This issue grasps for insight into "the new horizons" of mission. Not because we are running out of things to do.No...but because these stirring NEW HORIZONS are piling up on us. Like the unexpected power of a huge volcano, the global success of the Gospel has forced major changes in the landscape. However, the immediate reason for focusing on New Horizons in Mission is this: we were called upon to do this by the program committee of this year's annual meeting of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (to which 100 mission agencies send their executives).The EFMA asked our staff to take over a one-and-a-half-hour slot in the first day of their program in Atlanta on the subject of new horizons in missions. This issue is all about that. Meanwhile, this editorial focuses on the ONE "New Horizon" we decided to drop out at the last moment.
Only once before in my lifetime--seriously--have I come up against a new insight that has so mightily shaken my life and my perspective on missions. In these pages I have been nibbling at this for months. Now I want to present it full bore.
I confess I am often a bit scared or uneasy when I go to put something down in an editorial which can startle or confuse readers--or infuriate them. Only yesterday in my devotions did I run across a phrase describing a new thought that massively disturbed Peter. Acts 10:17 says "Peter was greatly perplexed in mind."
For me this is a parallel situation. That was perhaps the only time in Peter's life anything so shaking had occurred to him. OK, that's me. From now on, as with Peter, what's left of my life may be quite full of surprises.
This new insight for me is, as a matter of fact, what we (I) left out at the last minute at the Atlanta meeting (see box).
Two of the "New Horizons" in the list our staff team prepared to present at that meeting fell to me. The last minute I decided to leave one of them out, just as I could wish, humanly speaking, that I might leave it out here--just leave it be and not get into it!
But, as you get older you face tougher and tougher decisions. You see things more clearly. The more you learn the easier it is to fit in additional information.
OK, OK, you say, I'm stalling. Guess so. Here it is: I believe that our recent scientific blindness to germs, and still more recently to viruses, and still even more recently to prions, has a parallel in the theological and missiological arena.
First, isn't it strange that in our church life we don't hail, praise, and wonder spiritually about every new scientific insight into the complexity and inherent beauty of nature? Do we really see the glory of God in "His handiwork?"
Or, why do we disguise of whom we speak of when we speak of "nature"--when we may actually refer to things that are clearly the design of God?
Of course, our secular world speaks that way. But note: when we speak of curiosities in nature we may actually be speaking of either God or Satan's design.
I found a sentence yesterday in a recent book by a good friend, a phrase which I myself could easily have employed--until recently.
No longer. My friend said (as I would have, unthinkingly) that a certain ugly, cruel reality "is truly nature's fight-back." How do we blame "nature?" Who is nature? God or Satan in this case?
In this case my friend referred to what I now, recently, call clear evidence of diabolical ingenuity, ingenuity in the finding of new, more virulent ways for microbes to be engineered into killer bugs--just as terrorists are finding new and more clever ways to be killers.
OK, so WHO is this "nature"? Is God behind these new and more virulent bacteria? Are we shielding God to attribute these ghastly things to "nature"?
I don't think so! We are in actual fact shielding the Evil One. That's dangerous. If the Bible is at all correct in saying that "the whole world lies in the control of the evil one (I Jn 5:19),"then why not name that evil one? Again, an outstanding scientist, Hugh Ross, is right: the only thing today more politically incorrect than to refer to God in public is to refer to Satan in public. In contrast, Scripture says bluntly:
The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the Devil (I Jn 3:8)
If that is the awesome purpose of the Son of God, then that is also the full scope of the mission of His church. When He asked us to pray, "Thy kingdom come," He evidently asked for more than we commonly realize. Isn't it true, after all, that "we fight not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this earth."
For God's will to be done means for Satan's works to be undone. But if we go on hiding Satan's works behind euphemistic phrases like "nature's fight-back," do we not delay and obscure the nature of the opposition God expects to make to Satan's works?
