Notes on Demons & The Powers: Part 6, Yoder on the Powers

Before getting to the issue about the "spirituality" of the powers I'd like to post some material from of John Howard Yoder from his book The Politics of Jesus.

This is familiar ground for theologians as The Politics of Jesus is required seminary reading. But as these posts are "notes", a loose collection of material that can be mined for bible classes or sermons, I thought I'd quote some of Yoder's stuff as his analysis parallels the one I've outlined in the last two posts. Here are some relevant excerpts from chapter 5--Christ and Power--from The Politics of Jesus:

Yoder on how the language of the demonic, previously dismissed as superstitious, is useful in naming horrendous evil in the modern experience:

Since the onset of critical New Testament studies it has practically been taken for granted that when the Apostle [Paul] speaks about angels or demons or powers this is a dispensable remainder of an antique world view, needing not even to be interpreted or translated, but simply to be dropped without discussion...[But] driven by the events that shook Europe between 1930 and 1950, Protestant theology sought a more adequate theological understanding of the power of evil which had been breaking through the crust of the most civilized of societies. No longer can it be taken for granted that man and his institutions can solve his problems.
Yoder describing Paul's theology of the Powers:
[The powers are] religious structures (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures ('ologies and 'isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race and nation). The totality is overwhelmingly broad. Nonetheless, even here with careful analysis we observe that it can be said of a these "structures" what the Apostle was saying concerning the powers:

(a) All these structures can be conceived of in their general essence as parts of a good creation. There could not be society or history, there could not be Man without the existence above him of religious, intellectual, moral and social structures. We cannot live without them. These structures are not and never have been a mere sum total of the individuals composing them. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. And this "more" is an invisible Power, even though we many not be used to speaking of it in personal or angelic terms.

(b) But these structures fail to serve man as they should. They do not enable him to live a genuinely free, human, loving life. They have absolutized themselves and they demand from the individual and society an unconditional loyalty. They harm and enslave man. We cannot live with them. Looking at the human situation from within, it is not possible to conceive how man once unconditionally subjected to these Powers can ever again become free.

(c) Man is lost in the world, in it structures, and in the current of its development. But nonetheless it is in this world that man has been preserved, that he has been able to be himself and thereby to await the redeeming work of God. His lostness and his survival are inseparable, both dependent upon the Powers.
Given that the destiny of humanity is intimately associated with the power structures of human existence, salvation, for Yoder, is both structural (I've used the word "political") and personal (or moral). Salvation isn't simply being "forgiven" for having sex or cheating on your taxes. Salvation is cosmic in scope, the redemption of both Man and the Powers. This vision is best captured in Colossians 1.15-20:
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Of course, this vision is yet-to-be, the eschatological hope of the church. In between the times the church exists to declare Christ's victory over the powers in the cross as a foretaste of the eschaton:

Yoder on the relation of the church to the Powers:
For Paul...the very existence of the church is her primary task. It is in itself a proclamation of the Lordship of Christ to the powers from whose dominion the church has begun to be liberated. The church does not attack the powers; this Christ has done. The church concentrates upon not being seduced by them. By her existence she demonstrates that their rebellion has been vanquished...

We are now ready to affirm that the biblical understanding of the powers in history can give us a more adequate intellectual framework for the task of social discernment to which we are especially called in our age. This discernment is not simply a way of helping the needy with their social problems, a kind of updated philanthropy, nor does it mean simply to guide individual Christians by helping them to do good deeds or to avoid sin. In is rather a part of the Christians' proclamation that the church is under orders to make known to the Powers, as no other proclaimer can do, the fulfillment of the mysterious purposes of God (Eph. 3:10) by means of that Man in whom their rebellion has been broken and the pretensions they had raised have been demolished...

That Christ is Lord, a proclamation to which only individuals can respond, is nonetheless a social, political, structural fact which constitutes a challenge to the Powers.
On to Part 7

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