You can’t write Satan out of the story and leave the story unchanged

August 5, 2014
Say what you will about the devil, Underwood deviled ham is delicious!

Say what you will about the devil, Underwood deviled ham is delicious!

A fellow United Methodist pastor and blogger named Morgan Guyton, who blogs on Patheos’s “Progressive Christian Channel,” wrote the first post of his that I’ve read with which I can mostly agree! He defends his belief in Satan as a supernatural being, rather than a literary symbol or metaphor.

Among other helpful things, he writes:

To be honest, I’d be more scared of the world if I didn’t believe there was a devil. Because we have had some hideous things happen in our world. During the dirty wars in Latin America in the eighties, military torturers did incredibly horrendous things to other peoples’ bodies. Now, in Iraq, the ISIS terrorist group is literally crucifying its political opponents. If that kind of behavior is natural to humanity, then our world is an incredibly scary place. I have to believe that it isn’t natural, that there’s an evil one who possesses people, and that most importantly, they can be delivered from this possession and have their humanity restored.

I warned him, half-jokingly, that my own journey away from the progressive Christianity of my seminary days began, in part, after I embraced what Roger Olson calls “Satanic realism.”

What Guyton says above, however, is echoed by theologian Michael Green in his excellent book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall. With uncharacteristically strong words, Green writes:

I believe the Christian doctrines of God of man and of salvation are utterly untenable without the existence of Satan. You simply cannot write him out of the human story and then imagine that the story is basically unchanged. At the beginning, at the mid-point of time and at the end, the devil has an indelible place in Christian theology. The fallen nature of man and of everything he does, the self-destructive tendencies of every civilization history has known, the prevalence of disease and natural disasters, together with “nature, red in tooth and claw” unite to point to a great outside Enemy. I would like to ask theologians who are sceptical about the devil how they can give a satisfactory account of God if Satan is a figment of the imagination. Without the devil’s existence, the doctrine of God, a God who could have made such a world and allowed such horrors as take place daily within it, is utterly monstrous. Such a God would be no loving Father. He would be a pitiless tyrant.[†]

Michael Green, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 20-1.

4 Responses to “You can’t write Satan out of the story and leave the story unchanged”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, as I indicated in a comment to another post about Satan you did some time back, I certainly agree there is an individual person, Satan, who is bitterly opposed to Christians specifically and mankind generally, and who has great power (“the prince of the power of the air,” a “roaring lion,” etc.). I attribute many temptations as having their source in Satan and his army of demons. However, we do need to be careful about one thing, I think, and that is, God is, ultimately, “in control” of what Satan is “allowed” to do. Witness the story of Job, and the temptation of Ahab to go to battle, and the fact that simultaneously God was angry with Israel when David took the census in one account, and “Satan stood up against Israel” in the other. Thus, it is often Satan and other demons who are the “actors on the stage” at the moment (which is important to realize), but we cannot overlook the fact that God is the ultimate “playwright” for the entire “play” of history. Thus, God never “makes” the Devil do anything, but God allows Satan to freely act out his schemes from his own motives with an ultimate view towards a redemptive history. (Witness, likely, the overall story of Joseph, even though Satan is not specifically mentioned in that account.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. God lets both human beings and Satan act freely “with an ultimate view towards a redemptive history.” Perfect. The Joseph story is a great illustration of this.

  2. Gary Bebop Says:

    Morgan Guyton gets it right here, but I wish he wouldn’t strain at gnats to write homosexual sin out of the Bible.


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