08 February 2016

The Reality of the Demonic

All Christians committed to the veracity of Scripture acknowledge the reality of the demonic and yet there's a wide spectrum in how this is understood and applied.

At one extreme we have Charismatics who embrace (at times) an almost shamanistic or hylozoic view of the world. Demons are in the cupboard, around the corner and inhabiting everything from my dog to my socks. I was very disturbed the other day to hear a man recounting that he was being 'held down' by a demon and as he tried to call out the name of Christ, a Linda Blair-like gurgling hiss emitted from his mouth accompanied by sinister laughter and mockery. Even the recounting of it made me shiver and frankly I wonder if the man isn't possessed. His understanding of Christianity and the doctrines he was promoting were so deficient and such a convoluted disaster whether possessed or not, he's sowing confusion and discord.

At the other extreme we have some in the Evangelical and Reformed camp who (from my perspective) crave societal respectability and seem to almost labour to de-supernaturalise the faith. They don't go so far as the Theological Liberals of the Mainline who in many cases don't believe in the supernatural at all. Many of their pastors are actually agnostics when it comes to the question of God's existence. I'm not talking about them. Those folks were rightly identified by JG Machen as being adherents of 'another' religion, a counterfeit that utilised Christian language and concepts and yet wholly redefines them in Secular and Humanistic terms.

I'm speaking of Christians who for various reasons seem to have a problem with acknowledging the demonic. This will stem from various commitments, too many really to name. For some it's a Redemptive-Historical issue. This is probably the most valid albeit flawed argument that insists these occurrences may have been a reality prior to the Cross but today they are all but eliminated. Some who argue this way are devoted to Postmillennial theology and argue the world will be Christianised prior to the return of Christ. They're looking for a future era in which sin will be nearly eradicated and culture and every aspect of life will be sacralised, made holy and consecrated to Kingdom service. The reality of the demonic has little place in their schema. They believe the Kingdom manifest on Earth will all but suppress and eradicate the activities of the enemy.

Others have embraced forms of Rationalism. This can occur in both Arminian and Calvinist paradigms. Ironically in terms of epistemology they're not all that different. But for many the notion of exterior influence, extra-personal culpability, and issues of coherence with the notion of God's sovereignty and Providence lead to de facto if not de jure rejections of demonic activity.

We could go on extensively but suffice it to say that for many people they feel foolish in pointing to the demonic when speaking to unbelieving acquaintances and/or the culture at large. In both cases the 'pearls before swine' adage applies. Lost people aren't going to understand the issue and some wisdom must be employed when speaking of it to the world. I'm not suggesting that we speak about these issues when evangelising the lost or condemning the culture. Identifying world leaders and especially many Christian leaders as demonic won't further our cause even if it is true.

On a practical level I am not suggesting that we need to go about being conscious of demons and seeing them around every corner. But I believe that demonic activity is present both in the world in terms of the ordering of nations and certainly in the culture. There are many religious elements to what we as a culture are watching and doing. And without a doubt this 'partaking of the cup of demons' opens many unfortunate and unhelpful doors in our own lives.

Soteriological commitments and assumptions come into play here as well bringing us back to questions regarding rationality and epistemology. Calvinistic soteriology in the realm of assurance and the believer's security are unable to reconcile genuine warnings and threats and thus when the Scripture speaks in these terms (as it often does) they are washed or explained away through the philosophical exercise and application of theological paradigm.

Cultural analysis flags and Biblical exegesis suffers especially in terms of understanding Christian living, Redemptive-History and Eschatology.

The scope of what I'm suggesting is huge and like many of the topics I raise could only be properly engaged in something like a proper book, something I do not at present have the time or resources to entertain.

I wish only to raise the topic for consideration and to make readers aware of the extremes and suggest the Biblical position is somewhere in the middle. I'm not saying that out of a spirit of conciliation or some kind of principle of compromise.

