Month: March 2013

First they came…

First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoller –


Conflict in the Unseen World

One aspect of conflict is often omitted from the discussion, even among believers.  It is one that, if we are not careful to notice, will quite readily go unobserved.  Because it is unseen, we need to rely on our eyes of faith, believing the revelation of the Scripture, to comprehend this invisible reality so often, if not always, at work in conflict.

A Supernatural Worldview

Conflict is a human problem.  We fight against one another.  However, on a deeper more sinister level, we recognize the presence of someone greater than our human foes.  There is someone behind these world forces and paradigms.  Though our naturalistic worldview does not allow for his existence, he exists and has a definite agenda that is contrary to the plan and purpose of God.  He hides behind the guise of our so-called intelligence, our modern “scientific” mindset.  We are far too sophisticated to believe in a literal devil anymore.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones commented, “Far from being a realist, as you imagine yourself to be, you are of all people the one who is not really facing the world situation as it is at this moment.  There is nothing more realistic at this hour than what we are to consider [spiritual warfare].”[1]  Our “modern” mindset began a century ago.  B. B. Warfield wrote about the emergence of this in his day.  He discerned this core problem of anti-supernaturalism as lying at the root of the theological liberalism of the thirties:

An even more powerful current seems to have seized the modern world [of 1932], and to be hurling it by a very different pathway to practically the same conclusion [as Deism and atheism].  It is to be feared that it cannot be denied that we are today in the midst of a very strong drift away from frank recognition of the supernatural as a factor in human life. . . An absolutely anti-supernaturalistic Christianity is therefore a contradiction in terms.  Nevertheless, immersed in an anti-supernaturalistic world-atmosphere, Christian thinking tends to become as anti-supernaturalistic as possible to it.  And it is indisputable that this is the characteristic of the Christian thought of our day [italics mine].[2]

The heart of our faith teaches us that this world, the one that we experience through our five senses, is not all that there is.  Faith, in its essence, is fixed on things we cannot see.  Christianity, by definition, is a supernatural faith.  If we lose this, we lose everything.

Beyond our normal ability to discern with our senses, lies a vast network of angelic beings.  Some of these angels have remained loyal to God and to His service.  They constantly work to restrain evil and to protect the lives of God’s people.  On the other hand, there is a sinister network of fallen angels, demons, who, under the leadership of Lucifier, seek to thwart the purpose and plan of God.  Though dealt a decisive blow in the cross of Calvary, these demonic powers have not yet finally or fully been removed from the earth.  They are ever working, behind the scenes, to seek to bring about the destruction of God’s greatest creation, humankind.  They hate the image of God in us.  Many books on conflict, however, make no mention of these unseen spiritual forces of wickedness all around us.  It’s as if we don’t believe that they exist.  Have they convinced us that they’re not there?

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”[3]  This was said originally in 1864 by Charles Baudelaire, and made famous by C. S. Lewis.  Lewis goes on to describe, through the diabolical voice of Wormwood, this primary strategy of our enemy:

Keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. . . Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. . . We are faced with a cruel dilemma.  When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians.  On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make materialists and skeptics.[4]

The devil’s foremost strategy is to convince us that he is not there, that there is nothing beyond the data we can gather with our five senses.  This is part of the current anti-supernatural bent that characterizes our modern culture.  We are a nation of materialists and skeptics.  A recent Gallop poll revealed that while “nine in ten Americans still believe in God . . . only forty-three percent (43%) of Americans believe the devil to be a ‘living entity,’ as opposed to a symbol of evil.”[5]  If we do not believe in him, we are powerless to resist him!

The Conflict Behind All Conflicts

There is, in fact, always a conflict behind the conflict.  If we do not have spiritual eyes to see, we will inevitably fail to discern the true nature of our struggle.  We are always connected to the struggle in the heavenly realm as we contend here on earth.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:10-12).

Paul says, without apology and by divine inspiration, that it is his conclusion that our wrestling, our true conflict, is not with our fellow man, but rather with beings that are not of this world.  These rulers and forces in the heavenly realms are our true enemies.  Paul is not alone in this thought.  Jesus Himself recognized and confronted the conflict behind his conflict with Peter.  As He sought to explain the way of the cross, Peter under Satanic influence resisted Him.  Notice Jesus’ response to Peter, and to Satan:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:21-23).

Jesus indisputably saw the presence of Satan in this encounter with Peter.  He went so far as to confront Satan and his influence in Peter.  Is Jesus delusional or superstitious?  Or, did He see things for how they really were?

This is not the only direct reference to the devil’s work, even in the twelve.  Just prior to the night in which Jesus was betrayed, Luke records, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve” (Lk. 22:3).  So, the inspired understanding of the role of Judas, the son of perdition, is that he did what he did under the influence of Satan himself.  The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ, the most heinous and unjust crime ever committed, was perpetrated not only by a sinful Judas in conspiracy with sinful religious leaders and corrupt political authorities, but ultimately by all of these forces of this world operating under the influence of its prince.

Jesus, in His public ministry had three main tasks, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing and casting our demons.  Often, the work of healing and deliverance from demonic oppression were concurrent tasks.[6]  A fresh reading of the gospels without a naturalistic bias, will reveal the vast amount of supernatural ministry that characterized Christ’s ministry on earth.  We cannot read very far into the gospel accounts, without a reference to an encounter with the forces of darkness.  He came into the world as the light.  The darkness was provoked and showed itself in His presence.  Even after the ascension of Christ, in the midst of the early church empowered by the Spirit at Pentecost, we see evidence of the work of the enemy, even in professing believers.  Ananias and Saphira lie to the Holy Spirit about the price of the sale of their property under the influence of Satan who “filled their heart” to do so (Acts 5:3).

Paul’s great summary account of our life prior to being made alive in Christ is also instructive at this point.  Notice how he describes our former way of life:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3).

We were not just “dead in sin,” i.e. “pervasively depraved,” but we were in an alliance with the world system energized by the devil himself.  Our nature was, indeed corrupt, but more than that, we had a vital connection to Satan.  This just does not fit modern sensibilities.  “People, in their natural state, even as sinners, are not under the influence of Satan, if he even exists,” we say.  The Bible says otherwise.  Paul, here, tells us that he, the prince of the power of the air, was at work in us, the sons and daughters of disobedience.  Paul is incredibly consistent and in total agreement with Jesus.  Our conflict is not just with flesh and blood, not even primarily with flesh and blood.  Instead, behind our conflict with others is a more powerful and evil opponent who seeks to use our inability to resolve conflict on the path of wisdom to destroy us all.

Conflict on Two Levels: The Example of Job

Job, the oldest book in the canon, is one of the most instructive on this point.  The narrative of Job begins in the throne room of God.  Following the prologue, describing the justness and the blessedness of Job and his family, scene one opens, a scene to which Job himself is not privy.  There we see an interaction between God and the Devil concerning Job and his character.  Satan uses Job as a challenge to God’s ability to recreate humanity in true righteousness and holiness.  Satan longs for an opportunity to show that the redemption brought about in fallen humanity is a sham.

The true account of the trials of Job gives us insight into conflict today.  It is critical that we understand the two-fold nature of conflict.  It is always conflict on earth as it is in heaven.  There are always two parallel scenes taking place in the great drama that we call redemption.  It is commonly said that believers are capable of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.  We just aren’t that heavenly minded.  Our minds, tend toward fixation on things below.  Thus, Paul’s exhortation to us and the Colossians to set our mind elsewhere, on things above, where Christ is (Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:6).  This heavenly aspect of conflict is a critical aspect of rightly comprehending the bigger picture.  There are real conflicts in heavenly places that directly bear on our conflicts below (Dan. 10:13).

After obtaining the permission of God, Satan leaves the throne room and pursues his strategy of despair and destruction.  The attack of Satan, as described in the initial chapters of Job, consists in two waves.  In the initial onslaught, Job’s children, their servants and livestock are the victims.  In a series of escalating tragedies, the devil brings calamity into Job’s life.  The four initial attacks were composed of two human acts of evil and two “acts of God,” or natural disasters.[7]  The Chaldeans and the Sabbaeans are used of Satan, with God’s permission, to bring raids on Job’s extended family.  The fire from heaven and the wind storm, that resulted in the death of his children, are also described as having a Satanic origin.  Job, remarkably sustains the initial wave of attacks, and maintains his integrity.  Satan, with additional permission from God, brings a second wave.  He sends an outbreak of boils into Job’s life, this time touching his body.  So, we see that Satan, in the book of Job, is responsible for the presence of disease, natural disaster, and human evil.  It is this last subject that we are most interested in here.

How does the presence of Satan and his host of fallen angels connect to the presence of evil men and women on earth?  There is a high degree of mystery here.  We do not know exactly how demonic influence connects with human corruption to produce evil actions.  The marauders in Job, the hijackers on 9/11, those who stir up division in churches, how are these human agents influenced by the enemy?  We don’t entirely know.  What we do know is that the Bible is fairly clear that every one of us is ultimately accountable before God for the acts done in our bodies (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10).  This is no less true for perpetrators of great evil.  In other words, demonic influence is not an excuse for our actions.  There appears to be a form of dual-causality and a corresponding dual-accountability portrayed in Scripture.  Human agents are fully responsible for their actions, even those actions for which demonic forces are also held responsible (Acts 2:23).  Judas, the son of perdition, is culpable for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus, as is the devil who entered him.  Satan was clearly the author behind the German holocaust; He will give account for his leadership; the officers in the Third Reich who carried out these heinous crimes, however, will also give account.  Flip Wilson was wrong for thinking that we can avoid responsibility by claiming “the devil made me do it.”

