He had the very best money could by. With his high education, his father had hoped that he could advance to a position of wealth and prestige. Yet before even turning 22, this young man’s life was changed forever. The story, as it is often told, is of this young man trapped outside during an electrical storm – an experience he would later compare to Saul’s Damascus conversion.
This post is mainly because someone referenced a previous post where I did something similar, and was wondering if I’d be doing it again. Plus, I just saw Jesse Buchman’s post about “Book Challenge 2012,” so I figure if all the cool people are doing it…
During the summer months I like to take a step back and read pretty broadly. So this isn’t a “recommended” book list or anything, just a list of books that are on my own personal reading list for this summer. I doubt I’ll get to all of them; I’ll leave that up to the availability at the local library.
Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow. Wendell Berry has become the posterchild for hipster fiction. I don’t know that I qualify as a hipster; I’m mainly just appreciative of his lucid yet poetic writing style and ability to tell a good story.
Stephen King, Salem’s Lot. This is one of King’s earliest works and arguably his best. Yes, I’m re-reading it. It’s a postmodern novel, where the malaise of the 1960’s gets translated into a series of vampire attacks in small town America. But I mainly love it for King’s excellent command of metaphor and a literary style I don’t think he ever improved upon.
Chuck Dixon et al, Batman: Knightfall. Yes; it’s a comic book, at least some of which I read when I was younger. I just wanted to revisit the story of Bane before the next Nolan installment.
Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games trilogy. Had to see what the fuss was about, especially since I’ve been told that this series has replaced guys like Orwell and Huxley in some public school classrooms.
John Steinbeck, To a God Unknown. Steinbeck has been a long-term favorite, so I was surprised that I only recently learned that this novel existed. From what I gather, the short novel explores the way that faith affects different people, so it should be good food for thought.
Samuel Beckett, Molloy. Godot aside, I haven’t read much from Beckett, so I figured I’d dive into Molloy at some point this summer.
Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet. Coupland is a recent favorite. This novel continues some of the themes in Coupland’s groundbreaking Generation X. Coupland has always had a knack for describing our postmodern culture with both humor and a strange form of sincerity, and though some form of atheist, his works contain some surprising insights on human spirituality.
Chris Bachelder, Bear vs. Shark. No, not the band. This is a satirical novel about a family on the road to a game show where the audience watches a bear fighting a shark. This has been on my reading list for years…do you have to ask why?
Rob Stennett, The End is Now. I don’t read a lot of “Christian fiction,” so I was appreciative that one author was doing Christian satire. This novel is a parody of Christian end-times novels. The satirical nature can be a bit biting, but that’s part of the fun.
Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why. A recent young adult bestseller about a girl listing her reasons for suicide. The book’s multiple awards and potential film adaptation sparked my curiosity.
Sharon Draper, Out of my Mind. Another young adult novel. This one’s about the power of the human mind in the life of someone with a disability.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Just re-reading it before the movie ruins everything. I suggest you do the same.
Arthur C. Clarke, Rama series. With Prometheus in theaters this summer, I found myself wanting good sci-fi. Clarke always delivers. I’d read this series in college, but thought it’d be worth revisiting.
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Ok, sue me for not having read this by now. But I’m going to. I promise.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird. A book about writing – which sounds boring, I know, but Lamott is just too much fun to put down. Besides, anyone who writes needs to read a book or three about the writing process.
Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. This is a book about how Hollywood was shaped during the 1970’s. I like learning how the arts shape our culture (and vice versa), but I don’t necessarily like watching lots of movies, so I appreciate books like this for helping me understand history in a concise and enjoyable way.
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Million Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. No, I’m not re-reading it. I seriously just haven’t gotten around to it yet, ok? Ok. With Blue Like Jazz in theaters this summer, I finally decided to pull it off the shelf (yes, I even own it…) and give it a read.
Robert M. Poole, On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. No idea how I heard about this book, but as a Maryland resident I thought it wise to read up on a landmark that is local in geography, yet nationwide in its impact.
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite writers and historical figures. This biography attracted widespread attention on its release. While I’m familiar with his life, I’m looking forward to learning the details.
Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Bill Bryson is a genius. I really don’t know anyone who can write so broadly. This book discusses the history of the American “home.” I’m not a huge history guy, but Bryson I can’t put down.
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind Lord of the Rings. Don’t forget that The Hobbit comes out in theaters within the next year. Kreeft is an excellent philosopher, who better than most can unpack the various themes in Tolkien’s series.
Toby Lebster, Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image. I’ve always wanted to learn more about Da Vinci, so I was pleased to see this on an Amazon bestseller list.
William Irwin, ed. Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery. Philosophy? Check. Heavy Metal? Check. You either get it or you don’t. Having grown up listening to metal, I’m deeply curious. I’m just hoping they stick to the band’s pre-“Black” era…
Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven: Rock ‘N Roll and the Search for Redemption. Turner is one of the best entertainment writers around – some may know his work from when he was on staff with the Rolling Stone. He always has a very incisive look at the spiritual dimensions of the music world, so while this book is more than a decade old, I’m excited to hear his analysis.
Tom Farley and Tanner Colby, The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. This was a recommendation from a friend of mine, so it better be good.
Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. My church will be doing a series to parallel the hype of the whole Mayan calendar thing. So I figured I’d take a look at Boyer’s excellent history of the way end-times predictions have influenced our culture.
In addition to climbing to the top of the bestseller lists, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey (the first in a trilogy) is attracting attention from those alarmed not only by the book’s sexual content, but by the fact that the book’s audience is predominantly composed of young adult women.
