Russell and Duenes

God Is the One Moving the Syrians Out

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The Syrian refugee situation reminded me of something I’ve known and believed for a long time, but have apathetically neglected. It’s a life-altering way of viewing world history and the migrations of people, and the Syrian crisis is a direct application of it.

Ralph Winter (1924-2009), an American missiologist, in his brilliant piece, The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History, says there are “four different ‘mission mechanisms’ at work to bless other peoples: 1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel – 2 Kings 17; as with Syrian refugees).” In other words, world history is centrally about God’s purpose of having people “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27). And God accomplishes His purposes of blessing through these four mechanisms of migration. The only ultimate purpose to these migrations, and to history as a whole, is to glorify God and bring about His enjoyment of His own creative and redemptive acts within the universe. Inextricably bound with this is our enjoyment of those same creative and redemptive acts. Nothing less will do.

I was not taught to think this way about world history and migration until I was well into adulthood, and even then, only because I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” at my local church. I was not taught to think about what God was doing in the history of the world, and how He was working out history for His own glorious ends among the nations. I was not taught about the ways that God has been at work to advance His kingdom through the workings of the peoples and nations of the earth. This is a profound deficiency, and it points up the need for Christian children to be given an explicit and robust Christian education. Pieces like Ralph Winter’s should be central to the curriculum, and should be taught far and wide in homes and churches and schools.

Winter writes: “From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.'” Winter develops this theme, in broad strokes, by considering ten epochs in world history, wherein “the grace of God [is] intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name.” Winter admits that “in the space available…it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back – and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!).” I would heartily recommend Latourette’s two volumes myself.

In the first five Epochs in world history, which Winter only summarizes, we have God at work through the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), through the Captivity in Egypt, through the Judges in Israel, through the Kings in Israel, and through the Exile to Babylon. After this, Jesus comes, in a kind of “incriminating ‘visitation.'” The “chosen nation – chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing [of God’s good news] – has grossly fallen short.” Thus Jesus ushers in the second five Epochs in world history.

In Epoch 6, Winter argues that “Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.” In Epoch 7, “the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.” In Epoch 8, “again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.” In Epoch 9, “Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.” In Epoch 10, “Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world.” We are still in this final phase of reaching all of the world for Christ, with the two-thirds world now truly taking the lead over the West.

Winter ultimately asks some important questions: “Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the ‘Third World’ turn on us in a new series of ‘Barbarian’ invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? [I would ask: Will China?] Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?” To this we might add our question: “Will Muslims, including Syrians, from the Middle East overtake Europe in a way similar to the Vikings, with the end that they become followers of Christ?” No one can say for sure how God is moving people around, but we can be sure that, indeed, it is He that is moving them. He is bringing the Syrians to us.

I highly commend to you Winter’s piece, which I’ve linked above. Let us teach it to our children, and enlarge their vision of their own lives, and how they might live in line with God’s plan and purpose to bless all the nations with the gospel.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

November 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

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