The Central & Eastern European Bible Commentary – Langham Literature
Langham Literature initiated a number of years ago a project for creating a contextual Bible commentary for Central & Eastern Europe, with the contribution of local theologians. It followed a succession of similar initiatives in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Slavic world etc.
Besides concise commentaries for each of the canonical books of the Bible, this publication of Langham Literature also includes over 100 topical articles, related to living the Christian faith in the contemporary context of our region.
I had the privilege of being invited to write four such topical articles. I have decided to share these here, as a teaser, and an invitation for acquire the commentary (it is already available for purchase HERE; there will be available, in not a very long time, a digital version of this publication). Here is the first of the four articles.
CULTURE OF FEAR
The words of the Lord, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 12:32, Mark 5:36), bring much-needed reassurance to a world gripped by fear and uncertainty due to economic crises, terrorism, migration, religious violence, persecution, sexual abuse, domestic violence, discrimination and hate. Fear is associated with suspicion of other people and authority, legitimate or otherwise, benevolent or malevolent. This is not just a characteristic of postmodernity, but is rooted in the frailty of human existence and in the utter deceitfulness of the fallen human heart (Jer 17:9).
Fear also plays a central role in certain societies as a response to a perceived threat, for example, to evil spirits, as in tribal, animistic and extreme Christian charismatic environments, which all believe in territorially based supernatural powers. Fear is a strong feature of theocratic religious environments and authoritarian power structures such as those that gripped Central and Eastern Europe during the twentieth century. In these contexts, cultural patterns have developed which can be described as ‘cultures of fear’. The impact of such environments on people and communities should not be underestimated: a lack of trust in people, laws and authority structures; dissimulation and deceitfulness in relationships; low social cohesion and solidarity; denouncement and state supervision; a lack of initiative, creativity and responsibility; authoritarianism and manipulation as the default style of leadership, and so on. All these affect societies in general and communities of faith in particular, which are often targeted and controlled by oppressive regimes. Yet, people of faith have often found in their allegiance to God the strength to resist oppression and fear, and the courage not to bow down to the holders of power, even if that means paying a price – prison, torture or death.
It is particularly interesting to note that in our part of the world, authoritarian reflexes and habits persist even after decades of transition towards democracy, and in spite of widespread but unrealistic expectations of rapid change. One source of inspiration for Christian leaders concerned with the residual effects of political regimes based on fear is the way Moses managed the transition of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt to inhabiting the promised land, as described in the last four books of the Pentateuch.
In Central and Eastern European societies, even in those which consider themselves to be fast-tracking towards the West, the persistence of xenophobia, anxiety about losing one’s national identity to globalisation, fear of economic and demographic collapse, and the obstinacy of misogyny and of patriarchal power structures breed a particular kind of fear. While obvious progress has been made in these areas as a result of a growing awareness of racial equality, global citizenship, local values, sustainability and gender equality, it is particularly tragic that
religious communities, including Christian churches, continue to promote and preserve such defective dynamics, rooted in warped readings of Holy Scripture. Yet, there is hope!
The good news for people living in cultures of fear is that the saving work of Christ has overcome evil and therefore we need not fear. For now, the evil one is still at work in our world, until the reign of God is revealed in all its fullness when Christ returns. Until then, the church is called to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10).
The proper Christian response to fear is the love of God: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. (1 John 4:18). Love is not naive. As the apostle Paul explains (see Phil 1:9-11), genuine, effective Christian love requires both knowledge and discernment. This involves solid biblical understanding and living a radical Christian lifestyle as outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It does not mean merely declaring one’s agreement with certain doctrines or kingdom principles, but demonstrating them through the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). True Christian love does not demand uniformity, but delights in the diversity created by God. The Christian is called to respond with sacrificial love and selfless service to the worldly obsession with power hierarchies, following the example we find in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means looking out for the best for others, rather than seeking our own good.
In our fallen world, fear will continue to challenge fragile human beings. Fallen worldly structures may persist in nurturing cultures of fear. Yet, the radical love of God manifested in Christ can overcome all fear and give birth to new communities of love.