In fairness, I have not read the book. I was most thoroughly exposed to its themes in a recent article by Jenny Rae Armstrong. She quotes from ABC News, who summarizes the book in this way:
Anastasia Steele, 21, and a virginal college student, can’t say no to dashing 27-year-old Christian Grey, who insists she sign a contract that allows him to submit her to his every sadomasochistic whim. In their first sexual encounter, Grey unveils his silver tie and binds her wrists in knots, and Steele does as she is told. He is also fabulously rich, a telecommunications tycoon, and uses his wealth to take care of her like a pampered princess. “Ana,” as he calls her, willingly and excitedly agrees to spanking, whipping and gagging, with props like ice, rope, tape–a repertoire right out of a BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission) manual. Grey instructs her to call him “sir,” and sets rules on everything from her diet to her most intimate grooming routines.
Armstrong’s excellent article aimed to address the central question: “Why do women fantasize about abuse?” She concluded that the complexity of female sexuality does not yield one reason, but the appeal arises from a woman’s emotional, psychological, and even physiological makeup.
With so much to appreciate in Armstrong’s thorough evaluation, I can add nothing here. And while I suspect the book’s content has prompted many to adopt a posture of avoidance, as a pastor I believe that the cultural impact prevents such works from merely being ignored or condemned. For if history be our test tube, this series of novels (and their inevitable film adaptations) will continue to captivate the hearts and imagination of young women, just as other series have done in the recent past. Commenting on the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, youth expert Walt Mueller observes that young adults “will watch it, chew on it, process it, and digest it with or without us. The latter option offers us a great opportunity to talk about the bigger story—God’s story—and the things that really matter.”
I suspect that many struggle to see how to connect God’s story to BDSM erotica, and I’m personally grieved that such a response is even necessary. Nevertheless, I believe that the gospel has meaningful things to say to every situation, even the places that seem the darkest – and perhaps there especially so.
And so I write for pastors, parents, youth workers, and anyone else struggling to find ways to connect to the young women who have invested their hearts in these novels. My aim is to provide a gospel-centered response to the themes raised by 50 Shades of Grey, and hopefully equip readers with the means to connect the gospel to James’ growing readership.
JUDGES 19: WHEN PEOPLE BECOME PROPERTY
Sadly, sexual brokenness is nothing new, as even the pages of scripture reveal. We find a particularly horrific scene in Judges 19. The details are sparse, yet graphic. We are presented with two principle characters: a Levite and his concubine. No names are given, perhaps in part to underline the dehumanizing character of the story that follows. In a later verse, the man is described as her ‘adon, her “master” (19:27). Maybe this isn’t exactly parallel to the “master” language of the BDSM world, but in both cases the term is rooted in the same dehumanizing impulse. She’s not a person; she’s property.
When the concubine leaves him, he’s in no hurry to retrieve her. Four months go by before we find the couple sitting in her father’s home. Though initially receptive of her family’s hospitality, the man foolishly decides to set out for home, seeming to ignore the fact that he has more miles ahead of him than available daylight. But when darkness descends upon them, the man refuses to stay in a community of Canaanites, pressing onward to the security of an Israelite community. But it is there, while a guest in someone’s home, that they experience the opposite end of the hospitality spectrum. The pounding on the door will not stop until the gang of men can find a body to slake their desire, their eyes set on the male houseguest they had just seen enter town. In a perverse act of self-defense, the man shoves his concubine into the street, where she is gang-raped until morning.
The story’s saddest detail is revealed the next morning, when the morning’s soft rays of light fall on the woman’s frail fingers, her hand extended toward the doorway, reaching for help that never came, longing for the security her husband never gave.
“Get up,” he says. But she is unresponsive. He slings her on the back of her donkey to finish the journey home – he has one final use for her body. He slices her into pieces, distributing them around the nation of Israel as a symbol of the unprecedented barbarism. If you read the final chapters in Judges, you see that this incident quickly escalates to the tribal, and then the national level.
“…BECAUSE OF THE SPLENDOR I BESTOWED…”
Is this merely an isolated incident? A by-product of an androcentric, patriarchal society? Such modern objections seem to overlook the original author’s intent. The nameless characters serve not only to underscore the dehumanizing nature of the sexual depravity, but also to serve as a warning for all of Israel: left to his own devices, every man in Israel is capable of this level of cruelty. The story is set not in a pagan community, but in the perceived safety of an Israelite town. In a story hauntingly similar to that of Sodom, Israel is forced to admit that they could no longer presume that the dangers were isolated to the world “out there” – in Canaan. They were realities that lurk within each and every human heart.
And so it is with 50 Shades of Grey and our own sexual brokenness. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the line between sexual purity and brokenness cannot be drawn between the covers of a book or the covers on our beds, but through our very hearts.
If we read Israel’s story, we know that this was the case for the nation as a whole, whose disobedience was often described in terms of sexual promiscuity. When Israel turns from God to ally herself with Babylonian culture, it is described in language that might even make Anastasia Steele blush: “she lustfully exposed her nakedness…she increased her prostitution…she lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions” (Ezekiel 23:18-20).
But despite Israel’s disobedience, God has consistently responded to His people with matchless devotion. Ezekiel also describes God’s devotion to His people as a bride adorned with jewelry:
“‘Then I passed by you and watched you, noticing that you had reached the age for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness. I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you, declares the sovereign LORD, and you became mine. 9 “‘Then I bathed you in water, washed the blood off you, and anointed you with fragrant oil. 10 I dressed you in embroidered clothing and put fine leather sandals on your feet. I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with jewelry. I put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12 I put a ring in your nose, earrings on your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidery. You ate the finest flour, honey, and olive oil. You became extremely beautiful and attained the position of royalty. 14 Your fame spread among the nations because of your beauty; your beauty was perfect because of the splendor which I bestowed on you, declares the sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 16:8-14)
Israel would be beautiful not of her own merits, but “because of the splendor that [God] bestowed” upon her. Years later, the apostle Paul would write that the Church is the “bride of Christ,” for whom Christ gave Himself through the cross.
