Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do you believe in the demonic?

The Synoptic Gospels are full of stories in which Jesus casts out demons. In Mark’s gospel, healing and exorcism are Jesus’ main activities. In the early church, exorcism was part of the pre-baptismal ritual. Throughout much of the world today, exorcism is a common part of Christian practice. Even in the United Methodist Church, our baptismal liturgy includes the question, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness?”

Yet in much of western Christianity, we tend to avoid any serious discourse on the subject of the demonic. If it does come up, we often talk about it as pre-modern myth made obsolete by modern science and medicine. Does this approach represent an intellectual and spiritual advance, or have we lost something important in the way in which we think and talk about evil?

Despite the fact that we avoid these topics in our churches, popular culture is rife with television shows, websites, and books devoted to the “paranormal.” It seems people are genuinely interested in these types of phenomena, and even open to affirming them as veridical. Why is it that the popular culture seems more open to the reality of spiritual phenomena than many of our churches are?

I’m particularly curious to know what, you, gentle readers, think about this matter. I’d appreciate your commenting below. Please, if you would, leave any comments here rather than on my Facebook page, so that all comments are available to all readers.

And let's keep it civil, friends. 

40 comments:

  1. Hey DW,

    I read an article by Carl Braaten in which he discusses the lack of eschatological conversation in the Western church. I think your question aligns with his statement. Without a working eschatology we look at the world on a one dimensional level. We are incapable of seeing the principalities and powers at work; this also keeps us from from having a proper redemptive vision that drives our actions.

    What do you think? Does eschatology and demonic force go hand in hand?

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  2. Hi, Meshach. Thanks for chiming in. I like the link between eschatology and the demonic. Then again, many churches don't talk about eschatology, either. I think you can have eschatology without the demonic, but traditionally these concepts have been intertwined.

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  3. Thank you David for this prophetic post. A few random comments.

    Not only is there a genuine interest in the paranormal within popular culture, there is an increase in the practice of the paranormal and the occult. Dabblers and practitioners are experiencing that the demonic, though they do not call it that, is real, and they believe they are drawing some benefit from it. As a pastor in the UMC for 20+ years, I often discovered that deceived parishoners supplemented their spirituality with some form or practice of the occult and/or the paranormal.
    The problem is that our denomination, its churches, and its seminaries are steeped in modernism, offer no serious responses or interaction and have explained these phenomena and the scriptural accounts away. Scriptural references are dismissed as pre-critical/scientific, mythical, metaphorical, psychological etc. Mainline Protestants have no categories to understand or deal with the "invisible" (metaphysical or ontological invisibility) let alone the demonic.
    Thus, we do not deal with the demonic in our ministries. Pastors have little or no resources or orientation to these realities. For example, many persons would come to our church with demonic issues, only to tell me that they attended some other UM church and left because that church was not able to help them.
    Surely, not every sin, issue or problem is attributed directly to a devil, and there are those who err on that side. However, I do not feel that has been our error as UMs. We have gone to the other extreme. I do not have the space, time or the need "to prove" the existence of the invisible (invisible creation - spirit world, angels, demons) let alone the demonic.
    As someone who has led hundreds of deliverance sessions and many exorcisms, I have witnessed the demonic firsthand, not only through spiritual discernment of the invisible but also the witnessing of physical manifestations, such as foaming mouths, growling, hissing, eyes rolling back to the whites, radical change in voice (voice over dubbing), voices identifying themselves as demons, levitation on one occasion, convulsions, and free floating swelling and bulging in various part of the body among other phenomena.
    Forgive me for being graphic, but it is to illustrate that something real is going on when a demonic manifestation is detected in a person, but more important when these demons are opposed in the name of Jesus, the demons leave and these manifestations cease, and the person begins an amazing healing and recovery process. I have witnessed it countless times.
    Deliverance/exorcism ministry is biblical, consonant with historical Christianity, and so needed in a day when the influence and variation of evil is on the rise. We need to minister in the authority and power that Christ has given to the church. The secular world knows it is real. The majority world or 2/3rds world knows it is real. Even in the ratio-empricial West, postmodernism is awakening to the reality of the invisible. We see this in the theological turn that French phenomenology has taken in which invisibility is a major focus of this movement. Some good work on transcendence and invisibility is coming out of Continental philosophy that can help inform and provide a philosophical framework for metaphysical invisibility. Check it out. Just a few thoughts.