The Enemy Purposes of Conflict

The enemy is hell bent on ruining the creation of God, seeking to corrupt and deface the glory.  He, according to Jesus, has three main foci, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10a).  On a personal level, he seeks to keep unbelievers from a renewed relationship with God and believers from the joy of fellowship with Him.  He seeks to defeat us, to separate us from God through tempting us into sin, to condemn us for those very things he suggested, and to do his utmost to convince us that we are unlovable.  He works overtime on our hearts through the agency of our flesh to convince us that God is not who He says He is.  He seeks to cause us to doubt our identity in Christ.  He, therefore, seeks to steal our joy that results from an assurance of a right standing with God.  He seeks to bring us into relational death with God and others, to kill our well-being and witness in the world.  Lastly, he desires our destruction.  If given permission, he would not hesitate to utterly destroy us.  Thankfully, God rules over him and limits his ability to wreak havoc.

So, we wrestle with the enemy on a personal level.  He uses our fleshliness and remaining corruption against us in the fight.  He aggravates our sinful tendencies, making our battle even intrapersonally not against even our own flesh only.  William Gurnall describes the way in which the enemy works in us:

The sense of the apostle is not as if the Christian had not combat with his corrupt nature . . . the spirit lusts against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit, these are contrary . . . but to aggravate his conflict with this enemy by the access of a foreign power, Satan, who strikes in with this domestic enemy.  As if while a king is fighting with his own mutinous subjects, some outlandish troops should join with them; now he may be said, not to fight with his subjects, but with a foreign power.  The Christian wrestles not with his naked corruptions, but with Satan in them.  Our sin is the engine, Satan the engineer; our lust the bait, Satan the angler.[8]

On a corporate level, the enemy also works to destroy any semblance of shalom in our lives.  He seeks to cause divisions and rifts in marriages, families, churches, businesses, nations and in every sphere of our interconnectedness with one another.  He is the great divider.  He sows seeds of discontent and discord among us.  The restoration of all things after their original created design is unacceptable to him.  Therefore, he is constantly seeking to disrupt and destroy the work of redemption and healing among us.  He is motivated by envy and anger.  He has never gotten over the fact that He cannot and will never be the recipient of the glory that belongs to God alone.  He is motivated by this rage to do all that he can to keep others from glorifying God as well.

The Enemy’s Strategy

If the enemy is bent on the destruction of as many as he can drag down with him, and he is.  And if his main purpose is one of destruction, death and theft, and it is.  Then, how does he go about the obtaining of his devilish goals?  He utilizes certain strategems (methodeía) that are still in use, just as they have been for thousands of years among the children of Adam.[9]  If the same methods continue to produce results, why change strategies?  The good news is that these wiles, these common tactics of the devil, are made known to us in the pages of Scripture.  His devices are to be understood by the believer.  This is clearly stated in Paul’s assumptions regarding the Corinthians, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11).  Are we, today, ignorant of his strategies?

The devil and his co-conspirators utilize a fairly predictable set of approaches to exacerbate conflict among us and to destroy us at both a personal level and a corporate level.  If he were allowed, he would most certainly kill us all.[10]  Satan, in his plan of attack, has two primary strategies.  He brings temptation, seeking to draw us into sin.  Once he has succeeded in bringing about our fall, his strategy then turns to our condemnation.  His primary domain, place of attack, is in the area of the mind and the heart.  These two aspects of humanity are so directly affected by speech and language.  In accordance with that fact, chief among his tactics is the use of communication that is deceptive, destructive and condemning.  So he tempts us, then condemns us when we fall, and all the while he uses devilish speech to accomplish his goals.  When we see these patterns of human behavior, it is not a stretch to conclude that an enemy has been working behind the scenes.

Temptation, Accusation and Blinding

Satan’s main design is to tempt us to sin.  To entice us to sin is to seek to draw us into conflict, with God and one another.  Remember, our sin is always interpersonal.  His temptations are well chosen and come to us in his most advantageous seasons, those right times when we are most prone to succumb to his suggestions.  He is the master manager of these enticements.  He often appears to be “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).  His temptations, therefore, often look very spiritual and are easily taken in by the professing believer who lacks discernment of his presence and purpose.  He subtly moves in little by little, a progression so gradual that we hardly notice his movement.  He mixes his evil intent with our passions, some of which are pure, so that we can find ourselves sinning in a “good” cause.  This principle explains why the presence of such profound evil in the midst of conflict can be found among the people of God gathered in the church.  Just as Jesus promised, the time will come when he who destroys others within the community of faith “will think he is offering service to God” (Jn. 16:2b).

Once he has convinced us of the wisdom in sin and we have committed the offense, he quickly turns against us as our chief accuser.  Satan is no gentleman.  He kicks us when we’re down.  He shares no ownership in those things he inspires in us.  He never owns up to his responsibility.  Though he had a definite part in the conception of our sin, after it is born, he “lays his brats at our door” and leaves us alone with them.[11]  He lights the match, drops it in the forest, and then has the nerve to ask the question in the middle of the raging forest, “who lit this?”  He is the master at causing us to think that his accusing voice is the voice of God.  He lays his charge under the guise of the Holy Spirit.[12]  He seeks to convince us that we are forsaken by God.

For some of us his attacks center directly on our already active conscience.  For others, his work is to suppress the knowledge of sin and any semblance of self-awareness, lest we, in seeing our true sinfulness, would truly repent.  He can’t bear the thought of people coming to the knowledge of sin in a healthy way.  He, therefore, blinds the minds of not only unbelievers but believers for a season to the presence of unconfessed sin.  He helps us maintain the pretense.  He encourages our denial and feigned innocence before God and others.  He destroys us through a secret attack against our true integrity.  In those places no one else can see, he works to bring a division between what we profess and our true inner life.  He divides us then not only corporately from one another but also intrapersonally from true knowledge and understanding of ourselves.

Diabolical Communication

The devil and his followers use various means to tempt us to sin and to keep us down when we fall.  In all these things, at both the supernatural and natural levels, communication plays a key role in the process.  One of the names for Satan is the devil, diabolos in the Greek (Rev. 12:9).  This term is derived from the verb diaballo, “to accuse or malign,” and is thus translated as “the accuser” or “the slanderer.”  The devil is the originator of communication that is intent on destroying others.  He often uses human beings as dupes to do his bidding.  The tongue is his weapon of choice.  James points this out in his famous discourse on the taming of the tongue.  He wisely instructs us that our speech is perhaps the most difficult area for most of us to bring into maturity.  The tongue is a small, yet powerful, weapon.  He adds that the tongue is often “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).  Hell often animates our tongues.  Diabolical speech has certain key aspects:

Lying (Deceiving) Speech

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).

At his core, the devil is a liar and the originator of all that is false.  God, by contrast is truth itself.  Satan appeared in the garden questioning the veracity of God.  He is the questioner who is habitually asking, “Did God say?”  Under his influence, human beings will find themselves in patterns of deception and falsehood.  We are called to “put away lying” (Eph. 4:25).  And yet, one of the most pervasive problems among the sons and daughters of Adam is an inability to walk in truth.  One of the surest signs of the enemy’s presence in a conflict situation is the existence of falsehood.  Stories don’t match the real history of events.  Facts are distorted and altered to fit an alternate reality.  Under the stimulus of the evil one, people can look others in the eye and lie through their proverbial teeth.  The devil is a liar.  All falsehood is directly or indirectly connected to him.

Satanically influenced speech will often include the use of gossip and slander.[13]  Gossip involves the inappropriate sharing of information about someone else with others who are neither part of the problem or part of the solution.  Those with whom the information is shared do not have a legitimate “need to know.”  It is important to note that the sin of gossip involves both the giving and receiving of inappropriate communication.  Slander is also inappropriate.  It goes a step beyond gossip and includes the sharing of information that is false.  Slander often involves the use of fabricated information or speculation shared with others as part of an attempt to assassinate someone’s character.  Gossip and slander are part and parcel of diabolical communication patterns.

Condemning (Accusing) Speech

The devil not only inspires us to lie about circumstances, ourselves and others, he also lies to us, even as he did to Eve, about the character of God.  He whispers quietly, in a manner difficult to differentiate from our own conscience, that we are forsaken of God.  He tells us we are unlovable.  He convinces us that we are unforgivable.  He distorts the biblical representation of the character of our heavenly Father.  He transforms Him into an angry and distant father.  He pushes us toward feelings of rejection and condemnation.  This is his nature.  We feel judged and naturally, under his tutelage, we begin to look askance at others around us.

We have a propensity to judge others, according to his influence.  He helps us practice the unhealthy practice of comparison.  We assess ourselves according to others around us.  Again James points to the nature of judgmental cursing speech.  He informs us that this “wisdom” does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:15).  Once again, we are not simply dealing with unhealthy speech patterns but worse with demonic speech patterns that are energized by hell itself.

Divisive (Discord sowing) Speech

Diabolical speech has a destructive effect on its speakers and hearers.  Through corrupt communication patterns, the closest of friends become the fiercest of enemies.  The devil is the master at instilling discordant speech among God’s people.  He stealthily brings division into our ranks.  We can find ourselves divided over the most trivial of issues.  Often, in the heat of the battle, we find that we longer remember what it was that we were fighting about.  Nonetheless, we remain cut off from one another.  The enemy seeks to divide us from God and each other.

