HP4

I've just returned from the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My verdict: Not as good as film #3, but better than the first two. The movie captures some things rightly (especially the graveyard showdown between Voldemort and Harry), but glosses over too much important material. Of course, in the long run, I agree with most of their editing and storyline decisions; a movie can only capture so much. I still highly recommend it. And if there's anyone reading this blog that is against Harry Potter (God-forbid) for religious reasons, or just does not care about the series, I'd be happy to argue otherwise.

Comments

Shane said…
I'll bite, it's been a while since I struck this particular equine corpse, anyway.

Harry Potter, isn't that book about the boy who uses the power of the devil?

In all seriousness, isn't the source of fundamentalist Christians' rejection of Harry Potter the belief that it is possible to control invisible spiritual forces (demons) and bend them to do your will. That is what 'magic' is and the fundamentalists quite correctly observe that the Bible explicitly teaches that Christians shouldn't be involved in magic, because it is fellowship with the devil or his minions.

Now if you're like me and you don't believe in demons, you don't worry about it. 'Magic' is just a spiritualized version of the post hoc fallacy and there is no reason to think that a bunch of kids running around in bathtowels and yelling, "Crucio!" as they point small sticks at each other is any cause for alarm.

Now, I don't think David agrees with me about demons, and I know Mark doesn't. Perhaps one of them could explain to me why they aren't worried about little children fellowshipping with the devil, even though they are committed to the idea that he does exist.

Perhaps they accept demons, but reject magic, because they simply reject the notion that one could 'control' a spiritual entity like a demon. But, isn't that just you reading your western, rationalistic presuppositions back into the text of the Bible? There is all sorts of magic in the Bible, as I have argued at length elsewhere and no suggestion that magic is any less real that the demonics powers from which it comes. If you are going to demythologize magic out of the Bible, why not make a clean break of it and demythologize the demons out with it?

shane
Mark Congdon said…
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Mark Congdon said…
Shane,

I'm not particularly interested in demythologizing either magic or demons, at least in the general sense.

I'm not particularly concerned about Harry Potter because it is fictional literature, not a textbook or a "fellowshipping with the devil".

I think your statement of the reason for "fundamentalist Christians' rejection" is an over-simplification... but since none of us in this conversation are ourselves fundamentalist Christians, it probably doesn't do all that much good to debate the point.

David,

You'd be willing to "argue" that I should not "not care about the series"? Is it required reading or something? Not caring about the series is precisely where I happen to be. I read book 1, but none since. I saw the first movie, when it showed on TV, but none since.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Shane, I'm not sure what I have said in the past to make you think otherwise, but I have never believed in the reality of demons (or magic, for that matter). So on that issue, we agree. Before I say anything about Harry Potter, which will come in a separate comment, I would like to buttress my argument against the satanic with Scripture.

An important biblical narrative that has enforced my disbelief in Satan are two parallel passages about David taking a census in 2 Sam. 24:1 and 1 Chron. 21:1. In 2 Sam. 24, it reads:

"Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.' ... David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.'"

So God gives David three options for punishment, and the story goes on. This passage is perplexing, since it appears that God forced a human to do something against God's own will. Well, apparently it was problematic for later Hebrew writers, and so the Chronicler changed the story to this:

"Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. ... Then David said to God, 'I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.'"

So there you have it. To fix the theological conundrum, the Chronicler says that Satan is the inciter, not God. What does this mean in retrospect? Well, clearly the earlier editors of 2 Samuel did not have a problem with a contradictory God, but as time progressed and Israel's theology became more systematic and organized, it became clear that the earlier conception of God was inadequate. Enter Satan. The realm of the demonic acts as the solution, because now God's righteousness and unity is preserved, and an external force can be blamed for human error. The ancient need to find a spiritual cause for earthly effects is clearly evident here.

(By the way, this passage has also helped me to articulate why I believe God does not support violence and warfare. The Israelite God of Joshua, in particular, is a contradictory God who may or may not desire what the Israelites clearly pursue: the annihilation of other people groups. It's quite possible that a later editor might see in that early portrayal a demonic influence, rather than Godly. At the very least, the image of God that we definitively see in Jesus supports this conclusion, in my opinion.)

This one episode from 2 Sam/1 Chron is not by any means conclusive for the discussion about the demonic, but I think it opens up a path toward a more healthy and responsible view of the cosmos and spiritual "forces." I do not want to see this as demythologization, since I think Scripture supports this view. Demythologization suggests that our enlightened modern understanding forces us to pick and choose what we accept from Scripture. That is "chronological snobbery," to use Lewis' phrase. I would rather see Scripture as self-critical on this matter, and on many others as well. Instead of viewing the Bible as monolithic document that must be accepted or rejected wholesale (or else picked apart by modern rational minds), I want to see Scripture as a narrative spanning numerous cultures and time periods, all of which attest (in their manifold ways) to the redemptive work of God in human lives and history. Such a document may disagree with itself, but for a common purpose and telos. Is this an acceptable definition?
D.W. Congdon said…
Regarding HP, I am not suggesting the series is required reading by any means. In fact, I tend to agree with one popular literary critic who believes that youth should be given Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and other classics, because -- as he puts it -- life is short, and we should not waste our time with books that prevent us from reading better works of literature.

That said, I am also deeply committed to a view of Christianity that openly engages with culture in all of its manifestations. And by engaging, I always mean listening and reading sympathetically, for the dual purpose of building affinity and critically understanding one's own position as well as the positions of others. This engagement will occur on any number of levels, but for Christian theology to be more than an esoteric club of intellectual elitists, it will need to engage with pop culture.

That argument aside, Christianity needs to relearn aesthetics as a central aspect of a life devoted to the triune God. While HP is not great literature, as I've already stated, it is still worthwhile for Christians to learn how to enjoy fiction for its own sake, and not merely as a means to an abstract end (e.g., sermon illustration).

Thus, HP uniquely brings the aesthetic and theological realms of the Christian life together quite easily. By reading HP, we can not only engage with contemporary culture, but we can also learn to appreciate literature within the sphere of the church. On top of that, there are numerous bonuses to reading HP, including the opportunity for families to bond over a great story and excellent moral lessons.

All of this can be found in other works of literature as well, including the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings, Redwall, and thousands of others. And all of this should be engaged with as well. But it behooves Christians to address that which is most popular and wide-ranging in today's society.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Fair enough. I'll stick with my Agatha Christie books and chick flicks, and let others get their aesthetic pleasure and cultural involvedness from HP. :)

Mark
Mark Congdon said…
David,

I expect a long discussion between us about the existence of Satan and demons would be frustrating and ultimately fruitless... I had a similar conversation with Shane not too long ago. But, I'm wondering if you might be able to fill me in on one aspect of the discussion.

Ephesians 6, to me, seems remarkably clear, unambiguous, and straightforward about the reality of demons. I'm not quite clear how either Shane's understanding of the Bible on this issue or your understanding of the Bible on this issue can make any sense of Ephesians 6. However, I'm sure you've given it some thought. Would you mind giving me a brief overview of your position? I will listen and not respond, so it won't become a time or energy drain... I'm just curious. Thanks,

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
I would be more than happy to oblige. I will quote the relevant passage from Ephesians 6 (from the NIV, only because the NRSV is not available on biblegateway.com):

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Evangelicals have long read this passage with something like the Lord of the Rings in the back of their minds: a dualistic cosmos in which Christians are warriors against demonic "spiritual forces of evil." Of the many problems with such a romantic (and I mean that in the classical, literary sense) view of the Christian life, the main problem is this: the battle imagery threatens to either elevate all daily activities into actions of epic proportions or to split a Christian's view of his or her spiritual task in the world from how he or she actually lives on a daily basis. In other words, a romanticized self-image of the Christian as warrior obscures what Paul is actually trying to communicate.

One has to read the rest of the passage to get the full picture. Paul's exhortations, battle imagery excluded, implore his readers to put on truth, righteousness, peace, prayer, salvation, and the word of God. The beauty of Paul's heightened metaphoric language is that he presents these Christian virtues as aggressive in nature, by which I mean aggressively committed to the Way of God, to the exclusion of untruthfulness, unrighteousness, violence, and selfishness. One who lives according to the Spirit -- cf. Galatians 5 -- wears this "spiritual armor."

What does such a person fight against? Well, if we set aside the battle imagery for a moment, we can see what Paul really means. When I wear the belt of truth, I am fighting against the possibility of living untruthfully -- against the "spiritual force" of lying. When I choose to wear God's armor, I am defending myself against myself. This is Pauline (and Lutheran) in nature. I am simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously justified and a sinner. As a child of God, I can live in light of my justification by faith in God, and thus wear God's spiritual armor. But I am always capable of thrusting off this divine protection and attempting to make it on my own. When I try to establish myself, I end up losing myself; I become relationless, moving inevitably towards death. The armor of God, established by faith in the God who justifies, protects me from myself, taking me outside myself and into the arms of God (to speak metaphorically). The armor of God is a way of signifying that the Christian life is lived in God, and not in oneself -- because to live by one's own power is actually to live in the power of sin, i.e., to live in the power of Satan's spiritual forces.

With that in mind, we can read verse 10 anew: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. The Christian is not to be an actual warrior against Satan; the truly faithful Christian allows God to be the One who fights, who comes nearer to her and than she can come to herself, who takes her out of herself and into renewed relationship with God and others.

The image of the "devil's schemes" is a way of describing the larger reality of sin. It is not just my own individual tendency to sin that the armor of God protects against. It is the systemic power of sin throughout humanity. Often this goes by the name "original sin," but that term needs careful theological refinement. (For those interested, I can provide Juengel's treatment of sin from his book Justification, which says everything that I want to say.) As sinners, we both sin by our actions (a moralistic view of sin) and we are under the power of sin, "enslaved to sin," as Paul puts it. Paul's metaphorical imagery of "rulers," "authorities," and the "powers of this dark world" all indicate the sinner's enslavement to sin. Justification by faith makes us "slaves to Christ" instead, since we allow God to be the one who orders our lives. We let God be the One who comes nearer to us than we can come to ourselves. Sin is the opposing attempt to be the one nearest to ourselves, which always ends in death unless interrupted by God's divine power. Once interrupted, we are capable of putting on the divine armor and standing firm, knowing that it is because of God's righteousness that we can be righteouss, and it is because God is the Truth that we can put on truth.

I hope this interpretation helps. I think Ephesians 6 is a marvelous passage about the gospel of justification and the life of the Christian lived in God, not in oneself. I think it is a gross misunderstanding to take the battle imagery literally, since that makes the Christian's activity of primary importance, rather than allowing God to the One who acts on our behalf. And the "spiritual forces of evil" communicate the enormous predicament that humans are in who refuse to allow God to be the justifying God who frees us from our enslavement.
hcongdon said…
David,
May I offer three observations as I make my first (and probably only) step into your deep waters?
1) Job perhaps offers an explanation for the tension between the nature of some of God's intervention in history of man and Satan's role. This would be similar to God's use of evil nations to bring about his purposes for the nation Israel.
2) What do you do with all the gospel accounts of demonic actiivity as well as Jesus' affirmation of Satan's existence? You step dangerously close to demythologizing the whole Bible and discounting Jesus' own words.
3) I would caution you against eisegesis in your study of the Bible.

Though I understand your rejection of dualism (as I do), you may be swinging too far off balance to a rejection of a spiritual world that I believe exists (and have personally encountered). The existence of Satan does not have to lead necessarily to dualism.

