- Prelude to Comment
What’s More Core Than Missional? Theodicy, Christology, and Missiology
- Comment from Mike Jones
- Picturing Theodicy
- Exegesis of Good and Evil
- Kingdom Culture: What it is and what it isn’t
Addendum: Inherent Dangers in “Strategic-Level Prayer” and “Spiritual Mapping”
- Comments on the “Subtle Changes” Post by Former Leader
Tutorial #14 – Theodicy and Biblical Narrative
Summary: I define theodicy as “the demonstration of God’s providential power, righteousness, mercy, and justice in the lives of all people in all places and at all times – in the face of opposition by evil principalities and powers, toxic people, and those attempting to counterfeit God’s goodness.” Theodicy is a narrative/storying approach to theological themes in the entire Bible regarding the battle between God and His goodness and Lucifer’s evil, as they set the stage for human history and affect us without nullifying the reality and significance of our choices.
Theodicy is often described as how God justifies Himself (i.e., declares His right-ness and righteousness) to answer our questions about the existence of suffering, sin, evil, and death. God did not cause these difficulties that afflict human history, but He is still The Almighty and exerts providential control over them to allow or limit their results. In due time, all will be brought to light and God will show Himself to have been all powerful, all benevolent, all long-suffering in and with all of His creation. So, theodicy is not just about Satan and demons versus God and angels; it is a framework for all forms of “cosmic conflict” involving God, forces of good (angels) and evil (Satan and demons), the heavens and the earth, the New Heaven and the New Earth, and humanity.
This tutorial presents this narrative perspective through updated articles I wrote in 2007 and 2008 on theodicy and spiritual warfare. It includes several PowerPoint slides with elaborations on what is and isn’t Kingdom culture, plus thought questions. It then concludes with an addendum on perspectives and resources for countering what I see as the very unhealthy overfocus on spiritual warfare that we see in such contemporary Christendom movements as “Seven Mountains,” “Spiritual Mapping-Strategic Level Warfare-Transformation videos,” and the “New Apostolic Reformation and Lakeland Outpouring.”
The following comments appeared on a post in “Marc’s Messages,” the blog of Dutch emerging church leader Marc van der Woude. The specific post was “Emerging reflections,” about seeking to rebalance the emerging movement in Europe with aspects of contextualization for the supernatural. Marc invited feedback, and that is a kind of request I take seriously and expend myself when the Spirit says to – which was what I sensed in this situation.
The resulting article came out of my own concerns about overfocus on the power of the supernatural that I had experienced in service related to the Spirit-oriented “strategic prayer movement” and “spiritual mapping” – as well as the underfocus on the presence of the supernatural that is typical in Word-oriented disciples (e.g., Baptists, fundamentalists, and evangelicals). The dynamic biblical tension holds together being BOTH Word-oriented AND Spirit-oriented, and 2007 was a time when I was grappling with that particular paradox. And so, Marc’s request for feedback came at a providential moment!
But, because my response was so long, I emailed Marc to ask permission to post my comment. He was gracious and kind enough to say yes. And so I introduced my essay on “What’s More Core Than Missional?” with the following “prelude.” The comment from Mike Jones is intriguing, because it helps show problems in the imbalance of leaving out the Holy Spirit’s role in the conversation about emerging church.
Note: The comments and article were written in 2007, and edited slightly in 2011.
Prelude to Comment
Marc – I appreciate your blog reflections and critiques on emerging church. One issue I have been especially considering lately relates with your second point on the natural versus supernatural perspectives. This point came up in passing in a recent thread on Alan Hirsch’s “The Forgotten Ways” blog, on whether missional and incarnational is enough. Although I appreciate the importance of those approaches, they don’t necessarily encompass signs and wonders. (I am not Charismatic or Pentecostal in my theology, but understand that we must understand spiritual warfare and God’s resources for counteracting evil, given the growing influences of cultural systems that are fear-based instead of guilt- or shame-based.)
So, I have been thinking about what other “integration point” could be even deeper than missional and incarnational, and cover the possibilities of signs/wonders and the miraculous. I think it is “theodicy,” the storying approach that comes directly out of God’s character being challenged by His creatures, and the resulting spiritual warfare, ecological decay, and human conditions of sin and evil.