The Levite sacrificed his bride to save himself. Christ sacrificed himself to save His Bride.
FORMED THROUGH DEFORMITY
Though not rooted in romantic love, Christ’s sacrificial love for a wayward people forms the basis for romantic relationships, most fully expressed in the sacred and beautiful promise of marriage:
25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious– not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
To call the love expressed in 50 Shades of Grey a cheap counterfeit seems almost too generous. The degradation that undergirds BDSM culture is the complete opposite of the beauty and wonder of God-given sexuality. Ironically, the lead character of 50 Shades is named Anastasia, a name meaning “resurrection.” But such a title hardly seems to fit the dehumanizing treatment that so vexingly allures her. Humanity is made of equal complements – male and female – to debase ourselves in acts domination and submission moves us further from our God-given humanity. The gospel is about becoming more human; BDSM is about becoming less.
Armstrong’s article suggests that women are allured by abuse fantasy for a multiplicity of reasons, but I believe that the gospel speaks in a meaningful way to each of those reasons (and here you’ll notice I borrow Armstrong’s language). To the woman struggling with the past trauma, Christ offers wholeness and healing. To the woman struggling to “rescue the beast,” Christ offers safety and security. To the woman struggling with “pleasant–if guilt-ridden–feelings of sexual arousal,” Christ offers complete transformation. And to the woman struggling to understand her own complexity, Christ offers to walk beside you and show you the depth and beauty of His love.
“The deformity of Christ forms you,” wrote St. Augustine. “In this life, therefore, let us hold fast to the deformed Christ.” Holding fast to the deformed Christ means finding something in Him that cannot be found through mere literary escapism.
The gospel reminds us that while the Levite sacrificed his bride to save Himself, Jesus sacrificed Himself to save His bride. The Levite tore his bride to pieces; Jesus is continually putting His bride back together. The Levite’s concubine extended her hand for help that never came.
On the cross, Jesus reaches through the 50 shades of grey to extend a scarred hand stained by a singular shade of red. From cradle to the grave, His humble life and sacrificial death tell us that whatever our struggles, the answer can never be an absence of love, and His open grave and promise of return tell us that the answer can never be an absence of hope.
In closing, I’ll recommend the excellent book Rid of my Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb.
The bulk of this blog post is dedicated to the questions that were submitted via text message at Tri-State Fellowship on Sunday, May 20.
This series has focused on the “Unseen” forces around us. In the 1960’s, sociologist Peter Berger wrote a short book called A Rumor of Angels. In it he suggested that we would be approaching an era in which people renew their interest in spirituality and the supernatural.
His words proved to be prophetic, especially in the areas of meaning and suffering. In his massive work A Secular Age, Charles Taylor observes that historically, the rise of the scientific and social revolutions in Europe were equally marked by a rise in superstition and fear: “The hunt for witches steadily escalated. Heretics were more vigorously hunted down. Fear of vagabonds increased.” This is in part, he suggests, because of the plagues and the suffering that Europe had lived through in previous years. Turning to the supernatural is thus a pattern of human behavior in terms of suffering. In Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought, she observes that in the wake of World War II, there was a renewed interest in the writings of Marquis de Sade, a writer known for the bizarre ways he blended together erotic romance and supernatural horror. And this is also why in the years since 9/11 there has been an explosion of horror movies and supernatural thrillers.
I was reminded of this when I saw the music video for “The Day,” the first single off of the latest album by pop star Moby. Though the song is about the death of his mother, the video depicts her battle in terms of the metaphysical, spiritual plane. Thus the video blurs the boundaries between the sacred and secular: the clinical walls of the hospital spring to life with images and colors borrowed from art of the neo-classical period. A nurse is an avenging angel, slaying demons to a synth-pop soundtrack.
Now, the goal here isn’t to sort through the theological accuracy of what’s being depicted here. But isn’t fascinating that when something so deeply personal happens such as the death of a loved one, the only language our culture can find is a deeply spiritual one? Perhaps this world is not as “safely” secular as we may think…
Now, on to our questions. These are attempts at answers, found only in submission to the revealed Word of God.
(1) Can we contact the dead? Is there such a thing as ghosts?
Our culture seems fascinated by this type of activity – from the (now-canceled) “Crossing Over” with Jonathan Edwards to the reality show “Ghosthunters,” people are seeking to find meaning in exploring these spiritual boundaries.
If we examine scripture, we find no evidence of actual ghosts. The closest we have is in 1 Samuel 28, when King Saul contacts a witch who conjures up the image of Samuel. Nothing in the text leads us to believe this is anything other than Samuel – he seems to know what’s going on, and his advice harmonizes with God’s plan, something we wouldn’t expect from demonic activity. But let’s be clear – we’re not meant to see this as a positive experience in the life of Saul. God specifically warns His people not to contact spiritists and witches (Deuteronomy 18:11; Leviticus 19:31). Which means this: God may have allowed this to happen in this instance, but His normative activity is to not allow the living to contact the dead, or vice versa. If Satan can masquerade as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), who’s to say who you’re really contacting?
Scripture teaches “absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). With the exception of this incident in 1 Samuel, there are no other examples of the dead visiting the living. God’s plan is not to find loopholes to cheat death, but to reverse it through literal, physical resurrection, of which His Son is the first true example (1 Corinthians 15:20,23).
But people really do believe in ghosts. In his book One Minute After You Die, Erwin Lutzer speculates that – if there are ghosts at all – what we call a “ghost” is actually the lingering presence of demonic activity. A person is possessed , the person dies, and the demons remain.