    Pete Bellini

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    1. Pete, thanks for these insights. You are one of the only UM academics willing to talk about this matter. I appreciate not only your sharing your experiences, but the intellectual resources you bring to the discussion.

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    2. What resources would Dr. Bellini suggest to get better oriented to these issues?

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    3. John, it depends on who the audience is. This is a sensitive subject and needs to be handled pastorally. When I address such issues in the Seminary classroom, I approach it from a missiological standpoint and address worldview.
      I often point to the case study of Fuller Seminary when faculty from the World Missions and Evangelism department in the early 19080s (C. Peter Wagner, Charles Kraft, Alan Tippett and others) encountered the signs and wonders and power encounter ministry of John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard).
      Wimber offered a class on signs and wonders at Fuller that turned that department upside down. Many of the leading faculty were former missionaries who operated out of an Enlightenment worldview and found their training inadequate to deal with power encounters from the folk religions on the mission field. Some of the faculty like anthropologist Charles Kraft had a Copernican revolution based on worldview shift. Much of Kraft's work at that time reflects this shift. Like Kraft, when I teach seminary students I approach it from worldview studies. Also see Paul Hiebert's work on the subject, especially "Transforming Worldviews."
      Our Enlightenment worldview of ratio-empiricism is dated, limited, flawed and inadequate to account for our experience and understanding of reality today. Even the field of science has recognized this fact over the last 100 years (ie. Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Kuhn etc).
      Again it depends on the audience as to which resources and approach I would use. For my own studies, I prefer to work out of field of philosophy and Continental phenomenology (Marion, Baudrillard, Gschwandtner, Henry, Levinas and others from this camp.
      For lay folk, Charles Kraft has some resources even for laity. Father Francis MacNutt has some practical work as well. There is a ton out there for laity, much more than for scholars.
      pb

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    4. Peter,

      At times I've struggled with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) during my life. Symptoms of OCD include intrusive, upsetting thoughts, religious obsessions, and doubting that cannot be alleviated with reassurance, prayer, study, or even psychotherapy.

      I was told by a well educated, respected Methodist pastor that my OCD indicated I was under spiritual attack and he even sensed the spiritual oppression taking place against me. Being told this caused me even greater distress.

      A year or two later the drug fluoxentine was introduced and immediately upon taking it, all of those symptoms disappeared. So unless the demonic is repelled by pharmaceuticals, all of the sincere spiritual guidance I received regarding this was bunk.

      Peter, I don't doubt your sincerity or the accuracy of your observations. What I'm saying, with all due respect, is that there is zero proof that what you describe is caused by some sort of spiritual warfare. Further, belief in such things can cause added distress and divert from a cure.

      It seems to me that many Christians believe in a "Devil of the gaps." That is, something is bad, I can't explain it (a bad phenomenon or event), therefore it must be caused by demonic forces. I believe that everything you describe will some day be explained medically, just like epilepsy, OCD, etc.

      Since there is no benefit and more importantly no proof that bad things are caused by demonic forces, and belief in such things can be distressful to the suffering, why believe or espouse it?

      I respect your opinion. I just strongly disagree with it based on my own experience.

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    5. I echo everything that Britt said. I am a United Methodist pastor, and (like Britt) I also have OCD. I was diagnosed as a teenager, and my primary symptoms were religious doubts and obsessions (this is a fairly common manifestation of OCD, known as "scrupulosity"...and there's some pretty compelling evidence that Martin Luther and perhaps even John Wesley may have had it.) The intrusive thoughts, persistent doubting, and crippling anxiety which accompany OCD cannot be prayed away anymore than diabetes can be prayed away; it is a physiological disorder caused by an imbalance of serotonin in the brain.

      I believe that virtually everything that is termed "demonic possession" can be explained by psychological or physical illness: panic attacks, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, multiple personality disorder, drug addiction, postpartum psychosis, etc. And, as Britt said, unless demonic forces are repelled by pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that any of these disorders are supernatural in nature. They're physiological ailments, and need to be treated as such. Indeed, I believe that Scriptural accounts of Jesus "casting out demons" are actually accounts of Jesus curing mental illness! "Demons" are, in my professional pastoral opinion, a pre-scientific attempt to explain the effects of certain illnesses. (This is not to say that I deny the reality of evil, nor do I deny that a blessing might bring comfort or healing to someone who believe that they are "possessed.")