On this issue of demonic activity, I believe the rationalism of the Western world creates an obstacle to seeing a force to which Scripture attests. No one that I know on the mission field would take your perspective, David. Though I do not look for demons under every rock, I encourage you to be open-minded and take care with your interpretation of Scripture.

As Screwtape said to Wormwood: "I wonder you shold ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient inignorance of your own existence...Our policy, for the moment,is to conceal ourselves." Such may be his strategy for the Western world.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Thanks for the response. As promised, I'll leave it at that. :)

Mark
bcongdon said…
Shane,
I'm a fundamentalist Christian, and I appreciate your clear thinking. Yes, the HP books can be dangerous. They romanticize something that God hates. You can't get a more clear statement of God's view of witchcraft than you find in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 (which unfortunately for David, was written before the two passages he references regarding the census -- assuming the Bible is not lying about authorship).

David,
You're on a slippery slope, and I'm interested in finding out where on that slope you have decided to dig in your toe. So I'd like to ask you if you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. And if you do, then why? Note that the earliest New Testament scriptures (Paul's epistles) make no mention of the virgin birth, but -- to edit your own earler words for this new subject -- "as time progressed and [Christian] theology became more systematic and organized, it became clear that the earlier conception of [Jesus] was inadequate. Enter [the virgin birth, a common pagan device]."
--Brad
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, thanks for the response. I will respond to the points in turn. First, I do not think Job provides us with any theology of the spiritual dealings between God and satan, simply because it is rather obvious to me that it is a fictional narrative written in dialogue with the older Deuteronomistic theology in order to communicate a nuanced view of how the exiled Israelites should understand their relation to a God who allowed their holy land to be conquered and destroyed. This is a rather big issue for Israel and Judah, and Job represents an impressive display of careful thought about God in light of suffering. The presence of satan in the story is like any antagonist in a novel or play, about as reliable as the story of the serpent in Genesis 3.

Second, the issue with Jesus is a little more complicated, and here I will remain more reticent. The start of my answer would be that the gospels, like the rest of Scripture, is written within a particular cultural framework in which everything material is spiritualized. The notion of demons goes hand-in-hand with this. While I am not going to go so far as to say a dark spiritual world is a reality (since I trust those who have had such experiences), what I refuse to accept is the notion that demons/satan are the causes of anything. I think that much should be acceptable to everyone who wants to avoid a dualistic, Manichaean universe. If satan is controlled by God, then God is the causal force behind demonic activity. And if we accept free human agency in sin, then humans must be responsible and not be allowed to displace blame upon some invisible demon on their backs.

So it comes down to this: what exactly is the role of demons and satan, really? Are they a way for God to get off the hook when bad things happen? Why the persistance in the belief in demons, other than the fact that they are mentioned in the Bible? And the mention alone is not sufficient, since literalism to that degree is not warranted by Scripture without doing serious damage to the Bible's testimony. A theology of the demonic must be thought through if anyone can actually make a claim one way or the other. My thesis is this: the demonic is a metaphorical-linguistic category that allows us to express the reality of humanity when caught up in something that is against God and against God's design for humanity. For example, the gospels say that satan entered Judas. But all this means is that Judas was "not himself"; he was acting as if possessed. The Judas who followed Jesus loyally was now working against him, even betraying Jesus unto death. As a writer of the gospels in the ancient near eastern culture, I myself would speak of something like satan being involved.

Third, I am not saying the spiritual world does not exist. What I amm saying is that it does not exist in the way fundamentalists and evangelicals like Frank Peretti think it exists. There is a vast spiritual world, one in which we are deeply involved, though we are often blind to it. That is the way I would take Screwtape's words: we are blinded to the fact that our lives are under the shadow of sin, and that we are living a sham existence that only Christ can liberate us from.
D.W. Congdon said…
Brad, I am sorry you take pride in calling yourself a fundamentalist. In case you haven't heard, the word "fundamentalist" no longer means one who believes in the fundamentals of the faith, at least not the Christian faith. I think the term "fundamentalist Christian" is the greatest of all oxymorons; it simply doesn't exist.

Your example of the "virgin birth" is simply pedantic. The virgin birth is an article of the Christian faith, part of the creeds in fact, which I accept as an element of revelation. Jesus' virgin birth is essential to the story. The demonic is not, nor is satan for that matter. Nor is the demonic an article of the faith by which the Christian faith stands or falls. Not even close.

Another word is in order about HP. What the books display is called magic, but it really isn't. HP is written from a completely secular, modern frame of reference. There is no belief in demons or a spiritual underworld in any of the books. Nor is God part of the books either. For that very reason, the term "magic" cannot be equated with the magic that Christians are rightly against. HP does not display magic, but rather extra-rational technology. The spells and curses are not means of controlling demons, since demons do not exist according to the framework presupposed by the author. The spells and curses are more akin to pushing buttons on a keyboard; it's pure cause-and-effect.

Also, HP does not romanticize anything, because there is "bad magic" in the series as well. Good and evil work the same way in these stories as they do in any other. By the way, Brad, is Gandalf an evil magician as well? The Lord of the Rings is much more worthy of skepticism than HP, since Tolkien's series persuppose a spiritual world of good and bad, although you don't see that until you read the Silmarillion.

Finally, your belief that Moses wrote the Torah is just naive. There is so much evidence to the contrary that you have to read with blinders on. And the Deuteronomistic discussion of witchcraft not only has nothing to do with HP, it also does not get around the issue of 2 Sam/1 Chron. The ancient world of the Hebrews is polytheistic. Even though Israel only believed in Yahweh as the God over all the cosmos, there are multiple references to the reality of other gods that had to submit to Yahweh as the supreme Lord. Thus, witchcraft is understood in the Mosaic period and beyond as the calling upon some other, lower god -- which is clearly prohibited, since Yahweh alone is worthy of honor and power. It is only in the later period of the Chronicler that a figure like satan comes to be understood as the representative of these lesser gods. As Israel's monotheism becomes stronger, it becomes less and less tenable for Yahweh to be surrounded by other gods (as the image of the "divine counsel" through the OT represents). A truly monotheistic religion around Yahweh pushes out the lower gods into the world of the demonic and the figure of satan.
hcongdon said…
David,
I acknowledge that the OT is quite silent on any "theology of demons" but there are many things about the OT that are perplexing eg. treatment of women, 'angry God' vs. 'loving God', etc. So I will go back to the NT and what I perceive as eisegesis. Again be careful. At this point in my understanding (and it is still little compared to those who have had direct contact with demonic activity), I hold to a person's full responsibility for sin with the possibility of bondage due to that sin. See Eph. 4:27. Your objection to blaming Satan for sin or any problem is well taken and I also would refrain from making him an excuse for not confronting sin. However, again you do not have to resort to dualism to believe in the existence of Satan. And your treatment of Scripture is worrisome to me. Once you open the door to picking and choosing what must be meant (and I'm taking the side of strict literalism) in order to fit your theology, you fall onto dangerous ground. The issue of Satan's existence is not a matter of faith per say, but your hermeneutics could lead to some bigger problems. Again, be careful, David. PS I love you!
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, I think you also are wading into dangerous waters by taking the side of "strict literalism," which is a position that I do not think any thoughtful Christian can take without turning off one's brain. If only because I already mentioned it, I point to the strict contrast between 2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21. You simply cannot take those two passages at face value! If you do, you have to equate God with satan! And there are literally dozens more examples like that. The Bible is not wholly consistent.

As a result, it is absolutely necessary for theologians like you and me to think through the faith. I am not convinced that the category of the demonic is essential or central to the Christian faith, but sin is a central category. My hermeneutical key in reading Scripture is the doctrine of justification by faith (thanks to Juengel). Strict biblical literalism cannot be a hermeneutical key, because it eschews hermeneutics altogether. Literalism reads without engaging, speaks without thinking, and believes without understanding.

All that is to say, I think I am being careful. I do not believe that I have some sort of air-tight, foolproof system to explain and grasp everything in the Bible. That is a modern heresy which I have no intention of accepting. I am open to the possibility of being wrong on this matter, but I do not think anyone can argue "I just read the Bible literally" and get away with it. And I am very surprised that you said that. Anyone who "just reads literally" either (1) has never really read the Bible at all, or (2) is lying, because he or she is picking and choosing when to read the Bible literally, which is worse than what you perceive me to be doing.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Not to advocate any particular position on this issue, but simply to understand your thinking better...

You said: My hermeneutical key in reading Scripture is the doctrine of justification by faith (thanks to Juengel).

I'm not certain what you mean by a "hermeneutical key", so I can only deduce from what you've said so far. It sounds to me like it goes something along these lines:

"Justification by faith is central. In fact, a certain understanding of justification by faith is central. Any interpretation of Scripture that coincides with or bolsters that understanding of justification by faith is correct. Any interpretation of Scripture that counters that understanding of justification by faith is incorrect. Any interpretation of Scripture that is not necessary to that understanding of justification by faith is peripheral and therefore suspect."

Is that about right? Or am I misreading you at some point?

If that's right, then the next obvious question is where that particular understanding of justification by faith comes from. You certainly can't claim historical prevalence for a distinctly Lutheran theology like Jungel's. How does Jungel arrive at his understanding of justification by faith, and at its centrality? If that comes from the Bible, then what is the hermeneutic used to come to that conclusion? There has to be some hermeneutic used at that level other than one based on the conclusion, or you're just going around in circles. Can you describe that process to me? Or am I misunderstanding you at some other point in the process?

Mark
hcongdon said…
David,
Oops! I really did not mean to say "I'm taking the side of strict literalism." My brain was thinking "NOT taking strict literalsim" and I omitted the crucial word (and sent it without proofreading). My apologies for wasting your reply. Strict literalism would not account for analogies and figures of speech and cultural contexts. So I am NOT a strict literalist. However, in the case of Satan and demons, I cannot read my Bible any other way -there's too much of it there and it is described in real, not allegorical or figurative speech.
hcongdon said…
David,
There are references to evil spirits sent by God in 1 Sam 16-18, Judges 9:23, which at least indicates an earlier acknowledgement of demonic activity.
Douglas_Coombs said…
David,

I hope I'm not rehashing something that I missed by skimming, but do you believe in "good" angels; those on God's side? If so, how do you distinguish in your mind between the existence of good and bad angels?

Also, I don't think that belief in the existence of angels necessarily leads one to a dualistic view of nature where demons can be blamed for everything. The key in my mind would be a belief in free will. People get to where they are through exercising their will. This can be in cooperation with God or in rebellion against God. Since the Devil is obviously in rebellion against God (as described in the Holy Writ), then one would in a sense be cooperating with the Devil or demons. This degree to which one cooperates with demonic forces varies greatly, just as people's cooperation with God varies greatly.

I find little in Scripture or Tradition to indicate that belief in the Devil is simply a literary device. In fact, I find it to be similar to the virgin birth in Biblical support. The reason it was not addressed more fully in the creeds that "perhaps" you take as more authoritative in this sense because of their precise style, is that belief in demons was never a controversy like belief in Christ's divinity and the Holy Trinity was a controversy in the first few centuries. When the creeds were written, everybody accepted belief in demons and devils as fact. Heretics and orthodox Christians alike agreed in the existence of good and bad angels. There was no need to specifically clarify what the Scriptures were clear on and everybody accepted. It clearly was the belief of those who wrote the creeds, and I would wager such was the belief of the apostles and other authors of Scripture. In that sense, while Idoubt anyone would call me a "Fundamentalist" in the common sense, I would agree with Brad that you indeed are on a slippery slope regarding Scriptural interpretation to throw out any belief in demons. If one dismisses as untrue the depictions in the New Testament of Christ's excorcisms of those possessed by demons, where does one stop in saying that any of his miracles actually took place, let alone the supreme miracle of the resurrection? On what basis is one to be accepted and the other rejected. After all, "to destroy the works of the devil" was the reason for Christ's incarnation according to St. John.

