Archive for the ‘missio dei’ Category

Clinton Arnold wrote 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare two decades ago. Yet it remains the single best written resource on the topic to place into the hands of Christian believers.

Arnold cuts through both overheated rhetoric about ‘spiritual warfare’ and entrenched refusal to contemplate that reality by bearing down on just three questions:

√ What is Spiritual Warfare?

√ Can a Christian be Demon-Possessed?

√ Are We Called to Engage Territorial Spirits?513qhwb-vul-_sx322_bo1204203200_

In the process he brings to bear careful exegetical consideration, attention to how the early Christian church engaged similar issues, and a pastoral concern honed by the author’s own experience in cultural contexts where demonic activity seems less alien than in the West. The result is superb.

Working from first principles, Arnold demonstrates how Jesus engaged the reality of conflict as the normal condition of human life in this age. Consequently, spiritual warfare is not principally a specialized ministry but rather the circumstance and the responsibility of every believer. Yet the well-informed Christian will understand that the conflict is an uneven match. God’s sovereignty over his world is not threatened by the reality of Satanic blowback. Satan’s reign is conditioned both territorially and temporally. In the light of Jesus’ vanquishing of Satan’s power, the latter’s reign will eventually end here and end altogether.

So spiritual warfare is a given in the life of Christian individuals and communities. Why, then, the resistance to the language and the substance of such conflict?

Arnold deals patiently and fairly with ‘6 common objectives to emphasizing spiritual warfare today’. Since the 1970s, the English-speaking world has become awash with bizarre claims about ministries that do—at the risk of considerable understatement—‘emphasize’ spiritual warfare. Too often, the most high-profile among them are personality-driven and theologically impoverished.

The author is adept at re-shaping a biblically informed model for spiritual warfare for those who believe that truth matters enough—even amid the urgencies of wartime—to linger long in the understanding and embrace of it.

The New Testament (special attention is given to the Apostle Paul’s instruction in the letter to the Ephesians) teaches that Christians are assaulted not by one enemy, but rather by three: the world (the ways of the world), the devil (the ruler of the king of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient), and the flesh (the cravings of our sinful nature).

Together, this triad of unequal adversaries present the Christian with a complex rather than a simple conflict. As we engage it individually and in community, we discover that ‘spiritual warfare is a way of characterizing our common struggle as Christians’. Because parasitic re-positioning of actual truth is one source of defeat, Arnold pays particular attention to ‘common christological heresies’ on his way to a sane fleshing-out of how individuals and small groups of Christian might do battle with their real rather than their imagined adversaries.

At this point in Arnold’s book (as in this early stage of this short review), the reader could be forgiven for imagining that Arnold had metaphorized spiritual warfare down to its vanishing point in run-of-the-mill Christian ethical formation. This is certainly not the case, as his response to the second of three crucial questions will show.

As he engages the second crucial question (‘Can a Christian be Demon-Possessed?’), the trajectory of Clinton’s argument reaches its most valuable point.

When faced with the New Testament’s plethora of demon-encounter narratives and exhortations, the thoughtful Christian usually takes one of three paths:

√ S/he dismisses the stories about demons altogether.

√ S/he reinterprets the stories about demons.

√ S/he accepts the stories as what really happened.

Arnold chooses neither of these three paths and attempts to lead his reader through a more subtle consideration and towards a more faithful response.

A cautious survey of the language common to the discussion ensues. English Bible translations and, therefore, English-language discussion of biblical texts inexplicably settles into the language of ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’. In consequence, the question becomes whether a Christian can be owned or possessed by a demon. Many Christians will state that this absolutely cannot take place, given the reality of God’s redemption and therefore ownership of the Christian.

Arnold allows that ‘I wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion. A Christian cannot be owned and controlled by a demon.’

However, this is not to speak the language of the biblical texts, which usually employs the more flexible term daimonizomai (δαιμονίζομαι). This word can be understood to mean ‘tormented’, ‘vexed’, or ‘troubled’ by a demon. After engaging the pertinent texts and a number of examples from history, Arnold re-frames the question thus: ‘Can Christians come under a high degree of influence by a demonic spirit?’ … ‘Is it possible for Christians to yield control of their bodies to a demonic spirit in the same way that they yield to the power of sin?’

To such questions—which no longer joust with the more absolute concept of demonic possession—Arnold gives his ‘yes’.

