Download entire issue: Let’s Talk Issue 21.2: Dealing with the Devil [pdf, 148k]
The devil, Satan, demons are big in popular culture and there is a resurgent interest in exorcism. Fascination with the devil and the demonic is evident in films, rock music, and requests (also to pastors) to exorcize ghosts from haunted houses. The devil, Satan, demons, and exorcism are also big in the Bible, but modern Western Christians, particularly in the mainline churches, often avoid dealing with these realities.
Here’s a subject of great interest and some concern to our people that we are not dealing with. When faced with demon possession and exorcism in the Gospels we tend to psychologize the situation. In contrast, in other parts of the world, especially Latin America, Africa, and south Asia, the demonic and the spirit world are live realities. Exorcisms are commonly performed in African Lutheran Churches as well as in other African Churches. The demonic is taken seriously in charismatic/Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Church provides a trained exorcist in every diocese over against the necessity of needing his ministry.
This issue of Let’s Talk proposes to deal with the devil. In the light of instances of evil in the world in recent years this is none too soon.
The one place where we deal with the devil in church life is in the liturgy of Holy Baptism. Our liturgy has candidates or their sponsors renounce the devil, the powers of this world, and the ways of sin (ELW). Some mistakingly call the renunciation of the devil an exorcism, but it is not. Professor Kent Burreson of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis explains the difference in his essay on Exorcism in Lutheran Baptism. Kent Burreson wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame on orders of Baptism in the Lutheran Reformation. He points to the role of exorcism in historic Lutheran baptismal liturgies and offers theological reasons for considering a restoration of exorcism to Lutheran liturgies of Baptism.
Rites of exorcism have the purpose of expelling demons or evil spirits from people’s lives. Probably the leading Lutheran authority on exorcism in North America is Pastor Phillip Gagnon of Alberta, Canada. He had been drawn into the need for conducting an exorcism as a pastor, studied the practice in depth, and published Deliver Us from Evil: A Manual of Exorcism (2014). In April 2015 he attended a world meeting of exorcists sponsored by the Vatican and participated in a seminar on exorcism in Rome. In his article, The Ministry of Exorcism, he introduces us to the pastoral practices of exorcism and guides us into a cautious approach that takes seriously the reality of demon possession while warning us not see demons “behind every bush.”
Pastors as preachers are called to preach on exorcisms in the ministry of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Mark. Marcus Lohrmann acknowledges the difficulty of this task in contemporary congregations filled with disenchanted listeners. In Preaching Demons in the Gospel of Mark Lohrmann guides us through the demon-haunted world of the gospel and suggests that preachers need to inhabit this haunted world to connect with some of the real haunted life situations of their parishioners.
Can the devil be made real to modern believers? Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash reviews Richard Beck’s best selling new book from Fortress Press Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted. Beck invites disenchanted modern believers to look beyond rationalism to behavior, and to focus on evil ideologies rather than individuals in our spiritual warfare.
Our “On the Way” columnist, Benjamin Dueholm, candidly admits that he is personally agnostic about how the Devil and demons are regarded as “real,” in the way we understand it, but in Poverty-Stricken Power he draws on Augustine and Milton for other ways of conceptualizing these spiritual figures.
Our “As I See It” columnist, Frank Senn, reviews the “inconsistent images” of the devil or Satan in the Bible but sees The Persistence of Evil in creation, in the ways of the world, in terrorist acts, and in our lives.
We invite our readers to read, mark, inwardly digest, and respond to the articles in this issue of Let’s Talk.