Timothy Gombis sees Paul’s epistle to Ephesus in a manner that encourages imagination and faith. Since faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1), it requires faithful imagination to comprehend the spiritual warfare at work throughout God’s creation. God created the heavens AND the earth. Both are separate places, yet the same place. It is due to the war that rages in the unseen spiritual realm that the earth and mankind are in a state of fallen brokenness. God has gifted artists with the insight to see and showcase what most in fallen creation fail to see (Chapter 1, location 458).
Through the conceptual prism of imagination, Gombis approaches the exegesis of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with creativity and insight. Paul exhorts the Ephesian Christians to not forget their need for salvation. It was the unseen evil powers that manipulated man to mistrust God and thus shatter God’s intended original design of intimate relations with his creation. The beauty of God’s created order fell into blind chaos. Yet, God’s love for man is so driven that he would not allow the brokenness to sustain. It was his divine initiative to cause his Son, Jesus Christ, to enter this world and redeem it. The love of God wrote the script of salvific warfare and is the center of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul Gombis has written a fabulous exegesis causing the reader to envision Ephesians in a much more serious, yet cruciform way.
The Drama of Ephesians begins with a stark look into spiritual warfare. This argument is correct, as pointed out by Gombis, in that spiritual warfare was prevalent in Paul’s contemporary Judeo climate. Yet, Paul’s emphasis on the gospel forced a refreshing new look at the battle raging by the, “…prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2, ESV). Because of these warring powers, the church has a scripted role to play in the drama of God’s redemption of creation. Gombis emphasized the words of Paul that the faithful in Christ were destined by God before the creation of the world to be a key part of the spiritual warfare. It is the Church that battles the evil powers controlling God’s creation. And it will be through the Church that the evil power will finally fall.
Gombis emphasizes brilliantly that the language of spiritual warfare naturally brings images of strength and power. This is the commonly heard rhetoric of the contemporary American evangelical church. Yet, Gombis speaks clearly through his exegesis of Ephesians that although the God-ordained role of the church is to combat the evil powers of creation, the combat plan looks much different. It is through cruciformity, that is conforming oneself in the image of sacrifice as demonstrated by Jesus on the cross, that the war will be won. Rather than strength and positioning for political power in the culture wars, the church is called to humility and weakness in order to overcome the evil powers.
This argument from Gombis is a refreshing change in the dialog among American evangelicals. Rather than rallying the troops to take back America, Gombis calls for humility and grace toward the culture. It is through cruciformity that God intends to capture his creation. “God calls the church o embody weakness and cruciformity.” (Chapter 7, Location 2563). The imagination is rife with images of wealth and power. What Gombis calls for is the reshaping of the Christian community’s imagination into the mind of Christ through humble service to the poor and grace toward the sinner.
Although Gombis’ arguments for engaging our culture with humility and grace is correct, his take on the culture wars misses the point on the role of the church to embrace truth in relationships and what God calls society to be. His arguments concerning the approach of the church toward homosexual marriage is correct, yet misguided. If then, “The church is God’s temple, the place in which God dwells with his presence,” (Chapter 6, location 2058), then the lovingly, yet truthful stand on sin of any kind must not be expressed by the church with pleas of forgiveness for offense, but rather with loving truth.
Although the evangelical church has embraced politics over grace in many areas of the homosexual marriage debate, Gombis’ call for cruciformity and humility come across as surrender to biblical truth. Although the church has many areas in need of repentance, the political and cultural stand against a redefinition of what God calls marriage is important among our communities. If Gombis’ call for cruciformity and humility toward same-sex marriage amendments were carried out to its fullness, then our church would run the risk of being forced by law to recognize sin as normal, i.e. same-sex marriage.
However, Gombis is right in that if the evangelical church were forced to disobey any potential law concerning the performance of and recognition of same-sex marriage, then our reaction must be cruciform and humble. Suffering and persecution are not mentioned by Gombis in regards to the culture wars, but that is the inevitable result. Perhaps the church may face legal prosecution concerning some areas of the culture wars, but we may face it with humility rather than aggression.
The Drama of Ephesians is a superb insight into the thoughts of Paul toward the Ephesian church. Rather than segment the letter into unrelated subcategories, Gombis has illustrated the overarching arguments of Paul as unified and direct. His application of Paul’s theology to the Church, of his day as well as contemporary American evangelicalism, is explained well. Love and compassion for the poor and the lost is imperative to the understanding of God’s intent for his Church. How the Church loves their communities is imperative to how God intends for the divine war to be won. Let us all pray that pastors and church leaders learn to see the role of the Church as warriors, yet as those God has called to be in the image of Christ. The Church is to be humble, loving, sacrificial, yet firm on the truth of the gospel.