A Theology of Revolt

A Theology of Revolt September 7, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.45.32 AMBy Jonathan Storment

A Theology of Revolt

I have been doing a book review the past few weeks on Richard Beck’s great new book on the Devil and Spiritual Warfare called Reviving Old Scratch. If you are a Christian whose tempted to turn up your nose at the idea of the devil/demons/spiritual warfare, then this book is for you. Literally. The subtitle is Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted.

And here is why it is important for those of us in that demographic to read this book.

In my experience the thing that drives progressive Christians the most is compassion. We see the overwhelming suffering of the world and feel called to do something about it. We roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, we give, we change our avatars on Facebook for every tragedy, we call our Senators, we lobby, we fight the lobbyists, whatever.

We get involved.

And then we burn out.

We get mad because other people just don’t see the problem, or care about it to the same degree that we do. We want to do something to make the world a better place, but the more we get into whatever problem we are trying to fight, the more resistance we find, we find people standing against us, actively fighting against good causes, etc.

And at some point along the way we look around and realize that for all our effort, not much, if anything, has changed. And we start to ask the question, “Why do I care more about this than God?” and then, in my experience, we start to ask questions like “Is there even a God?”

If that rings true to you in any way, than you are not alone. I believe this is a pretty common narrative among the progressive Christians I hang out with these days. And Richard Beck is a great tour guide for a way forward.

One of Beck’s great points in this book is that compassion is the acid of progressive people’s faith. Here are his words:

In the face of suffering, the greater the compassion, the greater the doubt. We want to build our faith upon a foundation of compassion but that foundation can be unsteady and unsustainable if it lacks a supportive theology.
Many compassionate Christians are losing their faith because they lack this supportive theology, a theology that can reconcile their compassion with their doubts. And the heart and soul of that theology is what Greg Boyd calls a “theology of revolt.” In the face of doubts and disenchantment we need a vision of spiritual resistance and struggle that energizes our faith in the face of pain and suffering. To save our faith we must embrace spiritual warfare.

Here is the thing, for the past few hundred years we have treated the problem of evil/suffering as a mathematical problem that can be answered. The Bible never really does that. You will find no answers in the Bible about why there is so much evil and pain in the world. What you are given instead is a theology of revolt against that evil.

Beck points out that if progressive Christians love anything, it is Jesus. But “a Jesus who isn’t engaged in conflict with Satan isn’t the Jesus of the Gospels. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work…Jesus was in a battle with Satan, and if we want to follow Jesus we have to fight the battle that Jesus fought. This seems a rather obvious point, but with all the mental snipping [think Thomas Jefferson’s Bible] going on, due to our doubts and disenchantment, this point is often missed. Jesus was picking a fight. Followers of Jesus have to pick the same fight.

The Good Kind of Hate

A few months ago I was at an event where Richard was discussing his book with N.T. Wright, and at one point Wright brought up that his great problem with the way Western Christians talk about the Devil is that they tend to greatly over-emphasize him.

And then Wright said, I don’t want to say that the Devil is a personal being, because I think that the point of Scripture is that the Devil is sub-personal. Wright alluded to the Devil character in C.S. Lewis space trilogy, as a great example, because he used to be human, but he colluded with evil forces long enough he became something much more powerful, and something much less than human.

I loved that example so much I went and looked it up. It is in Perelandra which is set on the planet Venus. In this story, sin/the fall has not yet entered Venus, but the Satan character is trying to do the whole Garden of Eden thing there as well. In revolt, God has sent a man from Earth named Ransom to confront Satan, and here is the scene of what happens in that confrontation:

What was before him [Ransom] appeared no longer a person of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a Person; but the ruins of personality now survived in it only as weapons at the disposal of a furious self­exiled negation. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for.

How great is that?!! The Joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for.

This is why a theology of Spiritual warfare is so important. Rage against the powers. Hate the evil in the world. Those are God given impulses. But never hate a person. They are made in the image of God and to be cherished and rescued from the principalities and powers. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Ephesians! “Our battle is not against flesh and blood” So redirect your hate toward that for which it was actually made. That is how you learn to love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you.

Hate the right things, which are always things and never people.

Follow Jesus into a revolt against the powers, fight the good fight.

Up next: Changing the World by Drinking Bad coffee


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