But couldn’t this also be culturally conditioned? Here’s what I mean by that: in the book of Acts, Peter is captured. His close friends apparently presume him dead. So when Peter shows up and knocks on their door, they speculate that “maybe it’s his angel” (Acts 12:15). Apparently, in the first century culture they believed you could either return as an angel, or that your “guardian angel” looks like you. Here’s what that tells us: every culture has their own set of “folk” stories about the afterlife. In Acts, it was angels. In our day, we appeal to ghosts. But the Bible speaks to all cultures even as it transcends them. Which would you rather trust in: the words of God that have stood the test of time, or the various folk legends that come and go?
(2) What do we do if we think someone might be possessed?
I believe Paul addressed this very well from the stage: How much would it matter? Evil runs rampant in the world and in the human heart. Surely we are to pray diligently for the people in our lives, community, and world.
Part of this discussion centers around the fact that we can’t, at least on our own, do much of anything but pray. All the movies show the daring priest trying to speak to the demon, trying to cast it out (“the power of Christ compels you” kind of a thing). But we’re definitely not strong enough to defeat evil of this magnitude. We rely instead on Christ’s power.
But maybe that means if a person is dangerous or violent we literally don’t stick around long enough to get caught in evil’s wake, or, in other cases, to get caught in their cycles of addictive, self-destructive behavior.
In all things, we can rely on a God who promises to subdue evil once and for all time. The same gospel that provides us hope also has the power to conquer evil.
(3) If God is good, why does evil seem to continue winning?
This is not a terribly new question, nor is it anything less than a deeply human one. The prophet Habakkuk looked at the evil around him and offered this prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
Evil affects us socially as well as personally. The sad truth is that even in Christianity we truly do want the very best life here and now, and often God’s goodness becomes measured in terms of our immediate happiness.
For literally centuries people have pondered this question. Evil obviously exists, and God seems to let it happen. Which means one of two things: either God doesn’t care about evil, or God is powerless to stop it. Right?
The Bible is filled with people who asked these types of questions. Even if the Bible doesn’t give us a complete or at least a satisfying answer to this question, the Bible at least tells us what the answer is not. The cross teaches us that the answer can’t be that God doesn’t love us, because He sent His only Son to endure suffering and brokenness the likes of which we can’t imagine. The resurrection teaches us that the answer can’t be that God isn’t all powerful, because Jesus reversed the effects of evil in conquering death.
Scripture tells us that eventually, God truly does win. Yes, darkness exists. But God will one day let His light shine through.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings series, we see a group of characters who undergo incredible hardship over the fate of the ring of power. Two of the lead characters, Frodo and Sam, watch in horror as Gandalf, their leader and mentor, sacrifices himself to ensure their safety.
Just after the climax of the third book, Frodo and Sam are reunited with Gandalf – much to their surprise. “Gandalf!” Sam cries. “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer that Jesus offers in the book of Revelation is essentially “yes.” God is weaving together a story where all of creation’s brokenness comes undone in the fullness of God’s created world. The effects of sin – namely sorrow and death – are reversed. We are all resurrected to enjoy the world like never before.
Which means that at present, we experience a peculiar mixture of suffering and joy. We greet hardship not with clenched fists but with shed tears. In his book In his book How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong? Christian psychologist Lewis Smedes wrote:
‘Joy also has to be compatible with the pain within me. To promise joy without pain is Pollyannaism, make-believe, deceit. Legitimate joy must be the experience of joy along with pain. And it seems to be possible. Maybe there is more joy in Watts than in Palm Springs. Maybe joy is more real and lodged in the interstices of pain than as the climax of a pleasure trip. Maybe joy in this life always has to be ‘in spite’ of something. The joy of a person with an inoperable brain tumor can be infinitely deeper than the thrill of a birdie on the eighteenth hole.’
(4) How far does Satan’s power extend? To the extent of creating the Bible?
The French philosopher Baudelaire once said that “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” If we look at Satan’s activity through the lens of scripture, we see that one of his greatest tactics is to come disguised as something good (“You will not surely die! You will become like God”).
So let’s stop and think for a second: if Satan wanted to create a Bible, why would he include such harsh treatment of himself? Why include himself at all? Wouldn’t it be far more advantageous to try and suggest that evil is less pervasive than it actually is, or that God is far less Holy? Nothing in the Bible benefits the devil. Everything in the Bible glorifies God.
We’ll look at Satan’s actual power in the next question:
(5) Can Satan read our thoughts?
Remember that Satan is essentially an angel – albeit a fallen one. Angels are never revealed as having the same powers as God, which means that he does not seem to have the power to read a person’s thoughts – only God can do this:
1 Corinthians 2:11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
Likewise, Satan’s knowledge is limited. Only God is in possession of limitless knowledge. Satan cannot know the future.
But think about it: Satan has been at this a lot longer than any of us. No one knows human behavior better having witnessed it for no fewer than 6,000 years. Have you ever worked a job so long you can almost tell what’s going to happen on any given day? Teachers always know when their classrooms will be harder to control – around major holidays, threats of snow, etc. In other words, maybe Satan also knows the circumstances in our lives and can predict our reactions remarkably well. Why else would he have been so confident about tempting Job?
A related question is whether Satan can be everywhere at once. If he does not know everything, and has to rely on gathered information, then how can he keep track of the over 6 billion human beings on earth right now?
Angels cannot be everywhere, because they are limited, finite beings. This means that Satan cannot be everywhere.
But he has an untold number of demons in his loyal service. Whether there are enough demons to cover the entire human race, we don’t know. But he seems to have enough to have his “eyes and ears.”
(6) I’ve been told we should not say Satan’s name aloud as this pleases him. How can we verbally rebuke Satan without being fearful of specifically rebuking him?
I’m not sure that there’s anywhere in scripture that suggests we avoid using Satan’s name. Various cultures have historically suggested that there is power in speaking the name of an evil entity – this is actually the basis for calling Voldemort “He who shall not be named” in the Harry Potter series.
