Christianizing the Powers

Posted on 8.01.2016

Since the publication of Reviving Old Scratch, I've been in a lot of discussions about how we should think about "the principalities and powers."

As a liberal and progressive Christian I blame the powers--organizations, nations, states, institutions, bureaucracies, power hierarchies, economies, political structures--for just about everything that is wrong with the world. The powers are evil, demonic, satanic. And no doubt that's a key part of the NT witness. The Powers were and remain antagonistic to Christ and his Kingdom.

As it says in Ephesians 6.12, our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers.

And yet, in light of the work of Hendrik Berkhof in his book Christ and the Powers, I've come to moderate my position a bit in regards to the powers. I wrote about Berkhof's work in 2013 and want to summarize it again here.

To start, Berkhof wants us to consider the creational goodness of the Powers. To be sure, like I said, the powers are hostile to Christ. But that doesn't mean the Powers are wholly evil and serve no good purpose. According to Berkhof the powers give structure and order to creation. And while this order and structure might be hostile to the kingdom of God, this order is preventing a slide into a greater chaos and disorder.

This is an argument that people like me need to wrestle with, which is why I'm revising this topic today.

Berkhof grounds his creation theology of the powers in Colossians 1.15-17:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

As Berkhof comments, "Usually the expositors of these words have laid all the accent on [the powers] negative aspect." And yet, if we look for it Paul is saying something positive here about the powers as well. As Berkhof observes, the powers were created by Christ and for Christ, the powers were created to be in Berkhof's words "instruments of God's love." Berkhof elaborates:

It strikes us as strange that Paul can speak thus positively of what he elsewhere calls "poor and weak powers of this world" or "precepts and doctrines of men." Yet it is not so strange. Divers human traditions, the course of earthly life as conditioned by the heavenly bodies, morality, fixed religious and ethical rules, the administration of justice and the ordering of the state--all these can be tyrants over our life, but in themselves they are not. These fixed points are not the devil's invention; they are the dikes with which God encircles His good creation, to keep it in His fellowship and protect it from chaos...Therefore the believer's combat is never to strive against [the Powers], but rather to battle for God's intention for them, against their corruption.

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