      Additionally, I am *very* skeptical of reports of haunted houses or demonic possession of buildings. There isn't really any Biblical support for the notion of haunted/possessed buildings, and I think that such phenomena can usually be chalked up to physics (creaking pipes, flickering lights), optical illusions, or the simple power of suggestion. (If you believe in ghosts, and if you're told that a place is haunted, then your brain is going to "fill in the gaps" and see monsters where there are none.) There also appears to be some connection between "hauntings" and carbon monoxide levels, which explains why some people claim to see bizarre hallucinations, levitation, etc. (http://voices.yahoo.com/human-consumption-carbon-monoxide-may-explain-house-2041188.html)

      Like Britt, I can respect that people have different opinions on this topic, but I ultimately think that belief in demonic forces promotes superstition and hurts people who are suffering from legitimate, treatable illnesses. I know that evil exists, and I know that evil can wreak havoc in our lives, but I am also a firm believer in scientific discovery and rational thinking!

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  4. Growing up as a Southern Baptist and in a fundamentalist environment, every bad thing was blamed on the Devil and demons. Even in Cincinnati at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, I heard an oncologist give an hour long talk on cancer and how the Devil was trying to kill her patients with cancer. Her proof? The Bible said so. The audience grew very uncomfortable with her ideas so I asked her, "Isn't fighting cancer scary and hard enough on its own without adding to that the belief that the most evil being in the universe is also trying to kill you??" In my opinion, belief in the Devil and "evil" is simply a device for projecting blame from ourselves or away from God, or to explain things we don't yet understand. It's also an easy excuse for doing nothing to solve challenging problems. Would we have made any advances in medicine or psychiatry if we just said, "That's the Devil's fault,"?

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Britt. I would only caution that we don't want to fall into the old "fallacy of the excluded middle." In other words, the fact that some people blame everything on the demonic doesn't mean that we should do away with the category altogether.

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    2. David, I think a more important question is WHY believe in the demonic? Of what benefit is such a belief? Some observations above, while passionate and sincere, would just 100 years ago have been used to describe symptoms of epilepsy, multiple personality disorder, etc. If everyone simply attributed them to a demon then we wouldn't have the cures and treatments we do today. In my opinion, attributing suffering to demons holds us back, preventing us from providing healing and comfort that is our mission from God. Are there demons, or ghosts, or angels, or psychics, or extra-terrestrials? Who can say with certainty? It's interesting to speculate. But does believing in any of them provide any benefit? In my opinion, no. Can such belief be harmful or impede progress? In my opinion, yes.

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    3. Britt, there certainly are harmful approaches to the demonic that use enough scripture to make them nothing short of heretical. I recognize that many if not most illnesses (both physical and mental) are biologically-rooted, but there are some that are nothing short of demonic. It isn't common to see it in Euro-American culture given our modernistic mindsets, but once you've had to deal with it firsthand it really transforms your worldview. As a UM pastor I know I would have burned out with frustration long ago if I only had a naturalistic view of scripture and ministry. Having encountered God's victory over the darkness, my pastoral leadership is much more passionate and fruitful, so I'd name that as a very clear benefit for myself, my church, and community.

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    4. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and your experiences, Rebecca.

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  5. There is a spiritual dimension to our work as pastors. Call it what you will, I have seen things I dare not report here and have done battle "for the hearts and souls" of others at times that without the Spirit would be impossible to overcome. I'm not sure what classified as "demonic" and like Britt I'm hesitant to speculate because I know that most of what we see today can be explained where it hasn't in the past. I guess I'll just say this, "I know the devil when I've seen him." And he is alive and well.....at least for now. :-)

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  6. Thank you Dr. Watson for this blog. I have also encountered the demonic on United States soil and overseas. Invoking the name of Jesus with a strong faith causes them to leave. Why do I believe in the demonic and spiritual wickedness? Because it's Scriptural and because I've experienced them at work first hand.

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    1. I'm glad it's generated some good discussion.

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  7. Thank you Dr. Watson for this blog. I have also encountered the demonic on United States soil and overseas. Invoking the name of Jesus with a strong faith causes them to leave. Why do I believe in the demonic and spiritual wickedness? Because it's Scriptural and because I've experienced them at work first hand.

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  8. Britt,

    Thank you for your comments. However I graciously beg to differ. I am very cautious with each case in which I believe a person is afflicted by the demonic. Many of the cases I have dealt with involving mental disorders or neurological conditions such as epilepsy (which clearly exists but is not as common as persons would purport, especially sweeping all demonic manifestations in the NT as such) are handled holistically and not merely passed off as the devil. This is a generalization. I encourage persons to seek medical care if they were not already doing so and would couple my prayer efforts together with the medical and/or therapeutic treatment they would receive. In one case a mother came to me with her son and described his manifestations. She wanted me to cast demons out of him. After hearing her describe the symptoms and interviewing her son, I concluded that I did not need to cast demons out of him but that she needed to take her son to a mental health professional for a diagnosis. She was irate with me because I refused to cast out devil. I let her know I am not qualified to make a diagnosis but my opinion was that it was Schizophrenia and the treatment would be therapy and the right pharmacology. The subsequent diagnosis proved to be the case. In other cases persons would come to me who had already been diagnosed, were in counseling, and were being treated. We would couple treatment with prayer and would always see positive results. In some cases, it involved the demonic, not as the sole cause. Causality can be complex and multiple. In such cases when I would minister deliverance, the symptoms would subside and the person would experience peace and progress in their walk with Christ. Persons who are experienced in deliverance and have some knowledge of the mental health professions (at least the referral system) will not fall into the false dichotomy that many of your Baptist friends did. It is not alway so cut and dry. Human anthropology is complex and so is the metaphysical world. Treatment also can involve a host of remedies working together. In cases of mental health I always put the medical profession first in my recommendation of treatment. Prayer and the work of the Spirit are offered to come along side. However, we are not merely physical beings, and creation is not merely physical. The Holy Spirit is a good Spirit. Medicine nor therapy can produce the Holy Spirit or his work, though the Spirit can use both. There are evil spirit too. Neither medicine nor therapy can exorcize evil spirits, but both can assist the work of the Spirit to accomplish this purpose. I do not want or choose to believe in demons. They are simply real and I have encountered them from my conversion experience out of atheism until this day - my deliverance from sin and conversion involved renouncing the devil as key to receiving Christ. Counseling and medicine could not help me at all at that time, and if I were left to those remedies 26 years ago, I would still be an atheist or worse. Evil is real. It is not merely chemical. And Jesus is real and so is the Holy Spirit. If we can find a medical cure to rid us of demons, maybe the world will also find a medical cure to rid their need of the Holy Spirit. Just being facetious. Bless you Britt. Thank you for the conversation.

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    1. Thanks for these insights, Pete. I would also suggest that we can't judge these beliefs to be true or false based upon what benefit a particular answer brings. We would never suggest, for example, that we believe that Jason Vickers exist because it is beneficial to do so. We would say he exists because we have met him and gotten to know him. Claims about the truth of ontological claims aren't subject to whether they are beneficial or detrimental.

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    2. Yes David. I believe you are right. We do not adopt a view of the existence of a thing because it would be beneficial or useful, however convenient, pragmatic or utilitarian that might be. The existence of the Higgs Boson would be convenient to explain much about the quantum mechanics and the Standard Model, but scientists know they need empirical evidence that it does indeed exist. Or course this becomes challenging when the object in question is not observable with the five senses or at least at this point by scientific and technological observation. (Of course we know 90% + of the universe is unobservable). Much of what we work with when dealing with the invisible in theology (God, angels, the demonic, the Holy Spirit) are only known through mediation. The visible (sensible) creation provides the context for what we know about the invisible creation and also that which is uncreated. We know the invisible things through the visible. We test the spirits by the fruit. Practical theology will always be somewhat of an art seeking scientific explanation. We have been talking about mental disorders and pharmacology in these posts. Anyone who is in the field or a client knows that these also are often an art as well as a science, including the DSM IV, finding the right meds, the definitions and diagnoses or disorder etc, is not exactly Euclidean geometry or Newtonian physics.