We’re told in Ephesians 6:10ff that we should be “strong in the Lord” and to “stand” or “withstand.” We’re never told to go on the offensive against Satan – Jesus has already done this through the cross (Col 2:15). The armor reflects God’s character, and is given to us so that we can be assured of our connection to God when we endure spiritual attack. So if we feel Satan’s power through temptation or condemnation, we let our minds be consumed with what Christ has done for us.
(7) Do you think as a church body we pray against the work of the devil enough?
I’m actually unclear as to what we mean by “enough.” Enough for what? To avoid temptation? To fulfill God’s mission? Both?
I’ll answer the question I suspect is behind this one: Can we as a church become more aware of the reality of unseen spiritual forces? Yes; that was largely the impetus behind this teaching series.
But in what capacity do we “pray against the work of the devil?” When modeling prayer for His disciples, Jesus used the line, “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). But even if your translation specifies “the evil one,” it’s still not an actual prayer against the devil as much as it remains a prayer designed to align our hearts with God’s.
(8) If there is no sin in heaven then how did Satan defy God?
This is a hard question. We’ve been assuming that Isaiah 14 describes not only the pride of ancient kings, but also the origin of Satan as well. How could God’s Kingdom not be enough?
It seems that the angels had the ability to choose something besides God. God’s goodness was violated – you might rightly call it sin. But sin can’t exist in God’s presence, so Satan and His angels were forcibly ejected.
Usually this question is also asking this: Could it happen again? How can we be sure that we won’t one day rebel against God?
Well, God promises that it won’t happen. God’s laws one day will be written on each and every human heart (Jeremiah 32:29). Does that mean our ability to choose will be eradicated? I have to confess I’m not sure. The reformers affirmed that in heaven, we will no longer have the ability to sin. But maybe this means that we will no longer have the desire.
Think of it this way: If I put Coke and Pepsi in front of you, the only thing dictating which you choose is your own desire. But what if I put a computer chip in your head that, if you try and choose Pepsi, you are forced to choose Coke instead. Are you free to choose Pepsi? No. But are you free to choose Coke? Yes. Why? Because this is a choice you make regardless of the computer chip, meaning the computer chip was never even necessary. In other words, maybe God doesn’t need to control you and prevent you from doing “bad;” maybe you always want the good. And maybe it’s an easier choice to make now that we know the horrific alternative.
And we haven’t even touched on the fact that angels are not human. We
(9) Can demonic activity be localized to particular geographic areas?
This isn’t just a question of “haunted” houses – many cultures believe in what are known as “territorial spirits,” dating back to the era of the ancient Sumerian cults. Most generally agree that in the religious world of both Jews and surrounding nations, there seems to be evidence in the belief that demonic spirits can inhabit specific places. Those who argue this position do so by appealing to such texts as Deuteronomy 32:8 (which talks about Israel’s borders), Ephesians 6:12 (which talks about powers and principalities), Acts 13:6-12 (which describes the encounter with a magician), and Daniel 10:10-21 (which describes the conflict between Michael and “the prince of Persia”). None of these texts are particularly convincing however; I suspect that if you look them up you’d be confused why anyone would draw these kinds of conclusions.
Scripture alone simply does not support this idea. In his 1995 article “Territorial Spirits Reconsidered” in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, David Greenlee writes:
“…despite the presence of territorial spirits in the belief system of both Jews and Gentiles, a phenomenological reality, they are not recognized ontologically nor do we find clear examples of Jesus or any Christian [both in scripture or the early church] engaging in prayer or otherwise acting to depose a spirit on a territorial basis…We are in spiritual warfare; the devil and his demons are real. But Christians must respond by keeping their focus on God and on the supremacy of Christ.”
The last line is helpful: this doesn’t minimize our role in spiritual warfare or the reality of spiritual attack, it only means that we can’t draw conclusions about these types of activities from scripture alone.
(10)What about things like Harry Potter? Can such stories desensitize us (especially children) to demonic activity? Can they offer Satan a foothold?
I’ll answer this question with the obvious caveats that (1) I’m not a parent and (2) nor have I read the entire series (I quit around book 4 or so).
I’m concerned I might meander a bit, so let me use some bullet points to guide the discussion.
1.1 Paul demonstrated an intimate knowledge of pagan culture and art. In Athens, on Mars Hill, he shares the gospel with the philosophers not by quoting scripture, but by quoting two of their own poets (one is unknown, actually, coming from a Syriac manuscript, though the other is Epimenides). Both poets were writing about pagan gods, yet Paul seems to know their works by heart. In Acts 13, he makes no direct quotation, but seems aware that an appeal to natural theology would go over well in a Zeus-worshipping world.
1.2 Countless writers encourage us to, like Paul, use the arts as a bridge for the gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested we learn to “speak in a secular way about God.” Pope Benedict describes “the via pulchritudinis [‘path of beauty’]” as the surest path to the “via veritatis [‘path of truth’].” That is, the arts can lead us to understand God’s story. In Reel Spirituality, Robert Johnston of Fuller Seminary argues that all stories reflect “the great story” told in God’s word.
1.3 The arts are the primary means by which a secular culture explores its reality. In her book The Sacred and Profane, Mircea Eliade observes that even in a highly secularized culture, fiction and film take the place of religion in helping us make sense of the world. We’ve already explored the way that people have historically turned to artistic expression as a means of ordering their understanding of evil.
1.4 The rise of technology has atomized the cultural landscape to such an extent that is has minimized parental influence like never before. That’s not a value judgment – that’s simply a statement of the way social media, Youtube, and a thousand “memes” are now being used to spread information at blinding speeds. Though he was writing about The Hunger Games, youth culture expert Walt Mueller comments: “They will watch it, chew on it, process it, and digest it with or without us. The latter option offers us a great opportunity to talk about the bigger story—God’s story—and the things that really matter.”
