Possessed or Obsessed? Many Christians say they are in need of deliverance but some may be giving demons more than their due

Christianity Today  

Case #1

A smell—any smell—nauseates her. Her eyes squint at the 4 p.m. daylight. Amy turns off the radio, gulps a fistful of Ibuprofen, and swears softly. Her temples pulsate with thumps of debilitating pain for the second time this month.

Like many other evangelical women in the 21st century, Amy is suffering from:

a) a migraine headache

b) PMS

c) demon harassment

d) all of the above

 

Case #2

 

Bob catches a glance of porn actors disrobing as he surfs the hotel TV. At first he wants to change the channel, but something makes him linger. He indulges. Later he despises himself.

Like many other evangelical men, Bob wishes he could get rid of this:

a) psychosomatic addiction

b) sinful nature

c) demon of lust

d) all of the above

Case #3

 

When someone insults Nancy, she hears voices in her head telling her to kill the offender. She prays for this to go away, but to no avail. Nancy needs to:

a) cut back on coffee

b) get professional help for her dissociative identity disorder

c) see an exorcist

d) all of the above

 

More commonly than ever, evangelicals have been embracing options c) and d) as bona fide explanations in scenarios like these. One no longer needs to levitate to be diagnosed with demonic infestation. Stunning numbers of North American Christians believe demons may be at the root of apparently natural maladies or temptations. Between the cinematic release of The Exorcist three decades ago and its re-release last year, evangelicals like Amy, Bob, and Nancy have sought help from deliverance ministers, spiritual warfare counselors, or exorcists. Many of those who had their demons removed vow that liberation from the internal tormentors often resulted in shedding of bad habits, physical illnesses, and false idols.

 

Besides headaches, addiction to smut, and hearing voices, deliverance manuals list alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, homosexuality, nightmares, persistent anger, and jealousy among the possible symptoms of demonization. Increasingly, even the most common ills and sins are being linked to demonic sources and healed by demon expulsion. The magic takes place when demons are—depending on whom you turn to—confronted, expelled, driven out, dismissed by the Lord Jesus, sent to the pit, coughed up, spewed, vomited, disgorged, cast out, dispossessed or exorcised. Or so some believe.

 

Have Lucifer and his subordinates really chosen to raid the church in a more spectacular way? If so, why in the United States? Why at this time in history? Or is it possible that beside evil spirits other factors have provoked the rise of deliverance and exorcism ministries?

 

Demonic Revival

 

Christians weren’t the first to confront evil spirits. In ancient Mesopotamian cultures as well as Judaism and other religions, banishment of evil spirits was also believed to end human suffering. Indisputably, the prototype of Christian deliverance was established by Jesus Christ and the apostles. Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian described dispossession in the second century, and Origen wrote in the third century that “the name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men and expel demons and also take away diseases and produce a complete change of character.” Even John Foxe, known for his Book of Martyrs, freed a law student from “no less a demon than Satan himself” in 1574, writes Kathleen Sands in the February 2001 History Today. Church historian Richard F. Lovelace told Christianity Today that the Devil seemed to have taken a plunge after the 1692 witch trials, shyly reemerging in North America in the 20th century when Jessie Penn-Lewis wrote War on the Saints. With the expansion of overseas missions, Americans also began hearing about demon confrontation from missionaries to non-Western nations. But a true demonic revival didn’t arrive in the United States until the late 1960s and early 1970s.

 

“Exorcism prior to the late 1960s was virtually dead and gone in the United States, a fading ghost long past its prime,” says Michael W. Cuneo, author of the recently released American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty (Doubleday). “And then in the early to mid-’70s, untold numbers of Americans, many of them staunchly middle class, the kind of people you might chat with at the supermarket checkout counter or bump into at a local mall, became convinced that they or their loved ones were suffering from demonic affliction.”

Supply followed demand, and 600 evangelical deliverance ministries—”quite possibly two or three times this many”—have sprouted by this year, Cuneo told Christianity Today. The Fordham University sociology and anthropology professor spent two years investigating the demonic revival and witnessed over 50 mass and individual exorcisms, dismissals, or deliverances. Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox experts in demon expulsion have admitted in conversations with Christianity Today that they too have noticed an upsurge of the demonic—or at least perceptions of such—in U.S. churches in the last two or three decades. The number of official Roman Catholic exorcists climbed from one or two in 1995 to 15 to 20 now, and the number is expected to rise, Cuneo says. Plus, it’s easy to find “maverick” exorcists who will fill in for the desperate who cannot get the official exorcists’ services, he says.

