I just finished posting a book review on the story of BJ Higgins. In that review I was critical of the churchy, pious language used. One of the criticisms I was tempted to focus on was the Church’s glorification of the devil but decided not to do that in my review. Thus, a separate posting.
The evangelical Church, or should I say, evangelical churches, tend to give Satan as much credit as God when it comes to influence in our lives. The charismatic, pentecostal milieu I lived in for long periods of time, spent as much time resisting the devil as we did in glorifying God. This was so much a part of my culture that I never questioned it until fairly recently. I think it is an insidious part of Church theology which has crept into our thinking so strongly that we do not consider it to be non-biblical.
A recent source for me of clear thinking on this matter is Paul Rademacher, in his book, A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, reviewed on Urban Monk a few weeks ago. I am going to take the liberty to share some of Paul’s thoughts on this matter. “. . . popular religion. . . its first order of business is not to view the unity of creation, but to split it into good and evil. Everything flows from that basic distinction.” (p 119) “Satan is indispensable to a theology preoccupied with morality, because most popular religion is concerned with behaviour control. . .” (p 120) If we as spiritual people are concerned more with controlling behaviour, then, yes, we need a devil as part of our thinking. But, “. . . this theology offers a very fragile kind of salvation.” (p 120)
Some years ago I heard a Christian speaker share his own Bible-college experience where he and some fellow students took an old copy of the scriptures and literally cut out with scissors every verse they could find in the entire Bible which had to do with God reaching out to the poor. Any instruction in how we are to deal with the poor and oppressed of society was snipped. The book would hardly hold together. It was so full of holes that it was almost falling apart in their hands.
An impish thought on my part: what if we were to do the same exercise with verses having to do with the devil, Satan, hell, etc? I know for a certainty that the Old Testament would hardly be affected at all. And I strongly suspect that the New Testament as well, would easily hold together. There might be a few more holes than in the Old, but certainly not even close to the effect of the elimination of verses regarding the poor as outlined above.
Now consider the ratio of sermons heard in typical evangelical churches about reaching out to the poor and oppressed versus sermons about avoiding evil. I would hazard a guess that this ratio would be nowhere near the ratio of scriptural treatment of these topics. Where is our priority? Do we really believe we are preaching the gospel when our own emphasis comes out so diametrically opposite to God’s?
What is the answer? Again, turning to Paul Rademacher,
“Without the devil, these fire-and-brimstone religious traditions couldn’t exist. Their whole theology would collapse like a house of cards. Their starting point is not love, but fear, a fear that stays with many of them all their lives. For me, it all comes down to a basic dilemma: If there is a devil, who has the greater power–God or Satan? I’m utterly convinced that God has the capacity to protect and guide me in all situations. Even when I make terrible mistakes, I can proceed in my explorations with confidence. There is no place where God is not found. With that realization comes a wonderful freedom.” (p 121)