1.5 Many articles and books have been written on the Christian themes of the Harry Potter series, not least of which is the book The Gospel According to Harry Potter, which clues in on the parallels between Potter and Jesus:
“‘People believe you are ‘the Chosen one,’ you see,” said Scrimgeour. ‘They think you quite the hero—which, of course, you are, Harry, chosen or not! How many times have you faced He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named now? Well, anyway,’ he pressed on, without waiting for a reply, ‘the point is, you are a symbol of hope for many, Harry. The idea that there is somebody out there who might be able, who might even be destined, to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—well, naturally, it gives people a lift.’” (Book Six, p. 344-345)
1.6 Not all critics are unanimous in their support of Potter. Lev Grossman of Time magazine suggests that Potter reflects the contemporary spirit of individualism, which clearly sets it apart from other stories such as those of Tolkien and Lewis:
“Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn’t. Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis.
What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.” (Lev Grossman, “Who Dies in Harry Potter? God” in Time Magazine, July 12, 2007)
I’ll stop there. I think the point is that these issues are harder to navigate than a “yes/no” answer might warrant, especially given the relative impressionability of young people. Yet impressionability is hardly limited to young people: James Smith of Reformed Seminary in Orlando wrote a book called Desiring the Kingdom. His second chapter is devoted to the idea of “secular liturgies,” practices that we do regularly that shape our character. By performing these liturgies, our character is formed without even realizing it.
N.T. Wright is helpful here as well. In After You Believe, he argues for practices that encourage the development of “virtue.” With regard to specific practices, he asks a provocative question: “Which way is your heart slanted?” Meaning, we may assume that a certain behavior is neutral, but it pushes us to either vice or virtue. For example, does technology lead us to loving others deeply, or treating them as objects at our convenience?
So perhaps with films like Potter, we ask ourselves and our children which way it slants our hearts. Do we find ourselves more willing to love God and community through these films? Where do we see God’s answer to the brokenness of the world?
Finally, Franky Schaeffer writes in his book Addicted to Mediocrity:
“When we watch something or read something, we should discuss it. If you do not have time to discuss and analyze what you are reading, watching looking at, observing, then you do not have time to watch it. For me that is a rule. No time to discuss, then no time to watch.”
I realize I still haven’t quite answered the question, which was actually my intent. What I do hope for is continual, thoughtful engagement of such issues, because as we’ve observed, our world will only continue to look for spiritual answers to its problems.
Douglas D. Webster says that the answer to the question is consistently answered in the wrong way:
Many respected church consultants are offering straightforward, unambiguous answers. They are promoting strategies that encourage churches to establish a market niche, focus on a target audience, meet a wide range of felt needs, pursue corporate excellence, select a dynamic and personable leader and create a positive, upbeat, exciting atmosphere.” (Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus: What’s Wrong With Marketing the Church, p. 20-21)
Sociologists Roger Finke and Rodney Stark argue that “where religious affiliation is a matter of choice, religious organizations must compete for members…Religious economies are like commercial economies in that they consist of a market made up of a set of current and potential customers and a set of firms seeking to serve that market.” (Roger Finke, Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, p. 17)
The task of the Church is not to cater to consumers. The task of the Church is to be relevant to our culture. One of my greatest fears is of reaching an era when we no longer see the difference. This line will always be blurry when we see the Church as a business – when marketing replaces mission, and youth culture is elevated to the status of golden calf (before you argue, do your homework…I even have a series on this starting here).
Mark Galli writes:
“[T]here’s a reason Jesus said ‘You shall be my witnesses,’ and not ‘You shall be my marketers’ . . .Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don’t deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?” (Mark Galli, “Do I Have A Witness?: Why Jesus Didn’t Say, ‘You Shall Be My Marketers to the Ends of the Earth.’” Christianity Today, October 4, 2007).
The gospel doesn’t need to be “made” relevant. The gospel is relevant. The question is therefore: how does our worship unveil Christ’s relevance?
LEX ORANDI, LEX CREDENDI
Historically, the Church has embraced the Latin phrase les orandi, lex credendi. Literally, it means “the church believes as she prays/worships.” More recent language has taught us that “what you win people with, you win them to.” In other words, our worship not only reveals what we love, but can actually shape what we love. Jamie Smith wrote an entire book called Desiring the Kingdom, in which he argues that our culture follows various secular “liturgies” that shape our character. Think about it: if someone is glued to World of Warcraft all day, we conclude negative things about their character. In other words, certain habits (such as the use of technology) shape our character.
Which means that the goal of the Church’s liturgy is worship that is both a response to God’s character, but also a response that shapes and forms our character.
Now, let’s be clear. The Church is neither a building nor a service. The Church is the body of Christ, made flesh in those who follow Him. Therefore, a “worship service” is a gathering to celebrate the relationship between God and the new humanity found in His Church. By definition, then, a worship service is primarily for believers. It is not for the lost; it is for the found. However, can the service be arranged in such a way that outsiders feel safe and welcome in the gathering? Can it be arranged so that it also helps lead them further toward God’s character, and shapes their own?
I believe the answer is “yes,” and we have only to appeal to 2,000 years of church tradition to see such a pattern. In Tim Keller’s words, the Church engages in two things: “come and see” and “go and share.” On Sundays, we “come and see;” through the week we “go and share.”
COME AND SEE
All that leads us to the question of how: How can we avoid questions of preference in shaping our liturgy? I borrow from the Bifrost Arts Music Liturgy and Space curriculum in suggesting that worship is (1) the expression of God’s love as well as (2) the formation of God’s love. Let’s examine how this impacts believers and unbelievers:
Those who are “in Christ” enter a new relationship with Him. By God’s saving grace we have fellowship with God and each other. Believers
The questions then are as follows:
1.1 How does our liturgy help us express our love for God? Does it lead us to confess sin? Does it lead us to express our thoughts and feelings to the full depth of God’s character?