I'm saying it because I believe one camp is all too willing to be the 'fool' in the culture and yet in rejecting Biblical authority has strayed into very dangerous waters and in many cases their anti-demonic activity is in fact demonic and opening the floodgates. They are unwittingly becoming a vehicle of demonic activity in the world.

And yet the other camp while seeking intellectual respectability and an abhorrence of cultural rejection has tried to maintain to Biblical authority but soften the edges as it were, to make its embrace more palatable in a secular and scientific world. It has affected their hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis and as a consequent has led to other equally dangerous compromises in the realm of the mind. I'm thinking of modern psychology and the materialist approach to some of the surrounding questions.

In addition they are often more than a little dubious regarding the reality of the occult in terms of telepathy, clairvoyance and other such phenomena. While it cannot be doubted that many if not most proponents and practitioners are little more than charlatans it would be a mistake to wholly discount and ignore the reality.

Arthur Pink was about as Biblically grounded as anyone I can think of. And he's unique in that he alone of serious students of Scripture had an occultic background. Before his conversion he had been involved in Theosophy, a product of the 19th century milieu. Blavatsky, Besant and Crowley were all names he knew well. Pink utterly rejected their false religion and yet he firmly believed in the reality of the occult.

He reluctantly testified to the reality of the magical arts. He had seen some pretty astonishing things during his time in their circles. While such phenomena such as a plant sprouting and rapidly growing before your eyes can be explained in terms of illusion and sleight-of-hand, he didn't think this was the case. He also testified to the reality of clairvoyant 'remote viewing' that one could 'see' what people were doing across great distances.

Was Pink insane or mistaken? His testimony on these matters as slight as it is and difficult to find is quite revealing and we wish he had spoken more about it. He was tormented by his past and the reality of the demonic and yet his response is so very different from what we encounter with modern Charismatics.

Another author who had some interesting things to say in this regard was English author Alan Morrison. I say 'was' because even though he's still around he doesn't seem to be preaching or writing anymore. He went through trials and ordeals to be sure. I never fully agreed with his views of the New Age. He's views in many ways align with teachers such as Gary Kah. They're not altogether mistaken but off-base enough to the point that I cannot recommend them. Kah in particular is corrupted by his American bias. Dave Hunt's book 'America, the Sorcerer's New Apprentice' was corrupted by many of the same errors, a confusion of American culture, Christendom and the forces at work within it. Interesting reads but deeply flawed.

Morrison (more or less a Reformed Baptist) was excellent in exposing both the nature of demonic activity in the Charismatic realm as well as the repackaging of Eastern mysticism in the West. Again, Kah and Hunt also take on this 're-packaging' element but I think Morrison was a bit more sober and reflective. His book 'The Serpent and the Cross' was a good read, though I admit I haven't picked it up in over 15 years (at least). I don't even know where my copy is at present.

Morrison was probably best known for his criticisms of movements such as the Toronto Blessing which some will recall was quite the rage about twenty years ago. You can still find a video or two of Morrison criticising it on YouTube. Most of his materials have disappeared from the Internet. I think he believed he was under threat. He had angered a lot people and ended up all but fleeing England. I spoke with him via telephone back in 2002 or 2003 while he was living in Southern France.

In conclusion I fear that 'delusion' can take many forms. It can manifest itself in an 'over-embrace' of the spiritual and yet at the same time there is a real danger in minimising these realities. The quest for respectability is but another road that leads to destruction in the end. We need to be willing to be fools from Christ. But as I said I think there are a host of factors at work that prevent many Christians from fully embracing what the Scriptures teach on these points. Their deficient doctrine of the demonic is but one aspect or symptom of a larger problem at work when it comes to embracing Scripture.

If we are fully committed to Biblical Authority these questions need to be constantly re-addressed and worked out. Creedalism, Confessionalism and Scholastic Method have unfortunately closed the door and cut-off access to even raising some of these questions.

There are other concerns, trends within the culture and so forth that I think are pertinent to this discussion but beyond what I wish to touch on here. God willing in time they can be broached.