Monday, April 01, 2019

Demons in America

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(Redeemer sanctuary, 3/30/19)
Every Sunday morning, when our Redeemer community gathers, is important to me. This past Sunday (3/31/19), to me, seemed more important than others. Some of my church family who knew what I was preaching on posted themselves in different places of the sanctuary to pray, for me, and for us. (If you think this is weird, then I wonder if you are really a metaphysical naturalist, which I am not.)

I talked about the need to discern spirits.


I preached on demons, identifying them, and battling against them.

I shared my discernment about demons who are behind America's culture battles.

I shared that this message was the outcome of years of discerning, as best I can. And that God told me, "Today is the day to present this." (If you have trouble with idea that God speaks to us, we have a worldview problem. See, e.g., Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.)

If you identify as a follower of Jesus, how do you feel about that? Imagine you, in your church, meeting with leadership about some problem, and suggesting that perhaps a demon was involved. How would that be received?

A few years ago, in one of my MCCC Logic classes, we were talking about the existence of God. The students know I am a theist. Which means, I believe that God exists, meaning an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, necessarily existent (without beginning and end), creator of all that exists, sustainer of all that exists, immaterial (non-physical) causal agent. 

In the middle of the discussion one student asked, "Do you believe demons exist?" A hush came over the room. Students forgot, for a moment, social media. Thirty sets of eyes were lasered on me.




  1. I am not a metaphysical materialist (I find its problems intractable).
  2. I am a Christian.
  3. Thus, I believe Jesus is God Incarnate.
  4. Jesus believed in demons.
  5. I have come to share Jesus's worldview (on Jesus having a worldview, see anthropologist Charles Kraft, Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural, ch. 9).
  6. The early church believed in demons. The real battle is not against people ("flesh and blood"), but against satan and demons. (See here.)
  7. I have been assaulted by a demon, experiencing it physically. (I reasoned this by inference to the best explanation.)
If you self-confess as a Christian, and disbelieve in demons, you do one of two things: Either 1) you eliminate the story of Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, since he believed in demons and drove them out of people, as well as instructing his disciples to do the same; was tempted by satan; told his disciples to pray for protection from "the evil one"; defeated satan and death via his death on a cross and resurrection from the dead; or 2) you are forced to demythologize the Jesus story with its demon-infested worldview, declare that demons don't exist, and that (perhaps) Jesus was speaking figuratively about demons, or not at all.

I cannot, intellectually and experientially, do either. For example, 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)

So, on Sunday morning, I again confessed my belief that demons exist, that our real battle was against them, and I shared my discernment about the demonic activity at the root of our current cultural malaise.

I shared that today, in America, we are dealing with a different kind of demon. To illustrate this, I used Mark 6, where Jesus gave his disciples authority (exousia; from or out of one's being) to "drive out" demons. I then said that soon, after the disciples drove out "many evil spirits," they faced a different kind of demon, which they could not drive out. That's in Mark 9, where Jesus says, "You failed, because this kind can only be driven out by prayer."

I quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones here, who writes:

"Jesus was telling his disciples this - ‘You have failed in this particular case because the power that you had and which was sufficient and adequate for the other cases, is inadequate and of no value here.

It just leaves you utterly helpless and hopeless and it leaves the boy in his diseased and powerless condition.’… 

What our Lord said to the disciples is this: you will never deal with this sort of problem until you have been praying, concentrating in prayer, waiting upon God, until he has filled you with the power. When you know you have got it, then you go out with authority…

As we look at the expression, ‘this kind’, I wonder whether as Christian people we are aware of the real depth of the problem which confronts us, in a spiritual sense, at this present time.

I ask that question because it seems to me to be so clear, from the activities of many, that they have not even begun to understand it.

They are carrying on with certain methods which were once successful, and they pin their faith to them, and they do not realize that they are not only not successful, but that they cannot be, because of the nature of the problem that is confronting them.”

Nothing short of a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God is adequate to deal with our situation in America today.”

Lloyd-Jones, Revival

I see two reasons why a self-confessing Christian would disbelieve in the reality of demons (there may be more). The first has to do with worldview. The second is textual, about interpretation. 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 historical and explanatory of his mission.
2. I see reality as not fully reducible to material conditions. I am not under the Enlightenment spell of metaphysical naturalism. I am not an anti-super-naturalist who denies the existence of non-physical realities.

In the Gospels, Jesus encountered and cast out demons. Why would we not do the same? Indeed, why would not this be focal in the Church, much-talked about and taught?

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. 
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, 
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.
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

Do not believe every spirit. Including the spirit that says, "I don't exist." 

And, BTW, God is a spiritual, immaterial, non-physical being himself.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am in the last stages of editing Encounters with the Holy Spirit.

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, God willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.


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.

Richard Beck, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted

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