1.2 How does our liturgy help form our love for God? Does it lead to a change in our character? Does it lead to repentance? Does it lead us to treat others differently?
This is a harder case. Unbelievers have a relationship with God – they are His enemies (cf. Rom 5). Our desire is to see that relationship reconciled. Yet through God’s common grace, all men are aware of the presence of the God in whose image they were created (cf. Rom 1:18). Which means they can appeal to such ideas as love, truth, beauty, and goodness even before they are led to the ultimate source.
Therefore the questions are the same, yet their applications a bit different:
2.1 How does our liturgy help unbelievers express a love for God? Does it communicate God’s attributes (wrath, love, Holiness) in an understandable way? Does it display the full richness of God’s kingdom? Does it offer an invitation for unbelievers to respond to God – maybe even make a decision for Christ?
2.2 How does our liturgy help form a love for God in the life of an unbeliever? Does our liturgy – both music and sermon – lead them to repentance? Does it encourage a decision to follow Jesus? Does it also give offer them a richer life in His Kingdom after they’ve made this decision?
The purpose of asking such questions is to redefine the strategy for planning our liturgy. It’s no longer about appealing to consumerist preferences, but unveiling the gospel’s true relevance for our world today.
The above video is the trailer for the message series “Unseen: Exposing the Paranormal” beginning this Sunday at Tri-State Fellowship.
Below is a description as well as a schedule for the series. If you’re in the area and are looking for a local church, we’d love for you to see us.
“Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn’t supposed to happen, but it does happen.” (The Haunting, 1963)
Do you believe in the paranormal? Do you believe there’s more to our world than what you can see on the surface?
If you’re like most Americans, the word “paranormal” makes you either laugh or shudder – sometimes both.
Which one are you? Do you see such beliefs as the leftovers from a superstitious past? Surely we don’t need to be talking about ghosts and demons in an age of science and reason. Or do you see a spiritual side to everything? Do you believe your life to be governed by powerful spiritual forces – one of which may be very dark? Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle – perhaps open to the idea, just not sure where you land.
What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
Join us Sunday mornings as we seek to pull back the curtain of the unseen world and expose the reality of the paranormal.
Brace yourself – “Unseen” just might be unforgettable.
|April 15||“Surface Tension:” Is reality more than meets the eye?|
|April 22||“Sympathy for the Devil:” The identity of Satan|
|April 29||“Master of Puppets:” What does Satan want?|
|May 6||“Final Word:” Who really wins|
|May 13||“Power Play:” The gospel and spiritual warfare|
|May 20||“Postcards from the Paranormal:” Q&A|
Click the link below to download the discussion guide from the sermon on Sunday at Tri-State Fellowship:
Click below to download the study guide from this week’s sermon:
If you’ve been following along, you know that this week we’ve been discussing the way that religious duty is an insufficient way to cover over shame. This post is lengthy, but hopefully reveals the awesome way that Jesus transforms religion in both His day and ours.
EDEN AS THE FIRST AND BEST TEMPLE
Shame began in a garden. The garden, as a matter of fact – when Adam and Eve were created, they were said to be “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Their world knew no shame.
And what was their world like? We’ve all heard the story: God creates the earth in six days, resting on the seventh. The language of Genesis repeats the phrase “there was morning…there was night.” But on the seventh day, the author, Moses, makes no mention of there being morning or night. The seventh day was to represent – at least partially – that great expanse of time when God’s presence could be known throughout all creation:
“This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world – heaven and earth together – for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136)
“SUIT OF FIG LEAVES AND LIES”
But after man rebelled, they were kicked out: excluded from the worship in God’s perfect Temple in Eden. A cherub, a type of angel, guarded the way behind them. In the words of songwriter Derek Webb, they “traded naked and unashamed for a better place to hide, for a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies. Throughout the Old Testament, “nakedness” is frequently used throughout scripture as a metaphor for the nation’s sin against God (Isaiah 47:3; Lamentations 1:8; Ezekiel 16:36). Isaiah would go naked for three years to symbolize the nation’s sin (Isaiah 20:1-4).
Let’s not forget who was originally reading this: Moses was writing to the Israelites, telling these stories as they made their way through the desert, guided by God. It was as if God were saying, “You’ve lost My land. You’ve lost the perfect Temple of my garden. You worship now by carrying my Tabernacle on poles – a portable dwelling as a constant reminder of impermanence. But I have led you from slavery. I will show you a new land – a land promised to Abraham so long ago.” And in this way a wayward group of wanderers came to trust God to uniquely manifest Himself among them in a portable sanctuary called the “Tabernacle.”
THE NEW TEMPLE
Later in Israel’s history, the people find themselves once more in possession of the land. God commissions the building of a new temple under Solomon. Even after this Temple was destroyed, years later, it would be rebuilt. The Temple was where God’s glory would uniquely rest. Nearly all cultures, all religions have some version of a temple. It’s where heaven and earth are thought to intersect.
And because Eden was Israel’s original, perfect temple, the actual decorations of the Temple – from the carved gourds, palm trees, and flowers – were designed to replicate the contours of Eden (cf. 1 Kings 6:18; 7:14-35). But within the Temple was the place where God most specifically made His presence known. It was there that God’s glory took the form of a cloud (just as He had done as a guide to the Israelites) called the shekina glory (1 Kings 8:10-111). Only priests were allowed to enter this unique place within the Temple, and only to perform sacrifices. What barrier was chosen to separate this special area from the rest of the Temple? What final symbol could be chosen to symbolize the separation between man and God? A cherub – or rather the image of one, emblazoned on the heavy curtain that barred the way into God’s presence. Just as Eden had been sealed with the flaming sword of an angel, so too would this curtain remind Israel of their separation.
WHAT GOOD IS A TEMPLE?
