Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Mathew, I don’t think we can reduce the role of the warrior in the Bible as low as you place it. Believe me, I share your desire to bear witness against the degraded, culturally captive self-parody that “muscular Christianity” has always been. But it seems to me that warfare as a purpose of human life is, unfortunately, much more central than you allow.

When Adam was first made, he was told to fill the earth and “subdue” it. Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary has pointed out that the Hebrew word used here for “subdue” is a martial term. It is used to describe what victorious armies do to conquered cities. Warfare is part of the purpose of human life from the beginning.

It is possible that the fall of Satan has already occurred, and one of the original creation purposes of humanity is to do battle against Satan for stewardship over the earth. This reading of the first creation account has the merit of explaining a puzzle we find in the second creation account, in which the disruptive influence of Satan appears to be already at work in the physical world before Adam is created. The earth, which in the first creation account was created teeming with life, has somehow become a barren wilderness because there is no man to govern it. God has to specially create a garden so Adam has a proper environment to start out in, from which he and his descendants will work outwards, gradually bringing the barren wasteland beyond Eden under cultivation. This reading also points to Christ’s victory over Satan as a restoration and fulfillment of God’s original purpose for human life.

Of course, this reading also faces challenges. It involves God pronouncing his “very good” benediction on the world after Satan’s fall. Possible explanations of this are available, but even so, I wouldn’t insist on this reading.

However, at the very least we must say that Adam is created to struggle against a world that is not yet in conformity to God’s final plan for it, and which resists his efforts to put into such conformity; Adam is to overcome the world’s resistance and wrench it into the shape God intends it to have.

You’re right that God made a gardener—or, in light of the full scope of Genesis 1–2, it might be more precise to say farmer. And I would be the last to slight the central importance of the farmerly virtues you point to. But being a farmer in a world like this one, even before the fall of Adam, involves being a warrior—and a prophet, and a priest.

Muscular Christianity is a ridiculous and detestable overreaction to a real failure on the part of too many churches to treat spiritual warfare as seriously as it needs to be treated.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles