Do most UMC clergy believe in the devil? Yay!

March 2, 2015

Sometimes I get a little, um, pessimistic about the future of our United Methodist Church, especially given how lightly many of our clergy hold to the authority of scripture.

Be that as it may, credit where credit is due: On the United Methodist Clergy Facebook page (which is not for the faint of heart), a Methodist clergy colleague (whom I don’t know) posed these questions (click to enlarge):


I’m pleased to report that the response from clergy so far is a resounding “yes.” Here’s what I contributed to the discussion. This summarizes some ideas I’ve blogged and preached about on the topic in the past.



“Kenosis” is the idea that one consequence of Christ’s “emptying himself” (Philippians 2:7) in the incarnation is that his knowledge was greatly limited. While I agree with that in principle, I don’t believe kenosis applies to his teaching.

Earlier in the comment thread above, someone wondered aloud if arguing over Satan’s literal existence wasn’t “majoring in the minors,” since, after all, the devil doesn’t rate a mention in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed? As if the creeds have more authority than the Bible?

8 Responses to “Do most UMC clergy believe in the devil? Yay!”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    “Then Satan stood up against Israel.” “Then Satan entered into Judas.” “Satan hindered us.” Just a few more passages of Scripture acknowledging Satan’s reality and activity beyond what Jesus said about him. Really, refusal to believe in Satan is like refusal to believe in miracles–it emasculates scripture for the benefit of–what? Not to “offend” the “intelligentsia” one likes to be held in esteem by.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’m seriously interested in this question: If one believes in God to begin with, why is it so much harder to believe in demonic forces (and angels)?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Well, to me it is like wanting to “kowtow” to evolutionists. They don’t want to “lose credibility” with those who are held in high esteem by “high society,” so they make Christian doctrine as “milquetoast” as possible to avoid “disdain.” Even if there is some supposed “legitimate” reasoning, then it would likely still be an obeisance to “science”–we now know that disease is not caused by “spirits,” but germs, etc., so belief in spiritual causes of ANYTHING is passé, only for the “less educated” laity.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I get that, but an ostensible Christian already believes in God! They already believe in a spiritual cause of something—the universe!

        By the way, Tom, how did you not get in on any of my Christian pacifism debates? 🙂

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        As to the latter, in fact I was too busy at the time to chime in! Curses to work! 🙂

      • brentwhite Says:

        I was too busy at the time, too, but it didn’t keep me from getting distracted by it. Ugh!

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    This whole argument about good and evil beings, also gets carried over to the question of heaven and hell. Many do not believe in hell, but I think that C.S. Lewis made some wonderfully insightful observations on the subject. The following is excerpted from a piece by Peter Kreeft of Boston College:

    Quote: “Hell and heaven make life serious. Heaven without hell removes the bite from life’s drama. C. S. Lewis once said that he never met a single person who had a lively faith in heaven without a similar belief in hell. The height of the mountain is measured by the depth of the valley, the greatness of salvation by the awfulness of the thing we’re saved from.
    What is hell? The popular image of demons gleefully poking pitchforks into unrepentant posteriors misses the point of the biblical image of fire. Fire destroys. Gehenna, the word Jesus used for hell, was the valley outside Jerusalem that the Jews used for the perpetual burning of garbage because it had been desecrated by heathen tribes who used it for human sacrifice. In hell you make an eternal ash of yourself. Hell is not eternal life with torture but something far worse: eternal dying. What goes to hell, said C. S. Lewis, is “not a man, but remains”.
    The images for hell in Scripture are horrible, but they’re only symbols. The thing symbolized is not less horrible than the symbols, but more. Spiritual fire is worse than material fire; spiritual death is worse than physical death. The pain of loss—the loss of God, who is the source of all joy—is infinitely more horrible than any torture could ever be. All who know God and his joy understand that. Saints do not need to be threatened with fire, only with loss. “All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it—or else that it was within your grasp and you have lost it forever” (C. S. Lewis).” End quote

    • brentwhite Says:

      I remember that Lewis quote: “The thing symbolized is not less horrible than the symbols, but more. Spiritual fire is worse than material fire; spiritual death is worse than physical death.”

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