Now I know what you’re thinking. All this sounds terribly archaic. Temple worship is the stuff of a primitive, pre-modern people. What good is a Temple? The rational worldview birthed from the enlightenment showed us that man’s problems could be solved not through divine intervention but through human empiricism. The individual flourished. In that kind of society, we don’t need a Temple. We don’t need sacrifice. What we need instead is a laboratory. What we need is a social welfare program.
But in the last century we have not seen the triumph of modernism – we have only watched its demise. Science, political theory and reason could not provide answers to the incredible suffering of the world around us – if anything there was an increase in human suffering in the last century. Human enterprise could not deliver the utopia it promised:
“According to architectural critic Carl Jencks, modernism was blown to bits in St. Louis on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 p.m., when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project was destroyed by dynamite. This was no terrorist ploy but a deliberate deed, symbolizing the failure of a grand vision. The huge housing project had been an attempt to create a functionally perfect living situation through rational planning. However, it became the target of incessant vandalism, and was eventually declared unlivable. For Jencks and others, the razing of this housing project, along with the blasting of numerous other modernist buildings in the 1970’s, served as a parable of the demise of modernism and an invitation to postmodernism, in both philosophy and architecture.” (Douglas Groothius, Truth Decay, p. 7)
In a postmodern world, there are no real fixed points of reference – all truth claims are potentially attempts at seizing power. But in such a world, people are more open than ever before to spirituality, regardless of what form it might take. The collapse of modernism shattered “the hard surface of secularity” (to use Barth’s phrase), and gave us a glimpse – or at least a yearning – to seek out God. “How far is Heaven?” we find ourselves asking – a question that means more in today’s world than ever before.
So let’s return to the story of Israel and her Temple.
PURITY AND THE TEMPLE
By the first century, the Temple system had become largely corrupted. Law-abiding Jews were ambivalent about a Temple that served its purpose even while being remodeled under the Roman authorities. By the time of the destruction of the second temple in AD 70, Jewish leaders assumed that God had in some way forsaken His people. God’s Temple had become broken and defiled long before it would ever be destroyed.
The problem, as we have already seen, was that the Pharisees were seeking to protect the established order – whether for good or for ill. They had come to use religious duty as a new form of fig leaves to mask their shame.
In the Old Testament, one of the Psalms reads: “May your priests be clothed with righteousness; may your saints sing for joy” (Psalm 132:9). The priests were the ones who were expected to be the most righteous. They were the ones who would perform the sacrifices.
But, as we saw earlier, Jesus calls men to a whole new standard of righteousness, a standard that they could not possibly attain.
BROKEN HEARTS, STAINED GARMENTS
We see this theme reflected in the image of Zechariah 3 – a passage I discovered through new eyes thanks to Tim Keller’s excellent book King’s Cross.
In the vision of Zecheriah 3, the day appears to be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was the day when the High Priest, in this case Joshua, would enter into the Holy of Holies. Through a series of sacrifices, he would “atone” (a word meaning to “cover up”) for his own sins, followed by the sins of the nation.
To maintain his purity, priests like Joshua were sequestered for a week to prevent them from coming into contact with anything unclean so that they could perform the ceremony undefiled. There was even a set of ritual bathings, after which Joshua would emerge wearing pure white robes.
But in Zechariah 3:3, Joshua is wearing “filthy robes.” The original Hebrew seems to suggest that he is actually covered in excrement. He is expected to be clean, to bring purity to the nation. But in God’s eyes, all the rituals and duties do not truly cleanse the stain.
We need a true and better Joshua. A true and better high priest. Centuries later, we find our new Joshua – Jesus of Nazareth.
Zechariah 3: 4 says this:
“the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
This is what Jesus came to do. He came to take on our filthy robes and give us His garments of purity and righteousness. He is the true and better high priest who can cover over the sins of His people with His own blood. He is the true and better sacrifice, whose once-for-all shedding of blood is sufficient to cover over the sins of many.
Which means that just as much as nakedness is a scriptural theme of sin, so too is being “clothed” a theme of Christ’s righteousness:
“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10)
“…clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:14)
“…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27)
TRUE AND BETTER TEMPLE
But we’re not quite done yet. Jesus’ death also accomplished something significant. When Jesus died, the Temple curtain was torn in two, top to bottom. There was no longer a barrier between God and man.
In John 2, we see Jesus cleansing the Temple. The proper lens to look through is found in Zechariah 14:21, which reads that when the Messiah comes, “there shall no longer be a Cannanite in the house of the Lord.” The Hebrew word “Canaanite” also means “trader” or “salesman.”
So let’s do the math: The Messiah comes. There are no salesmen. Jesus clears the temple. Now, there are no salesmen. Jesus’ clearing of the temple is a powerful declaration that the Messiah has arrived.
When asked, Jesus tells them, cryptically, that even if this Temple is destroyed, He can build it in three days. But, as is common in John’s writing, Jesus is referring not to brick and mortar but His own flesh and blood. Jesus’ body becomes the true and better Temple. This is why Jesus tells His disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).” In John 2, Jesus’ “Father’s house” was His body – what Jesus is saying is that His death means that there is a new Temple. Jesus’ body continues on in the form of His followers, the Church (1 Corinthians 12; cf. Ephesians 2:21). Just as God’s shekina glory once filled the Temple, so God’s Spirit indwell the individual human heart (1 Corinthians 6:19). Jesus’ death does not eliminate the priesthood – it eliminates the laity. We are now a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), meaning we can each freely enter into God’s presence knowing the Sacrifice has been made.
Jesus as the true and better Temple redraws the boundary lines between man and God. This means that Jesus does not come to abolish religion, He comes to redeem it.
He is the true and better high priest who declares us clean. He is the true and better sacrifice that allows this declaration to take place. He is the true and better temple that invites even the outcasts to draw near. Because He is all these things, He alone possesses the authority to declare the impure things pure again.