Also, as a distinct issue, I would say that the danger in HP like any book with witchcraft and magic is that it could glorify cultic actions and cause a curiosity in children that is later acted on. There are some aspects of HP that I find much more worrisome than other works like LotR, but I'm not going to build a case on that. I would say simply that one should be extremely careful in reading or recommending works that address "spiritual" forces even in a fictional sense. I don't know if you've ever met somebody who was ritualistically abused by a family member who was in Satanic cult, but I have. To see somebody so emotionally scarred that in order to survive and try to cope they had to resort to bizarre psychological behaviors like Multiple Personality Disorder is a humbling experience. While Harry Potter *might* not be inherrantly evil, neither should one gloss over the bad that *could* come of it. I would personally never recommend it to be read by the spiritually immature or young without tremendous guidance by a spiritually mature and orthodox adult.

BTW: Just to reiterate, the last section on the value/good/danger of HP is in my mind related but distinct from the earlier statements and questions on literal existence of demons, etc.

Doug
Shane said…
My thesis is this: the demonic is a metaphorical-linguistic category that allows us to express the reality of humanity when caught up in something that is against God and against God's design for humanity.

David,
As President Bush might say, We are in agreeance here. I think our views on the demonic are pretty nearly the same. i would simply want to add a few additional caveats about those who experienced demonic phenomena and to try to make some general hermeneutical observations.

the category of the demonic also operated within a scientific and medical context in the ancient world. ('scientific'in the sense that it had to do with explanations for why things happened, but the 'scientific'and the 'theological' would not have been separated in the ancient mind) epilepsy had no visible causes, so it had to be caused by some invisible force. it is easy to see how the idea of demons causing sickness, etc. came about. from our vantage in world history we understand disease much better and have the ability to realize that epilepsy is not demonic in origin. it doesn't bother me that matthew says jesus cast demons out of the epileptic--what else could it have said, given when it was written?--but this doesn't give me any reason to think that there actually exist some things called demons.

now sometimes people report experiencing demonic phenomena. this also doesn't do much to convince me that demons must really exist because experience is largely conditioned by social expectations and the mind is always active in creating objects for experience. my favorite example of this is people who believe that they have been abducted by aliens in their sleep. now, these people aren't crazy--i.e. the large majority of them don't have psychological illnesses like schizophrenia, etc. but there is a perfectly plausible scientific explanation for what is happening to them. i forget the name of the disorder, but the effect is that the brain becomes conscious, but the body does not. So the brain has these bizarre sensory data that it doesn't normally deal with when the body is fully conscious: strange lights (if the eyelids are half-open), bizarre muscle contractions, etc. now, the brain doesn't just record sense data, it organizes them into experiences and memories and tries to make those experiences and memories part of the larger social narrative that the person understands, and so, the brain creates the fiction that the person has been abducted by aliens and probed and so forth, and then returned to his very own bed before the next morning. what is strange about this theory is that it is absolutely unpersuasive to those who believe they have been abducted by aliens. they treat their own experience as incorrigible and incapable of being wrong, even though the object of their belief (aliens) are ludicrous.

i'm convinced that something similar is happening with demonic possession phenomena. in both cases, the people may be fully sane rational human beings, but also in both cases the experience is culturally conditioned (demonic phenomena are different in india than in the US because the cultural expectations for what demons do are also different.) i won't belabor the point though, because i've written about this at length elsewhere.

i would like to draw everyoné's attention to the danger of believing in demons. we speak of metaphorically 'demonizing' our opponents in english, but this is not too far from one usage of demonology in practical theology. just look at revelations and the mention of the 'synagogue of satan'. how much christian anti-semitism is engendered by the idea that jews were in league with the devil? quite a lot historically. it isn't just jews of course that have been the targets of demonological slander, homosexuals, 'demon'crats, etc.

the language of demonology is not only outdated science and bad interpretive theory, it is also socially and politically dangerous because it leads one to a dismissive or antagonistic attitude.
D.W. Congdon said…
Thanks for the clarification, Mom. That makes a lot more sense.

I'd be happy to explain myself more, Mark. Although I should clarify myself a bit. The word "justification" is quite understandably a loaded term. Just so we are clear, there are plenty of other terms that get at the same idea (though of course not completely, or they communicate other ideas as well). For ecumenical purposes, the related phrase in the Apostle's Creed is "I believe ... in the forgiveness of sins." Other terms connected to justification include "new covenant," grace (vs. law), and new life (being born again). In fact, as Juengel points out, the doctrine of justification is really just a way of clarifying who Jesus is (the God-man who came to the world) and what Jesus did (to die for the sake of sinners, in order to conquer sin and death). In other words, justification is simply a clarification of saying that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my hermeneutical key. But in light of Paul's epistles and the Gospel of John in particular, the doctrine of justification seems to most clearly and most completely illuminate the Scriptures, in the OT as well as the NT (since the grace of justification cannot be understood apart from the law).

Of course I am brushing over a lot of details. I myself was not convinced of justification as a hermeneutical key until I read Juengel, and I think he says it far better than I. If you'd be interested, I can send you the PDFs for his book on justification. I will quote Juengel from his section on "Justification as a hermeneutical category":

"By using the doctrine of justification, all theological statements gain their distinctive image, focus and character, as does all of theology. And conversely, all theological statements that slip past it betray, viewed from the perspective of justification, their lack of distinctive theological image, their dullness, their lack of doctrinal character. The doctrine of justification has this strength of a hermeneutical category because it brings all of theology into the dimension of a legal dispute: that is, the legal dispute of God about his honour, which is at the same time a legal dispute about the worth of human beings. This is the central function of justification that is highlighted in all theological writings: to see God's honour and our human worth as issues to be defended and to bear witness that the meaning of God's honour and our human worth is we must be saved by God himself alone and we are saved in Jesus Christ alone. It is proper and no exaggeration to describe it as the doctrine that proclaims 'the whole of the life-bringing Word of God'."

That's all that I will say in defense of justification as my hermeneutical key or category. I want to clarify a couple statements you made which are potentially misleading. In describing my position, you wrote: "In fact, a certain understanding of justification by faith is central." I am not sure what you mean by this, but I assume the Reformers view on justification is the "certain understanding"? If so, I think I would argue that that is the only viable view of justification, at least the only one which properly allows God to be the one who acts salvifically, and humanity to be one who receives.

I am also not exactly pleased with the language of "correct" or "incorrect," but of course you know my aversion to black-and-white language. I will let it stand, by my objection to such dualistic thinking should be noted.

The final sentence reads: "Any interpretation of Scripture that is not necessary to that understanding of justification by faith is peripheral and therefore suspect." I am also puzzled by this sentence. I do not know how an interpretation could be "necessary" to a doctrine. I can see how an interpretation might be elicited by a doctrine, but it surely cannot be necessary. But even eliciting an interpretation seems inadequate.

As a hermeneutical key, justification serves to identify which interpretations are faithful to the gospel and which ones are not. The fact of the matter is that the Bible is open and diverse enough to support numerous possible interpretations, and everybody has their own personal "key" to picking which one is "correct." Fundamentalists use literalism as a key, as well as God's judgment viewed in apocalyptic terms. Communitarian theologians see the Bible in terms of the ekklesia and the church community. So on and so forth. There is no theological stance which does not have a hermeneutical key. And no community of faith can claim that their key is inherently "right."

What I and Juengel argue is that the doctrine of justification serves as the most appropriate category for understanding Scripture, in part because it is one of the most expansive and encompassing. Part of me wants to bring up the hermeneutical circle/spiral at this point, but I will let those interested pursue that individually. In any case, I want to suggest that Scripture prompts the doctrine of justification as a hermeneutical category. Once accepted, this category serves to keep future hermeneutical endeavors in line with the gospel. It is not to be used as a "hermeneutics of suspicion" against people and their interpretations! Nor does it "make" any interpretation peripheral that is not already on the periphery. I hope this makes sense.
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, what are "evil spirits" in the ancient OT world except other gods? And why do we reject there being other gods but not evil spirits?

Doug, you wrote, and I agree: "The key in my mind would be a belief in free will. People get to where they are through exercising their will. This can be in cooperation with God or in rebellion against God. Since the Devil is obviously in rebellion against God (as described in the Holy Writ), then one would in a sense be cooperating with the Devil or demons."

The question I have then is: What purpose does the idea of the devil actually serve? This is a serious point. If humans are responsible for their own free actions, then what is the role of satan and demons? They seem entirely superfluous, and their presence seems like a way of maintaining a dualistic cosmos of God versus Satan.

Once again, the difference between belief in satan and belief in the virgin birth is that the former was an accepted cultural fact which everyone presupposed in the ancient world. However, no one presupposes a virgin birth, which is entirely an article of faith that Christian orthodoxy professes. The distinction to me is quite clear.

I am not sure why we need to accept belief in "bad angels." I can accept angels in general as messengers of God, but why belief in a fallen angel, other than its mythological origin in the prophetic literature? It seems like the story of the fallen angel is a literary device used to tell a story to the prophetic audience.

Finally, have you read HP, Doug? And did you read my earlier comment? There are no "cultic" actions in HP, unless you consider waving a wand or riding a broomstick to be cultic in any way. And there are no spiritual forces in the books, at least none that presuppose an invisible spiritual world of angels and demons. There are visible "ghosts" which are used more for comical effect. And there is the idea that those who die survive in some bodiless way, but it seems from the books that they just hang around earth. There is no heaven or hell or nirvana. I sincerely doubt that the millions of children, youth, and adults who read and enjoy the books and movies have any different ideas or expectations regarding the actual use of magic in the real world. I would be interested in seeing serious evidence to the contrary.

I think you are highly exaggerating the effect of the books. People read them because the stories are very enjoyable and engaging. People want a good story; they could care less about the plot devices. HP would be just as good a series if magic were not involved, because what holds a story like that together is the characters. Any literature student could tell you this. My education is English literature is not superficial, whereas I think most evangelicals and (virtually all) fundamentalists have a very superficial understanding of stories and texts, and art in general. A movie cannot be reduced to its swear words and sex scenes, nor can a book be reduced to its setting or its devices (or its swear words and sex scenes). Unfortunately, this is lost to most Christians.
hcongdon said…
Maybe a few more comments before I really should focus on finishing my studies for the semester:
1) A question might be asked: What was Jesus' and the apostles' view of reality? I see no evidence that either succumbed to a cultural view of reality but instead offered one that clashed with the norms of society.
2) Your question re: evil spirits vs. "gods" confuses me. Do others gods exist beside God? If so, are they benevolent, evil or neutral? If not, perhaps they were a "psychological" phenomenon. This very possible especially since we also talk about current "idols" such as materialism. However, perhaps idolatry did produce some real supernatural phenomenon that forced acknowledgement of spiritual forces, eg. 1 Sam 5 Dagon vs. the Ark.
3) Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I perceive the core of the problem is man's free will. In your attempt to hold on to the (literal) view of the will (man's culpability) you cannot hold to any existence of an evil force that threatens that will. Thus you must resort to a cultural view of reality to explain the language of the Bible and make it fit your theology. To make it fit you have to change your anthropology which in your mind changes your soteriology. So it boils down to your anthropology. And here it gets very uncomfortable. I feel the same tension when I study Rom. 9-11 and through exegesis see that it is not easy to explain how man can be fully responsible yet "no one comes to the Father unless I draw them." Doug rightly pointed out that Christ's work included an assault on a real Satan as figuratively (but not mythologically) described in Gen. 3:15. The relationship between free will and Satan's influence is not easily defined but perhaps a systematic study might illumine it (though probably not fully explain it). In some ways I think there is ambiguity, not to Satan's existence, but to his relationship with hummans because God intends humans to focus on his relationship with Him rather than fall into the mistake of demonizing all of life (I agree this is a real and unfortunate tendency of people) but one should not make the mistake of throwing out a view of reality based on extreme misuses.
4) I would like to propose that denying the existence of Satan is actually more dualistic than acknowledging him. It seems as though your view implies reality is basically God's will vs. man's will. Am I missing something in this picture?
5) I am disturbed by the dismissal of an evil supernatural realm explained away by psychological and cultural factors. Why not dismiss any miracles in the Bible as psychologically induced (which has been done already)? Again, this is a slippery slope.

