There’s a series of fascinating encounters in 2 Kings 6 that speak to a sharp contrast: the real world that folks inhabited for centuries – and the unreal one that most of us inhabit today.
I’m going to tell you a bit about my life through a series of stories in 2 Kings 6. There, we read of a band of young prophets coming to Elisha to be mentored. The group is large, so they propose going down to the river Jordan to clear land for a larger place to meet. Elisha agrees. So Elisha, his servants, and the prophets stroll down to the Jordan.
There, the prophets are cutting down trees when one of the prophet’s iron axhead flies off his ax, into the water. Oh no! he cries to Elisha …it was borrowed! (that’s funny.) Elisha asks where it fell. The prophet shows him. Elisha cuts a stick and tosses it in the water where it fell. The iron axhead floats to the surface. “Lift it out,” Elisha says. The young man does.
Notice the contrast? The young prophet saw only the material world. Iron axheads don’t float in water. His mentor Elisha saw a magical, mystical world. Iron axheads can indeed float in water. Elisha saw what C. S. Lewis and others call “the enchanted background.”
The story continues. There’s a war going on at this time between the king of Aram and Israel. The king of Aram’s strategy is setting up camps from which he can attack Israel. But every time he picks a place, God tells Elisha about it. Elisha warns the king of Israel, infuriating the king of Aram. So he decides Elisha must be killed. He sends his armies under the cover of night to set up a camp in the hills surrounding Dothan, where Elisha lives.
When the sun comes up, one of Elisha’s servants sees this army. Oh no! We’re toast. Elisha calmly replies, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then he prays, “Lord, open his eyes, Lord.” And the Lord does. The servant sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire – the magical, mystical, enchanted background.
He also sees the army of Aram as it rushes toward them. Elisha prays “Strike this army with blindness.” The Lord does. Then Elisha tells the army to follow him. He leads them to Samaria, territory that the king of Israel holds. Once inside the city, Elisha prays, “Lord, open their eyes.” The Lord does. The army looks around. Uh-oh. We’re toast. The king of Israel wants to kill them. “No,” Elisha says, “give them a great feast.” So the king of Israel does, killing them with kindness. Then he sends the army of Aram home. It returns to the king of Aram, telling the marvelous story that happened to them. The king decides to stop making war with Israel.
Marvelous story. But so what?
They say seeing is believing, but it’s truer that believing is seeing. Elisha believed in the enchanted backdrop that shaped societies worldwide for 1000s of years. So he saw marvelous things are not only possible, they’re normal. The young prophets didn’t, though they believed in Yahweh. Their world was marvel-less. Like our world today.
Like Elisha, I have a prophetic calling. I see the enchanted backdrop, even though most believers today, many passionate about the faith, don’t. It’s a contrast I feel on a personal level, and I don’t think I’m alone. I’m running into young believers who are sensing there has to be more to the faith than the didactic, left-brained, dis-enchanted background in their church.
There is. And these younger Christians are not alone. Since 2000, the fastest-growing percentage of the US population is religious “nones,” spiritual but not religious. They seek an enchanted, spiritual faith. They don’t find it in church. So everyone, believer or not, looks for it in their own individualized way, “wandering about in their own paths” (Isa.47:15).
That passage refers to the nation of Judah in the Babylonian exile. In that exile, the sons of Judah were the hope of Israel, what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called “the original creative minority.” Today’s church is in exile, and some speak of being a modern-day creative minority. I love the idea but have serious doubts whether this is likely to happen. I say this because of two whopping differences between the nation of Judah and today’s church.
First, the entire nation of Judah recognized the enchanted background. Hardly any Christians see it today. They operate out of the prevailing left-brained, dis-enchanted background. But without the enchanted background, they can’t change the world in ways that they desire.
Second, the sons of Judah had cultural capital, having served in the courts of King Jeconiah in Jerusalem. American Christianity doesn’t have sufficient cultural capital to change the world. It has relational capital, but that does not automatically translate into cultural capital.
And even with all that cultural capital, the sons of Judah had to learn the language and literature of Babylon during their first three years in captivity. Only then they could translate their faith into images and language accessible to all. Then the Babylonian leaders could understand the sons of Judah and take them seriously. Then the sons of Judah become a creative minority.
That’s a lot of thens. It will likely take today’s Christians three years to recover the enchanted background. Then they can begin building the necessary cultural capital to become a modern-day creative minority, one that changes the world in ways that earlier Christian traditions did.
Clapham Institute’s plan is to resource these Christians, first recovering the enchanted background over the course of three years (next week, I’ll explain more on why three years), then resourcing those who seek to become a creative minority. Yes, it’s audacious, a BHAG, but this might be what you’re looking for.