So in the final two posts of this series we want to come back to the issue of spiritual warfare and Greg Boyd's God at War.
My argument is that progressive theology will be energized if it adopts a Christus Victor framework. Not only will this make progressive theology robustly more biblical, it infuses the spiritual experience with a sense of adventure and excitement. Two things that I think are critical if progressive theology wants to have broad popular appeal.
However, the Christus Victor framework is going to need to be recast if it is to be acceptable to progressive and liberal Christians. This was the issue we mentioned in Part 3, which we now return to.
Specifically, as regular readers know, Christus Victor theology views the salvific work of God as being primarily about our emancipation and liberation from dark enslaving forces. Biblically, these forces go by a variety of names--sin, death, Satan, the principalities and powers. In the book of Galatians Paul even describes "the Law" as an oppressive force.
You can run, at this point, in a variety of different directions in how you think about this spiritual conflict. Some might anthropomorphize these spiritual forces, positing literal demons and a literal Satan. And like I said in Part 3, that's fine if you want go in that direction. But many progressive and liberal Christians will struggle with this move. Does that mean progressives won't be able to work with a robust Christus Victor theology?
That's what it often looks like. It seems to be that progressives have been so spooked (pun alert) by the vision of a literal Satan and demons that they have rejected any hint of anything that smacked of "spiritual warfare." And this, in my estimation, is why progressive theology often looks so insipid, unexciting, and boring. In rejecting "spiritual warfare" progressive Christianity gave up on offering a vision of a "real fight."
This is not to say that progressive Christians gave up or lost a fighting spirit. Far, far from it. Progressive Christians are fighting everywhere, tooth and nail, for justice and peace. The problem, as I'm articulating it, is that this fight has been largely divorced from the biblical imagination. I think that is sad as the connections here are so obvious and rich.
For example, last night Jana attended an event at our church that was supporting the ministry of those fighting against sex trafficking in India. What is going on in the world of sex trafficking is truly demonic and satanic. Thus I think those working in these places of the world can be properly described as "exorcists," as agents of the Kingdom casting out devils. Just as Jesus did.
Because the problem of sex trafficking isn't just about "lust." It's about the spirituality of our age, a spirituality deeply entwined with nations and economies and politics and cultures and worldviews. A hurricane of dark forces that catch up and crush young women. How do you liberate those young women? How do you liberate a world caught up in the hurricane of that dark spirituality?
The battle against these dark forces is what Christus Victor theology is all about. Which is why I think progressive Christians would be energized in taking up the warfare theology of the New Testament. I think progressive Christians would benefit by being a bit more Pentecostal in this regard. Jesus commissioned his disciples to be exorcists. And I think progressive Christians need to start seeing themselves as so commissioned.
Dear progressive Christian, take a pass on Derrida, the micro-brews, the hipsterism. Be an exorcist. Start casting out devils.
Of course, such language is going to make a lot of progressives uneasy. But let me make a strange claim. I actually think, if progressive Christians started to think and talk this way, that they are well-positioned to help us better recover a more biblical notion of what spiritual warfare is supposed to look like.
Because if you look at the language in the bible regarding "the principalities and powers" you quickly see that these forces were often distributed and/or hierarchical forms of power. Yes, these were both spiritual and physical forms of power, but they were often conflated in ways that made them hard to separate. Caesar, for example, as a "son of God." Political power simply was an expression of spiritual power. And the point for our purposes is that the battle against "demons" is less about spooky spirits inhabiting human beings than in confronting the way the world works. I don't know if Adolf Hitler was literally demon possessed. But there was something demonic about how he was able to rise to power and do what he did. He couldn't have done it alone. The demonic forces at work in the rise of Nazism are not so easily localized. Nor are they in the fight against sex trafficking. Or in the battle against poverty.
In short, what is corrupted is, to use biblical language, "the present evil age." What is demonically infested is the way the world works.
And this is why I think progressives can help recover this biblical insight about the principalities and powers. Progressives have always focused on corrupt power arrangements and systems, on the way the world works. Thus, progressives are well-positioned help us see that "our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Confronting the wickedness in high places is the proper work of spiritual warfare.
And let me make one final observation.
While it is true, as I've been arguing, that progressives can help us recover central aspects of spiritual warfare by focusing us on "wickedness in high places," I also think the paradigm of spiritual warfare can pull progressives toward a more holistic practice of Christianity. That is, I think the paradigm of spiritual warfare can help ameliorate some of the weaknesses of progressive Christianity.
Specifically, spiritual warfare can help up link up the political/structural with the moral/personal. Generally, these spheres have been divided up between liberal and conservative Christians, with liberal Christians focusing on the political/structural and conservatives on the moral/personal. But I think this divide can be bridged if progressives adopt a spiritual warfare framework as it allows us to do battle with "the present evil age"--to become exorcists--at every level of the problem, from the personal on up to the structural. For example, the battle against sex trafficking is both a battle against lust (personal) and great structural evils. Same goes for poverty. For progressives it's not just about famines in Africa and global economic inequity. It's also about opening your home and life to poor people.
In short, our battle against the principalities and powers is both political and pietistic. Progressives have tended to be dismissive of piety, and yet some of their greatest icons, from St. Francis to Gandhi to Mother Teresa to Dorothy Day to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were extraordinarily pietistic. And that piety is what gave their social witness such potency. And this is, in my opinion, another part of the reason why progressive theology has become insipid and uninteresting for many people. Liberal theology is intellectually stimulating, but holy lives connected to a social witness are what will attract people.
In short, there are devils to be cast out all over the place, from the personal to the structural. There is addiction and economic inequity, there is lust and sex trafficking, and there is forgiving each other seventy times seven and global peace-keeping.
So calling all exorcists. Progressive Christian...I'm looking at you.