This conclusion is followed by pastoral examples of how a believer can find himself in such troubled straits, with practical counsel on how to deal with demons, and with instruction on extremes that are to be avoided.

From the in-principle considerations of his first two ‘crucial questions’, Arnold then moves on to the contemporary issue raised by tactics that purport to engage ‘territorial spirits’. Though his introduction expresses appreciation for one of the leading advocates of the movement, Arnold is critical of one of its premises.

He endorses the notion that territorial spirits, as generally understood exist.

Nevertheless, ‘In spite of the widespread consciousness of the people of God throughout history of the existence of high-ranking hostile angels, we do not find them naming the powers, rebuking them, binding them, or trying to cast them out of a region.’

For reasons based in the biblical record and the testimony of the early church, the author is dubious that the tactics of ‘Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare’ have the theological and historical pedigree that they claim.  However, Arnold credits its practitioners’ concern for the lost and suggests alternative ways of ministering to a city that do not involve human beings ‘taking authority over’ the purported demonic lords of a region or a city.

By wearing his scholarship lightly, Clinton Arnold has produced a carefully reasoned, popularly (or semi-popularly) accessible manual to a matter that is intrinsic to the very idea of the Christian life in a contested world. At the same time, he has provided a meeting space for people of good will who will gather thoughtfully around a matter that has provided inexhaustibly divisive among contemporary churches.

Two decades on, 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare is still the place for English-language readers to begin.


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Andrew Davis has written a splendid little manual to large-scale memorization of Scripture that is not for the faint of heart but will develop in the adventurous practitioner a strong heart.

51rqavqfyrlDavis attends to both the why and the how of memorizing entire chapters and books of the Bible. He distinguishes between meditation and memorization, but finds it difficult to accomplish the former without investing in the latter. I think he’s right on this point, particularly as he notes an author’s logical flow that is perceptible and eventually absorb-able when the object of one’s memorization is a the wide Scriptural landscape rather than a short stopping-point here or there.

Davis’ method (the term seems preferable to ‘technique’) provides tracks for what will inevitably represent for the memorizer a long and even stubborn obedience in the same direction. He minces no words about the challenge of large-scale Scripture memorization, but encourages the readers that accomplishing this feat is more a matter of blood, sweat, and tears than of natural mental endowment.

I derive the title of this very brief review from one of Davis’ methodological steps. He calls it ‘weeding the garden’, which is the step he endorses that will allow the memorizer to return to what he or she has committed to memory and weed out the small errors (‘weeds’) that will creep in.

This book (99¢ in Amazon Kindle format as I write this review) meets a bona fide need, is clearly a labor of love, and will without doubt move would-be memorizers past the various early-stage obstacles in this journey and on to the place where many words of the Word have been securely placed in the storehouse of the heart.

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Near the end of twelve impeccably written lectures delivered to Fuller Theological Seminary in 1964 and published in 1968 as The Inescapable Calling, R. Kenneth Strachan summarizes his work by asking this question: What good is the Christian in the world today?

Strachan’s life ended prematurely in 1965, so this book is in some way the valedictory of a respected mission statesman who had found credibility among both his Latin American and North American constituencies at a time when such an outcome was by no means guaranteed. Indeed, it was doubtful, so tense were the times. The Latin America Mission was taking its first innovative steps towards ‘turning everything over to the nationals’, a step that raised eyebrows among conventional thinkers, put at risk deep institutional legacy, and—in retrospect—defined the genius of the ‘LAM’. (more…)

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We have a dog. Little Rhea is a mutt, a canine of uncertain provenance, a largely unremarkable and persistently shedding presence in the home.

Our newspaper appears every morning (well, Monday through Saturday) sheathed in a thin, blue, plastic wrapper that makes a marvelous, repurposed poop bag when we walk Rhea in the park across the street. When I ‘taught’ Rhea to ‘fetch’ the newspaper every morning (Monday through Saturday), I imagined the entertainment value of training this largely underperforming household companion to do something useful. But I also anticipated saving a few steps in my daily (Monday through Saturday) journey down the long driveway to the side of the road whence the newspaper in its thin, blue, plastic sheath gets hurled from a passing car onto endlessly creative subsections of our driveway and its vicinity. (more…)

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Discernimiento y valentía: por qué nuestros pastores requieren una formación teológica.

