It’s All About Sex

The leading secular account of the world in the West denies any normative or sacred order. Freedom is found, not in following a divine design, but in indulging the unfettered self. Self-restraint, especially erotic self-restraint, is repressive and must be eliminated. Pleasure of the strongest kind is what matters most, since we need not fear God or conform ourselves to some alien pattern of behavior written in a heaven of ideas.

Thus, any viewpoint that opposes the totally free expression of sexuality must be silenced–not refuted, silenced. On this view, free speech is not a right; in fact, it can be ruse for the repressive ones (Christians or those believe in any sacred ordering of life). Any view that denies the erotic urgencies has no right to be heard. Herbert Marcuse advocated this in 1965 in his essay on “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it all comes down to sex. Anyone who opposes abortion in any way wants to hinder women’s sexual freedom, since abortion allows for sex without the moral responsibility to bring a child to term. The expressive self is all that matters. Killing a viable fetus at nine months is fine, since women’s sexual freedom must be upheld at all costs.

Further, it is not enough to be tolerant of people who act in non-heterosexual ways. Legalizing same sex marriage is not enough either. Rather, everyone must endorse every sexual identity, because that is the more important thing about people–their erotic orientation and the pleasure therein. If a Christian baker will not decorate a cake for a gay wedding, he must be punished by force of law, since he is refuting to endorse two gay men’s sexual identity. How dare he?

The untrammeled will, fired by uninhibited eroticism, has the final say and shouts with a loud voice. You are not allowed to disagree with this power from below, this meaning-making faculty. Eros must be let loose in a world without design or constraint.

Along the way, Rousseau, Blake, Wadsworth, Shelley, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Marcuse, Reich, Simone De Beauvoir, and others play their part to make a world safe for pansexuality.

For more on these themes, see Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Crossway, 2020).

Virtuous Ignorance

Being charged with being an ignoramus is no compliment. However, some ignorance is virtuous. One should cultivate being an ignoramus in a few areas.

First, curiosity is often a sin. For example, you do not need to see the person lying on the side of the road being attended to by first responders. It is none of your business. Use the golden rule: Would you want people staring at you if you were in that condition? You can look away, but be sure to pray.

Second, you should be ignorant about what is in the realm of others’ privacy. There is no need to know, so you should not know. “Thou shalt not covet anything of thy neighbor’s (that you don’t need to know).” One’s medical history should not be public knowledge. Only God can know everything virtuously since he is perfect.

Third, it is not virtuous to know or make known unflattering, but irrelevant, matters about others. That is gossip, a serious sin in the New Testament. Think of how much of American popular culture feeds on and starves without gossip. What dysfunctional, idiotic, or criminal things have this or that celebrity done now? You should not want to know. You may know too much. Try to forget in order to make more room for virtuous knowledge.

I give the Apostle Paul the last word: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Amen.

Presidential Prayer

Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman gave the homily and closing prayer at Joseph Biden’s presidential inauguration on January 20, 20121. He closed the prayer with this:

To your glory, majesty, dominion, and power, forever. Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah! In the strong name of our collective faith, Amen.”

Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman, Presidential Inauguration Prayer

Just when we had stopped reeling from “Amen and A-woman,” we are greeted with something even worse—prayer not in the name of God, but “in the strong name of our collective faith.” What a reversal that is! Our faith in God is what causes us to pray in the name of God—more specifically, in the name of Jesus Christ if we are Christians. The name of our collective faith means nothing, since our collective faith does not rule the universe. God does. Faith is only as good as its object. Moreover, what we need is not collective or generic faith, but saving faith in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the name that is above every name.

The priest who gave the opening prayer did not mention Jesus’ name, let alone pray in that name. This is what happens when biblical religion is diluted and distorted by the desire to not offend anyone and to please everyone. Well, it fails, since those of us who pray in Jesus’ name and who attribute our salvation to Jesus alone, are offended and not pleased by these kinds of prayers. But no matter, many of us will continue to pray in Jesus’ name, knowing that he is the one Mediator between God and humans and the one who will return to judge the living and the dead.