Whatever we find as the core that covers both missional-incarnational and signs-and-wonders approaches, I think it’s important to note that there is a trend for Baptists (which is more of my background) involved in cross-cultural outreach to people who are pagans, animists, mystics, etc., to become more open to signs and wonders and to being Spirit-led without being “Spirit-filled” in the traditional Charismatic-Pentecostal meaning of the term. Hard to be contextual otherwise! So, something is moving … Could it be the Spirit? And could it be that part of the work of our post-Christendom era involves working out a more encompassing theological paradigm that does not divide us into Spirit-oriented versus Word-oriented camps?
Thanks for giving me permission to post an article I wrote as a response on “what’s more core than missional.” This article comes out of recent reflections, but also from my unusual background that includes participating in one of the earliest trainings offered in “spiritual mapping” (about 1994), serving as a cultural consultant to several spiritual mapping/strategic intercession groups, and doing cultural research to help identify most likely points of losing biblical distinctives when ministering in pagan-animistic cultures. I also have friends who have found significant connections with spiritually-inclined people through offering biblical perspectives on dream interpretation, healing like Jesus did, etc. We have talked extensively, and I have edited some of their resource materials.
What’s More Core Than Missional?
Theodicy, Christology, and Missiology
Okay, so, I only have time available at the moment to try to outline what I think is “missing from missional.” I have been giving this quite a bit of thought for months, and have some materials I can hopefully get together sometime soon for a more lengthy (but hopefully cogent!) presentation. Sorry if that’s frustrating, but perhaps it’s better to try for an espresso version than to hold on to the suspense.
My primary work in research and development is with paradigms and cultural systems. So, I’m always looking at how our deepest-level assumptions affect our information processing styles and values, and how those affect our theologies and philosophies, and how those carry within them inherent preferred strategies and structures for organizing, and how those carry within them a range of preferred methods and behaviors for “corporate culture” and personal lifestyle.
Two streams of observation and reflection have brought me to wonder whether being missional-incarnational goes deep enough. (And my answer is, “No, it doesn’t.”)
The first stream of evidence I’ve pondered is the flow of church planting approaches the past 10 years (mid-1990s to mid-2000s). It seems to me that the focus or integration points have shifted from ecclesiology (with its inherent concern about methods and models for relevant church planting), to doxology (worship as the key thing to unlock the Kingdom), to theology proper (tinkering with a series of theological issues, like open theism), to Christology (with an emphasis on incarnational ministry), to missiology (with an emphasis on being missional and “culturally relevant”). Good and important movement, but is it far enough? To paraphrase what commenter A Celtic Son has suggested in posts on other The Forgotten Ways threads, if we integrate our being and doing around an “-ology” instead of around a Person, we’ve gone off the mark…
The second stream of evidence comes from my connections with some people whose lifestyle is embedded with practices and whose conversation is embedded with terms that indicate they are missional, incarnational, redemptive, transformative. However, as I watch and listen, too many times I see what appears to be lack of discernment about good and evil. Implanting themselves into a culture for the sake of the gospel seems to result in sucking in anything in that culture, whether possibly pro-biblical, clearly anti-biblical, or something in between. Also, there is a dualistic split still. Sometimes this manifests as an overfocus on “spiritual warfare” and manifestations of supernatural power to the point where their language doesn’t sound much different from that of animists – contextualization is ALL about spiritual forces and such. For others, it functions in a way that approaches naturalism and rationalism, even to the point of denying that providential intervention is possible; contextualization is ALL about our logical analysis.
Somehow, we’re missing a comprehensive and coherent and holistic framework for the issues of evil and suffering, and for the related tension between natural and supernatural. One result I suspect comes out of this insufficient set of assumptions is our inability to contextualize ministry well. Either we lack discernment and so we syncretize with evil or toxic aspects of the local culture, or we lack in giving way for providence and diversity and so we attempt to control the local culture to make it more to our liking and comfortability.
So much of what we’re talking about in these blog threads for The Forgotten Ways is our attempt to see patterns in the biblical accounts and connect them with patterns in our current situations. Since my initial academic training was in linguistics, let me use an analogy from that field. “Reverse engineering” the connections between our context and the biblical context is like trying to devise a grammar for a previously unwritten language. Only instead of words as the dataset, we’re using Kingdom cultural data of church planting methods and theologies and this or that practice. If our grammar is comprehensive and coherent, it will fit the existing data set snuggly, and it will also encompass and explain any new data that crops up. If it isn’t constructed well enough yet, the “grammar rules” won’t make sense with the data we’ve got or that we get.
So, when I see what I conclude are deficiencies in current methodologies or structures or strategies from some people who work from a missional/incarnational paradigm, my questions force me to go deeper to the very bottom level – namely, our assumptions: What’s extra or what’s missing at that deepest assumptions level in our paradigms?
