The Drama of Ephesians, Timothy G. Gombis. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Summary: This book approaches Ephesians as a drama of the victory of God over cosmic powers in opposition to Him through Christ and through a redeemed and transformed church that acts as Divine Warrior.
That summary might have caught your attention. I’ve always loved the letter to the Ephesians and read numerous commentaries. Most, in some form or another will divide the book in half, with chapters 1-3 comprising the indicative of what God has done in Christ, and chapters 4-6 the resulting imperative of how the church should live as Christ’s redeemed. I was expecting another treatment of this sort when Timothy Gombis caught my attention by talking about drama and reminded me of Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote an essay asserting that the dogma of the church is the drama–this great, amazing and surprising story that changes everything.
What Gombis gives us here is not another commentary of Ephesians but a perspective on the letter as a whole that ultimately enlists us as players in God’s story. First he gives us the backdrop in explaining the “heavenly” language of Ephesians and the understanding in Paul’s time of the principalities and powers and how some of these function in resistance to God’s purposes in creation. I appreciated his measured approach that takes these realities seriously without becoming obsessed with identification of territorial spirits. There is in fact a cosmic conflict taking place and Ephesians is the drama of how God has achieved a stunning and subversive triumph over these powers and how the church participates in their ultimate defeat. It begins in Ephesians 1:3-19 with a cast of characters incorporated into Christ for the praise of his glory to the rest of the creation. This is a new people with a new identity. Gombis argues that this is not about a “who’s in and who’s out” but rather:
“In the logic of Ephesians, the two groups are not the saved and the damned, the in and the out. The two groups are those whom God is transforming by his love and those to whom the first group is sent in order to embody God’s love” (p. 77).
He goes on in Ephesians 1:20-2:22 to talk about how God in Christ achieved the victory that formed this transformed and transforming group. It begins with the assertion of Christ’s kingship and his conflict with the powers in which he subverts their deathly control over humans, and the power of sin, and their divisions against each other. Through the cross, people are brought from death to life, and from hostile divisions to one new humanity that embodies God’s presence on earth, the temple.
In chapter 3, Paul embodies in his own ministry as an apostle, including his humiliations and imprisonment, the cruciform life and victory of Christ. Paul’s prayer at the end of chapter 3 speaks of the ways God empowers subversive actors like Paul, and the church in the fulfillment of their role in this cosmic war. Chapters 4:1-6:18 then call the Ephesian church into this warfare, where they act as the Divine Warrior. Gombis emphasizes that this is not culture warfare against people and not warfare carried out in arrogance, but rather a church in its unity, and purity, and sacrificial service, and humility that embodies the cross-shaped life.
I not only appreciated the overarching dramatic perspective Gombis gives us of this letter but his willingness to share his own participation in efforts to embody these truths in a church in urban Springfield, Ohio where he was involved at the time this book was written (he has since taken an academic post in Grand Rapids, Michigan). The book reflects extensive research on the cosmic warfare elements in Ephesians and Jewish thought of the time, a vision of Ephesians that is both faithful to the text and captures our imaginations in a fresh way, and is good scholarship that is written to serve the very church he sees as a central actor in this drama of God’s triumph.
Tomorrow’s post will feature an interview with Timothy Gombis.