 

“People are more willing to entertain the possibility of the spiritual,” says theologian Robert Barron, a spokesman on exorcisms for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The tendency to explain everything through reason has been eclipsed by explanations that go beyond what reason can grasp, he adds.

 

Clinton E. Arnold, professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, has also noticed that a naturalistic worldview no longer seems as compelling as it used to. “There is a broader yearning for spiritual experience,” he says. “There seems to be a correlation between this yearning and some of the rise in deliverance ministry in the church.” Thus the popularity of books by Neil T. Anderson, C. Peter Wagner, Mark I. Bubeck, Frank E. Peretti, C. Fred Dickason, and Arnold.

 

Perhaps G.K. Chesterton was right in saying that when people cease to believe in God, they don’t begin to believe in nothing—instead, they will believe in anything. In the psychedelic ’60s, Americans began to believe in anything. Consistent with Chesterton’s words, this relativism encouraged unorthodox spiritual searches. Man’s first steps on the moon, flower power, sexual freedom, peace marches, Woodstock, the Beatles, and the Vietnam War, as well as women’s and gays’ liberation movements, were the context in which American society opened up to exploring unconventional spiritual answers. Doctrinally indecisive at the time, many Protestant churches didn’t steer people away from modern superstitions.

Quiet Dismissals and Paper Towels

 

The dawning of the Age of Aquarius ushered in the demonic malignity—not just among charismatics but also in conservative evangelical circles, where most discussions of this topic began and ended with the assertion that “Christians cannot be demon-possessed.” Many straight-laced fundamentalists accepted the teachings of such noncharismatic propagators of demon confrontation as Kurt Koch, Merrill F. Unger, and Mark I. Bubeck. Among them was C. Fred Dickason.

 

Dickason told Christianity Today he got involved in spiritual warfare ministry “rather reluctantly.” In the late ’60s, when he was teaching at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, the school began to receive calls from “people with occult or demonic backgrounds who sensed they were being oppressed.” The calls were forwarded to Dickason because he was teaching a course on angelology, and soon after that he became chairman of the department of theology. So he “had to learn in a hurry” how to deal with fallen angels. Since that time, Dickason and his wife, Jean, have counseled more than 600 Christians with demonic problems and say they have “seen the Lord dismiss many demons.”

 

“Spiritual warfare confrontation and dismissal of evil spirits are done by the Lord Jesus,” Dickason says. “We’re only facilitators to the situation. And since we’re counseling the entire person, we’re not there primarily to confront the spirits; we are trying to clear up some problems in people’s lives by getting them to recognize truth and apply it to their lives.” Simply dressed and conservative in both manner and theology, Dickason clearly isn’t after money. His counselees hear about him by word of mouth and get help free of charge.

 

There’s “nothing spectacular” about his ministry, he says with the polite resignation of someone who couldn’t care less about fame. Sometimes, he says, there is no need for confronting demons. Things can be cleared up easily by getting someone to recognize and apply God’s truth, which he believes removes the occasion by which spirits hold on to the person. Such was the case with a man whom Dickason advised to forgive his father before looking into the possibility of demonic oppression in his life. Often, however, “The stubborn, wicked spirits do not give up just because someone is aligned with the truth,” he says.

 

In that event, Dickason changes into a human polygraph. He asks the counselees some straightforward questions, such as “What do you think of the Bible?” “What do you think of Christ?” and “What do you think of me?” Then he asks the person who alleges harassment to sign a release permitting him to address a wicked spirit, if one seems to be present. Dickason asks the same questions of evil spirits, who—if present—use the oppressed human’s vocal cords to communicate “very different answers.” Out of the mouths of Christians who had told Dickason they love Jesus have come loathing for God, his Word, and Dickason himself. “The reason I ask these questions is for the person to differentiate between their thoughts and the enemy’s thoughts,” Dickason says. “Otherwise, people think they’re going out of their heads.”

