad at God. We forget the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

We need to do a better job in the American Church of understanding the opposition of Satan, ascribing the blame to him rather to God. Yes, we know from the Book of Job that Satan has no ability to afflict apart from the sovereignty of God over the affairs of all men, but this does not change the fact that

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
—1 John 3:8b ESV

We don’t take that verse seriously enough. We talk about many reasons for Christ coming, but in too many sectors of the Church today we tend to focus on rainbows and ponies, love and peace, not on the annihilation of the Enemy’s work.

How many instances of what we see every day played out around us are the result of Satan’s handiwork? I would venture to guess a lot more than we usually care to admit.

We all know about the Full Armor of God in Ephesians 6. But do we really believe there’s an enemy to fight, a real “someone” who wants nothing more to crush us out of the sheer joy of seeing us in pain?

When we hear the lion roaring, what do we tell ourselves that sound is?

When I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, free-standing arcade video games were in their Golden Age. I dropped a lot of quarters into a few of them to pass the time, but I was the undisputed champ at one game in particular, Atari Tempest. (In fact, I ran across the Guinness Book of World Records officially sanctioned top score and I had once easily surpassed that in a five hour marathon playing session in Pittsburgh in 1982, quitting only to save my bladder from bursting. One quarter, five hours of play. But I digress.)

The one thing I’d mastered about that game was the perfect timing of the ultimate panic button, the “Superzapper.” With one button push, a Tempest player could wipe out every enemy on the screen (and a handful with a reduced-power semi-zap later in the same round.) You get in deep doo-doo in that game and the Superzapper becomes your ultimate weapon.

God has equipped us with a series of Superzappers for overcoming Satan that never fizzle out during a round. We have the Full Armor, and we also have the Blood of Christ and the word of our testimonies (Revelation 12:10-11)—they are the ultimate arsenal against the enemy.

The tendency in Tempest was to forget that the Superzapper was available, and I believe that too many of us forget about the weapons God has made available to overcome the Enemy. We fail to discern demonic activity, too, ascribing it to bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so on. We should not be surprised, then, when some Christians flail uselessly against problems that have their source in forces of darkness, fighting them with earthly weapons. Too often, we’re prescribing an aspirin for a case of flesh-eating bacteria.

Which of us would want to confront Satan and have him say to us:

Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?
—Acts 19:15b ESV