Power Encounter and Love Encounter… Elijah


I have been a bit down on “Power Encounter” as a missiological method… especially in this blogsite. Power Encounter has been popularized by Charles Kraft whose understanding has been affected by his work in West Africa. He found the animistic beliefs there made the people receptive to Christianity marketed in terms of power. And perhaps that is the best way to present God’s message in West Africa… I wouldn’t know. However, some people have sought to normalize power encounter to the point that some feel that it is a necessary or preliminary step to conversion. I don’t see this at all. Paul pointed out that Jews seek a sign and Greeks seek wisdom. To assume that everyone must go through a logical or philosophical argument of belief prior to conversion (based on Greek ideals) makes as much sense. But even within the Jewish ideal, the role of power encounter seems to be questionable as a missiological method. To demonstrate this, I would like to take one of the two clearest ex

The painting's story is from the Bible (I King...

Angel Caring for Elijah in Crisis. Image via Wikipedia

amples of power encounter in the Bible… Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

The story of Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal is in I Kings 18, while Elijah’s encounter with God is in I Kings 19. Please read these passages if you are uncertain about the details of this part of Elijah’s life.

Elijah won a power encounter with the priests of Baal. What were the results of this:

1. Over 400 priests of Baal were killed

2.  People on Mount Carmel fell facedown and said “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!”

3.  Apparently, prophets of God were able to minister somewhat more freely in the Northern Kingdom

These all sound pretty good, but there are some questionable points as well.

1. Having false priests executed would not be considered an acceptable missiological goal today.

2.  There is no real evidence that the people’s cries to God led to a long-term change of heart. The drift away from God continued in the Northern Kingdom.

3.  While King Ahab appeared to be more open to listening to God’s prophets, there was no major change, and his son was still a follower of Baal.

So, there is (in my mind) some clear doubt that power encounter is generally a good missions method. In fact, the use of power encounter (even in broad definition) is relatively uncommon in the Bible.

So let’s look further in this passage. If Elijah’s relationship with the priests of Baal was Power Encounter, then the relationship between God and Elijah was Love Encounter.

After the priests of Baal, Elijah went back to the royal court, probably part of his victory lap. But there he found out that Queen Jezebel was unmoved by the power encounter and planned to have Elijah killed (a reverse power encounter).

Elijah ran for his life. Some find this confusing or demonstrating lack of faith. But let’s be honest. Elijah did his most awesome miracle and thought he was done. He found out that he was wrong and could soon be killed. He had a CRISIS. His response was normal. It was a “normal response to an abnormal circumstance.”

How did God deal with Elijah? He dealt with him in a loving manner. Curiously, the way God did it was quite similar to the crisis response method taught by NOVA (National Organization for Victim Assistance). NOVA has a three step system:

          A.  Safety and Security

          B.  Ventilation and Validation

          C.  Prediction and Preparation

A.  Safety and Security. God allowed Elijah to escape a dangerous situation and go to where he felt emotionally secure and physically safe. Elijah was not running from God, he was running to Mount Horeb (Sinai). Elijah was running to God. God actually sent him an angel to feed him and give him drink so that he had the strength to continue his journey. During this time God did not speak to Elijah. Some would call this a “Ministry of Silence.” In a time of crisis, people need a time to get to a place of safety and feel emotionally secure. They also need some silence to begin to process their experience. This is exactly what God did. God gave him 41 days.

B.  Ventilation and Validation. Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb and wanted to die. God asked him “What are you doing here?” This gave Elijah an opportunity to ventilate. Elijah expressed his anger (with God), his fear, his aloneness, and his frustration. God did not correct him at this time. God did not get angry. He did not try to justify Himself to Elijah. Then God did something kind of strange. He showed His power to Elijah, but it was made clear that these signs of power were not God or where God was. Rather, it was in a small voice with Elijah. Again, God gave Elijah the opportunity to ventilate without being criticized. The first step was a “Ministry of Silence”, but this part was a “Ministry of Presence.”

C.  Prediction and Preparation. After giving Elijah ample time to ventilate, Elijah was ready. He had worked through the past, he was ready to look to the future. God gave him new tasks. He was to anoint two people as kings. Then he was to get a helper. Not only was this a new task, but this was to prepare him for new tasks (since being alone is difficult for someone in ministry). Only at this point does God correct some of Elijah’s bad thinking (not during the ventilation/validation stage) when He tells Elijah that he is not alone… there are others also faithful to God.

This is a Love Encounter. God revealed Himself to Elijah in a way that contrasted the fickle world around him. What were the results of this Love Encounter?

1.  Elijah was revitalized for ministry

2. A second prophet was brought in and trained for long-term ministry

This is definitely missiological.

Reiterating, there may be times when Power Encounter is useful, but there are questions about its real effectivity. But Love Encounter is definitely missiological effective.

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