Category Archives: Theology

Not Against Flesh & Blood (Sermon Series)

Last month I attended the Missio Alliance conference Church & Post-Christian Culture in Carlisle, PA. The focus of the conference was on the growing interest in Anabaptism as a tradition that has much to offer the church in our present cultural context. Needless to say, there were a lot of Anabaptists there.

In one of the afternoon breakout sessions, pastors Greg Boyd, Paul Eddy, and Dennis Edwards spoke on spiritual warfare in “Fighting the Right Fight: An Anabaptist Perspective on Spiritual Warfare.”

I went to the first session and showed up a little early. The large room soon filled up and folks were turned away because of fire safety regulations. It was obvious that pastors and other practitioners were interested in the topic.

I remember during the discussion hearing someone say that “we (Anabaptists) don’t talk about this very much” largely because Anabaptists haven’t been known for drawing attention to unseen, spiritual realities.

It’s true that Anabaptists have mostly shied away from the “charismatic” and been more cerebral toward matters of faith. Something I’m hearing pastors in my district within Virginia Conference regrettably lament.

I got the distinct impression that folks were feeling like they wouldn’t even know where to begin in talking about this with their congregations.

While I was listening, I held an outline to a seven-week sermon series on this very topic. For me, the entire session and discussion was affirmation that the series I had put together was indeed something led by the Holy Spirit.

I was already set to begin the series that weekend.

Not Against Flesh & Blood

This coming Sunday I will be preaching the final message in the Not Against Flesh & Blood series at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship.

If you’re interested, you can download the sermons and the slides (PDF) at CMF’s sermon archives. The outline gives a brief description of each message.

1. Creation & Chaos
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2, 3:1-7; Romans 8:18-23; Ephesians 6:12

In the beginning the Triune God created an orderly universe out of love. Then somewhere in the primordial past a portion of his angelic agents began working against the Creator—war in the unseen realms! Chaos ensued and creation began her groaning. In time, the disorder and chaos that began in the heavenly realms were perpetuated with God’s highest creation in all of the physical world: mankind. The first human pair used their free will to spread sin and rebellion upon the earth. Does God hit the reset button on creation? No, God responds by enacting a mysterious, redemptive plan that would not only set the world to rights, but would eventually set the entire cosmos free from decay.

In the first message of the series, we look at how things came to be broken the way they are today, and how the spiritual forces of evil are still at work exploiting human weakness and opposing God’s will. It’s a struggle between good and evil, but ultimately the real battle is not one of flesh and blood.

2. Cruciformed Sovereignty
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:1, 7-9; Matthew 8:23-34; 1 John 3:8b

Isn’t God all-knowing? Didn’t God see this great cosmic rebellion coming? If so, why did he create in the first place? If evil comes to pass, God must have wanted it, right? Do we truly have free will, or is everything already determined? If it’s a real battle between good and evil in the heavenly realms, can God lose? What guarantees do we have that Satan will be outwitted and defeated? These are old questions, both philosophical and theological, but they need fresh biblical answers that are consistent with the God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus—keeping in view the real struggle between good and evil (i.e. a battle of the wills), among what is seen and unseen.

In the second message of the series, we consider the problem of evil and God’s interaction with time (past, present, and future). How does God experience the present with us and see the future? If God’s sovereignty looks like Jesus’ power and domination over evil by the cross, and the real struggle isn’t with flesh and blood, what does this mean for how his followers should confront spiritual evil?

3. Prayer as Holy Resistance
Scripture Reading: Daniel 10:1-14; Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 6:5-13

In the Bible and in our experience, the future is partly open and partly settled. Therefore, prayer can be seen as joining with God in engaging the present in order to shape the future. He calls us in Christ to rebuke spiritual evil, even so-called “natural” evils, and bring about the Kingdom through our words and actions. Prayer is a cry for the Kingdom in an act of holy resistance against the evil that seeks to destroy us and our neighbors. Yes, we are changed when we pray, but so do those things around us when we pray in faith. According to the Scriptures, God acts through his Spirit and his heavenly court (i.e. angels) when we pray according to his will. In the way of Jesus, we resist in continual prayer.

In the third message of the series, we dispel of the notion that prayer only changes you and doesn’t have an effect on God or the outcome of the future. On the contrary, God has built it into the very fabric and framework of space and time that we would work with him in the redemptive story. In fact, without our free participation in the Kingdom’s work of resisting evil, we postpone God’s good promises to us.

