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.
38 thoughts on “Do you believe in the demonic?”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Really interesting stuff, Aaron. Thanks!
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