We recently had C.R. Wiley out here in Moscow for our Grace Agenda, and Canon Press released his newest book at that time, which I have just recently finished. Having finished it, I want to take this opportunity to make it my book of the month, which is just another way of saying that this book is the good beans. The book is entitled—provocatively enough—The Household and the War for the Cosmos.
He begins by comparing the Christian faith with classical paganism, and drawing our attention to a point of similarity. That similarity has to do with the old understanding of pietas. He does not do this in any syncretistic fashion—he is very plain about the deficiencies of paganism, and how it had to go. But he points out something that needs to be emphasized again and again in our time. When Christians lament the turn away from the faith and a “return to paganism,” the only response should be “we should be so lucky.” The modern forms of unbelief that we must contend with today are manifestly sub-pagan. “At least the old pagans had idols to focus their attention; today we stare into the void” (p. 96).
In the ancient world, piety was a matter of bedrock loyalty to your family, and “piety paid its debts” (p. 18). For modern evangelicals, for those for whom piety is even still a thing, that piety consists of things like Bible reading and prayer. But Wiley begins by showing us the images of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises away from the sack of Troy, and shows how crucial to social order this pietas was. “The thing about pietas that cannot be missed is its social character. It didn’t isolate you, just the opposite; it bound you to everything else. It was the glue of the world” (p. 21). Wiley shows in this first part of his book how much Aeneas and Abraham had in common, and he shows how they eventually (of necessity) came into conflict.
Wiley’s book is one, long sustained argument, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat as you approach the end of it, leaning toward the conclusion. And my best way of summarizing that conclusion is this. He shows—to take the book of Ephesians for my example—that the New Testament “household code” instructions are not some extraneous thing dragged in, disrupting the flow of the book. No, husbands loving their wives and wives respecting their husbands has a tight connection to the fact of our spiritual warfare, as we wrestle with the principalities and powers. Paul is not changing the subject.
You know how at a conference held in a local church, before you get down to business, there are usually some announcements about where the restrooms are located, as well as how to make your way to the fellowship hall where the coffee is, but that stuff is not considered the theme of the conference. You know, housekeeping announcements. Wiley shows us that the household code teaching in the New Testament is not first century “housekeeping” issues.
And this also means that, for all those who see the manifest decline of our culture and who wish there was something they could do . . . there is. We have households, and the book is aptly named. The Household and the War for the Cosmos.