Friday, January 14, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Tearing Down Strongholds

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

[Editor’s note: When we were young we used to play road hockey. Now we do this. I missed out on this particular email discussion, but I thought the rest of you might enjoy it as much as I did when I woke up to find it in my inbox. And yes, I got called out for not participating, but these days I will take sleep whenever I can get it.]

Bernie: Okay, bear with me ...

Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 10:

“Now I, Paul, appeal to you personally by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (I who am meek when present among you, but am full of courage toward you when away!) — now I ask that when I am present I may not have to be bold with the confidence that (I expect) I will dare to use against some who consider us to be behaving according to human standards. For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.”

Paul says the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons (“not fleshly weapons” in some translations).

Spoiling for an Argument

The apostle appears to be spoiling for a theological / philosophical contest with his detractors. He’s not worried — his opponents have made the mistake of thinking they have the ability to compete in the realm of ideas with Paul using ‘fleshly’ tools — they think that’s what he is using too. But he’s not. He’s got the philosophical equivalent of tactical nukes. And when he deploys the spiritual weapons he’s got at his disposal, they will “tear down strongholds”. NASB has it as “destruction of fortresses”. Paul isn’t talking about a contest between equals where his hope is that he will end up ‘putting a pebble in their shoes’, he’s not talking about ‘giving them something to think about’, he’s saying that their faulty philosophical / theological ideas are going to get reduced to dust.

So, what are these “weapons” of which he speaks? He doesn’t enumerate them here in the passage. But I’d like to take a quasi-speculative run at the inventory of weapons Paul references and — in theory — the weapons you and I might also have at our disposal. These weapons are manifestly NOT what the world might use to win a philosophical contest — no straw men, no empty witticisms, no ad hominem; it’s not that sort of thing. It’s something different, something unusual.

Truth, Hope and the Judgment

How about this as an example of the first weapon: truth. Paul has it, they don’t. There’s a lot to be said about that. If you have any loose thoughts on the subject of truth as a weapon, they’re welcome. I have some biblical examples in mind but you probably have better ones — and I’m not against borrowing from the best.

I have a few additional ideas — weapons that the Christian can/should access that demolish the world’s ideas and philosophies. I think — frankly — hope is another characteristic Christian hallmark that is caustic to the modern mindset and experience.

Immanuel Can: Got one right away:

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed …”

The judgment.

We know it’s coming. So, in their heart of hearts, do all men.

Eating Their Neckties

I’ve found two sayings that make atheists eat their neckties: one is “You’ve always known there is a God.” They always secretly have. The other is “Justice is coming.” They hate both, they cringe at both, they deny both, but they fear both. They know. We all know. Judgment’s coming. Even the atheist’s sneering cry, “Oh yeah? Where is justice?” amounts to their tacit recognition that justice must come. And in their darkest moments, they fear it’s coming for them ... which, of course, it is.

Yeah, that’s the nuclear option. If you want to hear a hot discussion dry up fast, just pull that one out.

And we have it.

On a further note, do I need to mention that we have Christ?

Christ as a Weapon

Bernie: Yes, yes, yes ... a thousand times yes.

And the punchline to all of these weapons is, as you rightly note, this:

Truth is a person.
Hope is a person.
Judgment is a person.

You sense, perhaps, a theme emerging.

IC: And righteousness is a person.

My expertise is in the field of ethics. Here’s what I can tell you about that. The field of secular ethics has a serious problem. It’s called legitimation. That is, it has a whole bunch of theories of how one might describe what “the good” or “the right” is, but none of them is without serious holes; and even more crucially, there is no means of proving which one of them — if any — is the legitimate one, the master-scheme, the one that ought to be employed in the judging of any other. So, secular ethics has no trustworthy and non-contradictory account of what “good” is, or what a “right-living” person looks like.

A Full Description

Christians have a full description of righteousness. It’s not just that things like the laws, commandments, prophecies, kings, and other pictures in the Bible give us a sketch of the character of God (though, of course, they do); it’s that we have the embodied reality of lived righteousness made flesh and walking among us:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Notice that the “his” in the last clause is italicized, because it’s not in the original. He spoke “in Son.” Son is the language God speaks when he wants to express the totality of who he is. The Son is the logos of God, and also his perfect representation, his “express image”.

So what do we have that the world does not? A perfect moral compass point. Christ is the true north of morality. And we know this because his status is legitimized by God the Father himself, who created all things through the Son.

Okay, enough for now.

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