Groothuis Reading Guide to Political and Cultural Discernment

Deep reading is required for wise thinking and courageous action, even action against the odds. Political authoritarianism cannot work itself out in a well-educated, intellectually alert, and spiritually energized people. One line of defense against the jack boot crushing the face of humanity forever (Orwell) is the knowledge of what matters most, for time and eternity. The world was changed for Christ forever when St. Augustine heard a little child sing, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He took up the Bible, read it, converted, and proceeded, through his life and writings, to do more to convert a pagan world into a Christian one than any one of his age.

“Take up and read.” What should we read today? I offer a short—and it is hard to keep it short—list of works that will spark the intellect, quicken the nerves, and expand the understanding for our times. Deep reading requires asesis (əˈskēsəs), at least for those whose habits are not literary. Jesus requirement for Kingdom service apply to reading as well as to everything else, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  I divide my reading list into spiritual reality, intellectual engagement, cultural development, and political judgment. Of course, these categories overlap. I assume a regular and deep reading and study of the Bible. As C. S. Lewis said, the Bible is an education in itself.

Spiritual Reality

  1. St. Augustine, The Confessions
  2. J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle
  3. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

Intellectual Development

  1. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind.
  2. John Stott, Your Mind Matters
  3. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds

Cultural Discernment

  1. Os Guinness, Renaissance
  2. Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism.
  3. Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City
  4. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Political Judgment

  1. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
  2. Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies
  3. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  4. Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto
  5. George Orwell, 1984 and Animal Farm
  6. George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language.”
  7. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered at Harvard University, June 8, 1978.

Take up and read. The fate of your soul and the fate of your world depends on it.

Jesus and Logic

In On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003), I argue that Jesus was not an irrational mystic, but was a kind of philosopher who valued reason and who had an well thought out worldview. Moreover, he engaged in rational arguments with his interlocutors. Here is a section of that book from chapter five, “Jesus’ Epistemology.” May it encourage us to highly value truth and rationality.

Noncontradiction as a Test for Truth

Jesus reasons from the Scriptures and he reasons against his critics. When presented with an apparently irresolvable dilemma concerning the resurrected state or political allegiance (Matthew 22:15-22), he finds a tertium quid that avoids either horn of the dilemma. In this, and in all his other use of argument, Jesus implicitly endorses the law of noncontradiction as a necessary test for truth. A statement and its negation cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. Jesus never accepts a proposition and its negation as both true; nor does he revel in irreconcilable paradoxes as a way to disarm rational thought and make room for faith. Jesus at no time invokes an irresolvable paradox when pressed into a logical corner—although he will often employ a paradox to give a memorable ending to a pertinent teaching. When accused of holding contradictory teachings or of opposing the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus argues in order to resolve the apparent contradiction and vindicate his teaching.

Nevertheless, some interpreters attempt to make Jesus into a Jewish Zen-Master or guru by claiming that he employed mind-stopping contradictions. They compare several paradoxical sayings of Jesus to Zen koans. A koan is a riddle having to do with a logical impossibility; it is given to a Zen student in order to induce the student to transcend normal logical analysis and rational processes. Zen epistemology involves transcending all dualities and antitheses through various practices, such as contemplating koans and sat-zen (meditating on a blank wall for hours) in order to attain the state of “no-mind.” A famous Zen koan is, “What is the sound of one hand [clapping]?” This question has no resolution, because one hand cannot clap (in any standard sense of clapping). 

Jesus utters statements that are prima facie similar to koans, such as, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30). But Jesus’ use of paradox is pedagogical, not illogical. It has nothing to do with Zen or any other kind of mystical practice that abandons rational categories as a means to enlightenment. Jesus’ paradoxes are given not as epigrams, but as memorable conclusions to his teachings. They have an intellectual context and communicate propositional knowledge. The statement, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” is not affirming that “first equals last” (a contradiction), as would a Zen koan. Rather,  Jesus is speaking of the final reward of those who give up much in this life to follow him. This reward more than compensates for the losses they experience. Therefore, many who are “first” (or fortunate in this life) will be “last” (or unfortunate in the next), and vice versa. Jesus’ phrasing is paradoxical, and, therefore, pedagogically provocative; but it has a determinative and intelligible meaning (see Matthew 19:16-30).

Please Don’t Say or Think This: “Let’s Take Back America”

While watching a political documentary I shall not name, one Christian said that if enough evangelicals would register and vote, we could “take back the nation.” I started expostulating so loudly to my wife that my dog Sunny went over to her and climbed into her lap. He was even shaking. 