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  9. I went to college with a very modernist and naturalistic world view that was formed by my mainline denominational upbringing. It was with extreme shock that I encountered numerous demonic manifestations that were undeniable to several credible witnesses. What was even more formational was seeing God's Word at work in overcoming the demonic power and bringing deliverance and peace to people and places. I'm now a UM pastor and demonic issues rarely come up directly in my ministry, but my firsthand experiences of Christ's victory over the demonic realm still significantly form how I approach preaching, praying, and leading.

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  10. I will say I haven't seen a mature and non-sensationalist demonology offered many places. I had a time when I read things like Frank Peretti and "spiritual warfare" texts with great seriousness, but much of that feels too Hollywood now. Many Christian accounts of evil forces look more Manichaen than anything else. One convincing source I found was unlikely: I recall hearing interviews with the author of The Rite, a reporter and lapsed Catholic who got to know some Catholic exorcists and watch them in action. Not only did he report some quite intense encounters, but the experience of research and writing brought him back to his faith. There's bad stuff out there. We need a name for it, and we shouldn't mess with it - and that's about as much as I want to know, honestly.

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    1. Drew, I agree with you that it's very easy for these kinds of things to become sensationalized. Good point.

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  11. Peter,

    At times I've struggled with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) during my life. Symptoms of OCD include intrusive, upsetting thoughts, religious obsessions, and doubting that cannot be alleviated with reassurance, prayer, study, or even psychotherapy.

    I was told by a well educated, respected Methodist pastor that my OCD indicated I was under spiritual attack and he even sensed the spiritual oppression taking place against me. Being told this caused me even greater distress.

    A year or two later the drug fluoxentine was introduced and immediately upon taking it, all of those symptoms disappeared. So unless the demonic is repelled by pharmaceuticals, all of the sincere spiritual guidance I received regarding this was bunk.

    Peter, I don't doubt your sincerity or the accuracy of your observations. What I'm saying, with all due respect, is that there is zero proof that what you describe is caused by some sort of spiritual warfare. Further, belief in such things can cause added distress and divert from a cure.

    It seems to me that many Christians believe in a "Devil of the gaps." That is, something is bad, I can't explain it (a bad phenomenon or event), therefore it must be caused by demonic forces. I believe that everything you describe will some day be explained medically, just like epilepsy, OCD, etc.

    Since there is no benefit and more importantly no proof that bad things are caused by demonic forces, and belief in such things can be distressful to the suffering, why believe or espouse it?

    I respect your opinion. I just strongly disagree with it based on my own experience.

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    1. Britt,

      I praise God for fluoxentine. I have seen it do wonders in people's lives. As for the modern concept of "proof," it is an insurmountable burden and pure reason is quite slippery ground to get traction for one to do much lifting in these terms. Not much is "provable" in the modern sense. "Falsifiability" is a more realistic expectation.
      I would encourage you to interview some serious and experienced occultists who intentionally invoke powers for various purposes. Many of the results they achieve are quite specific,systematic, and seemingly causally connected with the intents of their rituals, invocations, and incantations. The data you collect will startle you. beyond coincidence. Thanks Britt.

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  12. I read your post to Frank, David and he had to respond (but does not "do" blogs, FB, etc. yet).
    I will have to post in two comments because its long! The first half:
    David, I also thank you for this post. I can say that Aldersgate Renewal Ministries in our United Methodist Church has taught on the demonic and deliverance and we have ministered to those needing deliverance since the late 1970’s. We deal with that in our Methodist School for Supernatural Ministry. We offer it to local churches in our Pathways to a Praying Church Seminar and Supernatural Ministry Seminars. We have some associated with our ministry who have done quite a bit of this.

    One of the founding fathers of Aldersgate was Dr. William Wilson. He recently passed away. Dr. Wilson was professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. As a practicing and teaching Western psychiatrist [and United Methodist] he regarded many problems popularly attributed to demons as purely psychological, however he also insisted on the reality of demons and testified to encountering some cases of the demonic in his own practice. Dr. Craig Keener, a former atheist, now professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, has written a heavily footnoted 2 volume work called Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Appendix B of that work is titled Spirit Possession and Exorcism in Societies Today. Within that appendix is a section subtitled Western Psychiatrists and Belief in Genuine Spirits. Keener gives 5 pages of stories of psychiatrists who testified to recognizing the demonic in their practices and even used exorcism to heal their patients. I would be very hesitant to call these people quacks or ignorant. Their specialty is treating mental illness.

