Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Raging Battle or Last?

George Hunsinger is currently a professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States. In 1987 he published an article entitled “Where the Battle Rages: Confessing Christ in America Today.” That essay was republished in 2000 as chapter 4 in his book Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth. The points he made then continue to remain important to those of us seeking to live as prophetic witnesses to Jesus today.
He begins his essay with a stirring quote from Martin Luther (1483-1546): “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Martin was right. As Christians, we may be quite right in our theological thinking, burst with joy, speak eloquently of Jesus, volunteer at our local soup kitchen, and still be loyal primarily to the six false Olympian gods and disloyal to Jesus. When that happens, we may be respectable Christians but certainly not prophetic witnesses to Christ. This happens when we fail to draw a clear distinction between loyalty to the gods and loyalty to Jesus. Making that distinction clear is where the battle lies for us today.
George liked these rousing words of Martin. Regrettably, he had to admit that Martin’s imagery didn’t accurately reflect our current situation as Church and Christians—whether in America or in Olympia and whether in 1987, 2000, or now. “What if, instead of raging battles, what we actually have to contemplate is a string of irretrievable defeats?...What if, at last, the tide has turned so irrevocably against us that, for the few skirmishes which remain, our options are forced and severe? What if we have no choice but to fight…a last battle to the bitter end from which there will be no escape?” (Hunsinger, 90). Yes.
George borrowed that more accurate and somber imagery from a book by C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), entitled The Last Battle, which he called “a children’s story which may be read as a tract for the times” (Hunsinger, 90 note 2). In that book, the last in a series of seven books about an imaginary land called Narnia, the final fight for Narnia (Christendom) takes place.
On one side, the Olympian gods and their minions never rested. They planned, organized, and attacked. They took almost complete control of Narnia, and were already exploiting it, before they met any resistance.
On the other side, Narnian leaders and people were sleepwalking; apparently awake, they lacked awareness of their context, meaningful self-awareness, and practiced discernment of Christ’s will. As a result, they easily fell victim to Olympian deceptions, illusions, threats, and violence. Everything kept going from bad to worse. Christians kept expecting a reversal of fortune but it never came.
The last battle? Finally a few Narnian leaders and creatures roused themselves to resist enslavement but it was too little too late. They lost everything. Suddenly, they won the war but only because Christ returned in glory and started his new age.
George was right. We do not face a raging battle but one already lost. This has consequences.
To begin with, there is always some tension in our lives, as prophetic witnesses, between being loyal to Jesus and accomplishing our goals. We constantly face the sometimes extremely difficult choice of being meaningful or useful, faithful or effective.
We don’t have to worry about that now. Whatever we do as witnesses to Jesus, we won’t be useful or effective. The Global Technological System is going down and doing so violently. So why bother being loyal, meaningful, faithful, prophetic witnesses to Jesus anymore? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Secondly, we may now discern that we Christians are not the saviors of the world. We can now see, in a way hidden to us before, that Jesus is not calling us to heroic efforts. Not that passivity or despair are our only possible options at this time. It’s just that we can relax and embrace the humility and joy that come from being the clearest possible witnesses to Jesus in the sure knowledge that that is everything he now calls us to do (as it was all along).
Finally, we may happily discern that Jesus is not leaving the well-being of humankind and the rest of creation solely in the hands of the Church. In truth, the Church, leaders and members both, has been collaborating with the enemy for ages. That’s why the world is in the sorry state it’s in.
In response, Jesus has been actively recruiting all sorts of people to live as prophetic witnesses to him. Not many, to be sure, but still: it’s heartwarming to see his gracious presence, and grateful witness to it, wherever it happens.
So, companion witnesses, 2015 promises to be a perfectly miserable year full of gratuitous destruction and death. But fear not! Just like Aslan in Narnia but more so, Jesus is victor!

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.