Now, I wasn’t angry at my wife or at my dog. I was angry with the rank idiocy of this statement. Here’s why:

First, evangelicals are not in agreement on the significance of issues or on who best represents their views. For example, black, Hispanic, and white evangelicals tend to vote differently. 

Second, this is America, not a theocracy. If you are a Christian and a citizen of the United States, you have the religious liberty (for now) to organize, contribute, and vote your conscience under God and before man. But so do other religious believers and those of no religious beliefs. So, we don’t “take back” the country from anyone. We never had it to begin with, despite the Christian influence on the country. If we mean that we want Judeo-Christian values to have more influence, then good. But skip the “take back” language, please. 

Third, the language of “taking back America” may concern non-Christians who think that Christians who get their way politically will put others in jeopardy in one way or another. But if we support the Constitution and the rule of law, that will not happen.

Fourth, there is a lot more to reforming and renewing America than winning political battles. In many races, both major candidates are debauched and it turns out (again) to be the lesser of two evils, which is also the evil of two lessers. Further, even good laws only go so far to improve society. Much must be done in the pre-political or non-political realms. As a Washington insider once told me, “There are a lot of dead bodies floating downstream by the time they get to Washington, DC.” He meant elected officials!

There is nothing wrong with educating and mobilizing Christians in politics. There is plenty wrong with “taking back America.”

Tom Gilson, Too Good to be False?

I asked Tom Gilson, author and editor at The Stream, to answer several questions about his intriguing book, Too Good to be False (DeWard Publishing, 2020) which takes a unique approach to the character and teachings of Jesus. I have found the book to be insightful and apologetically helpful. It has been endorsed by Lee Strobel and J. P. Moreland.

Click here can purchase Tom Gilson’s Too Good to Be False?

1. What is the central thesis of Too Good to be False?

It’s a two-part thesis with a coda. The first part stands alone, and occupies about the first half of the book: Jesus is greater than you knew. I’m hearing from many Christian readers, from everyday bloggers to seminary professors, that this portion of the book has genuinely surprised them with new insights into Jesus’ extraordinary character.

The second part builds on the first: Jesus’ character as portrayed in the accounts, is too unique, too consistent, too unexpected, and too good to have been produced the way skeptics think the story was developed, through legendary processes.

It’s not only that he’s “too good to be false,” though that’s part of it. The skeptics theorize legendary processes as the source of the Jesus story, but I say these processes are inherently story-scramblers, and Jesus’ character is manifestly not scrambled. He is very recognizably the same Jesus from beginning to end, in all four accounts, maintaining a stunning, detailed level consistency in a long list of traits.

The coda? He’s worth following no matter what. That’s part three of the book. I think we’re heading toward a stage in history where Western Christians will have to face the “no matter what” question like never before. But he is extraordinarily good no matter what, his truth is certain no matter what, and we must keep following him no matter what.

2. What most surprised you in your research?

Many things. I took an approach to Jesus that may never have been published before. (If it has, I’d be very happy to hear about it.) Instead of focusing on what Jesus did and said, I looked for what he didn’t do and didn’t say. 

For example, I was astonished to find out there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to Jesus having faith. Silence on a given topic isn’t always significant, but this one is, in my studied opinion. He taught faith even more often than he taught love. His love is mentioned often, but his faith? Never. There has to be an explanation for it. The best I’ve found has been in connection with Jesus’ deity. I won’t go into details on that here, though. 

Even more stunning was the discover Jesus never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit. Satan was right about one thing: Jesus could have turned the stones into bread. The mockers at the cross were right: He could have come down from there. If power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then by that rule Jesus should have been a tyrant. Instead he was the model of love. I try to imagine being that good, having even an infinitesimal fraction of his power, and I crumble, knowing I could never be that perfectly other-centered. It brings me to my knees in absolute worship.

3. Why do you think some aspects of your argument have not been used in recent decades in apologetics?

I wish I knew. It’s a complete mystery to me. What I do know is that the argument is stronger now than it was when Paley or Schaff used it, because skeptics have hardened into a position that’s more vulnerable to it.

