February 11, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 5: Good and Evil

Today the ACFAR Network continues reading through The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. If you haven't bought the book or signed up yet, it is not too late to join! This week we are discussing chapter 5: "Good and Evil."


Now Jenkins turns to understand what Christians in the Global South believe about evil and sickness. These are not unrelated concepts to them--both realities intersect in our world. Their worldview begins with a firm recognition of the existence of evil and the devil. Demonic forces are always present in our world, causing natural disasters as well as sickness and misfortune. And while some Southern Christians have no problem connecting their faith to older religions, other believers reject these practices and all forms of paganism as nothing less than devil worship.

At the same time, their pagan religions have left an inheritance of needing to manipulate the spiritual forces people battle. Because they realized the presence of spiritual menaces, paganism provided them with ways to fight these enemies. Contemporary Christianity often responds to these concerns globally by the practice of spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry. Rather than being fringe beliefs of extreme charismatics as in the West, spiritual warfare and exorcism are regular elements of Christian practice throughout the South.

Given the centrality of spiritual warfare, the use of biblical texts on conquering spiritual powers is much more prominent in their lives. So are prayer vigils and all-night services, which ward off the dark forces in late hours. Witchcraft is also a very real danger, with human beings advancing evil and harming others. Thus Christians often fight against diviners and sorcery.

With evil all around, struggling against the spiritual powers is connected with the healing of the body and mind. Both are forms of deliverance, and this deliverance can be found in Christ. As a result, the gospel is not simply concerned with our souls; it brings victory to all areas of our life. Again, this focus can be seen in the traditions of these societies before Christianity was introduced, but Jesus' superiority to all other powers give these churches a weapon against their pagan backgrounds and traditional religions.

What we see in Southern Christianity is the development of responses to their own particular experiences. Whether overcoming beliefs in ancestral guilt and generational curses or controlling other cultural practices, the Global South's attention to spiritual forces and evil causes them to bring their faith to bear in all aspects of their lives.

My Thoughts

I continue to have mixed thoughts regarding Christianity in the Global South. On the one hand, their recognition of the spiritual realm is exhilarating. They are right to recognize that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). Additionally, trusting in Christ to bring healing and restoration should be commended. After all, don't we all pray for God to give us health and healing, especially when we or others we know are going through difficult times?

On the other hand, the extent to which some believers seem to be devoted to these realities is problematic. Using Scripture passages as amulets (p. 108) and waiving handkerchiefs for an anointing of healing (p. 116) are two examples of many faulty practices found in this chapter. While Christians can debate the appropriateness of certain views regarding spiritual warfare and exorcism, focusing on them too much causes us to become self-focused and gives too much attention to Satan. The troubles raised by charismatic extremism in our country do not suddenly go away because these practices are taking place outside of the West.

Additionally, expecting God to heal us is never to be assumed by Christians. Can God heal us? Sure He can! But He is not some genie in the bottle that will produce whatever we want. We love God for who He is, not just for what He does for us. While I appreciate the author bringing out the fact that many churches do seek to control these expectations, physical healing is meant to point us to the ultimate spiritual restoration that comes in Christ. Healing is not central to the New Testament message, it directs us to the message--the gospel of Jesus Christ!

All of which makes me wonder, how do we bring the Bible more fully to bear on the spiritual realm that these Christians live in and are aware of? In what ways do these believers need to mature in their response to evil and suffering in this world?

Your Turn

What do you think? Your thoughts do not have to be profound or anything. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion!