From Power Encounter to Love Encounter

<A related, follow-on article is Power Encounter, Love Encounter, and Pandemic Love.>

In Missions there is often 3 types of “encounters” discussed. Charles Kraft, in particular, has a lot in this area and include:

  • Truth Encounter

    St. Boniface and Power Encounter
  • Allegiance Encounter
  • Power Encounter

Truth Encounter is the challenge of God’s truth against the various lies that are encountered in this world. Allegiance Encounter is a volitional challenge. As Joshua stated in the Bible, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This encounter involves making a choice to stand with God or with the enemy. Of these two, I would place Allegiance encounter as the more important. Salvation or conversion is an affective or volitional act. Correct knowledge is important but secondary.

This leaves power encounter. This is where the power of God is put to the test against the powers of darkness. Many missiologists consider this to be very important, but I THINK all would have to agree that the challenge of power is secondary to truth and allegiance. In fact, generally power encounter is considered simply preparatory for truth encounter and eventually allegiance encounter. In a sense, power encounter always happens in salvation since the power of God must be exercised to give freedom from the bondage of sin and the powers of this earth. However, that necessary form of power encounter is behind the scenes. It is not an encounter that happens on a “missiological” level. On a missiological level, the necessity or value of power encounter is less certain.

I used to be in favor of power encounter, and I suppose I don’t wholeheartedly reject it, but I have had growing qualms. I do have to add the caveat that some cultures may need power encounter more than others. Just as the Ancient Greeks valued truth and reason (making truth encounter, perhaps, more necessary), Animists are commonly focused on the spirit world as a source of power (both as a desirable and an undesirable thing). Perhaps missiological power encounter is more valuable here. Additionally, in TRULY unreached people groups, power encounter may be important to “open the door.”

In 1st millenium Frisia and Germany was St. Boniface, the “Apostle to the Germans”. A method he used was a form of power encounter. He would enter a pagan village, go to the sacred space, a holy tree, and cut it down. The argument was that if the gods Woden, Thor, or others of the Germanic pantheon, were so powerful, certainly they would have stopped St. Boniface from cutting down their tree… or at least smite him after the fact. This is power encounter through desecration.

This is not the only form of power encounter, and one could certainly argue that this wasn’t really a satisfactory test for power encounter. First, God’s power wasn’t really tested (unless one assumes that God was actually protecting St. Boniface from the other gods). Second, it may not be really testing the power of these gods but rather their allegiance to the sacred space. Just as Elijah, jokingly, suggested that Baal was asleep or too busy to get around to burning the sacrifice offered in that famous scene on Mount Carmel, inaction is not necessarily proof of lack of power. It could be lack of will or allegiance.

Regardless, however, history does point to an ugly side of power encounter. In the case of St. Boniface, desecrating a place without the concurrence of the local people appears to be without justification in the New Testament. 1st century Christians lived in a pluralistic society. They had plenty of opportunities to desecrate local pagan shrines. Yet they did not (Okay some did. There were reports of early Christians standing next to idols blaspheming pagan gods and spitting on the idols… but this does not appear to be a normative behavior). Additionally, history shows that when the Norsemen (Vikings) invaded Christian lands years after St. Boniface, they often targeted Christian structures such as churches and monasteries. This focus may have simply been due to the greater wealth and lesser defenses compared to other structures. Yet one could interpret their behavior as a reverse power encounter. And what would such circumstances demonstrate? Does God lack the power to prevent such desecration? (Some would obviously respond “Yes”.) On the other hand, it could be viewed as an allegiance encounter. God chose not to respond to the desecration is these “sacred spaces.” The end result is ambivalence. The fact that St. Boniface was eventually killed by pagans adds further question as to the insight gained from this experiment in power encounter.

The Bible also shows ambivalence to Power Encounter. The two greatest examples of power encounter in the Bible are Moses’ challenge to the sorcerers of Pharoah, and Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal. While Moses challenge proved to be a tactical victory, it did little to nothing as a cross-cultural mission encounter. With Elijah, the text also seems to express ambivalence regarding its effect. Jesus also did heal the demon-possessed. That could be looked at as a form of power encounter– battling with the forces of darkness, showing God is more powerful than the agents of evil. However, it is certainly not a classic form. First, the audience presumably already believed that God (Yahweh) was more powerful than the demons. Second, He often appeared to minimize that aspect of the encounter… such as minimizing the news regarding the healing, and requiring the demons to keep quiet as to His identity. It seems better to say that His healings were evidence of His relationship to God, partly, and His compassion for the suffering (love encounter).

With the propensity of charlatans of all sorts to peddle their wares… be they for God or against God, power encounter can point people away from God as much as point them towards God. Fake faith healers are likely to sour people to the truth, and may even lead people to question if God can actually heal.

Unfortunately, power encounter has often been mixed together with odd teachings like spiritual mapping. This does not make power encounter wrong of itself, but it does mean that power encounter often gets wasted on (what I believe to be) useless activities, such as attacking spiritual territories and strongholds. This seems to be more of a syncretistic Christo-paganism than genuine Biblical missions.

I would like to suggest that Love Encounter be moved into the top three, displacing power encounter at least one slot. Jesus did do miracles that were a form of power encounter. Jesus also shared truth that challenged the world’s truth. Jesus also challenged people to pick a side… follow Him or the world. Yet, in many ways, it was the love and self-sacrifice of Christ that most clearly challenged and contrasted the self-serving, shallow love and values that the world offers. In many cases, the love encounter with Christ was the most important to bring life change. I believe that this has not changed. There are times where Power Encounter may be beneficial. But Love Encounter is always valuable.

9 thoughts on “From Power Encounter to Love Encounter

  1. Bruce E. Felt

    Bob – you are a good thinker and this is certainly not a rambling blog. Allegiance encounter is most essential in our relationship with God but it is based on the primacy of truth internalized by the power of the Spirit. What probably resonates with your readers is your analysis of power encounter since that is such a focus among many groups that name Christ and certain books, etc. where gospel presentation takes a subsidiary place to the broader appeal to sensory perception. Jesus and Paul placed the highest premium on love and I think you are on target. Blessings, Bruce


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    1. I think one could argue that the highest form of conversion is either truth encounter or allegiance encounter. Truth encounter says that God/Christ/Bible’s message is true and that one believes. Allegiance encounter says that one chooses to follow Christ.


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