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Epic Villainy

13 March 2012 by Neil

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

The English speaking peoples use up a lot of useful adjectives. We hear someone overreach with a wild description, we snicker, and then we perpetuate the crime ourselves and turn the word into a meaningless throwaway. Example of some words that have lost their vibrant power? Awesome, wonderful, fantastic, incredible, and today's favourite: epic. "Epic" should not describe a compelling cut scene from a video game, nor some sap's tobogganing mishap, nor inappropriate engrish signage.

Epic isn't even properly an adjective. An epic is a heroic poem or narrative, a long story, spanning wide reaches of time and space. An epic traces setbacks and advances, victories and despairing losses. Mistakes are made and people die. An epic will cause you to mourn, but it may also give you hope. There are surprises. You may find that the life or death of an entire people is at stake. There are four or five conspicuous themes and competing long games recurring throughout the 1000+ pages. Some epics are tragic. Most of the characters in the tale don't know whether they have a future. And the ending blows your mind.

In one particular epic, in fact the mother of all epics, we come to the following recurring hinge: Romans 10:13-15, Isaiah 6:7-8, Matthew 9:36-38, John 4:34-36, Matthew 28:17-20. An entire people is lost and careening towards damnation. God calls his own people to do his will, to obey his command: to proclaim and live the Gospel.

It's urgent. Do you get it? This epic is real, it's ongoing, the stakes are monumental, and we don't know just how it's going to end for every participant. Do you hate your boss? Do you hate your son's bad-news friend with too many piercings? Your neighbour? That dog-owner acquaintance who gives you an absent minded hello when you walk your own doggie? Your own children? If you hate all these people, then by all means continue theologizing instead of evangelizing. And embrace your role as an epic villain. You've earned it.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. -- 1 Corinthians 9:21-23

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