Diabolical speech is devil-inspired communication.  It is one of the clearest indicators of his work among us.  When we begin to see signs of falsehood, judgment and condemnation, or divisiveness, we can rightly conclude that he has been at work.  Being aware of his patterns is a tremendous help for us as we seek to rightly sort out conflict roles and responsibilities.

To Destroy Us

His purpose is clear.  He does what he does in terms of corrupt influence among us in order to destroy us individually.  His communication toward us is designed to bring us to naught.  He seeks our destruction or, at the very least, our reduction to ineffectiveness in the kingdom.  He brings discouragement and despair.  He brings relationships and hurtful communication patterns into our lives for the specific purpose of ruining our joyful response to God’s grace and mercy in our lives.  He knows that the old saying about sticks and stones is untrue.  Knowing that “the power of death and life is in the tongue” (Prov. 18:21), he seeks to use the tongue to bring destruction and death.

He employs a two-fold strategy that seeks not only our personal destruction but our corporate destruction as well.  He understands certain key principles of warfare.  He knows that one of the most effective means by which we can be subdued is through the common practice of dividing and conquering.  If he can divide us, remove the strength that results from standing together against our common foe, he is making progress toward his ultimate end.  He particularly goes after those in leadership positions.  Father and mothers in homes falling will ultimately effect the children.  Pastors and elders succumbing will have a negative effect on the entire congregation.  He knows well that if he “strikes the shepherd, the sheep will scatter” (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31).  Therefore, he redoubles his effort to pull down those in all forms of leadership positions within society.

Fighting the Good Fight

Our fight is against principalities and powers in heavenly places.  Knowing their strategy is a good first step.  Without this prior knowledge we will be perpetually surprised by tactics we should have known about.  Paul describes this fight in detail in his epistle to the church at Ephesus:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Eph. 6:13-20).

Mastering the concepts taught in this key passage is extremely helpful in avoiding satanic strategies ourselves as well as having wisdom to assist others caught in spiritual warfare.

Recognizing Him

The first logical step in fighting the influence of the evil one is awareness.  If we do not recognize him and his influence among us, we will inadequately misdiagnose the nature of our conflicts.  As we have seen, Jesus was keenly able to recognize his work, even among the twelve.  Though shocking perhaps to Peter, Jesus’ ability to see the work of Satan seeking to sift him, was a key to His ability to rebuke and resist him.

Jesus earlier told his followers a basic principle that is applicable to this discussion.  He told them that trees are identifiable by their fruit (Matt. 7:16-20).  So it is with this area of recognizing the presence and work of our enemy.  When we see evidence of him in the forms of lying speech, destructive speech, and divisive speech, we can begin to conclude that an enemy has been working.  We need to be paying attention, to be watching and discerning the signs of his influence in the tumult.

Resisting Him

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet. 5:8-11).

The devil’s primary means of destruction, as we have seen, is through corrupting our communication with one another.  He does this most often through the giving and receiving of what Paul refers to as “corrupt communication” (Eph. 4:29a).  Corrupt communication can include various kinds of unhealthy speech: gossip, slander, backbiting, and complaining.  One of the best ways, therefore to resist him, is to abstain from the giving and receiving of gossip and slander.  Receiving gossip and slander is just as culpable as giving.  We resist him and his work by refusing to participate in all forms of corrupt, or rotten, communication.  Instead, we resolve to communicate in a new way according to the new person that we are becoming.  We choose to use our words for “only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29b).

We resist him in our speech patterns.  We also resist him in other areas of temptation to sin.  This passage from Peter, someone who well understood how easy it is to be influenced by Satan, is extremely encouraging.  He clearly tells us that the enemy is resistible.  We don’t have to succumb to his influence.  We don’t have to sin.  The armor of God, in its entirety, helps us in this regard.

Using the armor

The armor as some have commented is “nothing more than a symbolic description of the Lord Himself.  The armor is Christ—and what He is prepared to be and accomplish in our lives.”[14]  The analogy of the armor, though significantly similar to the protections of a Roman soldier is more likely patterned after God’s armor.[15]  Paul describes the armor in its various components, all of which have a direct connection to his earlier statement that the Ephesians have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).  These weapons, Paul reminds us, are “not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).  Consider the first three pieces of the armor, those things that are fixed to the body, those preparatory things that we have received in and through our union with Christ.  For the first three, the verb is in the past tense, “having taken.”

Truth as a girdle

Paul tells the Ephesians to gird up their loins with truth, like a belt.  Girding loins was a preparatory act prior to battle.  If the long robes worn were not girded up, movement in the battle would be hindered.  Truth keeps us together and frees us to move and to engage in the battle.  The “truth” pictured here is two-fold, truth of doctrine and truth of heart.  The truth of God’s Word rightly understood prepares us for our conflict with the enemy.  However, right doctrine alone will not adequately prepare us.  In addition to sound theology and biblical knowledge, we also need truth of heart.  Being true, in this sense, is a matter of our sincerity, our integrity, our congruence, and our being free from hypocrisy and double-living.  In other words, radical honesty, truth in the inward parts, is that which girds us for the battle against the father of lies.  As we will see, honesty is the foundation of the path of wisdom in rightly dealing with the consequences of our sin.  Have we taken up truth in this way?

Righteousness as a breastplate

The second thing needed for battle is righteousness.  We have taken up righteousness as a breastplate, that armor that protects our vital organs including our heart, when we are united to Christ in such as way that He is our very life.  He is our righteousness (Jer. 23:5,6).  This is true in two ways.  He is our righteousness as His perfect life is reckoned or imputed to our account (2 Cor. 5:21).  He is also our righteousness as His life is imparted to us by His Holy Spirit, who enables us to live life according to the new man that was “created again in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).  It is this two-fold righteousness that protects us in the battle, righteousness imputed and righteousness imparted.  Have we taken this up?  Are we aware of the righteousness of Christ given to us in our abiding connection to Him?

Reconciliation as a place to stand

Thirdly, Paul says we have prepared our feet and our footing for battle by the preparedness of the gospel of peace.  Understanding that we who were formerly His enemies have been reconciled to God, that He is at peace with us (Rom. 5:1,2), is foundational to our standing in the midst of the struggle.  Having our feet shod with this awareness leads to a two-fold experience of the objective peace with God that we have in Christ and the subjective peace of God that flows from this understanding.  Have we equipped our feet with the peace that the gospel declares is ours in and through Christ?

Following the first three pieces of fixed protection, we are called to take up the latter three.  These are actively picked up and used as both defensive and offensive weaponry.  The first is faith (pistis).

Faith (active trust) as a shield

It is significant that faith is part of the three latter as opposed to the three former pieces of the armor.  If faith were simply a one-time event, it would make far more sense to connect it to the other three aspects we have examined.  This is not the case, however.  Faith, though initially exercised as the means by which we first became connected to Christ, is an ongoing part of the Christian life.  The word pistis can alternately be translated as “active trust.”[16]  Trust is the heart of our relationship with God, and therefore, central to the fight against spiritual forces.

Faith in this sense is a large shield (thureos) that is utilized to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.  William Still defines these darts as,

A series of sudden, totally unexpected attacks, usually very different from one another, aimed at shaking our faith in God, his revealed Word and will to his children, and our judgment, obedience and sincerity.[17]

Sometimes these darts come in the form of interjected thoughts through the agency of our flesh.  At other times, these attacks come at us through the human agency of others under the inspiration of the enemy.  How then does this shield of active trust extinguish these darts?  Faith always points to its object, never to itself.  In this case faith, as a shield, points to God, His character and promises, as our very present help in time of trouble.  Do we, in the face of adversity, take up active trust as a means of deflecting the fiery darts of the enemy?

Hope of salvation future as a helmet

Paul wrote to the Thesallonians to take “the hope of salvation” as a helmet (1 Thes. 5:8).  If we take these two passages as parallel, we begin to understand what Paul means in the analogy of the helmet.  The helmet protects our head (our mind, faculties, disposition, sanity).  Hope in the future return and final victory of Christ protects our heads.  This is most certainly the context of the first letter to the Thesallonians.  This is the perspective of the not yet, the certainty of what is to be, brought into our present reality to inspire hope and confidence to persevere through trials.  So, hope keeps us in our right mind.  Do we put on the helmet, in the midst of the struggle, by reflecting on the eschatological hope of the coming consummation of the kingdom following the return of Christ?

Swinging the sword of the Spirit

Paul tells us emphatically that the sword of the Spirit is the “word (rhema) of God” (Eph. 6:17).  A key method, and our only offensive weapon, for resisting the enemy is found in the use of God’s rhema as a weapon.  Paul does not use the word logos here.[18]  He specifically chooses to use another term, rhema.  The rhema word of God is a timely word for a specific situation, a word well-applied.  Stedman defines it as “a specific saying of God, a passage or a verse that has special application to an immediate situation . . . the saying of God applied to a specific situation in your life.”[19]

The clearest example of the usage of this sword in found in Jesus.  Following His baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a forty day period of testing.  In the midst of the enemy’s temptation, Jesus was given a timely word as His response.  To each of the three temptations, He replies, “It is written.”  Jesus drew from His knowledge of Scripture, stored up in His heart and retrieved by the power of the Holy Spirit, to strike down the godless temptations of the evil one.[20]  So, following after the example of Jesus, do we use the timely word of God given to us in the moment to strike down the attack of the enemy?

