As I mentioned in my introduction, I’m working through Robert Ewusie Moses’ book on Paul’s prescribed practices in regards to powers and principalities called Practices of Power. We discussed baptism in the previous post. Next, Moses tackles Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, highlighting Gospel preaching and church discipline as practices that affect one’s relationship to the powers. We will look at preaching in this post.
Practices of Power: Gospel Preaching
Moses’ argument here is that the foolishness of cross-preaching (1 Cor 1:18-2:16) is actually “a Spirit-ual practice” (p83, emphasis italicised in original). If God’s Spirit empowers the preaching of a foolish Gospel (a crucified Messiah) to save a foolish people (1 Cor 1:26-29), then sophisticated rhetoric is an unwelcome intrusion. In fact, it is utterly incongruous, as such rhetoric belongs to “this age” (1 Cor 2:6), which will be replaced by the age to come.
Central to Moses’ argument is that “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:8) are in fact not human rulers such as the Jewish or Roman authorities that crucified Jesus, but spiritual beings that are behind the wickedness of this age. A few pages of argumentation are given to support this, and I find it compelling. For the sake of the argument, I will assume he’s right.
The conclusion is that if the “rulers of this age” are spiritual powers, then “[p]reaching for Paul is a spiritual practice that involves the work of the Holy Spirit and other spirits” and “[t]o preach the message of the cross, then, is to be swept into a spiritual practice and spiritual battle not only because it involves the work of the Holy Spirit but also because the crucifixion was a spiritual confrontation between Christ and the supernatural rulers” (p95). If the wisdom of this age is associated with evil spiritual beings (1 Cor 2:8), and if God’s wisdom of a crucified Messiah is only revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10, 12, 14), then the very preaching of that message must be empowered by the Spirit, and not in harmony with worldly wisdom!
To rely on worldly methods is to associate with this age, the age of the powers that crucified Jesus. It may produce results that are discernible to the outside world, but not real fruit of the Spirit.
Perhaps these two activities do not seem very spiritual, but according to Moses “Paul calls the congregation to an epistemological transformation that will help see the spiritual reality behind everyday activities, and as a result cause them to take everyday experiences seriously in that way” (p81). The point is that the seemingly-mundane activities of Christian life are surprisingly filled with spiritual significance.
I’ve avoided some of the specifics in Moses’ argument (and problems I have with them), but overall Practices of Power is a very stimulating book. It is refreshing to see an emphasis on the spiritual realm that is both scholarly and not sensationalist. I think he is basically right, because if we see these practices as merely natural, then we are living less like Christians shaped by the Word and more like materialist naturalists. Asking exactly how these things work is for another day, and perhaps the whole point is that we don’t know! Most importantly, it is essential that we reclaim preaching as a Spirit-empowered activity. There is more going on than a mere transferal of information. Proclaiming Christ and His victory is also proclaiming the defeat of Satan and his followers and they’re not going to like that.
Check back soon for the discussion of church discipline. Many thanks to Fortress Press for kindly providing a review copy. Their generosity has not affected my opinions.