 

Once the demonic presence is confirmed, Dickason asks Jesus to dismiss the spirits. Dickason always requests that God send his angels to escort the evil spirits. Very seldom, “some physical restraint” is required when the demons make the harassed persons want to get up and leave, he says, but “I’m not there to wrestle with demons. Angels wrestle with angels. And I command the spirits to leave quietly.”

 

But if there is no observable manifestation, how can one be sure the demons have gone? Michael Thierer, pastor of Hegewisch Baptist Church in Highland, Indiana, believes lack of struggle proves that the demons may have tricked the deliverance minister and never really left the oppressed. At his 60-member church, prayer partners may take 25 minutes of silent prayer before nabbing the spirits, at which point the latter start screeching, cackling, convulsing, howling, swearing, and coming out through their victims’ air passages (as vomit, for example). Each prayer partner is equipped with a roll of paper towels. When demons come out, the absorbent sheets prevent them from staining the carpet. One wonders how the prayer partners can predict the way in which demons will act, but they never fail to manifest themselves in ways expected of them: They proceed out of the mouths and noses of about 30 people per week and up to 250 people from all over the country who attend each of the three deliverance workshops per year, Thierer told Christianity Today.

 

The demon-tamers at Hegewisch are “rude, crude, and unorthodox,” says Thierer, who often wrestles the demonized to the floor. “We sweat, we wrestle, we get spit on—and we’d like to find a better way.” He lifts his brows and shakes his head slowly as if to imply that there is no better way. “The demons manifest.”

 

Dickason disagrees. “If you expect wild manifestations, the demons will be glad to do that, but you give the enemy great opportunity for deception.” Manifestation is no proof that the evil beings have left, he adds—nor that demons were present to begin with, other critics point out.

 

Everybody’s Doing It

 

Another factor in the renewed popularity of deliverance ministries is the power of suggestion. Sociologists and psychologists have long proclaimed the power of peer pressure. We tend to do what is expected of us. There is no reason why the “everybody’s doing it” mechanism would not extend to the terrain of deliverance—especially if those demanding or hoping for certain behaviors from us are in positions of authority. It is not wise to make light of the ways Satan harasses believers. But it is equally unwise to underestimate the power of peer pressure, ministers with charismatic personalities, and our perception of the will of God.

 

Let’s say Nancy from Case Three has heard a sermon in which the pastor said that a desire to kill someone is not of God but of the devil. Say Nancy shares her dark thoughts with a friend who has just read in a popular book that hearing hateful voices inside one’s head is demonic. Nancy’s friend encourages her to attend a Bob Larson mass deliverance rally. At the rally, Nancy hears Larson announce that he senses strong demonic oppression in the crowd. As is his habit, Larson walks up to people in the crowd and begins to address demons in them. Some people start to scream or weep loudly. In some cases, blood rushes to their faces and they start speaking in guttural voices, identifying themselves as demons and barking their answers at Larson’s command. Eventually the demons appear to leave and the formerly oppressed hug Larson and praise God with a noticeable relief.

 

While Larson works the crowd, Nancy gets butterflies in her stomach and starts to believe that God has brought her to the rally to set her free. If Larson were to approach her to search out the demons, perhaps hitting her with his Bible, as he sometimes does to those he suspects are demonized, wouldn’t Nancy be inclined to respond just as Larson and the crowd were expecting her to? Quite probably the cues Larson provides will evoke an apparently demonic response. Larson is a controversial figure whose deliverance methods include mass exorcism and deliverance over the radio. The secular media adore his showmanship and many emotionally unstable, impressionable people flock to his rallies.

 

In January, CT attended a Larson rally in Schaumburg, Illinois. Larson never prayed aloud during the session of more than two hours. In a later telephone interview, he explained that he had prayed before the session, and “It depends what you mean by prayer. I rebuke demons,” which “necessitates calling on the name of Jesus and invoking his power, and that’s prayer.” Nevertheless, those prayers couldn’t be heard as Larson alternately addressed demons and busied himself with asking for money and marketing his books and videotapes that his audience needed, as Larson informed them, to get better. When Larson asked for an offering of $22,000, almost all of the 150 people present obediently dropped their cash and checks into big white buckets. Those who did got a perk: they got to confront the demons in Frank, a young man standing on the stage behind the donation buckets, on whom Larson was working for the greater part of the evening.