Seminario ESEPA, 5 mayo 2012

Cuando recibí de parte de Sadrac Meza la invitación a dar una charla en este notable evento, comencé a identificar mis opciones.

  • Podría contar anécdotas y memorias de ESEPA de antaño.  ¿Quién de los que estuvieron no recuerda con aprecio a Alberto Barrientos, Juan Kessler, Guillermo Brown, el inolvidable Eugenio Green, Kevin Jezequel, Gaby Murillo, Juan Macadam, Dorothy Andrews, y tantos más. Pero para muchos en esta noche, semejantes memorias serían reliquias y semejantes personas seríamos reliquias.
  • Podría navegar las aguas de la exposición bíblica. Pero mañana es domingo y ustedes estarán en sus iglesias, recibiendo—por lo menos los afortunados—lo mismo.
  • Podría enviarles a sus casas con exhortaciones fervientes. Pero me falta suficiente presencia en este contexto para asegurar que mis exhortaciones sean alineadas con su realidad y su momento histórico.
  • Podría contar cuentos sobre la vida de Sadrac. Pero sólo tengo cuarenta minutos …

Al final del día, como entonaba un ex-rector de ESEPA con una memorable frecuencia, mis opciones reales se reducen a una: hablarles del corazón respecto a tesoro frágil que es un seminario … que es ESEPA … en un mundo que todavía no sabe como atesorarlo suficientemente, porque no le ha tocado vivir sin él. (more…)

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I cannot recall three hours of unalloyed joy that compare with the experience of four thousand delegates to Cape Town 2010 in its closing worship celebration.

For this, surely, we were made.

For this were eyes created, for taking in the images of God’s Lamb that slid across the mammoth screen as the orchestra took up its solemn, giddy task of lightening hearts so that they could soar.

For this did Providence design throats and tongues, for praising the One God, Maker of Heaven and Earth in languages too many to count.

For this did arms occur to their Maker, for lifting praise heavenward in a plethora of shapes and sizes, skin of every hue stretched over them, clothed or bared with all the beautiful idiosyncracy of many tribes, eight thousand human steeples pointed toward heaven while never detaching from earth.

For this tears mimic earth’s first rain, falling from cheeks that tremble with joy and awe.

For this was grain first sown, vineyards first tilled, so that a numerous, polyglot family could take one in hand, dip it in the other, and so remember the body broken for us, the blood of a new covenant poured out like wine.

For this were syllables stitched together to speak word and meaning, so that a hungry people could be taught to live towards glory.

For this was humankind commissioned to fill the earth, so that dispersal would make us not too much like each other, that our common humanity might be expressed with the full, colored range of a Creator’s large pallet.

For this Beauty first saw the light, so that it could shine from the Face and adorn a people too gorgeous to be described.

For this do strength and weakness mingle, so that a strong man like a young warrior could carry the Gospel to the stage, so that African beauties could remake space with their reverent, gusty procession into worship, so that old men and broken hearts could find their way to grace beside those whose strength has not yet failed the dance.

For this martyrs watch carefully, rejoicing in the many and knowing that some of these—before next meeting—will spill blood and join their observant, impatient company.

For this savor came to be, for neither sweet nor sour alone tastes so rich as this.

For this hearts turn towards New Heaven and New Earth, knowing this Jerusalem must descend, this temple fill Earth, this knowledge of Him settle upon its near and far reaches as waters cover the space given to Sea, the song of Seraphs come uninterrupted into full vindication.

For this do words fail, because He who is Holy Love is stronger and more beautiful than they know to speak.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.  
Say among the nations, ‘The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.’ Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
(Psalms 96:7–13 NRSV)

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Our logic is simple and reductionistic.

It goes like this: money corrupts. Therefore let us not transfer money and, so, not foment corruption.

Things become, upon close inspection, even more banal. We begin by taking the modern nation-state as a given, as an indisputable fact on the ground. Since this is our self-evident starting point, we work our way forward. To transfer funds from one nation-state to another or from one region of nation-states and/or economic regions to another will necessarily distort matters.

Poverty is the only solution.

Because money corrupts, we mindlessly forgo the hard work of mutuality and relationship, short-cutting the entire process with truisms about how we will not be party to such distortion because we will not move money. One thinks of the falsely pious King Ahaz in the prophet Isaiah’s time. Confronted with the challenge to name a sign to which the Lord himself would respond, Ahaz takes himself out of the game with a pious and even Scriptural evasion: I will not test the Lord.

