Middle-earth: The Unseen Realm of the Spiritual
By Mark Hausfeld
Much of the church in the West today approaches spiritual warfare in Scripture like Middle-earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Such a textual world is intriguing, fascinating, moving, and even liberating. But here is what happens. Once I close both narratives my senses acclimate to the real world, getting on with whatever my Western, secular, and humanistic-saturated Christian worldview holds for me. When I do that with The Hobbit it doesn’t matter. However, applied to the inspired Scripture, it makes all the difference in life and ministry.
Sadly, society has dumbed down our orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the biblical narrative. I am reminded of Dr. Robert Webber’s book, Who Gets to Narrate the World: Contending for the Christian Narrative in an Age of Rivals. According to Webber, there are three narratives calling for the world’s attention. First is the narrative of secular humanism (Post-Modernism/Christendom). Second is the voice of fundamentalist Islam and its agenda for the world. Last is the biblical narrative, the Christian story that the world must hear and one that the global church needs to effectively understand, live, and proclaim. Spiritual warfare is a vital part of our biblical incarnational story. Which narrative will the Western church and unreached masses hear?
The first thing we must consider to distinguish nonfiction from fiction is: Who is the author? The answer to this question creates an intellectual and spiritual dichotomy. If the author is Tolkien, then my reading is for pleasure, amusement, and entertainment. If the author is God, then my reading is for information, inspiration, and implementation. As Terry Hanna has helped us in his article, “Worldviews and the Unseen World” (page 98), as Christ’s disciples we need to have a distinctly biblical worldview concerning spiritual warfare.
Yet we struggle in the Western church. How do we fit into a sermon the story about a man filled with a legion of demons that Jesus cast into a herd of pigs who then commit mass swine suicide? What will visitors think? Let’s trust God with the inspired text and with the hearts of visitors as well. This means we, as spiritual leaders, first need to allow the Word of God to speak to us in its entirety. We need to receive the Bible’s truth concerning this subject through our own study.
Our responsibility, yes! Our shepherd’s duty is to teach and preach God’s narrative trumping the secular-humanistic story that has so deeply infected the hearts of our congregations at every generational level. Let’s return to the Tolkien concept of Middle-earth. Not in a fictional manner but rather the understanding of a middle that is often excluded by the church of the West.
Doug Lowenberg reminds us in his article, “Demonization and the Christian Life: How the Devil Influences Believers?” (page 86), of missiologist Dr. Paul Hiebert’s illustration of “the excluded middle.” We believe in heaven and hell as real places on one hand and the natural world on the other. However, there is this middle. It is not Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but many pastors, teachers, and even missionaries treat the unseen realm of the spiritual like a Tolkien novel. Such words are good for illustration but not implementation. Why? Are we mistakenly treating the inspired text like the Tolkien text? Each reader must answer this question in his or her heart and mind. Middle-earth is fiction; the “excluded middle” in Scripture is more real than the screen or hard copy page you are reading. More real? Yes. Screen and page will pass away; each is of natural creation.
The middle Heibert writes is biblically eternal. The stuff of the Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, and demons is now and eternal. Therefore, it is all the more important that we intentionally bring God’s middle to our earthly pulpits and practice. How do we do this?
Prayerfully study Scripture. Preach and teach on this truth in a balanced manner. Be discerning in your church and community where the enemy and his schemes are at work. Apply the text by the leading of the Spirit’s counsel.
The result? The excluded middle leaves the fiction section and becomes authentically real.