I appreciate the discussion but I will probably bow out in order to finish my semester well. The crunch is on. I also realize that not much else can be said because part of the problem is perhaps a lack of experiences that often challenge our theology (as I have heard many missionaries say). I appreciated your willingness to acknowledge that, David. And in some ways, your use of Scripture to explain Satan is set in the context of trying to remain true to Scripture re: man's culpability and God's redemptive acts. Your hermeneutics may seem inconsistent to me, but I know your heart is to be true to Scripture.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Thanks for the clarifications.

My statement -- "Any interpretation of Scripture that is not necessary to that understanding of justification by faith is peripheral and therefore suspect" -- came from your description of your explanation of Ephesians 6, and your belief that Satan and demons serve "no purpose", and therefore there is no reason to believe in their existence.

Another clarification:

I am not sure what you mean by this, but I assume the Reformers view on justification is the "certain understanding"? If so, I think I would argue that that is the only viable view of justification, at least the only one which properly allows God to be the one who acts salvifically, and humanity to be one who receives.

You understood me correctly. I simply pointed this out to clarify that you could not be relying on "historical prevalence" as your hermeneutical guide.

Your response to me about hermeneutics didn't really respond to my question at all. Toward the end of your discussion, you said:

I want to suggest that Scripture prompts the doctrine of justification as a hermeneutical category. Once accepted, this category serves to keep future hermeneutical endeavors in line with the gospel.

That's precisely my question. To determine that "Scripture prompts" your hermeneutical key, you are using a hermeneutic. You have to have some method of reading Scripture that "prompts" that hermeneutical key. It is precisely that thought process, the hermeneutic that leads you to say that "Scripture prompts" you to put justification at the center, that I was inquiring about. What's your core hermeneutic, the one that determines how you read the Scriptures in such a way that they "prompt" your hermeneutical key?

Thanks,

Mark
hcongdon said…
One more thought re: anthropology:
I believe an affective theology answers what role Satan has in our lives. A volitional center does create a tension that is difficult to resolve, but if the center of humans is the affections from which the will is exercised, then Satan has an influence described by Scripture as "deceiving," "lying,", "blinding," and ultimately "possessing." Is deliverance necessary? Yes! Is free will involved? Absolutely yes! For we choose to seek God, love Him and serve Him because He first sought us, loved us and served us (Jesus came to serve). His redemptive work set us free from sin and from delusion. Darkness has now been exposed to the light. Again I see affective theology as being a framework that explains a demonic force that does not have to violate free will.
bcongdon said…
Harriet,
You raise the interesting "Free Will vs. Sovereinty" debate, which I won't get into here. But you used the verse "no one comes to the Father unless I draw them" (John 6:44) as supporting one side in that debate, and I see that verse used that way often. The question is, WHO does Christ draw? And Christ answers that in John 12:32, "and when I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." It is consistent with man's free will that Christ draws us first to Himself, that He knocks on the door of every heart, but not all receive.

David,
II Thessalonians 2:9-12 reads:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

So we have the "work of Satan" in verse 9, followed by "God sends them a powerful delusion" in verse 11.

I suppose Paul could have written verse 11 early in his ministry, and then a century later a redactor might have accidentally left that verse in while adding verse 9 to make a more enlightened view which brings in Satan, but not as enlightened as we can be today, by removing him again.

The point is, the Bible is not contradicting itself in the Old Testament accounts of the census, just as it is not contradicting itself in II Thessalonians. We must be careful to not give an Apostle's Creed higher authority than scripture.

--Brad
hcongdon said…
Brad,
I suggest you keep reading in John 12 espec. vv. 37-40.
D.W. Congdon said…
I have so many different threads to address, so I will pick a couple and hopefully later get to some others. I apologize if I marginalize some issues that certain people feel are important. Feel free to bring an issue back up if it is left unaddressed.

Mark, I'm sorry if you thought that I did not answer your question. Let me say it this way: while the doctrine of justification cannot account for everything, it is the one doctrine which pulls together the most important elements in Scripture and in the most clear and appropriate way. To arrive at this conclusion, I ask the kinds of questions any good reader asks when reading, whether one is reading the Bible or any other book: What is the main point? What are the central themes and motifs? To whom is this written, why, and in what cultural-temporal context?

Richard Hays, a New Testament scholar at Duke University, identifies in his excellent book three focal images in the NT: community, cross, and new creation. In agreement with Hays, I think it is easy to argue that the doctrine of the justification does the fullest justice to these focal images. In other words, justification brings together all the most central elements in the NT and focuses them back onto the person and work of Christ. Jesus is the locus of Scripture's testimony, particularly his death on the cross. The doctrine of justification is not just a hermeneutical category for reading, but also an ethical category for living out the faith. I can think of nothing else that so adequately assists a theologian on both the theoretical and practical levels. It is out of the sheer volume of support that I give justification the role of hermeneutical key. As Juengel writes, quoting someone else, it expresses the "whole of the life-bringing Word of God."

Mom, no matter how much I agree that the NT is subversive on so many levels (the politics of Jesus, the justification of sinners regardless of how moral or immoral one lives, etc.), it is nevertheless indisputable that the people of the NT lived and wrote within a cultural context that they could not escape (and should not escape!). The incredible thing about the gospel is that it is translatable (remember Andrew Walls?), and it is able to exist and thrive in an infinite number of cultural contexts. The apostles lived in a context that presupposed a three-tiered universe (heaven in the sky, earth, and hell in the middle of the earth under the ground) which persisted until the scientific revolution. We can still see the evidence of this three-tieredness when we speak of Jesus "descending" to earth and "ascending" into heaven, and there are numerous biblical references with such language. Do we really believe that heaven is somewhere above the clouds? No, of course not. But that is all the apostles knew in their cultural context. Realizing this does not make their statements wrong, but we merely have to take the extra step of translating their language into contemporary idiom. Such is the missional task of the gospel: to translate into new contexts.

I believe the same can be said for the biblical understanding of satan and demons. This is a long-standing cultural context which I believe needs to be translated. That does not mean we live in a more "enlightened" age; it just means we are taking into account what we now know, and I believe the gospel's translatability prompts us to do this appropriately.

Now regarding the free will issue, we get to the heart of the matter. It seems to me that satan in your comment and in all the comments so far, is simply a personification of the systemic influence of sin in the entire cosmos -- the pervading influence in which humanity is enslaved, but from which through faith in Christ we are liberated to live freely. Juengel spends a significant amount of time unpacking the dual nature of sin as personal and systemic, and it seems that the latter is what goes by the name of satan (I do not capitalize the name satan in order to bolster my non-dualistic theology; satan is not on par with God). Can anyone show me why satan is not identifiable with sin's systemic shadow over created things?

Here is a section from Juengel's treatment of sin. This is only a very small section, so some of the best parts are excluded, but this section mentions the devil figure:

"According to biblical understanding, sin is in its very nature two things. It is not this, then the other; it is both the human act of sinning and the power which governs human existence. ... For the gospel sets sinners free from their sin and at the same time challenges them to sin no more [he cites a number of passages]. ... When the Bible says of our existence under sin 'I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin' (Rom. 7:14); 'the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin' (Gal. 3:22, et al), it makes it perfectly clear that sin is a ruling power whose claim to hold sway over us has been made a nonsense once and for all by the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus. So now we may, we must conclude: 'sin must no longer reign in your mortal body' (Rom. 6:12). ... It had come to this: that God in the person of the Son of God placed himself under the power of sin in order to break that power (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3)."

And, more to the point of the devil, Juengel discusses briefly Luther's statement that in the fall, Adam "put on the image of the devil" and thereby lost the image of God. Juengel disagrees with Luther's theology here, because it suggests that by sinning humanity can lose God's image (which should rather be a gift of God which humanity cannot destroy, because it is "founded in God alone and is thus removed from the grasp of human beings").

Nevertheless, Juengel suggests that we "put the correct Reformation argument that sinners have no free will in regard to God, that in fact our will is always occupied--either by God or the devil--alongside the unsuccessful idea of the image of the devil."
---------------------------

Okay, Mom, now I want to constructively connect the dots, so to speak. The last quotation I gave regarding sinners having "no free will" needs to be clarified by applying the concept of affective theology, which you brought up quite appropriately. Human affections are either "occupied" with God (in which case, the human person is truly free) or they are "occupied" with sin (concretely defined as unbelief or untruth). To be occupied with sin is both to commit acts of sinfulness (which should not be misunderstood in moral terms) or to be under the power of sin as the system which enslaves humanity. To be "occupied" with sin is synonymous with being "of the devil" or "in the devil's image" or to be "in alliance with satan." However one wants to put it, the devil is a metaphorical way of identifying and personifying the way in which humanity is caught up affectively by the sinful structures that oppose God.

But of course Juengel is not saying that humans have no free will. What this one passage indicates is that our wills, being led by our affections, are never unattached; they are always occupied in one of two directions: God or satan, life or death, freedom or (self-)enslavement. I believe a well-developed hamartiology will properly understand the image of the devil. Hopefully by now it is clear that I am not simply doing away with the demonic because of some extra-biblical modern, enlightened perspective. I am rather recasting the devil theologically, allowing the Bible to speak, while keeping in mind the way cultural contexts affect the texts and the readers. The idea of the devil is not automatically inappropriate, because one could still say that a person is acting under the influence of satan -- as long as satan is not understood as an actual being with substance, but rather as the system of sin in which humanity is enslaved. I hope this shows why (contra your point #4) it is not God's will vs. humanity's will, but rather humanity's affected will, which is enslaved to sin apart from Christ & God's will to liberate us from "satan," from this will to live outside of a relationship with God and our fellow humans.

(By the way, Juengel spends a good deal of time talking about sin as untruth; humanity, in its will to sin, is self-deceived, lives according to lies, and ends up in a "sham existence." All of this corresponds to the role of satan in the Bible.)

One quick question: Is not the fact that Jesus freed people from epilepsy still a miracle worthy of praise?

Moving on to Brad. While I cannot discuss 2 Thess. at this time, I do want to point out the main error in your final point: "The point is, the Bible is not contradicting itself in the Old Testament accounts of the census, just as it is not contradicting itself in II Thessalonians." What you are missing here is an understanding of 1/2 Samuel vs. 1/2 Chron. The latter book was a theologically-oriented rewrite of the former. In other words, the Chronicler was taking the narrative of 1/2 Samuel and recasting it in light of the Chronicler's theology. The fact that this verse is radically different thus reveals a contradiction between one school of theology and another among the Israelite community. This is not the only example; there are many, many more, as almost any biblical commentary will reveal. So the OT situation is not at all comparable to 2 Thess.