    Most psychiatrists who believe in demon possession say that it is rare in Western societies. I think that raises a problem of terminology, specifically in that word “possession.” When you look at some of the Gospel exorcism accounts, like the man living naked among the tombs, cutting himself, breaking chains, etc., and when you consider some of the behaviors that Peter Bellini described, being “demon possessed” would seem to be a fitting label. However, a number of writers have suggested that a more general, less extreme term like “demonized” might be closer to the sense of the Greek. In Mt. 9:32 there is an account of a man who could not speak and the problem was due to a demon. In Mt. 12:22 there was a man who was unable to speak and unable to see and the problem was due to a demon. In both cases it was exorcism that brought healing. Yet in these stories there is no mention of “possessed” behavior like being thrown to the ground or shrieking or foaming at the mouth or anything like that.

    It is interesting to me that the etiology of the people becoming “possessed” in scripture is not given. I hardly believe that the man in the tombs just woke up one day and began exhibiting those extreme behaviors. The same in the cases that Peter mentioned in his post. So, I think that their being “possessed” was the end of a process. It began with something, it progressed along a path, and ended in “possession” But my point is, that the person was “demonized” along that path, he/she was afflicted by demons, attacked by demons, maybe the person even cooperated with demons, and the end product was possession. In Eph. 4:27 Paul warns against giving the devil a foothold. Perhaps that is where this process can begin. Exorcism brings healing not only to the one “possessed” but also to the one being afflicted along the way. I am not sure that people in western societies are any less “demonized” or afflicted than those in the majority world, even if fewer exhibit “possessed” behavior. After all, if the devil and demons are real, why would they be held at bay by Western education and science that often doesn’t believe they exist?

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  13. And, the rest:
    One final comment regarding Methodism. John Wesley believed in the devil and demons and he participated in exorcisms. You can read that in his Journals. Dr. Robert Webster did his PhD at Oxford University and the substance of his thesis has been published in the book Methodism and the Miraculous. As part of that thesis he has a whole chapter on John Wesley’s understanding of evil and in it he also talks about the fact that the Wesley family believed the Epworth rectory to be haunted by a poltergeist they named “Old Jeffrey”. For 10 years the Wesley brothers—Samuel, John and Charles—wrote back and forth to their family about Old Jeffrey’s manifestations. These manifestations included a bed raising up off the ground with sister Nancy on it, two times during a card game, with 6 witnesses in the room. Demonic activity is not limited to just affecting human behavior.

    Similarly, I know of a UM church that was believed by people in the church and in the community to be “haunted”. People were too afraid to talk about it and grown men refused to go into the church alone at night because they believed there was a ghost in there and “things happened”. For example, the organ would play with no one at the keyboard or music would be heard in some other part of the building when there was no one else there. The pastor talked to the District Superintendent about this and he said, “It’s not a ghost, it’s a demon. I will come over and help you cast it out.” They did so, and those manifestations have not occurred since.

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    1. Frank and Peggy, thank you for these posts. I appreciate your taking the time to let us know in such detail about your thoughts and experiences.

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  14. I mean no disrespect, but what I see as I read the above posts are several people reinforcing each other's common belief in the demonic with zero skepticism. Further, these assertions are wrapped in academic language that adds a facade of credibility. I'm not questioning if the described events actually occurred. What I am saying is that there is absolutely zero proof those events were caused by demons.

    The New Testament says to be skeptical and to test spiritual claims. Wesley said to apply reason. Shouldn't extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or at least some evidence? Experiencing something you can't explain is not evidence. Saying the New Testament mentions demons is not proof, either.

    Making such claims regarding demonic forces can cause great distress to those suffering from afflictions or convince vulnerable people they are being possesed by such forces and cause them suffering. In addition, such attribution can divert from finding an actual cure for these people. Finally, such claims cause many people to turn away from Christianity because it appears we are stuck in the 1st Century with belief in demons, Noah's Ark, and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    With no proof beyond anecdotes - none - and the harm that results from such spectacular assertions, why espouse such things? In my opinion, it is not edifying. Again, I mean no disrespect to those who believe otherwise. I just feel strongly about this topic. Thanks for your consideration.

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    1. Britt, I don't think that describing these comments as "wrapped in academic language that adds a facade of respectability" is particularly respectful. One could say the same thing about the language of the skeptic. With regard to proof, one could say the same things about a number of different types of beliefs: I love my kids; God exists; there is an afterlife; it is wrong to murder, Augustus was the first Roman Emperor, etc. None of these claims are subject to the kind of proof that we use in the hard sciences, but I would also affirm that all are true. Normally, we affirm these claims are true based on simple perception, or based upon what is called a "cumulative case argument." In other words, we might believe something to be true based on the fact that a good bit of evidence seems to point toward it, and a less substantial body of evidence seems to point away from it.

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    2. This is a small contribution to the dialogue, but since you mention Wesley, Britt, his sermon "A Caution Against Bigotry," in which he writes at some length about the work of devils, might be on point. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-38-A-Caution-Against-Bigotry

      I think your cautions about abuses are well made, but I'm not clear what parts of Christianity you would leave in tact if you eliminated everything that does not meet your standard of "proof." Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? What proof to you have of that?

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  15. David, I apologize for my statement being disrespectful and I ask that you and any offended please accept my apology. Disrespect wasn't my intent. Rather, I'm trying to describe how the above statements sound to non-academics like me. To me, they sound similar to statements by Ken Hamm and the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. That is, they use academic language and quote selected experts in an effort to prove that believing an ancient Biblical belief is still credible. In their case, the belief is that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Noah's flood (the "Noahic Deluge") is real history. To my ears, the comments above sound like a Creationism mindset applied to another ancient Biblical belief: the demonic.

    Regarding the evidence of love that you describe, that you love your children is demonstrably true. That love exists as an independent entity outside ourselves is not. It might exist, and perhaps such an entity is what we call God. Perhaps belief / faith in such an entity is edifying and improves our lives, and even seems to be demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Therefore we conclude it's worth pursuing. Does belief in the demonic edify us that way and is thus worth pursuing? For the many reasons I describe, including my own personal experience with OCD, I strongly believe no.

    Further, if we affirm that claims are true based on simple perception or based upon cumulative case argument, well, anybody can look out the window and see that the Sun revolves around the Earth or that the person convulsing on the floor is possessed by a demon. My dad was adamant that his dad (my grandfather) appeared to him after he died and talked with for 30 minutes. I know others that make a similar claim and a psychiatrist told me that such phenomenon occurs with about 50% of people seeing their deceased spouse appear to them. Is that a real event? Should we build our spiritual lives around it? If so, why? In the same vein, why believe in the demonic?

    John, regarding proof for beliefs, I would ask two questions: 1) Is the belief edifying? And if so, 2) The more sensational the event, the greater the burden of proof if one is to believe it is a real rather than symbolic. Regarding your question, do I believe that Jesus (physically, I presume you mean) rose from the dead? Maybe, but I doubt it. Simply read the resurrection details in the four gospels. They vary wildly in important details, they can't all be accurate. Paul describes no physically resurrected body for Jesus. Perhaps Jesus appeared to his disciples and Paul in the same way my dad claimed my grandfather appeared to him, and deceased spouses appear to the surviving spouse.

    Personally, I understand Jesus's resurrection in symbolic terms of the new life that comes to us through Jesus. Therefore, if Jesus's bones were discovered tomorrow that wouldn't diminish my faith, as my faith is not based on a historical event. Rather, my faith is based on the reality and benefit of God that I see in people's lives and my own life. To those who believe the Bible more literally, I respect that you see it differently than me. I just can't see it that way, and I'm confident (never certain) that both views are fine with God.

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    1. Thanks for clarifying, Britt. I guess it's easier to misunderstand in print than in person. I appreciate knowing your intentions, and respect the honest difference of opinion.

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  16. This is an interesting discussion. As a former agnostic who has come to embrace Christianity, I’m not at all surprised when people view the entirety of the Christian faith or even the very idea of God as "pre-modern myth made obsolete by modern science and medicine.” It is probably accurate to say that in today’s world, that mindset is predominant. Stepping into Christianity from the outside, it is necessary to undergo a complete paradigm shift. That which the modern world teaches us is impossible must now be admitted into our worldview as possible. A certain amount of rewiring must occur in the brain to take seriously what Christianity claims to be true. I don’t mean that negatively at all. You have to change the way you see things. The way you think.

