Part Three - For the Life of the World: Chapter 9 - Resistance - Grappling With the Powers
Understanding the Powers
As we go about the work of being the Church in the world we must be aware that we are not working in a neutral environment. There are forces and powers at work in the background. Some people find demons behind every problem and others reduce all issues to socio-psychological matters. Neither of these is a healthy perspective. An attempt to in some way neatly compartmentalize them is not helpful either.
Stevens catalogs several terms that refer to the powers:
- The divine Council (Ps. 81:1) – a heavenly hierarchy.
- Angels (Gen. 3:24; Rev. 1:1) – invisible spiritual beings who are messengers of God.
- The devil/Satan (Mt. 4:1) – a malevolent spiritual being who is totally opposed to God and God’s purposes.
- Demons (Jas. 3:15) – a variety of evil forces and beings operating under a single unified head.
- The world (Jn. 15:18) – the world system organized against God and his purposes.
- Principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) – both socio-political and spiritual powers
- Mammon (Lk 16:9) – money that pretends to give security, the ‘almighty dollar’
- The flesh (Gal. 5:16-17 – the self turned in on oneself, life lived as though Christ had not come, died and been raised.
- The law (Rom. 7:12; 8:2) – the good gift of Torah that has been twisted by sin into a way of gaining righteousness.
- Death (Heb. 2:15) – not merely the cessation of the life but a power that holds people in lifelong fear. (219-220)
Stevens readily embraces the sociological aspect of fallen social structures but he is unwilling to de-spiritualize them. In seeing the spiritual at work, we must neither deify nor demonize the structures. There are personal spiritual beings at work for good and evil, systemic evil is very real. Stevens advocates a holistic perspective.
We also must not take the view that structures and institutions is evil in themselves. Family and nation were part of God’s purpose for humankind. Yet these structures and institutions have been colonized by human and nonhuman powers to establish a kingdom that is in defiance of God. The good news is that those powers have been defeated and are limited in the havoc they can cause. Stevens uses an example from WWII. The Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day in June, 1944. It was almost a year later before we came to Victory in Europe (VE) Day in May, 1945. Christ’s first coming was D-Day. His return will be VE Day. On that day, all hostilities will cease.
Stevens writes, “The cross was both a political act and a cosmic victory.” (228) The outcome of the war is a done deal. God is in the mop up stage leading to the consummation of his victory over powers of this age; to the redemption of humanity and all creation.
In the next post Stevens reflects on what this means in terms of mission and eschatology. For now, what do you think of Stephen’s characterizations? Does this fit with your read of scripture?