Now on the flipside, there are also a number of OT passages in which God sends evil spirits, though they are not identified with the concrete language of satan. I suspect this tradition has influenced the writer of 2 Thess. I think you might have possibly misread the passage, though. The "powerful delusion" which God sends is not satan but the "lawless one," who happens to do the work of satan. It's not a problem for me that the passage uses the term "satan" to indicate that this "lawless one" promotes and spreads the enslaving power of sin. The larger question this passage elicits is what is the nature of God that God sends "delusions"? Is God a liar? 1 Kings 22:19-23 is the most difficult of such passages. But that is a discussion for another time and place. The point is, 2 Thess. is not a problem regarding the issue of satan's reality.
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, I am going to side with Brad on the "free will" issue. I do not see how anyone can dispute the universality of the gospel message. Jesus came as one man for all humanity; that much I hope is not in dispute here. The use of Isaiah shows that the prophecy was fulfilled: some (many, in fact) did not believe; their eyes were shut and their ears closed. But that does not mean Jesus does not still "draw all people to himself." God draws everyone, but people are still capable of rejecting God.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Thanks... you answered my question about your central hermeneutic. I appreciate it.

One comment you made about satan interests me:

The idea of the devil is not automatically inappropriate, because one could still say that a person is acting under the influence of satan -- as long as satan is not understood as an actual being with substance, but rather as the system of sin in which humanity is enslaved.

Why is it "inappropriate" to think of satan as a "being with substance"? What makes that impossible? Because it seems that you are going beyond saying that it is not necessarily the case, and saying that it is actually inappopriate biblically to understand satan as a "being with substance". If your concept of "satan" as systemic sin acts in the same way, then why do you not remain ambivalent about whether satan is actually personified?

Is it that you attempt to do away with spiritual beings other than God and humans altogether? If so, why do you attempt to do so? I can understand from your arguments why you would say that they were not necessarily existent as beings, but I fail to see why you would make a positive assertion of their non-existence.

I'm not advocating any particular position here. Just trying to understand fully where you're coming from on this. Thanks,

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, you noticed an aspect of my theology which is important. I agree (with qualifications) with Augustine's general understanding of sin as a privation, that is, as a negation of the good and the true. According to such a view, sin has no positive substance.

(In light of modernity, I think it is important to qualify this statement. After two world wars and many other tragedies, it is does not do justice to sin simply to say that it is a privation. We should rather carefully say that it is a privation which carries immense force and power to do great harm. With Juengel on this point, I would like to view sin as an "aggresive privation.")

That said, the person of "satan" should not be given substance, either like God, God's messengers, or God's creation. It seems theologically invalid to ascribe the devil being, when substance is a gift of God that flows from God's sustaining influence. The Bible speaks of satan as a liar and deceiver, which are privations of the truth. The language of the devil as a "roaring lion" is metaphorical, of course, but I think it has been taken wrongly by Christians who then view satan as an actual being who is prowling around the earth. When Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan!", I read that as a way of personifying sinful tendencies. It has a far greater rhetorical effect to denounce "satan" than it does to say, "Get away from me, sin!" While I think those two statements are more or less synonymous, by personifying sin's influence into the person of satan, it allows the speaker to return sin's aggressive influence with his or her own righteous aggression in opposition.

I think it might be helpful to quote Romans 6:13-18.

"Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."

The first sentence could just as easily read: "Do not offer the parts of your body to satan, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God." In my opinion, there is no difference between those two statements. One is abstract (sin), while the other is personification (satan). Paul's entire discussion of sin is in terms of enslavement and liberation, between law and grace. Once again, someone could easily say: "For satan shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."

The point is, sin is a deprivation of what is good and substantive; satan is the personification of this privation. But sin is an aggressive privation, as is the figure of satan. Christ's death on the cross was the decisive act of judgment, an act of aggression, against sin -- against satan. But Christ judged sin throughout his ministry, including in the famous statement, "Get behind me, Satan!" Today, we must aggressively stand firm against sin, as the passage in Ephesians 6 proclaims. We are to wear God's spiritual armor of righteousness, effected by our justification by faith alone.

There you have it.

Excursus: Genesis 3
It seems to me that we might get some mileage out of the Eden story with the serpent. I do not take the Eden narrative as factual history for a number of reasons which are not germane to this discussion, but one thing which compels me to this position is the talking serpent. Here I believe we have another metaphorical-linguistic-cultural personification of sin as a creeping serpent who tempts the unsuspecting human. Again we can see sin in this story as an aggressive privation that undermines God's goodness and grace, which subverts the wholeness of the garden and the relationship between humanity and God. The serpent deprives humanity of its proper relation to its Creator, and does so in an aggressive, subversive manner. I believe we have the same thing going on in the figure of satan: a personification of aggressive sin.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

That said, the person of "satan" should not be given substance, either like God, God's messengers, or God's creation. It seems theologically invalid to ascribe the devil being, when substance is a gift of God that flows from God's sustaining influence.

This would make sense if satan was truly a personification of sin. But he is not. He and the demons are part of "God's creation", as the Bible describes them. In that way, it is no more troubling to ascribe the devil being than to ascribe you or me being. He is on our plane, not God's. He is not the anti-God... he is another of us, though of a different type that we do not understand very well at all.

The first sentence could just as easily read: "Do not offer the parts of your body to satan, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God." In my opinion, there is no difference between those two statements.

I don't think so. The difference might be small, but satan himself is also a slave to sin. When we sin, we are not enslaved to satan, but to our own desire to be god in ourselves. The Bible seems consistent on this point. When we sin, we are not enslaved to satan... we are following his example, following in his footsteps, and often following his temptations... but we are enslaved to sin, our own prideful desire to displace God.

We see this in the Adam and Eve story that you mentioned, as well. The serpent did not enslave them, but only tempted them. It played on the desire they had to become gods themselves, and convinced them to act on that desire... but their sin was their own, coming from themselves, and they and the serpent were punished separately. If the serpent was simply a personification of sin, it would make absolutely no sense for the story to describe "sin" being punished.

I find it interesting that you accept the existence of "God's messengers", which I presume to be angels. Shane (who started this little discussion) does not... he does away with the existence of all spiritual beings other than God and humans, which is why I thought you might hold the same position.

It confuses me why you would accept the existence of spiritual beings who are in communion with God, while rejecting the possibility of the existence of spiritual beings who were once in communion with God, but have rebelled. If "God's messengers" are created beings just as we are, what makes it impossible that they could rebel just as we do? The biblical concept of satan and demons is nothing more than "God's messengers" who have rebelled against God.

Mark
timcoe said…
mark,

i think you're getting that 'angels who rebelled' narrative from paradise lost and not from scripture. i haven't found any scriptural support for the notion that satan and his demons were at one point 'good' angels.
hcongdon said…
I wonder if perhaps this is a case in which one cannot persuade another that there is a ghost in the room because the other just cannot see it. It does no good to argue even though there also might be a diary in the room of the previous owner's experience of that ghost. Only if that ghost starts to create concrete harm to the individual who does not see and manifest itself in ways that make it hard to deny its existence will he perhaps change his mind. In the meantime it doesn't affect the way he lives and he can happily exist without having to believe his existence. There are other more concrete problems to face and at least those issues are dealt with in real ways.

David, affective theology does provide me with an answer for the tension between sovereignty and will. Because our hearts are captured by sin and selfishness our will may be free technically but only in the direction of self interest. God does not force his will on us (so that we lose our free will) but he 'draws' us to himself by pursuing us so that we will let him (here is our choice) capture our hearts. But we would not choose him unless he pursued us first. It is God's work to "open" our eyes and ears so that we can be drawn to him. In that sense we are helpless while still keeping our will intact. Preconversion, our will may not be technically damaged, but it is bent in a direction away from God because our heart is not captured by God and our only options for choice are centered on self.
Mark Congdon said…
Harriet,

In your last sentence, I think you must not mean "preconversion", but "prepursuit". You said: "he 'draws' us to himself by pursuing us so that we will let him (here is our choice) capture our hearts". This obviously happens "preconversion", so there comes some point "preconversion" where God provides us the ability to choose for or against Him.

Mark
Mark Congdon said…
Tim,

I don't suggest that the Bible is incontrovertible on this point, but there are a few suggestive points that prompt us that direction.

First, the Bible specifically states that some angels did sin and were punished for it, in 2 Peter 2 and Jude, so we know that angels as created beings have (or had? who knows...) the capacity to sin.

We see (for example, in Revelation 12) Satan specifically named fighting against Michael and other angels. So, it seems reasonable to put Satan on the level of a created being along with Michael (assuming that one considers the angels to be created beings, as it appears David does).

We also read that Satan will be punished, condemned to hell with those that choose to follow his lead.

All of these points (and others) would suggest to me that Satan and demons are created beings, equivalent to angels. Since we know angels can sin and be punished, it seems quite reasonable to infer that Satan and the demons are such creatures. That would at least be the most straightforward interpretation in my mind, and I see no good reason to disbelieve it.

To possibly add substance to the narrative, there are the accounts in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 12... which, far from conclusive on their own, are possibly applicable to the discussion. The wording in Ezekiel 12 in particular tends to suggest that it is speaking about more than just the human king of Tyre.

Mark
bcongdon said…
Mark,
Your question about pursuit "preconversion" gets to the heart of the matter. The 5-point Calvinist model is that Christ pursues only those he converts, and we don't accept Christ until He has already converted us. "Believe and be saved" (Acts 16:31) becomes, in this model, "Be saved and then believe." The fact that Christ pursues everyone, thus enabling our darkened wills to either accept or reject him, appears to be what Harriet is saying, which I agree with.
--Brad
Mark Congdon said…
Brad,

I disagree with you, but I don't want to derail this thread. I just wanted to go on record that my response to Harriet was not intended to be a statement of my own views, just a clarification of her comments so I could understand her perspective more accurately.

Mark
hcongdon said…
I don't think I can answer at what point God is pursuing us so that our wills suddenly have a choice as opposed to no choice in the "prepursuit" stage, but your point is well taken, Mark. I think you would agree that we are not always conscious of God's pursuit of us so "prepursuit" seems animpractical and useless category.

Of course I could open another can of worms such as, When he enlightens our hearts so that we truly see the choice before us, do we always choose Christ? I believe the 5pt Calvinist would place this under "irresistable grace." But I won't bring it up. :)
D.W. Congdon said…
The comments for this post, as interesting as they have been, are going off in two very different directions. Both are important. The first is the reality of satan, and other is the issue of human free will (in light of sin, God's sovereignty, etc.). I will keep my comments brief, in hopes that people will keep up the dialogue.

Mark, regarding satan's existence: Where in the Bible does it ever say specifically that God created satan? If the devil is indeed a created being with rational powers like God, then I expect clear revelation on this matter. So please show me. By the way, I have no problem viewing angels as a linguistic image as well -- which, by the way, does not mean that there are not divine messengers. I am just saying that Scripture's testimony to angels should not necessarily be taken to mean there are human-like creatures in the spiritual realm who appear as bright persons on earth to give messages from God. So if you are basing satan's existence on the presence of Michael in Revelation, I would strongly question your line of reasoning. As well as your understanding of the book of Revelation.

