Entertaining Angels: Their Place In Contemporary Theology -- By: Lawrence Osborn

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 45:2 (NA 1994)
Article: Entertaining Angels: Their Place In Contemporary Theology
Author: Lawrence Osborn

Entertaining Angels:
Their Place In Contemporary Theology1

Lawrence Osborn


Taking as its starting point a survey of Karl Barth’s angelology, this essay explores the potential role of angelology in contemporary orthodox theology. It outlines a possible structure for angelology by presenting angels in terms of both their function (as ministering spirits) and being (as inhabitants of heaven understood as a dimension of creation). The essay indicates various roles for angelology: as a defence of the mystery of creation and its openness to God; as a possible element in dialogue with post-materialism (particularly in its New Age manifestations); and as an aspect of contemporary Christian spirituality.

I. Introduction: Why Angels?

Angels have never been a major element in evangelical theology. On the contrary, evangelical attention to angels has often been limited to the bare affirmation of their existence. This reticence reflects, to some extent, a proper emphasis on the centrality of God in Christ. Lengthy treatises on the characteristics of angels fall easy prey to the criticism that they divert us from the weightier matters of the Christian faith. Thus John Calvin wisely inserted a rule of theological modesty into his treatment of angels:

Let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word. Furthermore, we

ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification.2

This evangelical reticence about angels may also reflect our location in a culture which has been highly unsympathetic to the discussion of spiritual realities. Until relatively recently any assertion of belief in angels might well have been regarded as grounds for dismissing the speaker as ‘pre-modern’, ‘pre-critical’ or ‘superstitious’. In such a context it made sense not to put too much stress on a peripheral doctrine which might hinder the presentation of the gospel.

However times are changing. Many commentators (by no means all of them Christian) predict the imminent demise of Modernity. One symptom of the current sea change in western culture is the dramatic resurgence of interest in spirituality. With the resurgence of spirituality has come a renewed popular interest in angels. Thus angels figure far more extensively in New Age thought than they have done in Christianity over the last ...

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