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is our vital communication with God.  It is both the speaking and the hearing that is the basis of our relationship with Him.  In prayer, we connect with Him who is our ultimate Reality.  He gives us His perspective as we cast our cares upon Him.  He comforts us in all our tribulations.  He hears our cries and is moved to action on our behalf.  He is mighty to save.  Prayer is the key.  In conjunction with the Word, prayer forms the basis of our strategy.  We will notice in future chapters that prayer plays a vital role in the area of conflict resolution or shalom in the midst of its non-resolution.  In the midst of unresolvable conflicts, prayer is often that practice that most keeps us from the loss of faith and hope.

Having taken up truth as a girdle, righteousness as a breastplate, and shoes of a reconciled relationship with God, taking the shield of faith, the helmet of future salvation, and wielding the sword of the Spirit, the rhema of God, we are ready for the fight.  The primary means by which we fight, however, is through prayer.  John Wesley wisely said, “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”  So, it is in the area of spiritual conflict.  Prayer always and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who knows what we need and intercedes for us to that end, is our main strategy.  Prayer is the very heart of our godly resistance of the enemy.  It is in utter dependence and reliance on God that we stand.  Just as Paul began by reminding us that it is “the Lord’s strength and the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10), so he ends by connecting us back to this most basic principle.  The battle, ultimately, is the Lord’s!

Evil and Conflict

The prevailing wisdom of our day is naturalistic.  Even among believers, many of us have been intimidated by the scientific community to abandon, or at least downplay, our supernatural worldview.  Perhaps as a result of charismatic excess, we have moved away from life lived in hope of supernatural intervention.  We pursue doctors, instead of prayer for divine healing.  We see counselors, instead of sorting things out with our loving Father.  We default to natural diagnoses and therefore natural solutions to our problems.  Christianity, however, is, by definition, supernatural.  The entirety of our faith rests on the reality of the supernatural, a personal Holy Spirit, not a mere force or power.  In our conflict situations, it is easy for us to follow the natural path so prevalent in our culture.  We can use the best human techniques that the growing science of mediation has to offer.  The whole while, however, we can be completely oblivious to the presence of evil behind the curtain.

We have a real enemy.  His name is Satan.  He has many fallen angels in his ranks who are set on carrying out his diabolical plans to bring theft, death and destruction into our lives.  He has a special hatred toward those of us who are in Christ.  We are his enemy.  He is always working behind the scenes and ever present, though disguised, in conflicts between us.  As we sort out roles and responsibilities in conflicts, we perhaps need to add another layer to our analysis.  Consider the following proposed working definitions of conflict:

A horizontal conflict is the presence of broken relationship that has resulted from the commission of sinful actions growing out of inordinate or sinful desires on the part of one party, the offender, under the influence of demonic activity against the other, the offended.

A vertical conflict is the presence of a broken relationship that has resulted from the commission of sinful actions growing out of inordinate or sinful desires on the part of people, the offender, under the influence of demonic activity against God, the Offended.

So, evil in the form of satanically originated opposition is a key aspect of our paradigm of conflict.  Conflict originated with him in the throne room of heaven and will not fully cease until he is finally destroyed.  Satan himself is a foe who never ceases to oppose God and His followers.  Whether we acknowledge him and his wiles or not, he nonetheless, fights on.  So evil, in the form of Satan and all who follow Him, always underlies the presence of conflict.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 13 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 39.

[2] Benjamin B. Warfield, Studies in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1932), 27-29.

[3] Charles Pierre Baudelaire, quoted at  This quote was picked up by C. S. Lewis in his famous work, The Screwtape Letters.

[4] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961?), 32.

[5] John A. Murray, “C. S. Lewis and the Devil: Admirers of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ Range from Monty Python’s John Cleese to Focus on the Family,” The Wall Street Journal Online, August 5, 2011, accessed at

[6] The gospels do not distinguish between demon oppression and possession as we have been taught to do.  Instead, they simply refer to people being demonized (daimonazo).  Jesus delivered various people who were under demonic influence at various levels.

[7] It is interesting that we call such things “natural disasters” on one hand indicating our belief that they are not caused by anyone, but merely by nature.  On the other hand, we still refer to such things in our insurance policies as “acts of God.”

[8] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War Against the Devil (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 124.

[9] This is the term used by Paul in Ephesians 6:11.  Methodeia is translated as the devil’s schemes, his wiles, his overall methodology of seeking to destroy God’s work.

[10] God does not allow him this desire of his heart, however.  His effect on us is limited by the God to whom he gives account.

[11] Gurnall, 86.

[12] There is a difference between the accusing voice of the enemy, our own conscience which are imperfect, and the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.  The devil loves to blur these lines.  He would like nothing more than to convince us that the condemnation that we hear in our heads is the very voice of the God who has rejected us.  Fortunately, this is almost never true.  Those accusations against us that are contrary to the purposes of grace God has in our lives are almost never the Holy Spirit, but our own faulty conscience, provoked by the power of hell.

[13] In the NASB, diabolos is translated thirty-four times as “devil.”  The other three occurrences are translated “malicious gossips.”

[14] Ray C. Stedman, Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1975), 97.

[15] In Isaiah 59:14-17, the LORD is portrayed as wearing the armor as the Divine Warrior.  He is the Intercessor that brings about justice for Himself.  The implication is that we can trust the armor as that which God has used in the past to achieve victory.  It is the armor of God (possessive), “God’s armor.”

[16] Dr. David Eckman defines pistis as “active trust.”  Aphesis Seminar, see

[17] William Still, Toward Spiritual Maturity (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1992), 44-45.

[18] Logos refers to “the expression of thought, embodying a conception or idea” as opposed to rhema which refers to “that which is spoken.”  W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. eds., Vine’s Expository Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 683.

[19] Stedman, 150.

[20] Jesus was fully human.  He studied and memorized the Word of God as a human being.  Relying on the empowering of the Holy Spirit in His daily life, He hid God’s Word in His heart.  It was this vast knowledge of Scripture that was available for the Holy Spirit to draw from in resisting these temptations.  If Jesus committed God’s Word to memory so that He would have it available in the day of testing, how will we survive the enemy’s onslaught if we have no ammunition in our hearts?

Through Many Tribulations

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  This saying was used by the Apostle Paul to strengthen the souls of the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.  In contrast to this view of the Christian life, a view that includes travail and hardship, many contemporary evangelicals are being taught a contrary doctrine.  They are told that it is God’s will for the Christian to be monetarily prosperous, to be free from unresolved conflicts, and to be healed of all sickness because poverty, conflict and sickness are not to be a part of the lives of the faithful.  While this statement should seem false at the outset, many are taken in by its promises of a pain-free life here and now.  An overrealized eschatology has been problematic in the church dating back to the early Corinthian believers.  To examine this false teaching we must consider the various components of the claim.  First, is it true that all Christians ought to be monetarily prosperous?  Secondly, is it true that Christians should be free from all unresolved conflicts?  Thirdly, is it true that Christians should be healed of all sickness?

In response to the first question, what is the teaching of Scripture concerning the Christian and material prosperity?  Is it God’s revealed will that Christians be financially well off and care free in their lifestyle?  Biblical evidence supporting this assertion will be hard to come by, even with significant distortion of the original meaning of key texts.  The Bible addresses the issue of wealth, clearly stating that, far from being normative for Christians to be wealthy, the wealthy are a separate subgroup given correspondingly specific warnings and responsibilities.  For both poor and rich, the goal is found in contentment and gratitude to God, their ultimate hope.

God has ordained the existence of the poor, the rich, and all those living between these two poles of human material existence.  Many throughout the Old Testament history of Israel as well as the New Testament history of the church have been moderately or even extremely wealthy (e.g. Abraham, Job, Solomon, the women who supported Jesus’ ministry, several of the twelve, Zaccheus, Joseph of Aramathea, the “rich” addressed in 1 Tim. 6:17).  However, it is equally true that there have been many godly people throughout Old and New Testament history who have been extremely poor (e.g. the Israelite multitude in Egypt, Ruth, the Shunnamite widow to whom Elisha ministered, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Christ, the widow with the mite, the believers addressed in the letter to the Hebrews, the churches of Macedonia, most of the Corinthian church).  In fact, it is noteworthy that the Apostle Paul specifically clarifies that the majority of believers in this New Testament era will not be materially prosperous or powerful in this world.  He reminds them that “not many were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” as accords with God’s plan to use the base things of this world to confound the wise that He might receive all the glory to Himself (1 Cor. 1:26).  The poor have been given a special place in the kingdom of God being made “rich in faith” (James 2:5).  Both lots in life, rich and poor, have been ordained of God and are to be accepted by the believer with gratitude and humility.[1]

The wealthy, a non-normative subset of the Christian community, are given certain extra responsibilities or stewardships, and also warned of certain inherent risks that attach to their outward status.  With prosperity comes a unique temptation to forget God and His benefits and to trust in oneself and one’s assets.  Just as it was a concern for Israel (Deut. 8:11-20), so it would be a concern for New Testament believers who might be tempted to be “haughty,” or to “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17).  It is foolishness to set one’s hope on temporal blessing; nonetheless, we are susceptible to this temptation.[2]  In addition to a unique temptation, the wealthy have unique stewardship responsibilities to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).  Therefore, it is clear that the wealthy are a subset of the believing church with unique temptations to face and unique contributions or roles to play in the life of the body.  All believers have never been intended to fall into this category.  On the contrary, the church is characterized by suffering of various types including material want.  This is the ordained lot of the majority of the chosen.   Their key to living, along with the rich, is “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6).

