|Sunday morning worship at Redeemer|
Day 17 - Jesus Cast Out Demons
I had only been a Jesus-follower for a year when I had my first physical encounter with a demon. It happened this way.
I was working as Youth Leader at Tabor Lutheran Church in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. One day the pastor invited me to a meeting. A few of our long-attending members had been exposed to the charismatic movement and were now speaking in tongues. They wanted to talk with church leadership about this. I was unfamiliar with charismatic phenomena, and brand new to the study of Scripture, so I just listened to the conversation.
The people shared their newfound spiritual experiences. Our leaders listened and responded. After a lot of dialogue, questions, and interaction we prayed. This is when it happened.
I can't remember who prayed out loud. I do remember that, as we were praying, I felt like my soul and body were being assaulted by something evil. I had never felt anything like this before. I didn't know how to interpret it. I do remember silently calling out, crying out, "Jesus! Help!"
After the meeting I called Linda. I was dating her at the time. As I shared what had just happened to me I was crying. "I am really weirding out on her," I thought. I did not know how to interpret this. Experientially, it was real. Something did just happen, and I'd never felt anything like that before. I told her words I had never spoken in my life: "I think I was attacked by a demon." As I said this I thought, "This is crazy - I don't even know if I believe in demons!" (In retrospect I have arrived at an interpretation of that evening that satisfies me, which I do not feel led to share here.)
Jesus believed in demons. New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham writes:
"Jesus’ exorcisms had the special value of dramatizing his power to overcome the forces of evil and to rescue those who were enslaved to them. He said: If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. (Luke 11:20) Though Jesus was by no means the only Jewish exorcist, so far as we know he was the only one to link his exorcisms with the new thing that God was doing: the coming of the kingdom. For this to have been at all plausible, he must have been an exceptionally successful exorcist, something which is also suggested by the fact that other exorcists apparently took to using Jesus’ name as the word of power with which they drove out demons. Jesus’ success as an exorcist provoked his enemies to find an alternative explanation for it. They said that Jesus was in league with the powers of evil and was himself possessed by the prince of the demons." (Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, p. 40)
From the beginning of the Gospels to their very end, Jesus lived with a warfare worldview. The real battle for him, as the apostle Paul knew, was not against flesh and blood but against spiritual principalities and powers. (Ephesians 6:12)
After my encounter with a demon I began to consider their actual existence. Now, many years later, I reason this way.
1. Textually, I find the stories of Jesus's demonic encounters to be historical.
2. Jesus-followers in non-Westernized cultures affirm the reality of satan and demons, and angels as well. I've been in these countries, and am friends with Asian and African scholars (including some Fulbright scholars) who embrace the reality of a supra-natural realm. (= beyond what is natural) Belief or disbelief in satan and demons (and angels) is a matter of worldview, not intelligence.
3. The worldview of Christian theism sees reality as more than merely physical. I embrace that worldview. I am not under the Enlightenment spell of metaphysical naturalism. I am not an anti-supernaturalist who denies the reality of miracles and non-physical realities.
4. In the Gospels Jesus encountered and cast out demons. Why wouldn't we do the same?
And defeat them, as Jesus did, in Jesus' name.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
- 1 John 4:1-4
FOR FURTHER READING
Greg Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict; and Satan & the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.
Charles Kraft, Defeating Dark Angels: Breaking Demonic Oppressions in the Believer's Life. Note: See Kraft's Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Experience of the Supernatural. Kraft is an anthropologist (formerly at Michigan State University) and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary. When I read Clark Pinnock's introduction to this book I knew I needed to read it. See esp. the chapter "Jesus Had a Worldview." It's scholarly and readable.
M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie. For me it was chilling to read this book, written by Peck the psychiatrist as he tells clinical stories of demon possession.
Does Satan Exist? Greg Boyd's "S.I.N. Hypothesis"
John Calvin on Demons
I am not a philosophical naturalist or physicalist. Therefore I do not believe reality is only physical. Once one admits there are non-physical elements of reality the door is open to logically believe in spiritual beings such as angels and demons. To examine problems with philosophical naturalism see, e.g., texts such as: Naturalism, by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro; The Waning of Materialism, by Robert Koons (ed.) and George Bealer (ed.); and The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, by J.P. Moreland.