 

Even though Larson’s deliverance methods may seem manipulative, one cannot discount the possibility that God has used him to free some people from evil spirits.

 

Once the mind welcomes the suggestion of demonization, it falls into the open arms of another suitor: the desire for exoneration. Many Christians would rather be known as objects of demonic harassment than struggling sinners.

 

Think how vindicating it would be for Bob from Case Two to realize that his addiction to pornography was not primarily a sin he committed but a result of demonic infestation. And how affirming it would be for Nancy to know that she’s not an angry person but merely a victim of a demon of anger. We all want to be on God’s side, and demons, conveniently, reinstate us to the army of the Lord with honors. Before exorcism, an addict is just a sinner. An addict whose addiction turns out to be demonic is a martyr for Christ. Even people genuinely attacked by demons may have a tendency to ignore their responsibility for their destructive behavior. As Cuneo tells CT, exorcism lets us off the moral hook.

 

John E. Kelley, a clinical psychologist and director of Biola Counseling Center in La Mirada, California, cites another influence that he believes has increased the number of deliverances in recent years: the philosophical position that we each have separate selves. The essence of the phenomenon, he says, is the fragmentation of the postmodern person. It’s okay these days to enact different egos in different situations and to apply different standards of morality depending on the situation. The epitome of that, Kelley says, is Bill Clinton, an unfaithful husband and a great politician in one. Fragile and broken, American selves have lost the defenses that a unified moral character provides, opening themselves to both demons and their imitations.

Demonization by Osmosis

 

At least one more widespread factor seems to have loosed demons into American households, says Cuneo: the entertainment culture’s fascination with the demonic. Peculiarly, demons began multiplying when “demonic grotesquerie” started taunting us from the big screen and the pages of best-selling books, Cuneo observes. American psyches were first mass-conditioned for exorcism through their exposure to the 1973 movie The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin, as well as Malachi Martin’s 1976 book Hostage to the Devil, he says.

 

Other fuel that fed our collective imagination with portrayals of evil were films such as Devil Times Five (1974), The Possessed (1977), Good Against Evil (1977), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Entity (1982), My Demon Lover (1987), and more recently The Devil’s Advocate (1997), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), a re-release of The Exorcist (2000), Bedazzled (2000), and The Little Vampire (2000). Evil spirits gained entry into the kitchens, bedrooms, and family rooms of America through the small screen as well. Supernatural evil was depicted in the television movie The Haunted (1991), and the series The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Charmed, and Touched by an Angel. Even Judge Amy Madison Gray on Judging Amy had to rule in a January episode on whether a 13-year-old girl would be helped by an exorcism.

 

But what came first—pop culture’s portrayals of the demonic, or the demons themselves? Did the media merely mirror reality? Or did they create reality? Perhaps both.

 

Pictures hold a lot of power over our minds. Ask advertising gurus, the glossy magazine editors, or pornography addicts. If seeing is believing and true faith manifests itself in action, then what we see, especially for the more suggestible of us, influences our behavior. Could it be that the Devil has been helped a little by pop culture’s hypnotic, sometimes scary and sometimes seductive, depictions of his malice? (To be fair, one has to wonder how much entertainment has been inspired by the Devil—but that’s another article.)

 

Cuneo believes that the entertainment industry directly stimulated the market for exorcism. “We tend to underestimate the influence of images we get from television, cinema, tabloids, and now the Internet, but they are our common cultural language,” he says. “Most of us are exposed to these images on a daily basis.”

 

Others do not give pop culture so much credit. While films have generally increased awareness of the demonic, dramatic portrayals such as The Exorcist were “more a symptom than a cause,” says Dickason. The media simply reflected the spiritual difficulties that people were experiencing because they opened themselves up to real demonic influences when they became involved with the occult in the New Age movement, he believes.

 

Still, it’s hard to see the media as a litmus test for American spirituality. Goethe’s Faust and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus warned against bargaining with the Devil. Most of today’s entertainment has no such qualms; rather, the mass media love the demonic because it makes for lavish special effects and attracts the thrill-seeking American audience. Demons generate a sizzle equaled only by the Jerry Springer Show’s boxing matches, Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, and people eating bugs on “reality” TV shows.