What about the second question, the promise of conflict free living?  Does the Bible promise the believer a life free from conflict?  If there are conflicts in the life of a believer, can we infer that there is something deficient in that believer’s life?  The Bible is full of conflict from cover to cover.  Conflicts with God and conflicts with others, this is the bulk of the biblical content.  When God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, He was born into the thick of conflict.  At His birth, Herod sought to destroy Him and in his lunacy killed a whole generation of baby boys.  Jesus conflicted with Satan and the powers of darkness throughout his three-year ministry.  He frequently found Himself in conflict with the rulers of Israel, the Priests, the Saducees and the Pharisees, who opposed him and ultimately sought His death.  His own family opposed Him at times, and at least once accused Him of being crazy (Mk. 3:21).  So, if the Son of Man experienced a life of conflict around every corner, why would we expect a life free from it?

Conflict didn’t end with the crucifixion.  The rulers of Israel thought for a moment, on that Good Friday, that they had ended the madness of the world going after Jesus.  They must have been greatly disappointed and a bit fearful to hear a few days later that the One they had crucified was risen and had been seen by many of His followers.  They stepped up their opposition to the followers of Christ.  The early disciples were subjected to frequent persecutions as part of the conflict between their Lord and the Jewish authorities.  The apostles not only experienced conflict from the Jews, but also from rogue sects such as the Gnostics.  Conflict was also experienced internally in the churches.  Many of the early congregations were marked by conflicts that are clearly referenced in the Epistles addressing them.  And we are taught today that we ought not be experiencing conflict.  Jesus taught specifically that we should anticipate and would experience conflict in the world, in the church, and even in our families.  Why are we shocked at its existence among us?

In response to the third question, what is the Biblical teaching regarding the believer and sickness?  Is it God’s will for the believer to live a life free from the effects of the fall, a life devoid of pain and suffering as a result of sickness and disease?  The Bible provides numerous examples of devout believers that have suffered in one way or another physically, who in no wise have been exemplary of unbelief (e.g. Isaac, Mephibosheth, Peter’s mother, Paul, Timothy) and others who have been ill as a result of God’s chastening (David, the Corinthians, Ananias and Saphira).  While the Bible, and for that matter church history since the biblical era, confirms the presence of illness among the people of God, it also offers and bears witness to the first fruits of the redemptive work of Christ, the Healer, in the accounts of various saints who by the mercy of God have been miraculously healed of various conditions.  Believers of deep piety have been found in each extreme of the health continuum, and have accepted their calling in this regard from the Lord.  All illness is not necessarily the result of personal sin, but is often for the purpose of God’s glory and growth in character of the suffering saint into the likeness of Christ, the Suffering Servant.

The age in which we live is an era marked by the presence of remaining corruption and futility as the creation awaits the final redemption to come (Rom. 8:20-21).  Our bodies are a part of that creation awaiting final redemption and subject to the consequences of the curse upon the created order.  Our “outer man,” our body, is fading away or decaying day by day while our inner man is being renewed simultaneously (2 Cor. 4:16).  Sometimes, in the midst of this futility, God still mercifully provides physical healing, however, not always nor in every case.  Oftentimes God’s purposes take the believer through sickness and suffering to teach them invaluable truths they could not otherwise grasp.  John Piper says it well, “God’s goal for His people in this age is not primarily to rid them of sickness and pain but to purge us of all remnants of sin and cause us in our weakness to cleave to Him as our only hope.”[3]

The believer, then, can rest assured that in poverty or wealth, in conflict or shalom, in sickness or health, they have a loving heavenly Father who is watching over every aspect of their lives, working without fail to bring to pass His likeness in them through whatever adversity He ordains.  God wastes nothing, even our own sin in His great plan of character transformation.  We are living in the “not yet.”  This side of Christ’s return, we are not promised a life of ease and comfort.  On the contrary, we are promised a life characterized by sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10).  In the final analysis, we see the wisdom in Paul’s teaching to the suffering churches, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

[1] See Calvin, 1960, 3.7.9; see also Phil. 4:11-12.

[2] See Lk. 12:20; Matt. 6:19-24.

[3] John Piper, “Christ and Cancer,” (17 August 1980), 5; available from; Internet; accessed 1 May 2006.

An Evaluation of Peacemaker Ministries

Peacemaker Ministries is the “industry standard” model for Christian conciliation among conservative Christian believers.  Any current discussion of the topic of conflict resolution from a Christian perspective rightly need include interaction with this existing paradigm.

What is Peacemaker Ministries (ICC)?

Peacemaker Ministries and its division the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC) are the largest and most utilized conciliation training and services provider in the Evangelical community.  From the website of Peacemaker Ministries, the history of the organization is as follows:

Peacemaker Ministries was founded in 1982 under the auspices of the Christian Legal Society, which helped to establish many similar ministries throughout the United States. In 1987, many of these conciliation ministries joined together to form the Association of Christian Conciliation Services, which coordinated national networking, education, and conciliation activities. Peacemaker Ministries served for four years as the national headquarters for the ACCS; in 1993 the ACCS merged into Peacemaker Ministries. The 1990’s was a time of significant growth, due to the publishing of Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, which was followed by a 2nd edition in 1997. Between 2000 and 2010 the staff doubled and many new resources were developed. Peacemaker Ministries’ outreach continues to extend globally, with Peacemaker resources being taught in over 100 countries.

Peacemaker Ministries is a well-developed parachurch ministry that serves Christians and churches in various ways to help resolve conflicts.  The landmark work that sets out the process taught by Peacemaker Ministries is Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker.[1]

The Process of Peacemaking: The Four ‘G’s

Ken Sande and Peacemaker Ministries organizes the process of peacemaking in the following four steps all beginning with the letter “G,” therefore, appropriately labeled the four-G’s:

Glorify God

The First “G” stands for the principle of “glorifying God” in the midst of conflict.  This first area of the process asks the peacemaker to consider God’s glory in their handling of conflict situations, rather than their own natural comfort.  Conflict in this sense provides various opportunities for the believer to trust God, obey God, imitate God, and acknowledge Him.  The proper handling of conflict is also a way to love and serve others.  The key here is to approach the resolution of conflict with “peacemaking” responses as opposed to either “attack” or “escape” responses.  These responses are organized in the Slippery Slope of Conflict.

Escape responses, or peace-faking responses, include: suicide, flight, and denial.  On the other side of the slope, attack responses, or peace-breaking, responses include: murder, litigation, and assault.  The believer is to avoid these two sides of the slippery slope and instead pursue biblical peacemaking within a range of six acceptable responses.  The unassisted peacemaking responses range from overlook at the bottom of the scale, to reconciliation, and lastly to negotiation.  Assisted peacemaking responses move from mediation, to arbitration and, lastly, to accountability (formerly called “church discipline).

By following biblical peacemaking and staying on top of the slippery slope, the believer glorifies God, serve others as stewards of God in reconciling conflicts, and provides an important witness to the watching world of “unity” among believers so that the reputation of the Christian community is not a hindrance to onlookers coming to faith in Christ.  In this way, conflict is seen as a God-given opportunity to do the right thing when the wrong thing is so frequently what is done, even by believers.  The whole process centers on this central goal of staying on top of the slope of conflict.

Get the Log Out of Your Eye

The next “G” is directly derived from Matthew 7:1-5 that warns believers against judging one another.  Jesus cautions His followers to “get the logs out of their own eyes before they seek to remove specks from the eyes of others” (v. 5).  The emphasis in this second “G,” then, is to count the cost and to practice healthy self-examination.  The pertinent question becomes, “what is my contribution to the conflict?”  As I see my own sinfulness, confess it, repent of it and seek the forgiveness of the other party, my side of the conflict is readily resolved.  The hope is that in the presence of healthy honesty and confession on the part of one party, a softening on the part of the other will occur.  If all goes well here and the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of all parties, repentance and forgiveness are effected and reconciliation occurs quite naturally.

Gently Restore

The third “G” is based on Matthew 18:15-20, the most often-referenced passage on church discipline in the Evangelical community.  Wisely, Ken Sande connects the process of Matthew 18 with the wisdom of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  The emphasis in The Peacemaker is on the gently that is so frequently missing from the process.  In this third part of the process, the path of the believer in obedience to Christ’s words is outlined.  The circle of loving confrontation is widened over time as the one party seeks to restore the other to “usefulness” in the kingdom.  The process escalates as appropriate in response to the response or non-response of the parties being confronted.  The goal is always true biblical reconciliation with God and others.  The hope in this section is that step five: “treating the other person as a non-believer” is averted.

Go and Be Reconciled

This fourth “G”emphasizes the critical place of forgiveness in the process, the need to look out not only for our own interest but also the interest of others, and lastly the principle of overcoming evil with good.  The goal of the peacemaking process is reconciliation, the resolution of both substantive and relational issues that have broken the relationship.  God calls His people into this ministry of reconciliation, even as He Himself has reconciled us to Himself in Christ.