I’m not suggesting that there is something to be added to missional/incarnational, as if add-ons at the same paradigm level would fix what I see as gaps and encrustations. I’m suggesting that there are things even deeper to consider – different integration points that are more core than we’ve allowed for yet (but are probably moving toward in the providential flow of things).
In my opinion, here is what we need to think about as the root framework that the fruit of missional/incarnational approaches inherently spring from.
- First, God’s person and character. I sense we talk about knowing God but don’t necessarily put Him personally into the framework in ways that allow for His personal involvement in unpredictable ways.
- Second is “theodicy,” which is beginning-to-end-of-the-Bible theme about how God relates with all “actors on the stage of history” (angels and demons, heavens and earth, and humans) and how He justifies His character in the face of evidence that appears to be contrary.
We hear theodicy questions that implicate God’s character all the time:
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- If you’re so powerful God, why don’t you stop all the wars?
- Why is there evil in the world?
- If God is love, why can’t I get through my hatred?
- What can we do about global warming, and what if we’re not in time?
If eschatology is about pre-written history of “the end times,” then maybe would could think of theodicy as the “macrohistory” in which all other individual, family, generational, social, cultural, political, geographical histories, and heavenly pre-histories are interwoven, from beginning to end. It’s about thematics in Scripture, and I don’t think we should expect to tackle our church/ministry strategies and schematics well until we are more steeped in experiencing God and His thematics.
Theodicy is a large topic that I don’t feel has been reflected on much in the context of the past 10 years of the so-called “emerging church” ministry. However, I do think there are critical issues that can only be interpreted through this lens of theodicy. The incarnation and redemptive mission of Christ don’t make sense except against the backdrop of the broken relationship between humanity and our Creator. And we don’t get the backdrop of that broken relationship until we see the earlier breach between God and His other creatures who turned against Him – angels become demons – and until we understand how that in turn affects the earth the Lord put us here to steward. So, those macrohistory storylines must precede the missions/incarnation storyline, just as theodicy provides the frame for our picture of missions/incarnation.
If we don’t integrate around God’s person and character, and around the framework of being in a spiritual battle, then I don’t know that we can wrestle with issues of suffering and perseverance very well. Also, I don’t think we’ll comprehend what it means to sacrifice self and persevere in ways that involve whole-life stewardship in light of the progress of Christ’s Kingdom in pushing back darkness with the Light. For instance, perhaps to minister well in some cultural contexts, we might see the need to “speed up” our methods and condense into a few years what otherwise might have taken decades, while in other places we might see the need to “slow down” and allow for a multiple-generation strategy because the that would prove more sustainable there. Without theodicy, why would we even care about being responsible stewards of the environment?
And who knows, maybe if we spent some time re-integrating our perspectives and theologies around delving into who God is and how He presents Himself in a world affected by evil and sin, perhaps we might find a way past the unfortunate dichotomy between the more supernaturalist camp and the more rationalist camp in the Church. All of us who would be devoted disciples could certainly use more leading of the Holy Spirit, more guidance from God’s Word, and more experience of transformation toward Christlikeness as we rest in the Father’s love for us as His children … (Article originally posted February 27, 2007.)
Comment from Mike Jones
Andrew, Marc, and especially Brad:
THANK YOU for finally mentioning something about the Holy Spirit! I have been researching the Emerging movement/conversation/church for weeks now, reading everything I can find on and about Rob Bell to Brian McLaren to Scot McKnight and this is the first real mention of the forgotten person of the Trinity.
As a charismatic, I of course look for two things in a discussion: the Lordship of Jesus and the attitude about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is noticeable in the “conversation” because of its absence. New thoughts, new paradigms, new strategies are all acceptable if they come through the Spirit as exampled in the Bible. He has given us the tools and the format; we need to use it. I want to encourage you all to seek Him (the Holy Spirit) in your conversations and discussions. The two criteria mentioned go a long way to legitimizing content and position. (Comment originally posted March 15, 2007.)
Exegesis of Good and Evil
Kingdom Culture: What it is and what it isn’t
Addendum: Inherent Dangers in
“Strategic-Level Prayer” and “Spiritual Mapping”
I was an early (though moderate) proponent of “spiritual mapping,” and went to one of the earliest conferences held on that subject, over 15 years ago. In the late 1990s, I also served as a consultant to a regional prayer network, working with them on issues of culture, symbols, and occult religions and spiritualities. I volunteered in that role for several years.
