Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe the process by which we accept outrageous acts that we would never have tolerated a generation ago.
Well, looking at recent headlines, let’s consider adopting a new term: defining depravity down. Here are a few examples: Two young Muslim radicals, educated in America, set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three and badly injuring dozens more. In Britain, a British soldier is gruesomely murdered by two more Islamists — in broad daylight while spectators capture the attack with their camera phones.
Evil is not just the product of Islamist extremism, of course. The details that emerged about Philadelphia late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s daily activities seemed to get worse and worse each day. And now more reports are coming out of North Carolina and Texas that mirror the Gosnell story.
The list goes on. Government scandals proliferate. Marriage and family are being redefined. And these are just the recent headlines. We’ve grown to expect a new sign of cultural decline almost every day.
But is this cultural decline purely of our own making, or is something more sinister going on?
The late Ralph Winter, the most renowned missions strategist of the late 20th century, began asking some hard questions when his beloved wife, Roberta, came down with the bone marrow cancer that eventually killed her. Winter, who later died of the same disease, was not satisfied with many evangelical explanations for the presence of evil and disease in the world.
Author Harold Fickett, who assisted Chuck Colson on the book The Faith, tells of Winter’s exploration of this issue extensively in his new biography, The Ralph D. Winter Story. In a recent interview on BreakPoint, Fickett said that Winter wondered whether evangelicals had overlooked the active work of Satan in God’s world, and essentially “had succumbed to its own version of demythologizing, essentially ridding the gospel of the presence of Satan.”
That’s not wise, because anyone who wants to join in the kingdom-building work of God will face satanic opposition.
C.S. Lewis spoke about this amnesia, too. He wrote, “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to reintroduce our old friend the devil — hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’”
We work very hard here at BreakPoint to help you develop a Christian worldview — and that worldview has to soberly acknowledge the enemy’s activity in the world. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
At the same time, it’s also possible, and a mistake, to overestimate the power of Satan in the world. The Scripture is clear on this front: at the cross, Jesus disarmed Satan and defeated him. In His last conversation with His disciples recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus said: “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out … the prince of this world is judged.” The author of Hebrews agrees: “…that through death [Christ] might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Paul says that Jesus at the cross “made a show” of the principalities and powers by “openly triumphing over them.” And James promises us that if we resist the devil, he will flee.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As Neal Plantinga teaches our Centurions every year, a defeated enemy can still be a very dangerous enemy — like a wounded animal is still very dangerous.
So, is it really so strange to think that Satan is rallying his forces in the present day? Not at all. But let that drive us to our knees in prayer, asking for strength and giving thanks to the One who is the victor: Jesus Christ.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: June 4, 2013