Areas of Strength

There is much to commend the book The Peacemaker as well as the myriad services and resources of Peacemaker Ministries.  The following are a few of the many strengths clearly evident in the organization and philosophic approach:

Leading the Field

The Peacemaker is perhaps the industry standard text among conservative Evangelicals.  The book and its related ministry have much to commend themselves to the Christian community.  Peacemaker Ministries has led the way in the area of seeking to develop a Christian theology and practice of conflict resolution.  Peacemaker Ministries is a strong parachurch organization that serves the church and believers at many significant levels.

Peacemaker Ministries and its division, the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC) has led the way in the development of a systematic approach to conflict resolution that many churches and other organization have integrated directly into their respective polities.  Peacemaker Ministries has trained and equipped hundreds of Christian conciliators in churches throughout the country.  Through national conferences, training events and certification programs Peacemaker Ministries has made a definite impact in the Christian community in the United States and abroad.

Takes the Bible seriously

Ken Sande is a conservative Presbyterian believer, first and foremost.[2]  Though he is an attorney by training and practice, his devotion to the Scripture and its ultimate authority shines through.  The same can be said for the other staff of Peacemaker Ministries.  Any disagreements that this author would have with Peacemaker Ministries are fraternal disagreements.  These are sincere brothers and sisters, people with whom we will enjoy the benefits of the kingdom to come.  Our day, sadly, is a day when we can no longer take for granted that believers, even leaders in the church, will build their lives on the foundation of God’s word.  Ken and the rest of Peacemaker Ministries and ICC are not of this ilk.  The Bible is taken seriously and exegeted carefully as the source of truth.

Takes Sin Seriously

Not only is the Bible taken seriously, its doctrine of sin is also taken seriously and soberly.  The Peacemaker is one of the first books in the Christian community, in recent years, to unpack the paradigm of sin as idolatry from James 4 and other pertinent passages.  So many conflict resolution strategies, in and out of the Christian community, focus more on agreeing to disagree, negotiation, and settlements.  The relational heart of conciliation is evident in this approach.  Sin is the problem, with God and in our relationships.  Confession and repentance are the answers to the problem of sin.  So, Ken and company are serious about the biblical teaching regarding our sinfulness as the heart of the issues that divide us.  We will note below, however, that there may be a possibility that the doctrine of sin can be overemphasized.  For now, we acknowledge this healthy biblical footing.

Emphasizes Forgiveness and Grace

The conciliation advocated in The Peacemaker is full of grace.  The gospel is clearly understood as the center of the process.  Forgiveness with God and one another permeates the paradigm.  Those who have received grace are able to extend grace, “breathe it” on others.

Forgiveness, in full as a completed transaction, granting forgiveness is rightly described as conditioned upon repentance.  Until transactional forgiveness can be realized, believers are encouraged to have an attitude of forgiveness, to be ready to forgive upon the offender’s repentance.  This posture includes prayer for the other person and standing “ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents.”[3]  This attitudinal disposition will protect them from bitterness and desires for vengeance.

Practical Advice in Confronting Well

The heart of the process is found in chapters 7 and 8.[4]  These chapters give sound biblical advice to help the process of personal confrontation of sins too serious to overlook.  Careful and prayerful planning are recommended.  Specific skills are also discussed that will be required to confront well.  These include: active listening, the use of “I” statements, and similar biblical and psychologically astute skills that will greatly increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Areas of Weakness

While there is much to commend this philosophy and system of peacemaking, there are also some areas of apparent weakness that are potential concerns.  The following represent parts of the system that may benefit from additional adjustment in accordance with the standard of God’s Word:

Definition of “Conflict”

In The Peacemaker, Ken Sande defines conflict as, “a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.”  In chapter four, we sought to define conflict in such a way as to differentiate the concepts of “difference” and “conflict.”  We said that we can have differences of opinion or purpose, we can disagree with each other about a given situation or topic, but that those differences fall short of the idea of “conflict.”  Differences are built into the diversity of creation and exist prior to the fall.  God created a world of rich diversity.  The problem, however, came when sinful desires entered the picture.  Then, our disagreements became hotbeds for potential conflicts.  Frustrated goals and desires are parts of life.  No one is able to attain or possess all that they desire.  We will all encounter blockage toward goal fulfillment.  We can, nonetheless, accept these unmet goals and desires with non-sinful responses.  This is the essence of biblical faith, a confidence that trusts God even in the midst of loss and pain.  So, at a definitional level, we can respectfully disagree with Ken Sande’s definition of conflict.

Ken says that “conflict provides opportunities” for glorifying God and for growth.  This is certainly true.  Under the providence of God, just like Joseph, we can see how God can bring good out of evil situations. But, does this then lead us to conclude with Ken that conflict is not “necessarily bad” (p. 30).  Again, here we can note some influence from the secular literature on conflict.  If we have properly connected the concepts of conflict, sin, and foolishness in this volume, it is important to clarify that conflict cannot exist apart from sin.  Therefore, conflict, we can say, always involves sin and is always sinful on the part of the person whose sins underlay the conflict itself.

Slippery Slope: Acceptable Responses to Conflict

As we have reviewed, the Slippery Slope of Conflict has three basic sections (responses to conflict): escape, peacemaking, and attack.  The theory is that the peacemaking responses on top of the slope are the only appropriate responses to conflict.  Thus, the two sides to which we fall on the slope are representative of inappropriate responses to conflict.  The top of the slope seems to be consistent with biblical patterns and principles of conflict resolution.  However, can we say that “escape” or “attack” responses are inherently wrong?  Maybe these should more accurately and precisely be identified as “sinful escape” and “sinful attack” responses.  This model resonates from a human behavioral standpoint.  When faced with conflict, most of us lean toward either fight or flight responses.  We are either conflict-inclined or conflict-avoidant.  If we merely follow our natural inclinations, then, very little would result, in terms of true reconciliation.  Therefore, the Bible calls us into the duty of conflict resolution in a God-glorifying manner.

When we systematize concepts and attempt to simplify processes, there is an inherent risk that important details will be lost in our simplification.[5]  There may be something intrinsically flawed in the Slippery Slope, due to its inability to illustrate the whole of the biblical data on conflict and conflict resolution.  For instance, as we reviewed in chapter thirteen, the Bible is replete with direct instructions and even commands to withdraw from impenitent, obstinate, foolish, divisive people.  If all “escape” responses are wrong, how do we interpret these passages?  We have also seen that God Himself, who is the pattern of our conduct, exercises both attack and escape responses according to their respective definitions in the system advocated in The Peacemaker.

The Slippery Slope is the foundation of the system taught in The Peacemaker.  Any flaws in its logic will inevitably affect the remainder of the structure.  If we’ve wrongly described the basic allowable responses to conflict, we’ve set out to resolve it without some of the available biblical options.  At this point, we can see that we’re on a slippery slope in terms of our overly broad definition of conflict.  To add to that problem, now we’ve limited the range of possible responses available to the faithful believer in the midst of conflict.

Doctrine of Sin

The Peacemaker approaches the question of conflict from a definite perspective.  The Presbyterian and Reformed theology of the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity underlay and undergird the theology of The Peacemaker.[6]  It is written from a conservative Calvinistic perspective.  This is important as we consider a third area of concern.  Calvinism, in its conservative form, has always advocated the doctrine of total depravity.  What many Calvinists fail to understand is that conservative Arminian theology is in total agreement here.[7]  Conservative theologians from both camps agree that our fall in Adam has rendered us incapable of moral reform in our own strength.  Calvin said, “Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh.”[8]  Wesley said, “Know that you are corrupted in every capacity, in every faculty of your soul.  You are totally depraved throughout your being; all the foundations of your life are misaligned.”[9]         I. Howard Marshall sums up this common theological ground between the two:

Sin thus affects every relationship of man, to God, to his fellows and to himself.  Its influence is seen in every part of his life.  Its badness corrupts all that he thinks, says and does.  This does not mean that he is as bad as he can be, but that no part of him is entirely free from the taint of sin.  This is what theologians call “total depravity.”[10]

This is the longstanding doctrine of original sin and total depravity to which the evangelical Church has held.

The peacemaking process of Ken Sande clearly identifies the need for a robust doctrine of sin and a correspondingly vigorous practice of confession.  Ownership of personal sins, specifically our sinful contribution to the conflict, is the heart of Peacemaker Ministries processes of conflict coaching and mediation.  This is clearly taught in Scripture by no less than Jesus Himself.  Honest ownership of our sin is the beginning of change.  True confession and repentance on our part is prerequisite to attempts at assisting others (Matt. 7).[11]  Can we, however, over own our sin?  Can the wise person, who sees their sin take the lion’s share of responsibility for the conflict while the fool goes free?  If we add to this healthy self-awareness of our own sinfulness, a doctrine of sin on steroids, an over responsibility for our own contributions to the problem, we inadvertently create a system in which honesty and sincerity are transformed from blessings into liabilities.

The wise, by definition, will always tend to be honest and sensitive to ownership of their sins.  They tend to see the logs in their eyes more clearly.  Fools, as we have seen, will resist.  By focusing on ownership of sin and personal responsibility equally with both parties in a conflict, it is likely that the one that will break, first and foremost, is the wiser person, the more honest person, the person who is more sensitive to the Spirit.  The abused spouse, the bullied pastor, the mistreated employee, the target of the initial aggression in the conflict can, through this practice, take unhealthy and inordinate responsibility for their contribution to the conflict.  With little or no distinction between primary and secondary offenses, as we have described the difference, this process loses the ability to properly assign responsibility for offenses and their contribution to the conflict.  As we have shown, sin is not just sin; there are degrees and levels of sinful conduct in the midst of conflict.  An overly robust doctrine of sin has a tendency to eschew the overall process of justly sorting responsibilities.  In a conflict, all parties are “sinners.”  They may not, by that principle, all have “sinned,” and most often have not “sinned equally.”