    As an outsider stepping in, what puzzles me is when Christians point to faith, scripture, tradition, or personal experience when talking about or relating to the Good Things - the active work of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit in their lives - yet point to science or medicine when talking about or relating to Bad Things. It is true that many Bad Things are correctly labeled and understood in scientific terms. The converse is also true. Good Things can be described in this language as well. Why not explain the rush of emotion felt in a moment of worship scientifically? Can we not use the language of neurochemistry to describe what we refer to as the presence of Christ?

    My point is that Christianity requires us to accept the “supernatural” as real, at least in the sense that some of its claims are at odds with observable laws of the physical world in which we live and breathe. It would therefore seem necessary to accept, or at least be open to, the possibility that some of those supernatural elements might be of the not-so-good variety. Perhaps even demonic.

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  17. Very good points, Walt Walker. I think the point about the paradigm shift is right on. It reminds me of Billy Abraham's book, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation. Once you cross that threshold, or once your paradigm shifts, it changes the way you see everything.

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  18. here is a snippet of a conversation between Frank Viola & Bishop NT Wright in 2012:

    Frank: When you talk about carrying on Jesus’ work in our time, our brothers and sisters in the Charismatic movement will respond, saying, “Yes! But Jesus’ work includes casting out demons, healing the sick (supernaturally), and raising the dead. So we are to do the same.” What do you say to this?

    N.T. Wright: God is the healer and hasn’t stopped healing. But, as in ancient times so today, (a) many healings take place through regular doctors and nurses (the early Christians were good at nursing people), and (b) healing always was a mystery (why some not others: note Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, and his concern over Epaphroditus in Philippians 2.25-30 – clearly Paul didn’t just say a prayer and heal him). Yes, people sometimes were raised from the dead; but other people die, in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, and nobody tries to raise them. There are well reported instances of this on the mission field to this day but I don’t know anyone who seriously says we should be trying/hoping to do it day by day. Yes, casting out demons still happens; that is a specialized and dangerous and difficult ministry and we should pray for those who are called to it. I know (as a bishop) enough about that to have the highest respect for those who engage in it and the highest gratitude that I’m not called to it.

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  19. Here is part of a paper I researched last semester on John Wesley's belief and encounters with demonic spirits. There is no doubt that our UM heritage includes a literal belief in demons. If you are interested in reading the whole paper, you can email me at abrown1@united.edu Aaron Brown

    On at least two occasions, Wesley sought discernment by asking direct questions to a demonic spirit. He asked a demon in Kingswood, “I command thee, in the name of the Lord Jesus, to tell if thou hast commission to torment any other soul?” The demon responded by naming two other women whom Wesley then ministered to the next day. This shows the power of the name of Jesus. Demons respond to Jesus’ name and Wesley claimed the power of that name. In dealing with the demons that were oppressing the woman from Bristol mentioned above, Wesley also spoke directly to them:

    "She began screaming before I came into the room; then broke out into a horrid laughter, mixed with blasphemy, grievous to hear. One who from many circumstances apprehended a preternatural agent to be concerned in this, asking, “How didst thou dare to enter into a Christian?” was answered, “She is not a Christian. She is mine.” Q. “Dost thou not tremble at the name of Jesus?” No words followed, but she shrunk back and trembled exceedingly. Q. “Art thou not increasing thy own damnation?” It was faintly answered, “Ay, ay:” Which was followed by fresh cursing and blaspheming."

    On January 13, 1743, Wesley prayed for a middle-aged woman named Mrs. K. He described the scene: "I had but just begun, (my eyes being shut,) when I felt as if I had been plunged into cold water; and immediately there was such a roar, that my voice was quite drowned, though I spoke as loud as I usually do to three or four thousand people. However, I prayed on. She was then reared up in the bed, her whole body moving at once, without bending one joint or limb, just as if it were one piece of stone. Immediately after it was writhed into all kind of postures, the same horrid yell continuing still. But we left her not till all the symptoms ceased, and she was (for the present, at least) rejoicing and praising God."

    Wesley’s understanding of spiritual warfare can be very helpful for Christians today. The tricks and schemes of Satan have not changed significantly over the years.

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    1. Really interesting stuff, Aaron. Thanks!

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  20. Us don't doo^ want ths fro do I

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