In our United Methodist baptismal rite, we ask those who are to be baptized, “Do you reject the spiritual forces of wickedness?” Yet most people in our tradition have only the vaguest notion of what this means. This is partly because we do not train our pastors to discern and confront the spiritual forces of wickedness.
If we take seriously what we say in this baptismal rite, we need to have informed, honest, and open discussions about the spiritual forces of wickedness, which we also call the “demonic.”
This language strikes many Westerners, including Western Christians, as odd, irrelevant, or even superstitious. In ages past, people in the West understood themselves according to what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “porous self.” They took for granted that the world was inhabited by spiritual beings, some good and some evil. They believed, moreover, that these spiritual beings exerted influence on their lives. Today, however, we have adopted a perspective Taylor calls the “buffered self.” We don’t see ourselves as subject to the influence of a spiritual world anymore. The emergence of the “buffered self” means that, while we may reject the “spiritual forces of wickedness” as a matter of ritual, we really can’t imagine what this rejection actually means for our lives.
It’s important to realize, however, that from a global perspective we in the West represent a minority report. Most people living today understand themselves as “porous” rather than “buffered.” Some Western intellectuals, moreover, are beginning to rediscover what it might mean to think of ourselves as susceptible to spiritual influences. Perhaps the buffered self is not the final word for Western Christians. Indeed, among Western Roman Catholics, exorcisms are on the rise.
Dr. Peter Bellini is one of those Western intellectuals who wishes to move us beyond the buffered self. In his new book, UNLEASHED! The C1-13 Integrative Deliverance Needs Assessment-A Qualitative and Quantitative Probability Indicator, Dr. Bellini provides us with some guidance for the discernment of the demonic and approaches we might take to people who are demonically oppressed. I asked him to answer a few questions to help explain where he’s coming from and how this book can be helpful.
Why did you write this book?
The book was birthed out of a need for balance in dealing with the demonic. In the world and in the church, there are perspectives that have ruled out the existence of the demonic and perspectives that have reduced everything to the demonic. This book seeks to provide both a balance between theology and science and a tool to discern the need for deliverance. The ministry of casting out demons is either entirely dismissed on one hand or misused and abused on the other. A closed-system natural worldview utterly rejects the notion of a spirit world with spirit beings. To the other extreme, some shortsighted deliverance ministries reject the validity of the health professions and identify every problem in the life of the believer as demonic. The theology of these ministries fails to account for the power of the cross and its daily application in the life of the believer as the normal way in which God delivers from sin and evil. All challenges in the life of the believer do not necessitate a deliverance session. Unleashed! is a book that offers a balanced perspective on these matters, including an instrument that can be used to assist in discerning the probable need for deliverance.
What is it’s most important contribution?
I hope that there are several significant contributions made by this work to the field of deliverance ministry. First, the book provides the reader with a qualitative and quantitative assessment tool to assist in ascertaining the probable need for deliverance. Of course, one cannot develop a purely scientific, objective instrument that would reveal the influence of invisible entities, like demons, in the life of a person. Demonic beings cannot be perceived directly through ratio-empirical means. One must infer a posteriori or reason from the facts of this world back to their cause in the spirit world via sins committed and demonic temptation. The instrument assesses seven areas of sinful behavior, as deemed by scripture, in light of four variables that comprise what I call a Bondage Quotient (BQ). The BQ is scored to ascertain the probable need for deliverance. This “formula,” if you will, is the second major contribution to the field. Much of the work done in deliverance ministry assessment is based off of inventory checklists without identifying variables, variation in demonic influence, or qualitative scoring of practices. This study recognizes that the authority of demonic influence increases as a function of generation, intensity, frequency, and duration, which is my unique contribution to the field. Finally, whereas, many practical works on deliverance disregard the questions and findings of science, and more academic studies on the subject seem to dismiss categorically the demonic, UNLEASHED! attempts to be a balanced work that integrates both theology and the sciences.
How can pastors benefit from reading it?
Although UNLEASHED! examines deliverance from both a theological and scientific perspective, much of this work stems from over 30 years in pastoral ministry and the various related problems that arise when working with hurting people who have been through addiction, abuse, trauma, the occult, and mental health problems. I believe that pastors in the West who are non-Pentecostal-Charismatic have one of three perspectives on deliverance: One, they do not believe in the existence of demons, and so do not practice deliverance. Two, they believe in the existence of demons, but they are not sure as to what is demonic and what is not demonic. Further, if they did know what is demonic, they would not know how to minister deliverance. Three, they believe in the existence of demons, and they are fairly certain what is demonic and what is not demonic. Yet, they have little experience in actual deliverance ministry. This work is a theoretical and practical resource that speaks to all three perspectives with the biggest pastoral takeaway being the wisdom on discerning the difference between the demonic and mental disorders, which is not found in most literature on deliverance.
What was the hardest part about writing it?
Balance is always the “hardest part” of deliverance ministry. The toughest challenge in writing this book was how to create an instrument that is faithful to Scripture, consonant with the reality of the demonic and the experience of authentic deliverance ministries, sensitive to pastoral issues, accommodating of non-demonic explanations for maladies, disorders, and imperfections, and conversant with the sciences and the healthcare professions. A tall order. I am sure I have fallen short in this quest.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a theology of depression for Baylor University Press. This work will examine the history of the various iterations of melancholia as well as the current biomedical model with a critique following. The critique will draw from social psychology, ontology of consciousness, as well as theological anthropology with the conviction that the biomedical model draws from a limited, insufficient, and even distorted model of humanity that relies heavily on Enlightenment rationality and advanced capitalism’s commodification of happiness and normalcy. As a response, a theological anthropology that accounts for human weakness and disability is developed that serves as a model for a theology of depression. In the middle chapters, I develop a threefold typology of theological etiology (structural, lapsarian, and purgative) of mental disorder, drawing from classic Christian sources, such as Evagrius, St. John of the Cross, and Kierkegaard. In the final chapter, building upon the theological anthropology and typology of the previous chapters, I craft a theology of weakness centered on Trinitarian kenosis and a theologia crucis that creates space in the heart of God and in the disfigurement of the crucified for the disabled and the disorder.