I was in this Christian subculture deep enough and long enough to become uncomfortable with what I experienced from those who were gung-ho committed to spiritual mapping and strategic-level prayer as being essential to evangelism. Basically, some were saying in essence that the Spirit was blocked from drawing people to Christ until we Christians had done our part in identifying and casting out the specific “ruling spirits” (demons) that controlled a specific geographical region. There is no such formula found in Scripture, nor any command to Christians that could be interpreted as requiring these tactics – except by extreme readings into Scripture. And whatever happened to our following an all-powerful God who does as He pleases?
Eventually, I stepped back from my advocacy of these perspectives and practices, although I am not anti-charismatic and I do believe that signs and wonders can be appropriate missional encounters in cultures where people are captivated by occult forces. I see spiritual warfare as one of the most difficult areas of doctrine to integrate into a holistic biblical paradigm because it has been so beyond the knowledge and experiences of most Christians in the West, given our endemic philosophies of rationalism and naturalism. That, however, is in the process of change both through the decline of Christendom, the ascendance of Eastern and occult religions in the West, and the excesses of numerous strains within the “New Apostolic Reformation” movement, such as we see in the implosion of the Lakeland Outpouring and elsewhere.
The following material comes from comments I made to the post, “Subtle Changes,” on Former Leader’s blog. A post-Charismatic, Barb has critiqued the ongoing problems in Pentecostalism and specifically addresses some aspects of: Spiritual Warfare, Ruling and Reigning, Cleansing the Land, Ruling Spirits over a Region, Spiritual prayer over a region or a city.
Comments on the “Subtle Changes” Post by Former Leader
Great post and comments – I wasn’t heavily involved in this stuff, but have been circling around the edges of it for awhile. Hard to find a balance – still working on that.
If you’ve been adversely affected by the “Transformations” theology and “spiritual mapping/strategic-level warfare prayer” practices, you might be interested in getting this book I found over 10 years ago in the late 1990s: Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues by Edward Rommen. It has several articles that give a substantial theological critique of the extreme spiritual warfare systems of George Otis, Jr.; Cindy Jacobs; Dutch Sheets; C. Peter Wagner; et al; if that’s part of how you want to process your own release from captivity.
I attended the second ever spiritual mapping conference in 1994, not because I was a total advocate, but because I am a cautionary critic and wanted to find out what this was about. I have had many friends directly involved as advocates, and I could see something seemed out of whack. I wrestled for a few years with whether [George Otis, Jr.’s/The Sentinel Group’s] Transformations system as laid out in books like Twilight Labyrinth and Informed Intercession was biblical, abiblical, or anti-biblical. I finally concluded it was an abiblical system (not substantiated in Scripture) that easily becomes anti-biblical (a counterfeit system) by taking us away from the clear teachings of Scripture. (I still do hold to many aspects of spiritual warfare and theodicy, even as a never-been-Charismatic missional-minded mostly-Baptist-in-my-theology guy, because I believe they are clear and central doctrines found in Scripture.)
Here’s an analogy I came up with to explain what I see as the core problem. It’s like we’re doorkeepers who stand in the open doorway between two rooms. In the outer room it is fully dark. In the throne room sits Jesus and it is full of light.
Strategic-level spiritual warfare praying wants us to stand in the doorway, face into the dark room, and focus on casting out the darkness. Some of the light from Jesus flows past us and into the dark room. We occasionally turn toward Jesus, but not for too long because our supposed job is to stand against the darkness.
But what Scripture wants of us is to stand in the doorway, face Jesus, and take in the light. When we do this, the same amount of light goes around us and into the dark room as when we go the spiritual warfare route, plus we can always turn temporarily to greet anyone who comes near because they are being drawn toward the light.
We become like whatever we focus on. If we integrate our lives around Jesus, we ourselves are transformed toward Christlikeness and we can affect the people around us accordingly. It’s ironic that when we integrate our lives around how people are influenced by Satan, we ourselves become inhumane because we no longer see humans, only spiritual forces and those pawns controlled by them. I wonder if all abusive theologies are built around such contempt for the very people whom God loves …
Meanwhile, welcome back to the land of Aslan! His springtime has arrived and is melting the gloom and desolation of the White Witch’s winter …
Additional Resources: I found The Invisible War: The Panorama of the Continuing Conflict Between Good and Evil by Donald Grey Barnhouse a reasonably balanced view on the doctrinal side of spiritual warfare, despite being an older book. And this analysis of The Sentinel Group’s “Transformations” video is helpful.