Posts Tagged ‘M. Scott Peck’

Even the Washington Post takes up subject of exorcism

July 6, 2016

On the heels of my recent blog post, “If Satan is real (and he is), why not exorcism?” comes this Washington Post op-ed from a well-credentialed psychiatrist, describing his consulting work with churches on the subject of exorcisms. He helps clergy distinguish between mental illness and what he believes to be paranormal phenomena caused by the demonic realm.

Among other interesting things, he writes:

For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.

Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? Most of my scientific colleagues and friends say no, because of their frequent contact with patients who are deluded about demons, their general skepticism of the supernatural, and their commitment to employ only standard, peer-reviewed treatments that do not potentially mislead (a definite risk) or harm vulnerable patients. But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way.

Whether or not you agree with Dr. Gallagher, give him credit: He’s no crackpot. He believes that demonic activity of this sort is “extremely rare” and “extremely uncommon.” Moreover, he’s well aware of risks posed to vulnerable patients from diagnosing “false positives.”

Regardless, he no doubt harms his professional reputation by telling the world that he does this work. Which is brave. Only slightly less brave than psychiatrist M. Scott Peck following up his mega-best-selling The Road Less Traveled with a book affirming evil, Satan, and the legitimacy of exorcism (at least in some cases) called People of the Lie.

Also give credit to the Washington Post for giving over its high-end op-ed real estate to a deeply controversial opinion—although at 2,600 comments and counting, it doesn’t seem to be hurting its business.

I’ve said before that I believe in the power of Satan and the demonic realm to exert a supernatural influence on our physical world—including the people within it. For me, it just makes better sense of our world, especially the evil within it. In Christian theology, this opinion isn’t exactly controversial. For one thing, anyone who takes seriously the authority of scripture must concede that this kind of demonic activity was common in Jesus’ day. But it’s also not a topic that many theologians tackle.

While English evangelical theologian Michael Green, in his 1981 book, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, states the case more strongly that I would, I mostly affirm these words:

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 civilisation 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: Eerdmans, 1981), 20-1.

If Satan is real (and he is), why not exorcism?

June 11, 2016

satans_downfallMany years ago, theologian Roger Olson was instrumental in my own “conversion” to what he calls Satanic realism: the belief that spiritual warfare is real, and that the Satanic realm poses a real threat to us and our world. Granted, I shouldn’t have needed Olson to wake me up to this reality—I have the Bible, after all—but what can I say? I went to a seminary, Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, where most of the faculty believed that Satan was merely a symbol for evil, not an active force (along with his minions) working against God’s purposes in the world.

At the time, Dr. Olson recommended a couple of books that I read on the subject: Michael Green’s I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (out of print, from Eerdmans) and M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. Both of them had a profound impact on my ministry and theology.

At the time, I also talked to a trusted clergy friend who had done street ministry among junkies, prostitutes, and homeless people. With conviction and credibility, he described supernatural experiences that could only be understood in light of the demonic realm. I believed him.

Add to his personal testimony the testimonies of N.T. Wright, an intellectual hero of mine, and Olson, and I was convicted: the church in the West—Protestant or Catholic—has badly failed us when it comes to spiritual warfare. Christians in the Global South, by contrast, have rightly perceived the threat.

All that to say, I read Olson’s recent blog post, “Should Western Christians Rediscover Exorcism?” with great interest.

I am well aware of how shocked some of my readers will be by my asking the question. Am I not a modern/postmodern, enlightened Christian? Well, I ask myself that, too. But somehow I can’t avoid at least raising the issue and I’ll explain why.

What do I mean by “Western Christians?” Exorcism is not at all unknown even in mainline Christianity in much of the Global South and that is where Christianity is most vital. Most Christians in those parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America where evangelical Christianity is exploding (mostly varieties of Pentecostalism) believe strongly in the presence and power of the demonic. While exorcism might not be an everyday occurrence, it is widely believed in and often practiced.

In Europe and North America, however, evangelical Christians—to say nothing of so-called “mainline Protestants”—have by-and-large abandoned exorcism and even talk of the demonic. We smile half-knowingly in amusement when we read or hear about Luther throwing his ink well at a “devil” who attempted to distract him from translating the Bible into German. We may read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Lettersand for a moment or two pay lip service to Satan and his minions. But rarely do we take it all seriously—as if it really mattered for us.

And yet…there is no escaping the fact that the New Testament is full of it. Full of what? Satan, demons, demon possession and exorcism. So-called “mainline Protestants” typically dismiss all that as primitive description of mental illness, epilepsy and Jesus’s therapeutic powers. Officially, Catholics are still supposed to believe in the reality of Satan and demons. There are certain priests who are trained and recognized as exorcists. Evangelical Protestants in Europe and North America (and I assume Australia) typically will not deny the reality of Satan, demons, demonic possession, and exorcism, but we typically relegate all that to “New Testament times” and “the mission fields.” For the most part, we don’t think it’s real “here.”

Are we Western evangelical Christians simply over reacting to extremes and succumbing to cultural accommodation by virtually ignoring the demonic powers and exorcism? Can/should we rediscover this New Testament reality without extremism? Is it possible to rediscover it without falling into extremism? (By “extremism” I mean blowing it out of proportion and going beyond anything biblical.) I don’t have any answers, just questions. I think it’s a conversation contemporary evangelical Christians in the West need to have.

I think the answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes. What do you think?