Mom, did you get the impression that I disagreed with you on affective theology? You wrote, "David, affective theology does provide me with an answer for the tension between sovereignty and will." This made me think you were responding to something I said to the contrary. If you were trying to use affective theology to counter my argument about John's use of Isaiah, then I do not see your point. Affective theology, it seems, is not wedded to a Calvinist theology of individual predestination. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that this is the direction in which you are trying to take affective theology. Your view on salvation and conversion seems far too individualistic and has doubtful scriptural support, in my view. But maybe I am missing something in what you're saying.

You can't mention something like "irresistable grace" and then say you won't bring it up. Too late! I think that will be a topic for discussion when I post a new blog on universal salvation. Another time, another place.
hcongdon said…
I was being facitious when I said I wouldn't bring up irresistible grace - note the smiley face.

I did not think you were disagreeing on my points re: affective theology, but I was trying to understand the issue in John 12 (I am taking a class on NT use of OT and had to compare the quote with the LXX and MT). John makes some changes and emphasizes God's direct agency in blinding and hardening in order to accomplish his purposes. It is similar to the issue in Romans. So how does one answer this and still maintain free will?
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Where in the Bible does it ever say specifically that God created satan? If the devil is indeed a created being with rational powers like God, then I expect clear revelation on this matter.

Odd to hear that coming from you. I thought you had said that "clear revelation" didn't exist in this area. I seem to remember something along the lines of: "The fact of the matter is that the Bible is open and diverse enough to support numerous possible interpretations, and everybody has their own personal 'key' to picking which one is 'correct.'" Yet now you ask for "clear revelation"? Peculiar.

First, I was not "basing satan's existence on the presence of Michael in Revelation". Mentioning it as an example is not the same as "basing" my belief on it. My hermeneutic is somewhat more complicated and nuanced than that.

Second, my reason for believing that Satan is a created being is simple. The Bible speaks of Satan often (not just a few times, not just in certain suspect prophetic contexts, not just in one cultural milieu, but across the board, start to finish, in a variety of different ways). The most straightforward reading of Scripture seems to present Satan as a literal created being with rational powers. "The most straightforward reading" can, of course, be deceptive... but I do tend to take it as the default unless I find good reason to think otherwise about something. And I have yet to see any good reason to think that Satan and demons do not exist. I maintain some level of agnosticism on the point, because I certainly can see the possibility that Satan does not literally exist... but I can't see why one would affirmatively assert that to be the case.

Beyond that, there are a handful of specific passages of Scripture that seem to lose all meaning, that seem to become pointless and trivial, if Satan is not understood as a literal created being with rational powers. I recognize that there could be levels of meaning or interpretation that I am missing here, because I am certainly a fallible interpreter with limited knowledge. But, I have yet to come across an understanding of Satan and demons which matches the interpretive explanatory power that the belief in their existence as literal created beings with rational powers seems to offer.

To bolster my position, I notice that theologians throughout history have predominantly believed in the literal existence of Satan and demons, and the vast majority of Christians today continue to do so.

All that said, I think we may be in basic agreement, and we may able to clear this up with one clarifying question. In your most recent comment, you wrote:

I have no problem viewing angels as a linguistic image as well -- which, by the way, does not mean that there are not divine messengers. I am just saying that Scripture's testimony to angels should not necessarily be taken to mean there are human-like creatures in the spiritual realm who appear as bright persons on earth to give messages from God.

In an earlier comment, you wrote:

I am not saying the spiritual world does not exist. What I am saying is that it does not exist in the way fundamentalists and evangelicals like Frank Peretti think it exists. There is a vast spiritual world, one in which we are deeply involved, though we are often blind to it.

Let me ask a clarifying question.

Do you believe it is possible that there are created spiritual beings, other than God and humans, that at some time or in some way interact with our world?

If that is yes, then here is a secondary question:

Do you believe that all of those created spiritual beings are in communion with God at all times, or are some of them at times in opposition to God?

Also, another secondary question:

In what way is your concept of these created spiritual beings different than the concept of Satan, angels, and demons that you assert to be improper?

Thanks,
Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, I knew you were being facetious. But I am deeply concerned about your double predestinarian theology. I really do not think it is appropriate to jump aboard double predestination simply because John quotes Isaiah -- and these passages from the prophet cannot be taken at face value. The message of the prophet, like the message of Jesus, is one that is "foolishness to the Greeks" and a "stumbling block to the Jews." But why is it so? Why are these people hardened against the message? Because of sin, because of their hard-and-fast patterns of thinking and living which will not bend (or break) to allow the penetrating words of God alter their existence. In a sense, God is the one who hardens, because God is the giver of the message which interrupts our lives and strikes us at the core of our being. God does not make it easy to accept the message, and thus God is in a way the source of the hardened hearts. But I think we need to carefully step back from any view that says God actively keeps people from accepting the message of salvation. That, I believe, is untenable according to the witness of Scripture -- even though many passages (in the OT, especially) speak about such a God.
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, my asking for "clear revelation" was another way of saying that I simply do not think there are enough substantive references to a satanic figure to constitute belief in a demonic being.

Here are my questions: What gives you a basis for equating the serpent in Gen. 3 with satan or with a demon, besides the fact that tradition has done so? How do you handle 2 Sam/1 Chron? How are you able to keep the idea of "evil spirits" from the OT while finding reason to abandon a polytheistic world in which everything material has a corresponding spirit? (That's the big question for me.) How do you think scientifically about disease in our modern society while abandoning your scientific beliefs when reading the NT? How do you keep a lying, deceiving satanic figure and maintain human free will? Is satan a tool of God? Is a God a liar? What is the relationship between humanity's enslavement and the traditional view of a satan who leads people into enslavement? How do we understanding spiritual warfare? Do Christians actually fight against satan and demons? If God does the fighting, then how can God also be controlling satan? What actually is the role of satan in the end? Is satan really necessary??
Mark Congdon said…
David,

You completely ignored my questions at the end of my previous comment. I'll happily respond to your questions here... but I'd first like to hear what you have to say to those clarifying questions, so they don't get lost in the mix, and so I understand what you are referring to when you talk of the spiritual world that you believe we are a part of but are often not aware of. Thanks!

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
It's only because we are preparing for Thanksgiving that I did not bother responding to your questions, which I will when I have time. But I feel like my questions are ones which have been avoided during this entire discussion.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

No particular rush. I didn't mean to imply that the response to those questions was overdue. Only that I think that basic information will be helpful background information as we discuss the numerous and specific questions that you have raised.

I'm sorry that you feel your questions have been ignored in this discussion. It seemed to me that quite a lively interaction was going on about them, though I have chosen not be part of it until now.

We're also celebrating Thanksgiving soon. Enjoy the day, and many blessings to you!

Mark
hcongdon said…
David,
I'm sorry, but you have been a little too quick to accuse me of double predestination which I do not hold to. I asked the question to find out how you resolve John's apparent meaning. I agree with your explanation. All are reprobate before, by God's gratuitous mercy, He initiates to win our hearts so that one may choose the salvation He offers. (And I think you know that I am not a supralapsarian.) However I also choose not to dismiss verses that make it difficult to package God's behavior toward humans but instead recognize that His ways are far higher than my analyses and even my theology. I will do the best I can, but it's not quite clear to me how it works. I can understand that God hardens because of sin already present, but how does one fit in the view that God needs to enlighten our hearts (or as Brad says, enable our darkened wills to accept or reject)? Is the universality of the gospel message equated with enabling? If not then are there those that God does not enable? I appreciate you wanting me to clarify my theology--I have a long ways to go in developing it. As I base my biblical theology on hopefully good biblical exegesis, I hope to develop a sound systematic. Any help in making this coherent is appreciated.
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, in addressing your questions, I want to point out that these are questions which are not answerable based on Scripture alone. Or if one tried to do so, the answers end up being quite vague and inconclusive. What that means is the answers to these questions presuppose a cultural-societal background which will affect the conclusion. So just because someone thinks that there are created spiritual beings does not mean this is automatically in line with revelation (and vice versa).

Okay, before I respond, I think I should point out a unintended heretical mistake in your grammar. You wrote: "Do you believe it is possible that there are created spiritual beings, other than God and humans, that at some time or in some way interact with our world?" Is God a "created spiritual being"? :) Sorry, I just thought that was funny.

My responses:
(1) I think it is possible, but by no means would I feel comfortable basing any angelology on this answer.

(2) This is the really ambiguous question, which I do not think can be answered with any sort of conclusive response. My answer is that they (if there is a "they") are in communion with God at all times. Rebellion is not possible, except in literature. My reasoning is threefold: (1) I do not think, or at least have no reason to believe, that "angels" have free will; (2) I do not believe that while in the presence of God any creature could ever form a desire to leave that presence. If that were possible, then humans could leave God's presence as well, and that is not a view I hold to be scripturally valid; (3) where would the first rebellious "angel" go? It seems ridiculous that God would create a spiritual hell simply because some angels would rebel and go there. In fact, the whole concept of hell needs to be tossed out in my opinion. A long-standing tradition, rooted in Augustine's theology, is that hell simply signifies non-existence or non-substance (privation), in which case it does not make any sense to speak of created beings subsisting in a created "hell." Now unless you want to argue for a literal lake of fire, I suspect it will be hard to hold on to an actual hell theologically. Here's another point: Paul speaks of God as being the one in whom all things hold together. But if hell is the place where demons are in opposition to God, away from God's presence, then how could anything hold together there?

(3) You've presupposed that I think rebellious angels could exist, which I do not. But there is a possibility of angels existing, I think. It is only the slightest and smallest of possibilities, however.

Now none of this means I would toss out the metaphorical language in Scripture, because metaphorical speech is truthful, not untruthful. Metaphors are creative vehicles of truthful communication. I find that it helps immensely to read the Bible as literature of truth, not as a series of theological tracts, as far too many evangelicals are prone to do. Hence the need for a major revitalization of art and aesthetics in church.

I can read about angels and demons, and find the narratives full of truth and significance. A Peretti-like vision of the demonic has -- to use a figure of speech -- possessed evangelicals to a tragic level, so much so that I fear many of them cannot read the Bible without such an image. That is unfortunate, since the literary images are intended to emphasive the divine significance of the gospel message -- a message that is capable of defeating the devil and demons. In other words, it is a message which frees people from their bondage.

I think it might be profitable for our discussion to take a look at 1 John, which is a book packed with references to "the devil" or "the evil one." I find the theology conveyed through these images to be of importance, though easily misleading. Here is a representative verse: "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." And along with that: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil..." These are both from chapter 3. There are references in the other chapters as well. Any responses?

Excursus: I found it interesting that there are more references to demons than to angels, but all the references to demons, save for maybe four, are to demon possession. The other references work as literary images, as in the use of "the devil" in 1 John. The references to "devil" and "satan" are similarly inconclusive. I think this only reinforces the difficulty of making any claims about the physical reality of demons.
D.W. Congdon said…
Mom, I was not accusing you, just pointing out that your comments were all leaning in that direction -- which I hope you can understand was troubling for me. I'm pretty sure we agree about affective theology. I would want to add a stronger notion of truth as that which elementarily interrupts our lives (of sin), taking us outside of ourselves, making us ex-centric, so that we are enabled to more fully see who we really are (in sin) and who we really are or can be (in Christ). As a result, the message of the gospel does, by definition, enable. However, that it is a theological definition of truth, which is too idealized a picture for practical usage. The everyday world is fraught with complications: the message seems confused and/or poorly communicated, cultural barriers prevent a reception of the truth, sin has too deep a hold for truth to penetrate effectively into the heart, etc. In other words, though the message may be an enabling message, it is not magic; the gospel does not function as if humans are computers with on/off switches. Humanity is complex, as are the possible responses to the gospel. When the Bible speaks of God hardening hearts, I think that is a figure of speech for the way God's message of the gospel (which should be easily acceptable) is rejected due to the deep level of sin in people's lives.

