involvement in international missions efforts raises some nagging questions:
*What is the eternal condition of those who die without hearing of Jesus?
*How should Christ-followers relate to those of different faiths?
*Why are there so many different religions? Do they serve any purpose? Can truth be found in them?
*How can a Christ-follower explain the checkered history of Christianity to an adherent of another religion?
*Do short-term mission efforts actually do more harm or create more confusion that is necessary? (See the preceding blog)
A recent book seeks to answer the “why has God allowed different religions?” question. God’s Rivals, written by Gerald R. McDermott (publisher is IVP) gives insights from the Scriptures and the early church.
One of the subjects he explores is the “principalities and powers” statements of Paul. McDermott explains:
The book’s premise is that for many of the biblical authors, and especially for the early church theologians, the major world religions are not simply human constructs but real spiritual entities. They represent, at least in part, fallen supernatural powers that reflect both light and darkness. I go on to discuss the implications of these views for today’s Christians who struggle to know how to understand other religions.
He writes a summary of his conclusions:
The cosmos is full of intermediate powers that were created good by God, but which at some point turned against God and are now actively hostile. Yet their power was broken at the cross, and God is now using them, even as they fight ferociously against his kingdom to advance his own larger agenda. They will finally be defeated at the end of time.
1. God has filled the universe with invisible beings. Sometimes they are called “gods” or “elementary principles” or “powers” or “holy ones” or “heavenly council.” They are real and have genuine power to affect what happens on earth. They are “intermediate” in that they exist between the Almighty and his human creatures.
2. These beings are both good and bad. Some has fallen – he does not delve into how or when or why. They are our foes. They conspire against God’s people and his kingdom. Paul sees these spiritual powers as responsible for killing Jesus (1 Cor. 2:6-8)
3. On the cross, Jesus achieved a cosmic victory. He is Christus Victor! The malevolent powers are defeated enemies, led in triumphal process as humiliated and broken enemies. Christ-followers are protected against the powers’ worst plans, which are to separate them from Christ. This is great news – Jesus can handle the demons that threaten and torture and enslave and kill.
4. We live in the “time between the times.” The powers are defeated but still fighting. They are at work among those who are disobedient (Eph. 2:2). An analogy helps: After the June 1944 invasion of Normandy, the Axis powers knew they were, for all practical purposes, defeated. The question was not “if” but “when” they would be forced to surrender. Knowing this, they continued to fight – for almost a year. More American and British soldiers died after D-Day than before. McDermott writes,
Although the cross defeated Satan and the powers, they have done more harm to more people in history since that time than before. But they were defeated nonetheless, and the final manifestation of that defeat will come one day in the future.
5. God is using the powers. This is the amazing thing – their opposition actually serves God’s ultimate purpose. I saw firsthand the spiritual hunger and heard the unanswered questions among Muslims after the Tsunami in Indonesia. Islam prepared some to seek the Truth. Legalistic religions (and which religion apart from Biblical Christianity is not legalistic?) act as God’s attorney, accusing people of their sins. God uses the tyranny of the law to prepare for grace. Take another example (first articulated by John Piper, I think). Did the havoc and violence of 9-11 cause millions of unhappy Hindus in India to consider embracing Christianity rather than Islam? What Satan means for evil, God means for good.
6. The powers do their dirty work now, but they will not be able to do it forever. When Jesus returns and present world comes to an end, judgment will come to all, including the powers. They will be condemned, put under the feet of Jesus, and thrown into hell.