Doctrine of Grace

Calvinism, as a system of theology, is often referred to as the “doctrines of grace.”  Grace, understood rightly, is a tremendous thing.  To receive God’s favor (charis) freely in our union with Christ is as Newton said “amazing.”  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, sola gratia, sola fide.  However, as many have clarified, “the grace that saves is never alone.”[12]  True grace results in a life of bearing fruit.  So much so, that we would do well to notice that the final judgment is “according to works.”  Many in the Calvinist tradition have taught a robust view of sanctification as the pursuit of holiness and of perseverance to the end in those good works as requisite for salvation.  Contemporary Calvinism, in some modern contexts, is losing its grip on the necessity of good works and perseverance.

When salvation becomes only a legal and forensic thing, we are in danger of falling into antinomianism.  If my relationship to Jesus is only legal, and as many have claimed, salvation remains only outside of me and is only and all about Jesus, my imputed righteousness, I can wrongly conclude that my actions are automatically and already forgiven.  This system of thought opens the door to the potential for professing believers to disconnect their actual works, including their sinful contributions to conflict, from their righteous position in Christ.  Antinomianism has never been good at holding people accountable.

C. H. Spurgeon is the author of a small book entitled All of Grace.  Who wants to argue with this thesis?  Who wants to suggest that merit has a place at the table of salvation?  No one.  However, this title itself exposes the potential dark underbelly of overly consistent Calvinism.  If it is truly “all of grace,” if all my sins are forgiven (past, present and future) the moment I trust Christ, if I am justified no matter what I do or do not do, how motivated am I to resolve conflicts for which I am largely or solely responsible?  Grace covers it all.  This potential for cheapening grace is costly in the realm of peacemaking.  Peacemaking is inherently tied to concepts such as justice and responsibility as much as grace and forgiveness.  Shalom-making, as we have seen is about the restoration of things to the way they ought to be.  It inherently embodies important concepts of justice, equity and truth.  Grace is a great thing, when understood within the whole of the biblical paradigm.  Cheap grace, sloppy agape[13], kills the potential for a peacemaking process to bring deep and lasting change, by short-circuiting the path of wisdom through repentance.

Unity and Evangelism

One of the reasons to pursue peace among all men is, according to Sande, found in the Lord’s high priestly prayer of John 17.  Jesus there prays, that we “would be made one, just as He and the Father are one so that the world will believe that He was sent by the Father.”[14]  Listen to Ken’s words:

Unity is more than a key to internal peace.  It is also an essential element of your Christian witness.  When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and he is present and working in your life (Matt. 5:9).  The converse is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the good news about Jesus’ saving work on the cross.[15]

This passage is taken from a section entitled, “Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity.”  Let’s break down the thought further.  If we have unresolved conflicts in our lives, we may conclude, according to Ken, we will not be able credibly to share the gospel with others with any “success.”  So, therefore, unity is the key to Jesus building His kingdom on earth.  If we mar His reputation, by not living in unity with all people, souls will be lost in the process.

This is a very heavy responsibility!  Is this what Jesus meant when He prayed this prayer?[16]  What does the history of the Christian church have to say about this idea?  Jesus, in His public ministry did not experience this kind of unity.  He was opposed by the religious leaders of His day and many others.  Even many among His own family of origin resisted Him for much of His three-year public ministry.  Jesus so offended the crowds at times that not only the crowd but also his own twelve considered abandoning Him (Jn. 6:67).  Jesus was not a unifying figure among all people.

Further, He specifically taught His followers that just as He had caused not unity, but division, so they would experience division in their most intimate family relationships (Matt. 10:34-39).  The apostles, following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, experienced persecution at the hands of their countrymen the Jews and at the hands of Greeks as well.  All but two were martyred for their faith.  Until the time of Constantine, Christianity was a persecuted sect.  In fact, when Christianity was made acceptable, after conflict against Christians subsided, it began to lose much of its original impact!  The Hebrew believers in the first century certainly did not experience unity with their Jewish families.  The opposition they encountered was so strong that it tempted them to return to Judaism and to forsake the sacrifice of Christ.  Yet, we teach that Jesus’ reputation depends on peace among all people, that no one will believe if we, His followers, have unresolved conflicts in our lives.

Contrast that thought with the words of Jesus to his disciples about what they should experience in their relationships with others:

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. . . . A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matt. 10:21-22,24-25)?

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me (Jn. 15:18-21).

Add to this the typical paradigm in the psalms of lament.  It is almost always the case that the psalmists lament over their persecution at the hands of people within the covenant community.  Professing believers in Yahweh are most often the “enemies” of which the writers speak.  This pattern of enemies within the ranks seems to have continued into this New Testament era.  Didn’t Jesus tell us that there would be tares within the wheat field until the harvest?  If we are thinking that we need a weed free field of wheat so that the world will believe in the claim of Christ, we will likely wait and labor in vain.

What happened to the sovereignty of Christ?[17]  Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against Me.”  Sande teaches that, “Jesus can’t build His church unless we are walking in unity with one another.”  Which is true?  Clearly, God’s standard for our conduct includes striving for real Christian unity with one another, just like that in the Trinity.  However, false unity has never helped the cause of Christ and it likely never will.  Peace at all costs is too costly.  If the success of the gospel, and the cause of Christ, and the salvation of lost souls is truly contingent on our success in conflict resolution, we’re in trouble.  We’re not alone, however.  The church throughout the ages has been a church experiencing conflicts within and without.  In times past, often conflict resolution would involve the end of a sword.  Now, most of our conflicts are limited to the damage that is done with the sword of the tongue.

At some point, it’s as if we’re at a bad Christmas pageant all being encouraged to sing the liberal ballad from the sixties:

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Let there be peace on earth, the kind that was meant to be.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we.[18]

Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.

This is just another example of the myth of utopia, of pushing the future idea of realized shalom into the present.  This is humanity attempting to usher in the shalom that can only come in and through Christ.  The least tolerated segment of our society is the remnant of Evangelicals who actually believe that we can’t create peace on earth like the song speaks of.  We are called to be faithful in reaching out to a lost world with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We preach Christ, not ourselves (2 Cor. 4:5).  Though our lives are not conflict-free, we can rest in the fact that we are in good company.  The prophets, the Lord Jesus, the apostles and many believers throughout church history have also experienced the reality that we are in the “not yet.”  We, like they, are looking for a better place, the New Jerusalem to come.

Summary Evaluation

The peacemaking model of Peacemaker Ministries has several significant shortcomings.  Beginning with its definition of conflict, it may set us on a path away from biblical conceptualizations.  The slippery slope may overly narrow available and obedient responses to offenses committed against us that are too serious to overlook.  Their doctrines of sin and its practical outworking in conflict, as well as the understanding of grace advocated, may both be guilty of going to extremes beyond the teaching of Scripture.  And lastly, the impetus for making peace may have been incorrectly tied to the task of world evangelism.  These stakes may simply be too high.  Though the model has many good aspects to commend it, we may as a whole be better off pursuing an alternate model that may reflect a broader and more pervasive sense of the wisdom of Scripture.

[1] Peacemaker Ministries and ICC are also closely affiliated with the Lutheran organization Ambassadors for Reconciliation, led by Ted Kober.

[2] Ken and Corlette Sande have been active members of Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA) for many years.  Ken is an ordained elder in the PCA.

[3] Sande, 211.

[4] Sande, 143-184.

[5] Many examples of this exist.  Consider the problem that has arisen due to the Synod of Dort’s reduction of theology to five principles and the counter arguments that have continued for the last five hundred years.

[6] The Westminster Standards include the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  The Three Forms of Unity include the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism.

[7] Classical Arminian theology has no argument with the first or last of the five points of Calvinism.  It affirms total depravity and perseverance of the saints, without hesitation.  See Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).

[8] Calvin, 1960, 2.1.8.

[9] Kinghorn, 132.

[10] I. Howard Marshall quoted in Cole, 69.

[11] The Lutheran influence of Ted Kober is evident in this aspect of the process.  Lutheranism has always been strong on the need for confession and assurance of pardon.  This strength of Lutheranism, in general, may become a weakness in its interjection into the process of peacemaking.

[12] This true statement has an ambiguous origin.  It is attributed to Martin Luther, John Wesley and others.

[13] This phrase is borrowed from Pastor David Rosales, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel of Chino Valley.

[14] John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus, can be somewhat difficult to exegete.  For instance, Jesus statement that is pertinent to this discussion, “make them one, even as we are one . . . so that the world will believe that You sent me (and that You have loved them)” (vs. 21 and 23), is variously interpreted.  The “oneness” of which He speaks can be understood in different ways.  It seems that He is speaking of relational oneness or even oneness of union, “one in Us” (v. 21), something beyond mere commonness of purpose or unity, by referring to its connection to the oneness shared in the Godhead.  Further, we need to understand the nature of the making them one.  Is it “one with God” as the phrase in verse 23, “known as the loved ones” may seem to imply, or is it “one with each other” as Ken Sande suggests?  Our interpretation of this section of the prayer doesn’t answer the other questions that flow from alternate understandings.  How does our being one with God (union) connect to the world’s believing that Jesus was sent by the Father?  Will the world ever believe this?  Or alternatively, how does our being one with each other (unity) connect to the world believing that He was sent by the Father?

