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Life in the Excluded Middle

The term “spiritual warfare” is polarizing, even among people of faith. Most Americans, particularly post-modern millennials, find the concept of an unseen battle unsettling at best (trending downward into bizarre and pathologic at worst).

A classic missiological (fancy term for the practical theology of missions) framework presented in “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” (Hiebert, 1982) suggests that the majority world understanding of spiritual forces is often more Biblical than is Western rationalism. In Western thinking, matters of religion (spiritual problems) are handled entirely separately from matters of science (secular problems). On the contrary, the majority world recognizes significant overlap in the day-to-day management of faith and physical problems. Spiritual problems and attacks are thought to manifest in physical ways. This bio-psycho-social-spiritual interface is known as “the excluded middle”, since the minority world practically (and in many cases, actually) denies its existence.

So how do we, as hyper-intellectual Westerners, engage in spiritual battle? Spiritual warfare has been aptly described as a battle for the mind. Most of the time, the fight is happening completely outside our awareness. And yet we rarely stop to consider our thoughts and feelings might be working against a victorious life in Christ.

We spent the past few days delving into the Biblical basis for spiritual warfare. We are a diverse group of Christians from a variety of theological and professional backgrounds. Some individuals are highly suspicious of labeling anything as spiritual attack. Others of us from more charismatic backgrounds are so comfortable with the terminology that we often forget to consider spiritual causes for ongoing problems. Wherever we find ourselves on the continuum, we must obey the Word.

Scripture encourages believers to intentionally engage in spiritual battle. Paul reminds the church in Ephesus their true struggle is not against the physical world but against rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul notes that our weapons as believers have “divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:4). Before sending out His followers to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations, Jesus emphasized that “all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:19). He promised His followers power to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We can engage in spiritual battle without fear, because Christ has already won the victory. We must engage in spiritual battle without excuse, because Christ has already paid for the victory.

Just today I received an email from a friend who came over to weed the garden of the mission house in our absence. She was entirely unaware of the topic of our study this week, and yet the Lord used her words to drive home our role in spiritual battle.

“Gardening, or more to the point, controlling weeds, reminds me of the ever present spiritual battles we face. The root of the unwanted plant must be removed, but seeds can remain (and they grow back). Or even if it does not grow back, another unwanted plant will attempt to fill in the now clear space. And then the good plants need the right location, non-hazardous companions, water, food, staking and pruning to stay healthy. Back to the spiritual battle: thank God through Christ for His salvation, truth, pruning, grace, love and keeping power. If one desires a good garden, or witness, one must submit to the work while praising the Creator for the opportunity to make something that gives Him glory.”

She concluded with the very passage in Ephesians I had identified yesterday as a particular challenge to my faith:

“May you have power together with God's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him is who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:18-21)

This Westerner is all in for laying down the weapons of this world and picking up the weapons of the next. In the battle for my mind, I want to set my thoughts on the width and length and height and depth of Christ’s love. I want to set my mind on things above and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. As I walk through this life, I don’t want to exclude the middle ground – the places where heaven and earth overlap. I want to live there, until I can live forever with Christ.


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