When I get around to it, I want to speak of the last judgment as the place where God fully and truly enables everyone to hear the message of justification and to make the choice to accept God's gracious judgment (Jesus is judged in your place) or the reject the gracious judgment given by God.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

Thanks for your response. I guess it didn't help me a whole lot in understanding these comments:

which, by the way, does not mean that there are not divine messengers

and

There is a vast spiritual world, one in which we are deeply involved, though we are often blind to it.

If there's anything you can add that might help me understand what you meant by those comments, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

On to your questions.

What gives you a basis for equating the serpent in Gen. 3 with satan or with a demon, besides the fact that tradition has done so?

I don't necessarily do so. It is possible that the serpent is not Satan. It is possible that the whole Genesis account is not literal history. I'm OK with that possibility, and it doesn't change my perspective on this issue at all.

How do you handle 2 Sam/1 Chron?

I had never given it a thought before you brought it up. Your explanation sounds quite reasonable.

How are you able to keep the idea of "evil spirits" from the OT while finding reason to abandon a polytheistic world in which everything material has a corresponding spirit? (That's the big question for me.)

Primarily because of the ways Paul speaks about the spiritual world. I don't see that the two concepts are inextricably connected.

How do you think scientifically about disease in our modern society while abandoning your scientific beliefs when reading the NT?

By no means do I abandon my scientific beliefs when reading the NT. It is possible that some of the "demon possession" we see was actually psychological illness. I don't think that covers all the situations described, but it would explain some of them quite well, and it does not concern me. I don't have to find demons under every rock to believe that they exist.

How do you keep a lying, deceiving satanic figure and maintain human free will?

In the same way that I can have a lying, deceiving friend trying to talk me into taking drugs, and still maintain my free will. Deception and temptation are not mind control.

Is satan a tool of God?

Tough question. On some level, everything is a tool of God. On another level, Satan certainly isn't a tool of God. We have this same problem when it comes to any evil in the world of any kind. Were the evil rulers of Babylon tools of God? Yes (God used them to punish Israel) and No (God punished them in their turn for having attacked Israel). This problem is not unique to the spiritual realm.

Is God a liar?

Ummm... no? I don't see where this comes from.

What is the relationship between humanity's enslavement and the traditional view of a satan who leads people into enslavement?

I don't know about the "traditional view" you're referring to, but it seems to me that Satan may lead us, but it is our own sin that enslaves us. Is that what you're asking?

How do we understand spiritual warfare?

I don't know a whole lot about "spiritual warfare". Ephesians 6 is primarily speaking about how we can protect ourselves from Satan's deceptions. Elsewhere it says that we need to be aware of Satan's scemes against us. None of this is necessarily captured well in a "warfare" analogy. But, I wouldn't say that my knowledge on this issue is complete or fixed or even well-formulated.

Do Christians actually fight against satan and demons?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but we must be able to respond to temptations from the spiritual realm just like we must be able to respond to temptations from the physical realm.

If God does the fighting, then how can God also be controlling satan?

The "God controlling" conundrum also extends well beyond the question of Satan, applying just as well to us. God gives us free will, and therefore does not "control" us. Yet, we can never thwart God's plans for the world, frustrate God's purposes, or catch Him by surprise. He is never out of control. Assuming that Satan is a created rational being, the answer to this question regarding him would be identical to the answer regarding us.

What actually is the role of satan in the end? Is satan really necessary??

I don't know, really. God reveals stuff to us on a need-to-know basis, I figure, and I expect that there will be lots of "why" questions that I will simply be unable to answer. I have some ideas of what Satan's role might be, but I don't put much stock in them, and even if I can never answer this question, I would not therefore change my perspective on Satan's existence.

Now, a few additional comments about your answer to my other questions:

My answer is that they (if there is a "they") are in communion with God at all times. Rebellion is not possible, except in literature. My reasoning is threefold: (1) I do not think, or at least have no reason to believe, that "angels" have free will;

Having "no reason to believe" is a very different thing than "do not think". I would assume that you also have "no reason to believe" that angels do not have free will? If you do have reason to believe that angels do not have free will, I'd be interested in hearing it.

(2) I do not believe that while in the presence of God any creature could ever form a desire to leave that presence. If that were possible, then humans could leave God's presence as well, and that is not a view I hold to be scripturally valid;

I don't quite see why you would presume that angels were at a different level of God's presence than Adam and Eve were (even if Adam and Eve are only analogical). We have basically no ability to understand the spiritual world and the relationships within it, because it is fully outside our experience. We can only sense it as the wind blowing through the trees... we can't grasp in what ways spiritual beings relate to each other, how place or location work in the spiritual realm, etc. These are all impossible questions for us to even attempt an answer to.

(3) where would the first rebellious "angel" go?

I have no idea, but I assume that it would be something along the lines of what happened with Adam and Eve. Where did they go when they sinned? Straight to immediate eternal punishment? No. Why would the situation with the first spiritual creatures that turned against God be any different? Also, note my comments in the previous answer about our inability to understand the spiritual realm.

I think it might be profitable for our discussion to take a look at 1 John, which is a book packed with references to "the devil" or "the evil one." I find the theology conveyed through these images to be of importance, though easily misleading. Here is a representative verse: "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." And along with that: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil..." These are both from chapter 3. There are references in the other chapters as well. Any responses?

My difficulties with I John are with its strong tendency toward black-and-white language. It seems to describe one group of people who are in perfect obedience to God, and a second group who are in constant rebellion against God, and nobody in-between. This, of course, doesn't make sense in our experience, nor with other things scattered throughout the book (like the "confess your sins" verse in chapter 1). Given that I can only make any sense of John's words here if I understand him speaking as archetypes of behavior, his language "child of the evil one" and "of the devil" seems it could quite readily be understood as "one who follows the example of Satan" or "one who believes and internalizes the deceptions of Satan".

I found it interesting that there are more references to demons than to angels, but all the references to demons, save for maybe four, are to demon possession. The other references work as literary images, as in the use of "the devil" in 1 John. The references to "devil" and "satan" are similarly inconclusive. I think this only reinforces the difficulty of making any claims about the physical reality of demons.

Nearly anything can work as a "literary image" if one has reason to make it work as one. However, I don't quite see why one should see, for example, Paul's statements about being aware of Satan's schemes and defending against the fiery darts of the evil one should be explained as literary images. I'm not fully committed to the belief that Satan, demons, and angels are literary created rational beings... but, as I pointed out earlier, it does seem to be the most straightforward intepretation of Scripture, and I tend to stick with the most straightforward interpretation unless I have reason to do otherwise.

Mark
Mark Congdon said…
David,

One brief further comment. In the comment I quoted last, you ended with the statement:

I think this only reinforces the difficulty of making any claims about the physical reality of demons.

This would seem to be more a statement of my position than of yours... since you quite emphatically do make a claim about the physical reality of demons. Your claim is that there is none. I continue to be confused why the paucity of conclusive information in the Bible in favor of the physical reality of demons should lead you to (at least nearly) conclusively reject the physical reality of demons. It would seem that recognizing "the difficulty of making any claims", and therefore some level of ambiguity or uncertainty, would be the natural response to your observations, as you have described them here.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, I did not intend for my questions to be answered individually; they are meant to imply an argument, as well as to be rhetorical. (Hence your confusion about the question, "Is God a liar?" which is actually a question worthy of serious theological attention, considering the passages in the OT about God sending out evil, lying spirits. You ignore that question to your own theological peril.)

That said, I think we've reached the end of this conversation. There are too many theological issues to address them all, and I can tell our disagreements will to a greater impasse later on. You read the Bible at face value (i.e., literally), and I do not. You see the Bible mention the "devil," and I see something else. That's fine. We can move on to other things. In the end, I will simply question your hermeneutic, and you will question mine.

If you want responses to any specific issue that you raised, you can let me know. Anyone else interested in the issues is welcome to post a comment.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

If you think my hermeneutic is to "read the Bible at face value (i.e. literally)", then you haven't been listening to what I said at all.

Which being said, if that is the case, you might be right that our conversation will only lead to greater impasse.

You see the Bible mention the "devil," and I see something else.

I do see the Bible mention the "devil", and so do you. What the Bible means by it is the question. I am uncertain, with a leaning toward a created rational being, because that seems to be the most straightforward way of understanding the Scriptures. You are quite certain, that this "devil" is not and could not be a created rational being... though I'm still not quite clear where your level of certainty on the issue comes from.

Just as your questions were not intended to be taken in isolation, my answers were not intended to be taken in isolation. Answering your questions individually was simply a device I used to help keep me on track, and make sure I was dealing with the discussion from your perspective.

If you want responses to any specific issue that you raised, you can let me know.

Well... I was responding to questions that you raised. I think that on many of the points, I am in agreement with you, but unless you respond, I can't know that for sure. I guess I would be most interested in responses where you felt we had the greatest disagreement. I don't know which points those would be, however.

Maybe most of all, I'd like to know what gives you the idea that I am a literalist, given (a) my willingness to interpret the Genesis account as possibly allegorical, (b) my willingness to agree with you on the 2 Sam/I Chron conundrum you brought up, (c) my willingness to accept the possibility that Satan and demons are not literal created rational beings... etc. Those are all highly non-literal positions. I do not hold them firmly or with conviction, but I am willing to accept them as possibilities. How, then, can you consider me a literalist?

I do take the straightforward reading as the likely reading, unless I have good reason to think otherwise about a topic. Is this the same as being a literalist in your mind? I come to that approach from the universal rational principle that the simplest answer is usually (not always) the correct one. It has nothing to do with a commitment to Biblical literalism, or I would certainly not be willing to compromise on the issues that I am.

So, in what way do you consider me a literalist?

I would describe myself as someone who gives credence to simple and straightforward rational answers over complicated ones. That leads me to disagree with you on this issue... but it doesn't make me a literalist.

Are you sure you don't just apply that label to people who disagree with you, regardless of how they reach their conclusions?

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, you read far more into my comments than you have warrant to. What I said was, "You read the Bible at face value (i.e., literally), and I do not." All I meant was precisely what you have said over and over again: "I tend to stick with the most straightforward interpretation." In other words, you take things at face value -- which is synonymous with "literally." If you want to turn this into a pointed discussion about "literalism," that is fine. But that's not what I said. "Literally" and "literalism" are different words with different meanings, minor as they may be. (Personally, I take literalism to mean that one reads the Bible only literally in opposition to any other explanation, and also presupposes an inerrant view of Scripture.) It's analogous to the difference between saying that I am committed to fundamentals of the faith and calling me a fundamentalist. Those words are connected, but by no means the same thing.

My argument with you on this issue is that the Bible does not support a "straight-forward" hermeneutic, in my opinion. You apparently think otherwise, as do many evangelical Christians. I'm fine with that, but I don't think it does any of us much good for you to squeeze out of being labelled a literalist when you openly advertise yourself as a literal reader of Scripture. When it comes down to it, the only reason a difference between "literally" and "literalist" exists is that some people -- you included -- have compromised on issues in which a "straight-forward" reading simply will not do.

My question to you then is this: Why makes a straight-forward reading of the Bible regarding satan and the demonic truly convincing?