I don’t know exactly what led me to it, though I wonder if it has something to do with not being a specialist in New Testament studies, which may have allowed my mind to wander more freely into new territory. 

For example, I used to do organizational assessment work for a major mission organization. Seeing what’s there in a team’s operations is easy, my partner and I quickly learned. The hard part — the skill we kept working to develop — is seeing what’s not there. It’s possible that might have helped me along in this study. 

4. How does your argument challenge the skeptical view that Jesus never existed?

I take the story seriously as a story. Every story has a backstory, a place, person or group that produces the story within its culture, and related in some way to that culture’s norms, expectations, restrictions, and so on. But the backstory has to fit; that is, if you view the story as the effect and the backstory as the cause, the backstory has to be the kind of cause that could produce that story as an effect. And I don’t think the skeptics’ legend theory is the right kind of cause to produce a story with a main character as unique, consistent, unexpected, and good as Jesus. 

Take away that skeptical backstory, and for now at least it leaves one live option: The Gospel accounts are true. Maybe skeptics will offer a new and better-fitting skeptical backstory. It’s hard to imagine what that would be, though. 

5. What has been the response to your book so far?

I keep hearing words like “surprising,” “refreshing,” “fascinating,” “compelling,” and even (from Gary Habermas) “a fun read.” Many are saying it’s helped them fall in love with Jesus all over again. One reader said she’d been sliding into spiritual apathy, but this view of Jesus, “totally shook me up.” It’s been so gratifying to hear of readers seeing Jesus in a new light through it. I’ll tell you, the same thing happened to me as I was studying for it. 

Meanwhile those who are more familiar with apologetics have expressed similar surprise at the originality of the argument. It’s new to our generation, at least. 

6. Have skeptics responded to it?

Some think they have, but they’re only responding to interviews I’ve done, though. So far I haven’t heard from any who have taken the trouble to read the book. 

From those who’ve tried to respond, the most common response has been, “Jesus isn’t actually that good. Just look how Christians have practiced slavery in his name!” But Jesus completely knocked the legs out from under slavery through his strong version of the Golden Rule, by teaching love for neighbor, and by condemning greed, pride, and self-centeredness. He demonstrated love for all, at every level of society. Christians (self-styled or otherwise) have failed horribly at living up to his example, but the book is about Christ, not about Christians.

Besides that, a couple of YouTubers have mounted massive takedowns of arguments I don’t make. Sometimes I wonder what’s so entertaining about that. You’d think it would be more interesting to engage with what people actually say instead.

Just today I heard one going on and on about a comment I’d made in an interview about Jesus being perfect from beginning to end in the accounts. “That’s bad literature!” he repeated in a half-dozen different ways. “Perfect characters are the worst characters. They’re boring!” 

It was sad and hilarious, both at the same time. He doesn’t know I made precisely the same point in my book! Except I also noted what this skeptic, too, should have seen: Billions of people in thousands of cultures across thousands of years would tell you Jesus is the single most compelling character they’ve ever encountered, in life or in literature. So if the rule is that perfect characters are boring characters, then Jesus breaks that rule into a billion tiny shreds. 

And that makes his character incredibly extraordinary on that one count alone. Still the skeptics think his kind of story is so easy to write, any old legendary process could have come up with a man like him. Funny thing: It’s never happened anywhere else. Not even close. Not in legend, not even flowing from the pens of the greatest poets, playwrights, or novelists, from Homer to Sophocles, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky to Dickens and beyond. Jesus, I say, is just too good to be false.

Your Jesus, My Jesus?

Shock, anger, sadness, and fear came over me as I watched a clip of a group of protesters curse “your Jesus” in unison with the F-word. Has it come to this? And what is this? Who is Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth does not belong to anyone, so there is no “my Jesus” or “your Jesus,” there is only the genuine Jesus—the Lord of history and eternity, the man who walked the earth in ancient Palestine, who died on a cross and who rose from the dead. Whoever we are, we must not take God’s name in vain or paint the one true Messiah in false colors that represent us more than him.

