Saturday, February 07, 2015

Wesleyans and Grudem (Satan and demons)

Some of my previous posts in this series include:

Chapter 20: Satan and Demons
Grudem is an interesting thinker in that he is a fundamentalist in thinking and yet sympathetic to the charismatic movement. That's an unusual combination.

Accordingly, the amount of detail this chapter covers is quite striking. Grudem has clearly thought about this topic a lot more than most Wesleyans do. In fact, he reminded me of a remark a friend once made about Roman Catholic theology. They have been around so long that they have thought about a lot of things that Wesleyans have not thought much about. They've developed some ideas that, to many of us, may seem a little weird.

In the same way, Grudem has asked questions about demonic activity that most Wesleyans have never even occurred to most Wesleyans.

1. As with angels, there is much in this chapter that Wesleyans either would agree with or would not really have an opinion on.
  • Satan is a fallen angel, as are demons.
  • Satan is the head of the demons.
  • Satan and demons are opposed to God.
  • The power of Satan and demons is limited and doesn't even come close to God's power.
  • What the OT calls "gods," we would call demons. I would add that the earliest strata of the OT does not know yet about Satan. There are places in the early OT where God is said to cause something evil (e.g., 2 Sam. 24:1) where later passages indicate it was more precisely Satan (1 Chron. 21:1), with God's permission (see Job 1).
  • Jesus exorcist ministry on earth was the binding of Satan, a sign of the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Satan's power is definitively over, even though he is still kicking.
  • Demons are active in the world today.
  • Not everything evil that happens comes from Satan and demons.
  • Demons cannot make a Christian do something, but they can attack and try to influence them.
  • Christians need not fear demons. Christians who are spiritually strong can rebuke demons when they know for certain they are dealing with one. Grudem is probably right that whatever Jude 8-10 is about, it is not about the kind of confrontation the seventy had with demons in Luke 10. It may refer to the kind of over-zealous demon seeking of some in the charismatic movement.
2. Weird things
There are a number of things in the chapter that may be right, but it really seems more or less to be speculation and charismatic tradition.
  • Demons can't read our thoughts or know the future. Sure, why not. But we can imagine that they are smarter than Einstein. There are people who are so intuitive they can more or less see what's coming. You would imagine that angels and demons are smarter.
  • Grudem questions some teachings in the charismatic church today. He finds no evidence for there being demons in certain territories or locations (421). He discourages questioning demons for information.
  • Grudem questions language of demon possession. He apparently distinguishes that from "having" a demon (Matt. 11:8). I'm not sure I see the difference.
  • I seriously doubt that demons are the main culprit behind someone who teaches false doctrine. Evil is not focused in belief but in the heart. We discern evil when we discern a heart of hatred, not when someone has crazy ideas.
  • He gives some interesting advice: don't talk glibly about demons (431); focus on people oppressed, not on demons. Don't be overly curious about demons (432).
3. Exegetical issues

a. There are not many passages in the Bible about Satan and demons, and much of what is said had deep connections to Jewish apocalyptic thinking. The allusive nature of these comments make it dangerous for us to be very detailed about our thoughts on Satan and demons. It will inevitably be difficult for us to know where the cultural context of apocalyptic Judaism ends and distinctly Christian revelation begins.

Indeed, much of what Christians believe about Satan and demons seems as much a matter of Christian tradition after the New Testament as it does the Bible itself. So we must decide whether God continued to unpack revelation in this area after the Bible or whether this is simply an area in which we should only have some basic core beliefs like those mentioned above.

b. For example, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 simply were not about Satan in context. Satan is unknown in Isaiah or Ezekiel, and the context of these two chapters is obviously about evil kings at the time of these two prophets. Later interpreters read these passages in a "fuller sense" about Satan. That may be a legitimate "spiritual" way of reading these passages.

Perhaps that is legitimate. The problem is that the New Testament does not clearly endorse this reading. Luke 10:18 may allude to Isaiah 14 when Jesus says that he observed Satan fall from heaven like lightning. But the context of Luke 10 is not the fall of Satan before Adam. It is the exorcist ministry of Jesus' disciples. It either referred to what was happening in Jesus' own ministry or to what is now destined to happen.

c. Again, some of the key verses about the origins of demons come from very obscure verses in the Bible: 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6. Other possible verses to take into account are 1 Peter 3:19, Genesis 6:1-2, and Rev. 12:4. These are scarcely clear enough to build much in the way of essential Christian belief.

Grudem's hermeneutic, a fundamentalist hermeneutic, takes individual verses and harmonizes them into an overall system. By contrast, because individual verses are most likely to be ambiguous and to be based on historical context, biblical theology should focus on big principles and live with uncertainty about individual verses that do not seem to fit.

What is particularly difficult in relation to these sorts of verses is how deeply entrenched they seem to be in an apocalyptic Jewish worldview. The New Testament only skirts the edges of this paradigm. If we read passages like those again from the perspective of Jewish apocalyptic, we would read Genesis 6 as angels having sex with human women, for that is how 1 Enoch reads this text.

This Jewish background literature gnaws at a person the more you know it. It suggests that Grudem's reading requires a person to treat 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude as if they weren't written at the time and place that they were. Once again, we end up endorsing Grudem's theology of where Satan and demons come from but probably revealing that he does not get that belief from the Bible but from early Christian tradition, which is okay.

d. My personal hunch is that we should take the millennium in Revelation 20 symbolically. No other part of Scripture suggests there will be 1000 years between Jesus' return and the final judgment. And we shouldn't base a doctrine on something that only appears once in Scripture. It's not, however, something to die for. We'll know when it happens.

e. Given how much of the ancient Jewish worldview is involved in NT imagery about Satan and demons, we should probably be cautious in our application. For example, not all instances of epilepsy are demon-possession. It is quite possible that some events that would have been identified as exorcisms in the ancient world would today be identified as schizophrenia or other psychological conditions.

Let me be clear here. I am not suggesting that all instances can be explained as mental disorders. Similarly, I am not discounting any of Jesus' healings. But we are dealing with real people here, and love demands that we be very careful in this area. If medication works, then we should medicate rather than presume a demon is involved. I have no doubt that heinous things have been done by both well-intentioned and less than well-intentioned Christians in this area.

5. In summary, Satan and demons exist. They remain a strong influence for evil in the world, but their power is nothing compared to God's. Jesus has struck the definitive death blow, even if they will not be finally dis-empowered until Jesus returns.

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