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Angels We Ignore On High

Dec 20 2013
Reintroducing evangelicals to the heavenly hosts.

This time of year, we sing a lot about angels. Hark the herald angels sing. Come and behold him, born the King of Angels. Angels we have heard on high.

In Scripture, angels are all over the place—far beyond just the Christmas story where they seem to terrify everyone they encounter.

We see them ministering to Jesus in the desert. They show up in the Resurrection and the Ascension. The book of Hebrews is full of them, with repeated reminders not to worship them or confuse them with the Divine. We see them throughout the Old Testament—in Sodom, in the book of Job, and repeatedly in the Psalms. Elisha sees an army of them. They turn up hundreds of times throughout the whole canon.

Yet, until recently, I basically ignored angels. I never rationally came to a place of disbelief in angels. I never examined the evidence for them and found it lacking. To me, angels just seemed to be a bit cheesy.

In all my years in evangelical churches, I cannot recall hearing much teaching about them except from one Sunday School teacher who was oddly preoccupied with mysterious phenomena. She would close each class with an "angel story" that she'd read from a magazine, where men suddenly appeared, did some good deed, and then disappeared again.

I loved her stories, but my understanding of angels never grew up. Angels remained frozen on Sunday School felt boards or in pageants at Christmastime. I have a foggy, uncomfortable memory of donning impossibly heavy wooden wings for our church pageant and being instructed to smile even though I felt like a glittery version of Atlas.

A few years ago, I heard an interview with the British theologian John Milbank, where he said, "I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I'm really bitterly opposed to… disenchantment in the modern churches, including I think among most modern evangelicals."

He told a story about the Nottingham diocese in England, which he described as "a very evangelical diocese." They had received a request to participate in a radio show about angels. They surveyed their clergy, asking, "Is there anyone around who still believes in angels enough to talk about this?"

Milbank chastised the diocese saying, "Now in my view, this is scandalous. They shouldn't even be ordained if they can't give a cogent account of the angelic and its place in the divine economy." He called for a re-enchantment of the church, that we should believe, confess, embrace, and admit all of Scripture and much of church tradition—even the weird stuff.

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