Yesterday at lunch with the office family, we were discussing favorite television shows and movies. Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were two titles that came up. Given I work at a decidedly Christian university, these entertainment choices sometimes result in raised eyebrows (the justifiability of said raised eyebrows is a subject for another venue).
The discussion got me thinking about why these two story lines, and others like them, are such a draw. I think one draw is the yearning for spiritual power. Something in humanity realizes that physical power is insufficient, that there are forces in the world that are beyond what our senses can directly perceive. These powers seem beyond our capacity to engage and yet we know they must be engaged.
Now, while I am a Buffy fan, I am not advocating the type of spiritual power used in that series. (As for Harry Potter, this may shock some, but I’ve neither read a book nor seen a movie.) Still, these stories reveal something important about humanity. We yearn for spiritual power that is founded on a adequate object, that utilizes our intuitive knowledge of the world, recognizes the reality of spiritual power, leverages our human capacities, and takes seriously the need for action.
How can the church respond?
Adequate Object. The church, being Christ-centered, has intellectual, experiential, and affective knowledge of the only true adequate object: Jesus Christ. Given this knowledge, we have the ability to clarify the true nature of spiritual power, to leverage that power to respond to the world, and to do so with well-founded courage. True spiritual power does not rest in magic or in evil methods used for good purposes; true spiritual power rests in our connection to and participation with the one true God, Creator and Lord of all. It is not expressed in flashy fights and spooky incantations, but in things such as unwarranted love and courageous truth-telling.
Intuitive Knowledge. The truth revealed in Scripture and by the Spirit lays out the true framework upon which our intuitive knowledge of the world rests. Having the stable framework of biblical truth, we are able to synergistically combine sense, reason, and intuition to better understand reality and respond accordingly.
Spiritual Power is Real. Christians cannot and must not deny spiritual power, for God is spirit. What we can and must do is name the source of true spiritual power: Jesus Christ. It is by his power that the church is able to develop and grow into him who is the head. It is by his power that we are able to take a stand against evil and for good.
Human Capacity. Knowing that God created humanity to be more like him than we are like the animals, Christians are able to explicate human capacities in a way that naturalistic scientism cannot. A properly functioning church (see Eph 4:7-16) demonstrates full-orbed humanity and those who trust Jesus have the capacity to engage life to the fullest.
Need for Action. Merely pondering the true nature of the world is insufficient; action is needed. Scripture, Spirit, and Body provide the proper direction for needed action. Any old action will not do; proper actions using properly developed skills are needed. God gives specific persons (Eph 4:11-12) to the Body for the purpose of equipping the members for proper action in the Body and as the Body. Further, the “local” nature of each church provides the proper place for action: here.
Rather than raising our collective eyebrows at the various cultural expressions of the yearning for spiritual power, let us respond to the truth of the need, while exposing the misconceptions revealed in our culture’s expressions.