19 December 2014

Inbox: Acts 19 and Cultural Transformation

The Burning of the Books in Ephesus

Is this an example of cultural transformation?
It points to transformation but it's not the same as what is being pushed on the Church in our own day.

Sometimes the Two Kingdom position is caricatured suggesting that Christians in old India wouldn't be challenged to abandon suttee, or that Christians in China wouldn't be encouraged to do away with foot binding.

This is just that, a caricature.
There is transformation, but it is within the context of the Church. It is the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. Individuals and the Body are being redeemed, purged of sin, engaged in ongoing mortification and vivification. All of us are dying to sin and ourselves and living unto God. We're being renewed in our minds and that certainly means a break with all previous assumptions. All of life must be re-examined and continually.

The New Testament does not place the world within this category. The world is the 'other', it is the realm of the lost. Only when they are converted can they hope to be transformed, let alone please God.

If the Gospel takes hold then people will voluntarily give up their sin... burn the magic books as it were. Nowhere does Paul call upon the state to do this, mandate it or enforce it. Nowhere is it suggested that the Christians try and take over the local government and pass these sorts of laws. This is the model for the kind of transformation being pushed today.

Yes, sometimes a community can be transformed, but what you're seeing is not the sanctifying of the society but instead a society that happens to have numerous sanctified individuals living within it. The light can influence other people. Often this is how Common Grace functions, but of course that Non-Redemptive Grace or Benevolence in the end condemns them. Their faux-morality is an abomination to God.

The event in Acts 19 is awesome and I would argue that it's actually part of the outpouring, the tremendous Spirit-wrought work taking place during the Apostolic period. It too was a 'sign' of validation for Paul's apostolic ministry. The Gospel burst onto the scene accompanied by spectacular changes...the world was turned upside down.

But as we read through the doctrinal portions of the New Testament there's little indication that this is normative or what we would call the normal expectation. It can happen and indeed does throughout Church history but once again Acts 19 is not providing a model or blueprint for social transformation.

I would argue that according to the Parable of the Sower we should look for progressive maturation, the Kingdom growing while evil waxes. The evil will be visible, more often than not the Kingdom's growth isn't visible. We're told to expect this age to be a time of great evil and in general terms decline. The Gospel can't be stopped but the opposition will grow worse and worse.

If a town turns it back on sin, then praise be to God. But we don't need Blue Laws to keep it so. The Spirit will do the work, or not.

Many have utilized this and other passages as blueprints for revival. One thinks of Finney and others as they sought to 'clean up' the town and purge it of sin. Of course their definitions of sin were often more than a little deficient.

The whole notion of revival is somewhat dubious. Sometimes the Reformation is referred to as the greatest post-Apostolic revival. Rather I would say it was evangelization. From the standpoint of the Gospel much of Europe had in fact never been Christian at all.

The theology of Revival often seems to be premised on and rooted in the notion of Christendom. It envisions a Christian society at some level that is stuck in a nominalist mire. The people have no fire, spirit or unction. Their Christianity is superficial and empty.

The 'Revival' means that suddenly there's an outpouring of the Spirit through preaching and people's lives are changed. They become more fervent in their Christianity.

While we cannot see into the hearts of men, and I don't doubt there are Christians who experience seasons in the doldrums followed by revival... it seems more probable that the people in the said district or area were in fact Christians only in name or as defined in a social or Sacral sense.

The Holy Spirit can work as He will, but I am more inclined to think what we're witnessing in Acts 19 is one of the 'signs' of the Apostolic Age, great wonders and spectacular happenings that were to inaugurate the Church Age and validate the apostolic ministry.

Today I dare say if we were to experience such an event in the modern Church it would involve the burning of a great many books authored by modern sorcerers... men who manipulate the truth and the natural order in order to wield power... men like Glenn Beck, David Barton, Pat Robertson and hundreds more.

Yes, I am also happy to see Christians dispensing with Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil and Karen Armstrong... but those people are actually less of a threat than the former.

There are always exceptions to the principle but I would argue that when it comes to hermeneutics, we start by establishing doctrine in the clear didactic passages. We have to be a bit more careful when it comes to narrative. We don't explain away the narrative by a previous commitment, nor do we utilize the narrative to explain away something didactic. If need be we expand what we already know, but in order to rightly understand it, the narrative passage must always be understood in context.