YHWH, via the voice of the prophet, finds no piety in Ahaz’ response, only self-protection and enmity.

If in the context of, say, Microsoft or HSBC or 3M, one were to terminate strategic discussion with the platitude that ‘money corrupts’, one would soon be seeking money via a government check in the queue at the Unemployment Benefits office.

Microsoft or HSBC or 3M have developed other disciplines intended to assure quality performance. We, by contrast, in a stunning display of mistrust in our majority world brethren, prefer to manage the character of performance by assuring poverty as its moral backstop. It speaks of laziness and the absence of vision.

May it be that we lack the fiber and perseverance to employ the normal process and disciplines that are prevalent in the business world in order to heighten our chances of success, falling back instead upon the easy mantra that money corrupts?

I believe such a diagnosis is plausible.

When the Lausanne Movement seeks a ‘new global equilibrium’, its spokespersons rightly attempt to avoid the connotation that they are seeking the redistribution of resources for its own sake.

Yet I believe that the global evangelical community has in hand a shared task that calls for large-scale transfer of resources of all kinds—financial resources included—in order to accomplish our common cause. An ideology based upon the absolute status of the nation-state and the derivative logic of self-sufficiency cannot possibly embrace such a logic.

So let me suggest another way of thinking about the matter: Suppose we are a global evangelical family. In this extended family, some households have fallen upon particularly good fortune. Others, to speak only of the material framework, are hard pressed to pay the rent and the light bill, though they would long to make the investments in their children’s future that would secure a secular change in the family’s capacity to contribute to society. If it were to emerge that the economically prosperous head of a household—he may not be the most spiritually poised, indeed he may be distressed by the angst that commonly pursues wealth—had for some years been quietly paying the university tuition for two or three daughters and sons of his working-class cousin’s children, we would celebrate his capacity for solidarity, to say nothing of his generosity.

Yet if by analogy it were to emerge that a California-based real-estate tycoon of deep Christian conviction had entered into a twenty-year commitment with a north Indian theological college in order to secure the supply of well-trained Christian pastors in a region dominated by Islam, we might consider him dangerously naive for his thoughtless support of dependency.

Shame on us.

A new global equilibrium will need to dispense with all the psycho-social and pseudo-theological complexes that make us fear dependency as the ultimate—or at least the most awkward—sin. Where mutuality, vision, and discipline exert their salutary effects, money will retain its potent capacity to distort and corrupt. Yet we will not see that outcome as determined. We will discover processes, based upon deep and mutual friendship, to contain that ever-present danger while we celebrate what can be accomplished in this complicated world when all manner of blessing—not excluding the economical—flows, in words now common to the global evangelical movement, from everywhere to everywhere.

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Cape Town’s Pentecost

It is easy to dismiss the Big Meeting in a day when connectivity is cheap, frequent, and easy.

It may well be that the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 ambition will have proven to be a mere spasm of spiritual and communal ecstasy, unrelated to the ongoing task and shared life of what can now accurately be called the global church.

But that seems unlikely. (more…)

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We need thoughtful people in the pulpit.

Around the dinner table, a friend and his wife decry the insipid aridity of much that passes for Christian proclamation. These are not cultured despisers, these hosts of mine. They are decades-old friends who have been around the block and around the world, have celebrated life and been beaten up by it, have served and been served in proportions that overweight the first of the two.

They are veterans. All of their life together has been lived out under the sound of a voice from a pulpit. Whether in San José or Aberdeen or Wheaton or Cambridge, Christian preaching has been a contextual envelope for the grit of getting on with things. They have always lived within range of the pulpit’s voice.

Much of it has been very bad. (more…)

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When peering through the window of a train car at a fascinating, fast-changing, complex landscape, you can’t make the train slow down for a bit of gawking. The best you can ask for is a window with minimal smudges.

That’s what you get when contemplating the velocity of change in China today through the lens of ChinaSource, now a decade old in its present form. Published quarterly by the organization that bears the same name, ChinaSource is intended—as its tag line declares—for those who serve China. This is a centrist, Christian, English-language publication written principally for those outside China with missional interests in that great country. (more…)

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