[15] Sande, 47.

[16] By the way, this is a conversation, a prayer, between the Son and the Father, recorded for our benefit.  There is no place in Scripture where this idea, that we are responsible for the success of the gospel by living lives devoid of conflict, is taught either didactically or as an imperative.  We are often called to promote unity (c.f. Eph. 4), but no where is this tied to Christ’s ability to successfully build His church, in terms of the evangelistic cause.

[17] Ironically, Calvinistic theology, that is often characterized as deterministic or at least semi-deterministic or compatibilist, is the context of this teaching that God’s sovereign ability to save is hindered by man’s lack of unity.  Can we really have it both ways?

[18] The universal fatherhood of God and the corresponding universal brotherhood of man is an unbiblical, yet sentimental, theme that is constantly put forward by liberal theology.  This same sentiment is being promoted today by formerly biblically conservative theologians.

[19] See Appendix F: An Evaluation of the Judeo-Christian Model.

An Evaluation of the Judeo-Christian Model

What is the Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking?

The Judeo-Christian model of peacemaking is the model advanced by Dr. Ken Newberger.  Dr. Newberger earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University.  He has formerly served as a pastor and now serves the broader church as a conflict resolution practitioner, trainer, coach, and speaker.  Notably, Dr. Newberger grew up in a Jewish home and lived in Israel on two occasions before coming to faith in Jesus ha messiach.  His Jewish background and grasp of the Old Testament as connected to the New are evident and extremely valuable to the formation of a whole-biblical model.

The Process of Peacemaking

The Judeo-Christian model of peacemaking is a third-party Christian conciliation process based on a “mediatorial model to make peace.”[1]  Dr. Newberger organizes his model in twelve stages (not steps).  Stages, as opposed to steps, may overlap within the overall process of mediation.  The twelve stages, in his own summary, are as follow:[2]

Initiating the Process

In the same way, God, the aggrieved party, initiated the process to make peace with mankind by sending his Son as mediator, so the aggrieved party initiates the process by contacting a qualified peacemaker.

Mediator Immersion

In the same way Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, perspective, and experiences of both God and man as mediator between the two, so the peacemaking mediator immerses himself or herself in the perspective of each side of the conflict.

Envisioning Justice

In the same way God set forth a vision of ultimate justice for the sins we commit against him, so the peacemaker learns from the aggrieved party what they would consider a just outcome for the wrong they suffered.

Envisioning Shalomic Peace

In the same way God set forth an image of shalomic peace that includes sinful mankind, so the peacemaker helps disputing parties paint a picture of shalomic peace that is inclusive of the other side.

Humanizing One Side to the Other

In the same way God created humanity with no essential differences, so the peacemaker helps parties in conflict understand that there are no inherent differences between them.

Seeing the Error of One’s Ways

In the same way sinners are urged to change the erroneous thinking that has brought them into conflict with God, so the peacemaker helps offending parties see the error of their ways.

Making a Genuine Apology

In the same way a person’s confession of sin to God is expected after repentance, so the peacemaker encourages the offending party to follow up the recognition of wrongdoing with a verbal apology to the injured party.

Making Reparations (Restitution)

In the same way God expects those who sinned against him and hurt others to make reparations to those harmed, so the peacemaker encourages the offending party to make the aggrieved party materially whole again.

Exercising Faith

In the same way people place their trust in Jesus as the mediator to make peace between them and God, so the parties in dispute place their trust in their mediator to make peace between them.

Granting Forgiveness

In the same way God forgives repentant sinners, so the peacemaker encourages aggrieved parties to forgive those who express genuine sorrow for the wrong they committed against them.

Building of the Spirit of Reconciliation

In the same way God reconciles with those he has forgiven, so the peacemaker encourages the parties to build upon their spirit of reconciliation and work toward a future characterized by shalomic peace.

Problem Solving Follow-up

In the same way Jesus continues to serve as mediator for believers even after they have made peace with God, so the parties rely upon the ongoing work of their peacemaker to help them resolve all remaining issues in order for reconciliation to be complete.

Areas of Strength

This model has very much to commend and recommend it.  Among models currently used for Christian conciliation among the Evangelical community, this is perhaps the one that most exemplifies the spirit of the Scripture.  Several areas of strength in this model stand out from other extant models of peacemaking that are worthy of note:

Biblicity of the Model

God has given us the holy and inspired canon consisting of sixty-six books, thirty-nine of which we share with the Jewish people.  Dr. Newberger has wisely articulated a model that reflects the entire sweep of biblical revelation.  The model reflects an understanding of both continuity and discontinuinty between the testaments in keeping with the God-given progressive nature of revelation.  This model avoids any remnant of Marcion-like division between the testaments.

Reflecting the Character of God

God is a God of love and a God of justice.  Shalom, as we have seen is a concept large enough to hold both of these divine attributes together.  Dr. Newberger wisely connects the victims need for justice with the goal of shalomic peace.  God, throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, is portrayed as sympathetic and compassionate toward the plight of those on the receiving end of maltreatment by others.  God is not a neutral onlooker to the oppression of people in His image.  By placing stage three, envisioning justice, near the beginning of the process of peacemaking, he reflects an understanding of the largest obstacle in the way of the aggrieved party’s potential for regaining a measure of shalom.

Biblical View of Forgiveness & Repentance

There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding among the Christian community in regard to the biblical nature of forgiveness.  The Judeo-Christian model has clarity in this area.  It rightly connects vertical and horizontal forgiveness, as they are connected in Scripture.  It avoids the common pitfalls of cheap grace (antinomianism) and therapeutic forgiveness.

Recommended Model for Third-Party Conciliation

The model, as we have seen, is designed for use in third-party conciliation processes that are mediator-led.  Though there are helpful insights to the process of conflict resolution in general, the model specifically proposed does not directly address non-assisted processes.  That being said, this model is highly consistent with the truth and process commanded in Scripture.  As such, this is the model of conciliation recommended for third-party mediation or arbitration.

Areas of Weakness

The Judeo-Christian has much to recommend it.  There are, however, a few areas that should be used with appropriate caution.  There is no perfect model.  So, while this may be the preferred model, it must still be exercised with appropriate wisdom and humility.  Though this model is highly consistent with the truth of Scripture, the following areas are potential concerns:

Mediator Role & Responsibility

Perhaps the greatest strength in this model is potentially its greatest weakness.  The model, patterned after no less than the mediatorial work of Jesus, creates big sandals for the peacemaker to fill.  Succinctly put, the model is as effective as the individual in the role of peacemaker.  If that individual is Christ-like and led by the Spirit, the model can be highly effective.  If less than those traits are present, the process will likely fall short of optimal outcomes.  Trust in the person of the mediator is indispensable to positive results.  Trust is directly connected to several factors, including trustworthiness.  The personal character and wisdom of the singular mediator will make or break the process.

For this reason, many other conciliation processes recommend a plurality of mediators.  With a peacemaking team approach, multiple perspectives are often helpful to the overall process of conflict resolution.  Differences exist between parties.  These differences include race, ethnicity and cultural differences, gender, age, etc.  In plural mediation teams, some of these differences can be better accommodated.  It is also true that “in the multitude of counselors, there is wisdom” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).  Therefore, though it is likely true that one highly skilled and experienced mediator may be a better answer than a lesser skilled team.  The entirety of the process itself rests, perhaps too much, on one individual.  We can remember the plight of the singular mediator, Moses (Ex. 18).

Humanizing Foolishness

The opposite of humanizing is dehumanizing.  This is a common tendency among aggrieved parties as they consider the wrongs done to them and the nature of their oppressor.   Dehumanizing is failing to see that each of us, even the worst offender, remains the image bearer of God and has certain inherent rights and dignity.  Further, we are not simply what we do.  Dr. Newberger’s caution is wise:

As hurt individuals, we often shrink a person down to the size of the act that was committed against us. The worse the offense, the more reductionistic and simplistic the description. . . Every such description only serves to diminish one’s ability to relate to that person.  The person becomes known, totally and completely, by what he or she did wrong. . . Each one of us is more than a given instant or period in our lives.[3]

While it is true that a person is more than any one act, it is also true that people are what they do, in terms of overall life trajectory and character.  We become, through patterns of behavior, foolish or wise over time.  This is the thrust of the wisdom literature.

So, while we need to always remember the humanity of the other, the image of God in them, we can slightly disagree with the idea that all people can or should be humanized.  Humanizing Adolf Hitler or Usama Bin Laden, while at some level possible, may not reflect the Bible’s connection of what we do and who we are.  Those who continue in their sinful and foolish ways will ultimately be judged, as we have seen, on the basis of their works which bely their true character or lack thereof.  In some segments of the Christian community, humanizing others is needed.  In the greater part, however, we’ve humanized ourselves to death.

Summary Evaluation

The Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking is one of the most thoroughly biblical models available today.  Dr. Newberger has done a masterful job of organizing the material in a way that reflects the overall thrust of the inspired content of Scripture.  The model wisely balances love and justice.  The sections on repentance, apology and forgiveness are excellent and stand out in the literature on these subjects.  In short, this model, with minor situational modifications as wisdom requires, is a highly recommended model for use in third-party attempts at resolving conflicts among Christians.

[1] Newberger, 23.

[2] The descriptions of the stages are presented verbatim as summarized in the overview of the process in Newberger, 48-49.

[3] Newberger, 135-136.