 

Exorcism Works

 

Healthy though skepticism about the demonic may be, it must be reconciled with the biblical depictions of demonization. And, undeniably, some people have been helped by exorcism and deliverance.

 

Take Michael Easton, a 54-year-old businessman. His conversion in 1979 did not stop him from multipartner homosexuality, alcoholism, and a drug habit. In the days when he was “drinking to get drunk” in 1987, Easton attended a deliverance meeting in Montana led by visiting pastor Win Worley, a controversial exorcist, author of Battling the Hosts of Hell: Diary of an Exorcist (1976), and then-leader of Hegewisch Baptist Church in Indiana. During the 30 minutes Worley prayed for Easton, evil sprits oozed out of him through “deep, heavy coughing, lots of tears, things coming out of my nose, a substance that came out of my stomach—it’s just as if a faucet was turned on,” Easton recalls. Since that day 14 years ago, Easton hasn’t engaged in any homosexual acts, he has stopped smoking pot, and the self-described “fallen-down drunk” hasn’t touched alcohol.

 

Worley also exorcised Thierer’s demons. Thierer was a narcotics addict and dealer in 1979 when he spent 8 to 10 months “on the floor,” he recalled in an interview with Christianity Today. Once Thierer got rid of his rock music collection, which he believes was blocking his deliverance, Worley wrestled “all kinds of drug spirits” out of the man who would eventually marry his daughter and take over Hegewisch Baptist’s leadership after Worley’s death in 1994. Since his deliverance in 1979, Thierer’s drug addiction has been gone.

 

Arnold also tells a story of a successful demon expulsion. A college student had episodes in which her pulse would sometimes shoot up to 150 or more beats per minute; she would black out and often end up in the emergency room. Cardiologists were stumped by her condition. Wearing a monitor to track her heart rate, the young woman stopped by Arnold’s office one day to tell him that the heart condition originated when a demon startled her out of sleep. Knowing that she was under the care of a cardiologist, Arnold decided to investigate if there was a spiritual root to her condition. He made sure that she knew Jesus as her Savior, and talked with her about the possibility of unconfessed sins and her background.

 

Having eliminated these as causes of the woman’s condition, Arnold had her ask Jesus for strength and told her to address any afflicting spirit by saying, “I command you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to leave. I am a child of God and his property, and I don’t want you.” He then joined the student in commanding any spirit that was present to leave. A “shuddering sensation” went through her body as Arnold, the woman and her roommate prayed for deliverance, the woman later told Arnold. At the end of this “power encounter,” the woman recommitted herself to Christ and announced her allegiance to him, and “that was the end of her heart problem,” Arnold says. He admits that he still has questions why this took place, but “there was no doubt that something seemed to me to be a clear example of the reality of the demonic. Demons attack Christians, but we have the resources in Christ to command them to go.”

 

While Easton, Arnold’s student, and many others tell verifiable stories of dramatic turnabouts, an instantly cured illness or shedding of immorality doesn’t necessarily signify demonic dismissal. “Demons” often turn out to be metaphors for extreme evil, and deliverance may be a marked way of turning away from it. Such seems to be the case with dissociative identity disorder, a condition hotly debated in professional and deliverance circles because of its link to another disputed subject, satanic ritual abuse.

 

The problem, all agree, is telling a demon from its counterfeits. And when it comes to the methods of discernment, it seems, all disagree.

 

Possessed or Demonized?

 

Few areas of ministry are so filled with opportunities for sincere Christians to make unintentional but grave mistakes as is deliverance. An average believer is mystified by what looks like devilish harassment, human imagination adrift, a psychological malady, or a chemical imbalance. In attempts to maintain mental control over this out-of-control phenomenon, one is tempted to fall into either unrelenting skepticism or trusting gullibility. We either tend to dismiss the possibility that the demonic may be involved—or we contract demons anytime we brush shoulders with evil (shopping at a store that sells a New Age magazine, for example). We are fooled, in SØren Kierkegaard’s words, by either believing what isn’t so or by refusing to believe what is so.