In the last issue of Mission Frontiers, I explained how, according to Gregory Boyd (see below), our theological tradition has gone significantly off course since Augustine, subtly moving us away from direct conflict with Satan. We need--according to Augustine--to see the "mysterious good" behind all evil. Apparently this divergent perspective has delayed and diverted energies from specific inquiry into the origins of disease, moving all such evil out of the range of the urgent counter attack. And this results in a functional fatalism. Have you ever heard a sermon urging people to fight Satanic malaria in the laboratory? It is Hinduism when you can't kill a deadly cobra. It is fatalism that is not true to the Bible.
If you want a specific example of this divergent perspective from a very godly man who was apparently carried away by Augustine's ideas, let me quote the justly famous Brother Lawrence:
The worst possible afflictions and suffering appear intolerable only when seen in the wrong light. When we see such things as dispensed by the hand of God, when we know that it is our loving Father who abases us and distresses us, then our sufferings lose their bitterness.
I would not for a moment deny that God often makes good things come out of bad things--that is not Satan's intention! But neither is it God's intention when Satan makes bad things out of God's good things.
The Greeks were confused. They concluded simplistically that all things physical, all bodily pleasures were evil. For example, Greek thinking is the Roman Catholic source for the idea that the only justification for marital relations is procreation. The Greeks rightly see evil in the grim evidence of destructive life forms seemingly interwoven into every level of life, from the level of dinosaurs to the level of bacteria that are fighting to the death against invading bacteria.
The Greeks left it to us to separate out the good and beautiful, to uncover the works of God in the physical realm, and still to avoid covering up the works of Satan. "The whole world lies in the control of the Evil One."
This is why we must have mixed feelings about those who would run out and indiscriminately "protect nature." Nature abounds with evidences of the incredible beauty of God's creation. But "nature" also embodies extensive evidence of the distorting and destructive works of the Evil One.
If we go on attributing evil to the initiative of God just because He often uses evil for good, don't we fall into the snare and delusion of Satan?
At this point let me refer again to Gregory Boyd and the remarkable study of his, God at War, published by InterVarsity Press.
Gregory Boyd is a professor of theology at Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis. He has dared to take exception with Augustine of Hippo, who is the most quoted theologian in all of Christian history, revered by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. With ponderous research on his side, Gregory Boyd states boldly that Augustine has brought confusion to all Christians since his time (4th century) by implying that behind all evil, all suffering, all destruction, all pain, all perversion there is "a mysterious good" which is controlled by God!
Instead of saying, like the Bible does, that God often turns Satan's evil against him, Augustine allows us to think that God created evil and essentially guides Satan!
"Never!" says Boyd. He says modern evangelicals are not really fighting Satan as they should. (I add, especially at the microbial level.) But are assuming rather that God is behind Satan's every move.
I am curious. I have often wondered why we evangelicals feel we should "fight" against organized crime, against drug pushers, against genocidal powers like the Nazis, the merciless aggressors in ethnic cleansing, evil political forces, etc. Yet we don't feel it is up to us as a mission force--we leave it to the World Health Organization--to fight against other gross evils like the killer viruses and microbes which are gaining on us, and, I believe, are just as much the initiative of Satan.
Perhaps there are two reasons:
- We don't think we know exactly what to do if we were to try to launch "a massive onslaught on malaria at its root." We don't know if we have the ability to outwit the latest deadly versions of tuberculosis or staphylococcus or sepsis. It's all too much to think about. So we don't plan to do more than comfort the victims?
- Or, perhaps, we are not aware of the entire range of Satan's insidious perversions, and are unaware that God has commanded us to counterattack in His Name in even these "small" areas.
God says "My Name shall be great among the nations." That should challenge us to open people's eyes to mass blindness so we and they can fight our way out of the power of Satan and his darkness into the light of the glory of God. This includes comforting victims of evil and praying for the sick but also warring against every kind of evil, every source of suffering, and thus making His Name great. How else can peoples around the world held in bondage in countless ways come to believe in a God who is "great?"