In this excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, author Sharon Delgado focuses on the challenge to progressive Christians of changing spiritual and cultural attitudes by speaking a word of truth, justice, and hope for our world today:
Preachers and teachers of Scripture have an important task, at times an unpopular and uncomfortable one, of challenging the myths and metaphors that form contemporary attitudes and values and upon which we build our lives. In this area the church, which is bearer of the story of Jesus, has a primary responsibility.
For this reason, both clergy and laity who seek to respond faithfully to the call to preach and teach the biblical message have a challenge and an opportunity. In Charles Campbell’s words: “The powers so shape the world that their ways of death often seem like common sense. Exposing them requires preachers to cut through ignorance, denial, and numbness and speak the truth in creative and powerful ways. Preachers take the place of the child in the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” who shouts, “He’s naked!” demystifying the crowds and setting them free.”[ii]
Finally, a word must be said about what constitutes the church’s primary message, sometimes referred to as the Word of God. This Word is not identical with the Bible, though biblical literalists would have us think so. Even those who insist that the Bible must be taken literally still have to interpret its meaning and are usually all too happy to do so.
When I am in the pulpit I preface my Scripture reading and preaching with the words “Listen for the Word of God” rather than “Listen to the Word of God.” For it is the Holy Spirit that brings the written or spoken word alive and allows it to become for us the Word of God in the midst of our present circumstances.
According to John 1:14, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Word made flesh, God’s message to humanity incarnate in a human being. It is through Jesus that we come to know what God is like and what human life and community can be when lived in the light and presence of God. Therefore, when we preach or teach the Word of God we point beyond ourselves to the message of salvation and hope we have found in Jesus Christ, as we understand it.No matter what authority we use to back us up, even the Bible, no one can speak for God, and it is presumptuous to claim to do so. We human beings only speak for ourselves.
But speaking for ourselves is no small thing. Indeed, the ability to discern spiritual things, interpret Scripture, speak the truth, and risk being wrong is part of mature spirituality. The fact that we are fallible does not mean that our message is simply subjective and relative, and therefore irrelevant, for the Holy Spirit is a reality that can be discerned by spiritual people (1 Cor. 2:6-16). Discernment is a primary gift of the Spirit and can be nurtured, practiced, and developed through prayer and faithful action. We are called to speak what the Spirit says and to follow where the Spirit leads as best we can.
Still, by the grace of God, “here and there and now and then” the church of Jesus Christ rises to its calling, and the Holy Spirit works in, among, and through us in our words and in our actions. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a reality, and Christ comes alive in us. Through faithful preachers who “fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God,” God’s Word comes alive, shedding light in a new way for our time. This Word has power to shake the gates of hell and inspire the creation of alternative communities of compassion, faithfulness, and hope for the kin-dom of God. This is the church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matt.16:18).
We are called to step out in faith, fully aware of our sin and shortcomings, but with utter confidence in the power and wisdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We are called to preach a Word that has power to open hearts and awaken conscience, a message of truth and hope that contrasts with the dominant “verbiage” of the Powers that be. As Stringfellow said,
“In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst Babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God expose death and all death’s works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.”[iii]
There is a way for each person, regardless of philosophy or religion or worldview, to resist domination by the ruling Powers. We all have different gifts to bring to the struggle to create a better world. In addition to our own unique gifts, followers of Christ have a particular contribution to bring: the story and Way of Jesus. In the words of Walter Wink:
“All Christianity has to give, and all it needs to give, is… the story of Jesus the Jew, a human being, the incarnate son of the man: imperfect but still exemplary, a victim of the Powers yet still victorious, crushed only to rise again, in solidarity with all who are ground to dust under the jackboots of the mighty, healer of those under the power of death, lover of all who are rejected and marginalized, forgiver, liberator, exposer of the regnant cancer called “civilization”—that Jesus, the one the Powers killed and whom death could not vanquish. Jesus’ is the simple story of a person who gambled his last drop of devotion on the reality of God and the coming of God’s new world.”[iv]
[ii]. Ibid., 106.