What's Tony Thinking

Untroubled Demons and Feckless Faith


In a recent post (“Trump’s Evil Genius”) I wrote, more than half-seriously, that we may not only need an election, but an exorcism — the casting out of an evil spirit.

For several weeks now I have working through the work of the African theologian Esther E. Acolatse titled Powers, Principalities, and the Spirit: Biblical Realism in Africa and the West. 

Acolatse’s project is to let the ways that African Christianity takes seriously what the Bible describes as “principalities and powers,” “demons and spirits,” challenge Western Christianity, which mostly does not take all of this at all seriously. Rather it is treated as an accretion of a no longer credible pre-modern world view, now “outgrown.”

Acolatse, a scholar of great breadth, is not so sure that the modern and western confidence in its own demon-shorn world-view is sound. At the same time, there are aspects of the embrace of such categories in African Christianity that deserve critical scrutiny. 

Here’s Acolatse on how western Christianity has simply danced around such matters so clearly evident in Scripture and in Jesus’ ministry.

“Other, more subtle forms in which our demythologizing takes place, even among impassioned believers, are seen in how words loaded with uncomfortable mythic import are subverted and disrobed.

“The gospel mandate to go and preach and teach and heal is well received, except that healing translates into ‘being Jesus’s hands and feet’ in the world, which quickly translates to ‘acts of mercy and kindness’ to the poor or references to various forms of healing that allow us to offer a panacea through medical science, adroitly bypassing the command to go and heal in and through Jesus’s name, as he and the disciples had done.

“The call to cast out demons and to exorcise personal spirit beings quickly becomes a self-reflexive exercise aimed at avoidance of psychological projection . . . In this way, the language is used without granting it its original intended meaning and primary importance, resulting in a gradual erosion of its ultimate power to be efficacious and liberating . . . In short, we mask our unbelief about the possibility of miraculous phenomena by refrraming the words and then justifying such reading by what we legitiamte as a modern/ postmodern reading.” 

The great weakness of liberal theology has been its failure to take evil seriously. Simply educate people, overcome ignorance and all problems will be solved. Would that it were so!

To the extent we, in the mainline churches, deal with evil it is almost wholly under the umbrella of “social justice.” The problem with that being the only category is that we are left blind and mystified by the evil done in and by “good people” and in the lives and interactions of church people. Congregations may be torn asunder by lies, failures of courage, vindictiveness and manipulation, but we often have no way to face and name such realities because all the evil is being done by “corporations” or “social systems” or “right-wing reactionaries.”  

Moreover, we are not enabled by this theology/ world-view to offer hope to those “possessed” by fear, addiction and the persistent ravages of life that distort and demean the human soul. 

Here’s more from Acolatse: 

“Could it be that in the West the presence of the demonic is muted not because demons have ceased to exist or never were, but for the precise reason that no one fights against nothing? Perhaps, as long as lukewarm faith exists, the demons need not be troubled nor trouble themselves.

“While the purpose of the Christian life is not to irritate demons and incur their wrath through spiritual attacks, a quasi Christianity that is washed out and bears little resemblance to what is epitomized in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and demonstrated in the account of Jesus in the gospels is also bankrupt in holiness and power.

And this —

“It is probable that the lack of knowledge and experience of the presence of the demonic in modern times — through our current times — has made it easy to turn Christianity into a primarily cerebral, morality-infusing code for civilizing humanity, rather than the life-tranforming, Satan-crushing, God-glorifying powerful religion or lifestyle that was intended.” (italics added)

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! 

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