So far I have not seen anything that would convince me that reading satan as a linguistic metaphor is inadequate. The idea of the demonic is connected almost entirely to possession, which is easily explanable in terms of an ancient culture which had to find spiritual causes for physical phenomena. The idea of satan arose in connection with the rise of a monotheistic Yahweh as the head of these dark, spiritual forces. In other words, as a theology of God and angels developed, a corresponding theology of Satan and demons developed as well, simply because the troubling realities people faced demanded an explanation.

The Bible is not science, nor is it history (like our textbooks), nor is it doctrinal theology. The Bible is most like a story, and it works like any other story by speaking the cultural idiom in which it was created. Why Christians today expect it to conform to their own modern-day standards of science and history is mind-boggling. Scripture is far more beautiful when it is allowed to speak truthfully to us as a story, with all of its images, metaphors, figures of speech, and cultural archetypes. The depth of Scripture and its numerous complexities simply do not allow for a straight-forward, literal reading.

I do take the straightforward reading as the likely reading, unless I have good reason to think otherwise about a topic. Is this the same as being a literalist in your mind?

Not exactly. It means you read literally and, if pursued to the bitter end, it would make you a literalist.

I come to that approach from the universal rational principle that the simplest answer is usually (not always) the correct one.

This is fascinating. I guess this is a principle that I was never taught, and most definitely did not internalize. As a student of literature, you learn there is no such thing as "the simplest answer," but I suppose from a mathematical/scientific point of view, this would make more sense. Perhaps my response would be that this principle simply should not apply in reading the Bible. There is no "simplest answer," quite obviously because Scripture is not a math problem that needs to be solved; it is a collection of writings from many centuries and from vastly different cultures.

I think the problem here is that you are treating the Bible like a problem to be solved; thus the "simplest answer" is the right one, usually. I read the Bible like the greatest (and most complex) work of literature, and thus I read expecting to find cultural barriers and linguistic images that need interpretive explanations -- which are not equatable with "answers."

I won't bother explaning where we disagree the most, since I do not think this discussion is going to move forward. But I will just point out the areas which I find problematic: your view of the spiritual world as no different from the created world of Adam and Eve; the assumption that satan is a "created rational being"; your inability to provide an understanding about satan's role & your corrresponding inability to say anything substantive about spiritual warfare beyond "responding to temptations"; the way you virtually ignored the question about polythesim and "evil spirits"; and finally the way you sort of allow science to explain possession in the NT, yet insist that demons still have theological validity outside of that (which seems incredible, and biblically unfounded).

All in all, I disagree with you on most every issue, and I don't know how you can possibly agree with me on 2 Sam/1 Chron, unless you bracket that example off from the rest of our discussion, which seems to be the case.

Finally, I deeply resent your accusation that I accuse others of being "literalists" simply because I disagree with them. Your comment is far more pointed and divisive than pointing out the clear and obvious fact that you read "at face value" on the issue of demons. Turning facts into subjective weapons in an argument is just wrong. I suggest we move on as quickly as possible.
timcoe said…
David,

I think Mark mostly wants to say that he is flexible on this issue, as he doesn't see conclusive evidence for either of the two positions presented. Whereas you seem much more rigidly affixed to your position of 'no demons exist,' and therefore Mark would like to know what warrants this rigidity?
Mark Congdon said…
David,

My use of the word "straightforward" has nothing to do with the concept of "literal". It encompasses all the cultural and linguistic considerations that are intrinsically part of studying literature. Which you would understand if you read any of my examples. I care nothing at all for a "literal" interpretation of Scripture. It is the value I place on simplicity that led me to jettison the dispensationalism of my parents, with all its contorted explanations and phantom connections between passages. And, it appears to me that similar explanatary contortions are necessary to positively assert that Satan cannot possibly exist.

Thank you, Tim. I'm glad to know that I am actually saying what I think I'm saying.

David, I'll point out that you read me wrong on at least two of the areas of disagreement you pointed out:

your view of the spiritual world as no different from the created world of Adam and Eve; the assumption that satan is a "created rational being"

I don't view the spiritual world as no different from the created world... I think there may be specific similarities, and I see no reason to assert that there are not those similarities. I do not "assume" that Satan is a created rational being... I recognize that possibility, and do not see good reason to assert the opposite.

Which I've said enough times, over and over, in this conversation, that I'm starting to wonder if you think I'm lying.

I do apologize for my incorrect statement in the last paragraph of my previous response. I simply couldn't fathom how you could associate my "straightforward" with "literal", given the examples I provided, so I made a logical jump that was unwarranted. I'm sorry.

Mark
D.W. Congdon said…
Mark, while I argue that satan is not a literal, created, rational being, I too am flexible on this issue. I have no intention of elevating this topic into some sort of doctrinal issue; it clearly does not warrant that kind of importance. You have quoted me a couple times already expressing the possibility of "divine messengers" and mentioning my belief in a "vast spiritual world." Those were my attempts to indicate flexibility. If in my arguments I seem wholly and inflexibly committed to the nonexistence of demons, that is out of practical necessity -- and because I lean in that direction. I think the evidence overall points toward a purely metaphorical interpretation of demons, but I would never swear by that view. For the purpose of dialogue, however, I choose that position.
D.W. Congdon said…
This is getting ridiculous. If you want to pursue this any further, please email me. You say you don't "assume" that satan is a created being? What about this paragraph:

The "God controlling" conundrum also extends well beyond the question of Satan, applying just as well to us. God gives us free will, and therefore does not "control" us. Yet, we can never thwart God's plans for the world, frustrate God's purposes, or catch Him by surprise. He is never out of control. Assuming that Satan is a created rational being, the answer to this question regarding him would be identical to the answer regarding us.

And what exactly is the point of this comment: "I think there may be specific similarities, and I see no reason to assert that there are not those similarities", about the connection between the spiritual and physical worlds? I said that you don't seem to see any difference between the two, which you flatly deny, but then you turn around and say virtually the same thing again! You are just playing word games now.

I hope it goes without saying that my list of disagreements was an over-simplification of your views for the sake of brevity. So for you to nitpick over where I read you wrong is a waste of our time. I can only talk about what you have already written yourself, and in all of your comments about the physical world of Adam and Eve, you stated that the spiritual world probably works in the exact same way. What is that except "no difference"? Now of course in your mind you might know of differences, but those were not expressed at any time. So how do you expect me to articulate what you yourself have not articulated?? And you accuse me of reading you wrongly, because you only see "specific similarities"? Come on, Mark. I would laugh if you weren't so serious.
Mark Congdon said…
David,

In the first quote from me, the key phrase that you missed was "would be".

In the second quote from me, the key phrase that you missed was "may be".

In your summary of my statements, you substituted a "probably" for my "possibly".

I accuse you of reading me wrongly because you see me stating certainties where I am attempting to state possibilities.

A point which Tim already observed, so I know that I'm not going completely out of my mind here.

And yes, this is getting ridiculous.

Mark
Douglas_Coombs said…
David,

You asked, "What purpose does the idea of the devil actually serve? This is a serious point. If humans are responsible for their own free actions, then what is the role of satan and demons? They seem entirely superfluous, and their presence seems like a way of maimaintaining a dualistic cosmos of God versus Satan."

I would ask what the purpose is of angels at all? Also, is there a purpose to evil in general? These are not questions easily or adequately answered in a blog format (in my opinion). However, I don't think that the purpose of demons can be reduced to "maintaining a dulaistic cosmos." It seems to me that there is much more to it than that.

"I think you are highly exaggerating the effect of the books. People read them because the stories are very enjoyable and engaging. People want a good story; they could care less about the plot devices. HP would be just as good a series if magic were not involved, because what holds a story like that together is the characters. Any literature student could tell you this. My education is English literature is not superficial, whereas I think most evangelicals and (virtually all) fundamentalists have a very superficial understanding of stories and texts, and art in general. A movie cannot be reduced to its swear words and sex scenes, nor can a book be reduced to its setting or its devices (or its swear words and sex scenes). Unfortunately, this is lost to most Christians."

A couple points on this last paragraph.

Yes, people enjoy a good story. However, as is evident from "the DaVinci Code" and other works that people sometimes form their opinions about subjects based on fictional books they read. Perhaps you wouldn't be so naive, but that doesn't mean that everybody is as sophisticated as you when reading books.

Second, I don't think that I am exagerating the effect of the books. I did not say that they have to have a bad effect, I only said that it is a valid concern. Wicca has gained a tremendous amount of acceptance among youth, relative to a couple decades ago. The danger I see is in making witchcraft appear harmless. *Some* people are affected by that, and it makes them more vulnerable later on to joining Wicca and other pagan religions. If you doubt the growing attraction of Wicca among people today, I suggest you read "Wicca's Charm" by Catherine Sanders. The HP series is not the cause of the growth in Wicca, but to the extant that it helps present witchcraft as innocuous it is playing a part in the cultural shift taking place.

I listened to a talk one time given by the founder of Greenpeace on the methods they in the early days of the environmental movement to help make environmentalism mainstream. His enthusiasm for popular culture and especially popular culture aimed at children (cartoons and the like) impressed me. The point was driven home yesterday as I watched a cartoon with my son that dealt with stay-at-home dads. David, you may not be affected at all by HP. In fact the vast majority of people won't accept Wicca as a result of reading the books. That does not mean, however, that such books do not play a role in shaping how we as a society view sorcery and witchcraft. Also, I do find it likely, that for *some* people, especially the among impressionable young, the HP books could play a significant role in making Wicca and other neo-Pagan religions in which witchcraft is practiced appear harmless.

Is it wrongheaded to recommend that when it comes to certain books, one should be mature enough and spiritually grounded before picking them up?

Doug
D.W. Congdon said…
No, it's not wrong-headed at all, but I still think it is rather extreme to demand such maturity over a series that simply does not take itself that seriously, nor warrants such seriousness.

I am not at all blind to the growing attraction of Wicca and pagan witchcraft. I spent a good deal of time around at least one person in high school who actively promoted it, and my year at Borders was quite enlightening. I realized after only a few weeks that the Wicca/Astrology section is the most popular and fastest selling section in the entire store, including CDs and DVDs.

But that does not, in my mind, have anything substantial to do with HP. If there is a connection, it is only made among those who already view Wicca as something worthy of their interest and time. I have a hard time seeing how HP could ever lead people toward pagan witchcraft, because the two operate on such vastly different levels. HP is, as I said, a completely secular series which does not recognize anything spiritual; it is a purely material, technological world. Wicca is different. While it is not religious, it is openly spiritual. Hence there is a rise in classes on spirituality, and many quasi-Christian books have capitalized on the linguistic similarities of spirituality and Christianity. HP avoids all these concerns.

Even the content of the book has no connection. HP talks about spells and broomsticks. These are old, "romantic" views of witchcraft, which you find in stories like the Wizard of Oz; they only fascinate the imagination. Wicca, on the other hand, is an entirely adult spirituality which has nothing to do with broomsticks and potions. Even though I am clearly opposed to the trends of modern paganism, I also recognize that it is rather harmless. Wiccan followers are worshippers of the earth; theirs is an earthy spirituality centered around the physical cosmos. Their spirituality arises out of their pantheistic/panentheistic view of reality. There is no spell-casting, or potions to turn people into frogs. These are antiquated views of magic that are relegated to the realm of the literary -- thus, HP.

Regarding the comment about angels, I have no clear opinion. I really do not know what the end purpose of angels is. I can make a case for them and another case against them, both biblical in my mind. The same goes for demons and satan, but based on the scriptural evidence, it seems like I am more justified to identity the demonic with human sin (or else to explain them by means of science). Angels are not quite so easily identifiable or explainable.