4. Prayer in Imagination
Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:7-11; Matthew 6:5-13, 11:28-30 (MSG)

Having a warfare worldview and a robust theology of prayer is good, but it’s not enough. We need to be intentional in practicing a life of prayer. Jesus calls us to remain in constant communication with the Father as we go about our lives. He even expresses the holy desire to pray with his own disciples. But Christ also reveals that getting away to a private place is necessary for deepening our relationship with God and for getting in touch with the unseen realities of the world around us. In order to go deeper with God, we must learn to use a disciplined imagination to see Christ as we meet with him face to face.

In the fourth message of the series, we look at how this existential and mystical part of our faith requires that we use our minds for more than analyzing and doing mental gymnastics. We need a supernatural experience of the living Christ. Only then can we join the spiritual war on terror.

5. Sword of the Spirit
Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:1-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:10-18

We constantly have messages and images running in our minds, even on repeat. Some are good and reflect God’s truth, others are bad and can hinder us, even destroy us. Filling our hearts and minds with Scripture is a powerful and effective way of combating the flesh and the devil. The psalmist knew that meditating and memorizing Scripture transformed the soul, and washed the dirt from his eyes. And Jesus, God in the flesh, immediately resorted to quoting Scripture when facing the tempter, Satan. How much more ought we make Scripture reading, study, and memorization part of our spiritual arsenal?

In the fifth message of the series, we look at the importance of reading and teaching Scripture to bring about the change God wants in our lives, and for transforming the church. Is our thinking being shaped more by the Scriptures, or by culture and our own limited experiences? How can we use the “sword of the Spirit” that’s at work in the written word to confront evil?

6. Worship as Warfare
Scripture Reading: Exodus 10:1-9; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; Revelation 4:1-11

Worship is far more than our preferences for music and singing. In fact, true worship should have less to do with our personal preferences and more to do with how best to corporately express God’s infinite worth out of sincere thankfulness and celebration for who God is, what he has done, is doing, and will do for us. Furthermore, worship is an activity of heaven and earth. We join with heaven in our worship. Like it is with prayer, worship is calling down the Kingdom. It mysteriously expands the Kingdom in us and around us—pushing back the darkness that seeks to consume us with fear and hopelessness.

In the sixth message of the series, we look at how worship is used in spiritual warfare. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about our preferences. It’s about calling heaven down so that God’s glory would fill the earth. Worship is a part of spiritual warfare, because it’s not against flesh and blood. We join with the angels singing, and demons flee.

7. Hell Will Not Prevail
Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-18; 24:4-14; Revelation 12:10-12

Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. In other words, our archenemy doesn’t have a chance against God almighty! Jesus crushed the head of the serpent, and now we merely see the erratic floundering of a rogue angel losing his power. Jesus said he would build his church and not even the gates of hell would prevail against her. Our promise comes from the crucified and resurrected one. He has defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom, which is expanding through the church until his glorious return. What does this look like today while we still contend with a fighting enemy?

In the seventh and final message of the series, we look at how evangelism, in conjunction with our prayers and worship, should be seen as a powerful weapon to advance the Kingdom of God. The growing church will proclaim an end to evil and the rebellion that began long ago.

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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan…” Rom 16:20

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Brief History of Rapture (Left Behind) Theology

The Left Behind reboot with Nicolas Cage has Christians talking about all things rapture. Oh, joy.

I suspect that the continued cinematic production of such a ridiculous and counter-biblical narrative will only serve to wake folks up to the undeniable truth that rapture theology is nothing more than a baptized escapism–sort of a neo-Gnosticism. And it has only been around since the early 19th century.

Dr. Ben Witherington III, evangelical professor of NT for doctoral studies at Asbury and St. Andrews, has recently completed a video for Seedbed entitled “Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?” (10-8-14).

This brief history of rapture theology is worth watching.

For those interested, I’ve posted the following on rapture theology:

You might also enjoy reading a few blog posts from my friends:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Dark Matter vs Dark Energy: War in the Heavens!

Have you ever heard of dark matter and dark energy? If you hold to the Warfare Worldview—that sometime in the primordial cosmos there was an angelic rebellion against God—you might find this interesting.

Dark matter was first postulated due to the gravitational force of galaxies (or lack thereof) which couldn’t be explained by the visible mass of objects in any system. Therefore, it became clear that there is an invisible, ordering force holding space together. Hence, the term “dark” matter.