Jesus was not a man of means and social standing, for he stood outside the religious establishment. He was a traveling teacher, preacher, prophet, and healer, and he had nowhere to lay his head. He was accused of being possessed by demons—this one who cast out demons as no other ever did or will do. He knew what was in the heart of people, and he had no need for their acclaim to fulfill this mission, which was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus was no nationalist. He warned that his own nation, his own beloved people, would be judged once again for their refusal to recognize their day of visitation, their rejection of the Messiah. He claimed to have authority over every nation, calling them repent and have faith in him (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus was no racist. His ministry focused on his Jewish people, but encompassed others; and he commissioned his followers to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He spoke with and revealed his identity to a Samaritan women, a racial and social outcast to most Jews (John 4). Jesus is the man for others, all others. 

Jesus was no violent revolutionary (a zealot), otherwise his followers would have taken up the sword and stumped for political power over Rome. He said to render to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:18-23). The state is not God, and neither are his followers anarchists who want to burn it all down. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The way of Jesus is the the way of Cross—self-sacrifice, daring hope, and bold love. It does not burn down; it builds up. It does not hate, but makes the necessary sacrifices of love. It is not content with injustice; it works for justice, but justice with knowledge and wisdom. It eschews the irrational reflexes of unreflective rage for fits of rage are the work of the sinful fallen nature. (Galatians 5:20). 

There is no “your Jesus” or “my Jesus.” We must content with the real Jesus—now and at the gateway to Eternity. We can get Jesus wrong, and he warned of those who claimed to follow him who would be exposed as frauds at the Last Day. Listen to Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

We can only speak of “my Jesus” when we have made him Lord of our lives, when we have accepted his death on our behalf to forgive our sins and give us a new start on justice, wisdom, and love. Is “my Jesus” the real Jesus? Is “your Jesus” the real Jesus?

Joni Mitchell

Kathleen and I have been watching specials about and interviews with Joni Mitchell. I have been listening to her music, especially from her jazz period: “Shadows and Light” and “Mingus.” On the former, her band is Pat Metheny, guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keys, Don Alias on drums and percussion, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Let that sink in your consciousness. Better: let the music itself sink in. She has also recorded with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

One inept interviewer pivoted any time Joni said something philosophical, which was often. He was more concerned with her relationship to fame (which she hates) and her creative process. She is a painter and a poet and a songstress. As an artist, she had the courage to never rest on her laurels, which are considerable. Like John Coltrane, she restlessly seeks more.

As far as I can tell, she has a Buddhist worldview mixed with astrology and with an appreciation for Nietzsche, who she quotes from memory.. She said, “I’m doomed by astrology to be a deep thinker.” What a sad viewpoint. Astrology dooms no one, since God is the “lord of the star fields, Ancient of Days” (Bruce Cockburn). She is seething with words and images and music. Who knows, but I imagine her words-to-length-of-songs ratio is very high (at least in one period of her career) when compared to other singers. She says a lot about many matters, and always poetically.

Oh, Joni Mitchell! Your songs are our companions. Your voice is unparalleled. Your sorrows run deep. She said her basic message was “You’re on your own. And that’s OK.” But we aren’t, and thinking otherwise is not OK. One of her songs has the lyric, “We’re gonna raise up Jesus from the dead.” What an odd idea. Too late! He has been raised and he will come again, bringing his own with him in great glory, a glory that makes the majesty of Joni Mitchell’s voice seem as almost nothing.

I wish I had an hour–at least–to listen to and talk with Joni Mitchell–and not because she is famous or talented or beautiful. Of all her words, some have spoken of God or the church. In the 1980’s she was angry about “snake bite evangelists.” So was I. Of all her words, I cannot think of any that recognized, let alone worshiped, the God who gave her the gift of being “a deep thinker” and the gift of being a singer extraordinaire. But I don’t know here entire oeuvre—so many words, moods, textures, voices.

Perhaps, I really don’t know Joni Mitchell at all.

Spiritual Warfare and the Christian

No matter how dark the times, we should remember and celebrate that Jesus has indeed defeated Satan and the demonic hordes John declares that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8) Christ triumphed over sin, death and the devil by his crucifixion and resurrection (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:14–15). It is in his power that Christians wage their spiritual war as loyal soldiers of the risen King. Any other allegiance is to no avail. Our real enemy is invisible, but real.

Paul should inspire us in this. When opposed by false teachers seducing the Corinthian church, Paul wrote:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every prevention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5; emphasis added; see also Colossians 2:8-10).

