Aug 21, 2012

When the Devil went down in Ephesus

by Dale Harris

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in Acts these days, and feeling like it's a book I’ve read a dozen times but never seen before. One of the episodes I find particularly fascinating is the account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus.

If you recall: the Holy Spirit arrives in Ephesus and in its wake we see stuff happening that would make the best of Frank Peretti look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Seven Sons of Sceva are beat black and blue by a demon-possessed man (19:14); dabblers in the occult perform public burnings of their paraphernalia (19:19); the silversmiths of a pagan goddess incite the mobs to riot (19:28). I mean: the Gospel’s beating the bushes and the demons are scattering like so many startled sparrows.

But Frank Peretti aside—and this is a point that I’ve never seen Frank Peretti address, or Screwtape, or Dr. Faustus for that matter—whatever else they're about, the Ephesian exorcisms are about issuing God's challenge to the oppressive economic structures that promote systemic evil.

For instance: it’s an assumption on my part, but not an outrageous one, that the Seven Sons of Sceva have set themselves up as Exorcists for Hire, and this is why their interview with the devil goes so painfully wrong (the fact that Sceva is styling himself as a ‘chief priest’ in Ephesus is highly suspect). Bob Larson leaps to mind, here.

And this isn’t an assumption but just a plain reading of the text: the economic value of the books burned in Acts 19:19 works out to about 136 years wages (say 6 million dollars?). A lot of Ephesians have sunk a lot of money into occult junk over the years.

And most telling of all: the reason Demetrius and his colleagues start a riot is because they’ve seen the economic writing on the wall:  if people abandon Artemis for Jesus, they’ll no longer need the silver images that are their stock and trade. I don’t suppose a good racket has ever died without a fight, and this must have been a lucrative racket:  Ephesus, you understand, was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient World.

I’m pointing this all out because if you want to take the Book of Acts seriously, you can’t escape the conclusion that confronting the demonic is on the Church’s to-do list. But if I were to write a “theology of exorcisms” based on the Book of Acts, one of the first chapters, I think, would deal with oppressive economic structures, the “powers and principalities” that exploit and dehumanize people in ways that seem so normal to us—even necessary—but are best understood as “demonic.” And then I would try to draw lines between what’s happening in Acts 19 and the Church’s call to both name and provide alternatives to these ways of doing business. Economic systems are by nature spiritual, I’d say, and economic structures are demonic when they make money ultimate and people a means to an end.

And then I’d brace myself.

But I’d also point out that in Acts 16 we see the same thing happening. Paul performs an exorcism (16:18), freeing a girl from demonic possession. But it’s not just a demon that's being excised here.  It's also the economic exploitation this girl's been suffering at the hands of her pimps. Because when the men who made their living off her “prophetic utterances” find out that their “hope of profit is gone," Acts says, that’s when the metaphorical excrement hits the proverbial air-circulation device.

By Acts’ reckoning, it seems: helping the vulnerable escape economic exploitation—girls the sex trade, say—or children the sweatshop—or workers the tyranny of the bottom line—or shop-a-holics the clutches of Mastercard—by Acts reckoning, at least, these are all ministries of exorcism with the potential to raise hell.

Aug 7, 2012

Great Introduction to Paul (& Christian Thought)

by John Vlainic

N. T. Wright has a relatively small, readable survey, Paul In Fresh Perspective (Fortress Press, 2005). This one is not for those who love exploring footnotes. But it does contain many careful distinctions about Pauline and Christian thought.

As with Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, this book is extremely helpful in getting at the “big picture” of the whole of scripture, even while it touches on many particulars.

Wright provides (gracious) corrections to popular teachings among evangelicals (and many Free Methodists too??). Here are some of them, posed as questions.

CROSS: What “freight does the word “CROSS” cary for Paul?

ELECTION: How has Paul reshaped and reworked the election of Israel?

JUSTIFICATION: Does Paul use “justification” to refer to how a person gets saved, or to something else?

HOLY LAND: What does Paul understand as “Holy Land” now? Has the old covenant to Israel been replaced?

RAPTURE: What did Paul mean in his one use of a “rapture” image for when Christ appears?

APOCALYPTIC: What is “apocalyptic” and how does Paul use it?

PISTIS CHRISTOU: Does Paul think we are justified by “faith in Christ” or by “the faithfulness of Christ”? [e.g. Galatians 2:16]

JESUS AND PAUL: Different or same or ________?

CHRIST AND THE EMPIRE: How would Paul feel about our passive, relatively submissive reading of Roman 13? What does the Gospel say to pagan culture?

ETHICS: How does Paul understand ethics for Christians – rules to be kept?



1 Paul's World, Paul's Legacy
.....1. The Three Worlds of Paul
.....2. Fighting over Paul's Legacy: Perspectives Old, New and Different

2 Creation and Covenant
.....1. Creation and Covenant in the Old Testament
.....2. Paul: Three Central Passages
..........(i) Colossians 1.15-20
..........(ii) 1 Corinthians 15
..........(iii) Romans 1-11 3. Evil and Grace, Plight and Solution
.....4. Conclusion: Jesus within Creation and Covenant

3 Messiah and Apocalyptic
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jesus as Messiah in Paul
.....3. Apocalyptic in Paul

4 Gospel and Empire
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Caesar's Empire and Its Ideology
.....3. Jewish Critique of Pagan Empire
.....4. Paul's Counter-Imperial Theology
.....5. Conclusion

5 Rethinking God
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Monotheism: The Jewish Roots
.....3. Monotheism and Christology
.....4. Monotheism and the Spirit
.....5. Scriptural Roots, Pagan Targets, Practical Work
.....6. Conclusion

6 Reworking God's People
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Election: Jewish Views of God's People
.....3. Election Reshaped around Jesus
.....4. Election Reworked around the Spirit
.....5. Redefinition of Election Rooted in Scripture
6. Conclusion

7 Reimagining God's Future
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jewish Eschatology in the First Century
.....3. Eschatology Reimagined around the Messiah
.....4. Eschatology Reimagined around the Spirit
.....5. Eschatology in Context
.....6. Conclusion

8 Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jesus and Paul
.....3. The Work of an Apostle
..........a. Servant, apostle, set apart
..........b. Redefinitions in practice
.....4. Conclusion: Paul and the Task of the Church

Notes / Bibliography / Indexes