On the other hand, dark energy is an unseen force that works against the ordering power of dark matter. No, this isn’t science fiction. It’s happening.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul, Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Astronomers and theoretical physicists state that both dark matter and dark energy once worked together, from the moment of the Big Bang to be precise, but dark energy began accelerating expansion and working against the ordering forces of dark matter around 5 billion years ago.

“…the expansion rate of the cosmos began speeding up about 5 billion to 6 billion years ago, like a roller coaster zooming down a track. That is when astronomers believe that dark energy’s repulsive force overtook gravity’s attractive grip.” Adam Riess, prof of physics & astronomy at Johns Hopkins University

In other words, dark energy is working to rip space apart and repel the unifying “gravitational” forces of dark matter. These are the scientific facts. And this blog post is my theological interpretation of those facts.

So, what I find most fascinating is how close this event—a war in the heavens—is to the formation of planet Earth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

Could this war between dark matter and dark energy be evidence of the spiritual war that eventually caused tohu wa bohu (chaos and destruction) upon the earth, impacting the evolution of life as we know it?

The early church father Athenagoras (ca.130-190AD) said that Satan was originally, “the spirit which is about matter who was created by God, just as the other angels were… and entrusted with the control of matter and the forms of matter” (see Greg Boyd’s Satan & the Problem of Evil, pg. 46-47).

This idea that Satan is the “spirit of matter” is most likely rooted in the NT teaching that the devil is “the ruler of the cosmos” (archon tou kosmou), having power over the physical and material world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph 2:2; 2 Cor 4:4)—a challenging worldview to a post-enlightenment audience.

Just as diabolos is from the root “to scatter and cast apart”… so it is with this “dark energy” that would currently appear to be, or is at least feared to be, the eventual demise of the cosmos.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
1 John 3:8b

We need only to embrace Christus Victor for a hopeful future where, in light of the resurrection, cosmic renewal is promised, therefore, inevitable.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Paul, Romans 8:18-21 NIV

I suppose that in the future (possibly after you and I are long gone!), scientists will observe dark energy losing its power, or turned in on itself in a way that can’t be fully explained, certainly not with the rhetoric of the rationalist.

Of course, this “dark” power is already losing its grip on the earth through a Kingdom revolution inaugurated by Christ. It’s no mystery to his church.

May the generation of Kingdom revolutionaries that are around to witness dark matter’s victory over the diabolical forces of dark energy be the first to say…

“We told you so.”

Yes. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University (St. Paul). He holds a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies (Bethel University), a M.A. in Theological Studies (Bethel Theological Seminary), and a PhD in Theology (Marquette University).

Paul also serves as Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. He resides in White Bear Township, MN with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons.

His primary research interests include methodological issues in historical Jesus studies, John Hick and religious pluralism, and Christology and the Atonement. He has coedited several successful multi-view volumes and is the author or editor of a number of other books, including The Jesus Legend.

Among other projects, Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online at Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

After reading Paul’s current manuscript, I asked if he would be willing to share with you some of his biblical and historical research on marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman for life, as set forth in Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:1-11; and Ephesians 5:25-31.

I’m thankful that Paul was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to present us with some of the material from his upcoming book, Kingdom Sex.     I believe his insights are already helping to bring some much-needed clarity to God’s divine intentions for conjugal marriage.

Notice that I’ve divided Paul’s article into two parts.

The first part proves that marriage has been understood as a one-flesh covenant throughout all of church history. The second part will address common arguments that the Bible isn’t clear on marriage being a covenant relationship. On the contrary, Paul argues that marriage is portrayed as a sacred covenant throughout the entire biblical corpus.

Your feedback is welcome. Feel free to address Paul in your comments. He would be happy to respond to any thoughts or questions you might have.

Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Is marriage a covenant? For many people today, especially evangelical Christians in the U.S., the answer to this question will seem absurdly obvious. Of course marriage is (or at least is suppose to be) a covenant.

If it’s not – then what in the world is?

But things aren’t quite that simple. More than a few voices have questioned whether marriage – at least in certain historical contexts, including biblical times – is, in fact, properly to be construed as a covenant.1

These voices force the question upon us today: Should we understand the divine intention for marriage as covenantal? Are there good biblical and church historical grounds for seeing covenant relationship as the norm by which Kingdom people should shape their theology and practice of marriage?

I propose that the answer to these questions is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ Let’s look at the some of the challenges to the claim that marriage is best understood as a covenant relationship and see how they stand up to analysis.

Some suggest that the idea of marriage as a covenant is a late-comer within church history. In fact, some claim that this idea was unknown within the Christian tradition until John Calvin originated it in the 16th century.2

This claim is simply historically incorrect.

It is certainly true that in Calvin’s mature thought, his theology of marriage is anchored in the concept of covenant (prior to which he had based it upon Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ notion), and that he is the first Christian theologian to flesh out marriage as covenant in anything like a thorough fashion. However, he is hardly the first in church history to equate marriage and covenant.

For example, the fourth-century Arnobius writes of “conjugal covenants” (Latin = coniugalia foedera; see his Adversus Gentes, 4.20). Interestingly, in the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I uses the term covenant (foedus) of both marriages and betrothals (Responda ad Consulta Bulgarorum, III). And both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries allude to marriage as a covenant.

In fact, Augustine himself unambiguously refers to marriage as a “covenant” (foedus) and a “bond of covenant” (viniculum foederis).3 It is important to remember the context here. The Roman concept of marriage (with its conviction of the necessity of not merely initial but continuous consent) allowed for relatively easy divorce.4

Taking their cue from Jesus and the NT authors, the early Christians on the other hand viewed marriage as a solemn and permanent relational bond. They sought to find language (Greek, Latin, etc.) that captured this counter-cultural reality. Latin terms such as pactio, pactum, confoederatio, societas – and yes, foedus (covenant) – were among those chosen to describe the marriage bond.

So why then did the church refrain from developing a robust theology of marriage as covenant until Calvin? The reason seems fairly clear.

While the Bible does provide solid evidence that marriage was designed by God to function as a covenant relationship (on which see below), the New Testament does not explicitly link the Greek terms for covenant (diatheke, syntheke) with marriage, but rather uses other images and terms to express this relationship.

One predominant instance is Paul’s description of marriage as a “mysterion” (mystery) in Ephesians 5:32. A key moment came when Tertullian translated the Greek term mysterion into the Latin term sacramentum. Jerome followed Tertullian’s move in his Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, and the rest is history.

From the fifth century onward, increasingly marriage was known primarily as a “sacrament” (sacramentum) in the Latin-speaking Western church, a tradition which continues to this day within Roman Catholicism.

In other words, it was originally due to the historical contingencies of textual translation that “sacrament” became the favored term in marital theology for much of the church’s history. Once Calvin made the decision to frame his “Protestant” theology of marriage in terms of covenant, the counter-Reformational Catholic Church had virtually no choice but to reject it.

Now, on both sides, it was not simply about a theology of marriage – it was about ecclesiastical boundary-marking and theological polemics. It took several hundred years, a growing spirit of ecumenism, and the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic Church to officially (re-)embrace the language of covenant within the theology of marriage in the 1960s (e.g., Gaudium et Spes, 48).

Suffice to say that the idea of marriage as a covenant was not missing in the early church, and that today both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are quite comfortable with this ancient equation.

But we must return to Tertullian for a moment – the original fount of “sacrament” language. Once again, Tertullian was simply translating the NT’s Greek mysterion with Latin’s sacramentum. An important question arises: What was involved in the idea of sacramentum in Tertullian’s world?

Within the Roman context, the concept of sacramentum had a double connotation: (1) the taking of an oath, and (2) a monetary guarantee.

What they had in common was that both attached to the notion of self-obligation, and both were quite likely to involve the divine (i.e., oaths/promises frequently appealed to the gods). And with this, we are in the same conceptual/semantic realm as covenant relationship.

Thus, we see that the sacramental – when understood in its original context – is a close cousin of the covenantal.

So if church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant, what about the Bible? Some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Bible. Next, we will consider several of the most common arguments that have led to this conclusion.

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Stay tuned for Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

____________________
1 See e.g., Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple, trans. Neil TomKinson (Lund: Gleerup, 1965), 27-34; Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 278; Michael G. Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition,” in Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective, eds. John Witte and Eliza Ellison (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 70-91; Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 129-37; Tyler M. Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage” (February 17, 2014), http://thejesusevent.com/2014/02/17/stutzman-sex-and-secular-marriage/.
2 E.g., Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
3 Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.11; idem, On the Good of Marriage, 6, 7, 15, 17, 32; idem, On Adulterous Marriages, 1.12; 2.9-11.
4 On which, see Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Boston: Brill, 2001), 22-38.


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