Paul takes on false teaching, not in his own strength, but by wielding God’s weaponry. He is on the offensive. Confrontation with dark forces requires the same empowerment.

Because of Christ’s victory over Satan, James can say to Christians, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7–8). As we submit to Christ’s lordship we are given authority to scuttle Satan. Christians are no longer under “the dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). God alone has ultimate cosmic authority, and he teaches citizens of his kingdom to pray that his “kingdom [may] come . . on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). After his resurrection, Jesus charged the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” because he had “all authority in heaven and on earth” to make it happen (Matthew 28:18–20). He still does.

Jesus is Victor, but the victory is being progressively executed through his people. The outcome is sure, but the battle rages on. The German theologian Oscar Cullman likened Jesus’ crucifixion-resurrection victory to D-Day, the turning point of World War II when the victory of the Allied forces was assured. Yet from this decisive point until the actual end of the war in Europe (called V-E Day) the combat continued. The soldiers still fought, but with a renewed vision for victory. Such is the Christian’s position: all will be completed at Judgment Day, and so we should fight the good fight of faith today.

Paul gives us the essentials for Christian combat in Ephesians 6. He reiterates that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12). Therefore, he urges us to “stand [our] ground” by putting on “the full armor of God,” which includes (1) “the belt of truth”—a deep knowledge of God’s character and will as applied to our lives; (2) “the breastplate of righteousness”—a godly character; (3) “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”—a willingness to proclaim the gospel; (4) “the shield of faith”—the protection of complete trust in the Commander-in-Chief that “extinguish[es] all the flaming arrows of the evil one”; (5) “the helmet of salvation”—the assurance of a right relationship with God through faith in Christ; (6) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”—the offensive weapon of scriptural truth applied to all situations (See Hebrews 4:12). Paul also adds that we should “pray in the Spirit” that our spiritual suit of armor might not slip off due to lack of closeness to God.

Psalm 91 also offers rich assurance of the protection of the believer in the “shelter of the Most High” and in the “shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1). The psalmist later declares the believer’s power over evil: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (v 13; see also Romans 16:20).

The armor clad Christian is ready for encounters with the enemy, and there will be encounters any time the gospel is brought to bear on a Satanic stronghold such as the New Age movement Many involved in the New Age may not believe in Satan or may not consciously contact spirit guides or may have no overtly ill intentions, but inasmuch as they reject the gospel of Christ for a counterfeit gospel they are of their “father the devil” (John 8:44).

Acts 13:6–12 gives us an example of a confrontation between opposing spiritual powers, which might be called a “power encounter.” We see Paul confront an occult deceiver, “a sorcerer and false prophet” known as Bar-Jesus or Elymas We should remember that at that time the gospel was spreading like wildfire over the known world, as Jesus’ resurrected power was being unleashed in preaching, healing, signs and wonders. The kingdom of darkness was being displaced by the kingdom of God. Conflict necessarily ensued. Paul and Barnabas had come to Cyprus to preach the gospel. At Paphos they met a sorcerer who was “an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus” (v. 6). It was then common for political leaders to enlist occult assistance; and this was part of the demonic design that Jesus came to destroy. The proconsul sent for Paul and Barnabas because he was interested in the Word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer “opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith” (v 8). Perhaps he figured that if his superior were converted he would be out of a job Paul, filled with the Spirit, sprang into spiritual action. Staring down the official “secretary of sorcery,” he condemned him as a “child of the devil” hell-bent on “perverting the right ways of the Lord” (v. 10). Paul then pronounced that he would be shut up by being blinded for a time. He was. At this, the proconsul “believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (v. 12).

This power encounter manifests several critical points. First, the gospel was opposed by the sorcerer; spiritual warfare erupted. Second, Paul rose to the occasion, not by an outburst of human anger, but as he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then, and only then, did he have the authority to bind the evil attacker. Third, both the message and the miracle convinced Sergius Paulus, and he was converted. God’s power through God’s minister overcame the power of the enemy.

As Christians do battle with dark spiritual influences throughout Western culture they dare not forget that they are dealing with power encounters, not just interacting with ideas, individuals and events. We triumph “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4.6)

Adapted from Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (pp. 39-43). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.