Do We Really Believe in Demons?

The desire to avoid the real excesses of some in the church and the desire to appear respectable to some in the world lead us to downplay the demonic.

To disbelieve in the existence of devils is to disbelieve the Bible itself. Yes, it is possible to fall into error by developing an unhealthy fascination that sees demonic activity everywhere. But I do not believe that error to be as serious as the error of denying the truth of God’s Word by dismissing their existence altogether.

 

Several years ago, an excerpt from a lecture on a conservative Christian website made the rounds on social media. The speaker raised eyebrows when, in describing the worldview of the early Reformers, he implied it was backward and primitive for previous generations to believe they were truly being assaulted by demons and the Devil. I don’t remember the specifics of the organization, the professor, or the comments, but I do recall the online chatter that resulted: many challenged the speaker’s dismissiveness toward that particular aspect of the early Reformers’ worldview.

Late last year, I attended a gathering with some friends and coworkers where everyone was asked to share the moment in their life when they were most frightened. Around the table the stories fell out—some odd, some hilarious, some frightening. We ran out of time before I could go into detail on my story, but I told the group that the scariest moment of my life was a demonic encounter at a camp 20 years ago. For years, I never talked about it, and even now, it feels weird to bring it up.

After the event, a couple people wanted to hear more. They had experienced similar situations and had heard “crazy stories” from missionary friends of theirs, but even in conservative Christian circles, they felt it odd to be so upfront about a demonic encounter. Demons belong to the realm of “haunts” or “ghosts” or “UFOs.” Is it possible that, even among people who take the Bible seriously and believe demons to be real, we have psychologized or downplayed the matter to the point of losing any sense of real spiritual warfare?

Contrast the reticence to talk about demons with the testimony of the four Evangelists. When we think of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, we see his earthly ministry in terms of his role as a teacher, as a healer, as a miracle-worker. But what about Jesus the exorcist? You can’t read any of the Gospels without running again and again into Jesus’s confrontations with evil spirits. Yet we rarely think of Jesus as an exorcist. It’s as if we’ve screened out these harrowing encounters from the image we have of our Messiah.

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