 

Some refuse to entertain the possibility that born-again Christians could be demon-possessed. But we need to move beyond asking if Christians can be demon-possessed. Most scholars agree that since possession connotes ownership, children of God, who have been “bought with a price,” cannot be owned by the evil one. But the term demon-possessed is an example of poor translation. The biblical word translated demon-possessed is daimonizomenos and comes from the Greek verb daimonizomai, which should be translated as “demonized.” Passages using daimonizomai are Matthew 4:24, 8:16, 8:33; Mark 1:32, 5:15; and Luke 8:36. In his book Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective (Crossway, 1987), Dickason says the etymology of the term demonization conveys “a demon-caused passivity,” or control to some degree by inhabiting demons, not “possession” as in ownership. Along the same lines, Merrill F. Unger in What Demons Can Do to Saints (Moody, 1977) describes demonization as control of a person by one or more demons, affecting both the mind and the body.

 

Another Greek term used to convey demonic harassment is echo, meaning “hold” or “have,” which, combined with the Greek for “spirit,” creates the phrase “having the spirit,” which is joined with “of an unclean demon” in Luke 4:33.

 

Biblical passages describing demonization don’t say if the demonized were Christians or non-Christians (though some scholars argue that some cases imply the demonized professed allegiance to Christ).

 

Humble Skepticism

 

For all it has to say about demons, the Bible doesn’t say definitively that modern Christians can be demonized. Neither does it say they cannot. Thus, open-minded but guarded humility is a good foundation for any consideration of the demonic. That type of humility embraces scrutiny as well as openness to the biblical realities playing out in today’s world.

 

A wide range of today’s spiritual warfare counselors, scholars, and writers such as Neil T. Anderson, Peter C. Wagner, Timothy Warner, Mark I. Bubeck (and others from the International Center for Biblical Counseling), as well as Arnold, Dickason, Thierer, Barron, and the Orthodox Father David Barr, agree that believers can be influenced by demons and that the degrees and disguises of influence vary. To complicate things, demonization may go hand in hand with a psychological disorder, physical illness, and sinful habits. Demonic invasion emulates the most ordinary symptoms.

 

Christians must use their brains (to learn from various disciplines), mouths (to ask God’s assistance and to ask discerning questions), and—yes—even the elusive medium of spiritual intuition (to exercise discernment) when examining claims of demonization.

 

No Christian group has so carefully laid down laws of demon discernment as the Roman Catholic Church. It has long maintained that exorcising someone who is not possessed by a demon and who is instead dealing with a psychological or physical problem can be dangerous. Some unskilled exorcists have ended up killing the people they attempted to help.

 

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s officially appointed exorcist, who prefers his name not be disclosed, works in close collaboration with physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists, Barron says. “We want to be extremely careful in discerning what’s at stake before using the rather heavy tool of exorcism,” he says.

 

The Catholic Church has set the bar so high that only demons can levitate over it. A Catholic exorcist looks for four criteria: superhuman powers or physical capacities (e.g., levitation); a fierce aversion to holy things (such as a crucifix); knowledge of hidden things; and the use of languages one has never learned (e.g., a child who begins to speak medieval Latin). How common are these instances? Very rare. The Devil, Barron says, is more likely to move through temptation, insinuation, and suggestion rather than the “strange, anomalous, mysterious thing” that is demon possession. Since his appointment in September 2000, the Chicago exorcist has performed two exorcisms, Barron says. Over 95 percent of people who asked him for exorcisms haven’t qualified.

 

Although Orthodox churches have no official demon policy on the books, monastics who occasionally perform exorcisms share the Roman Catholic Church’s skepticism, says Barr, who has been an Orthodox priest for 13 years. Once “other causes” have been painstakingly eliminated, services of exorcism are granted. Besides these unusual cases, the Orthodox baptism service blesses recipients with three prayers of exorcism because those receiving baptism “live in a world influenced by the evil one,” Barr says.

 

Barr draws an analogy to describe the suspicion with which Orthodox believers approach allegations of supernatural intervention: “If an icon begins to weep, our first reaction is to wipe the tears off and say, ‘Oh, probably something was spilled. Why should an icon weep for me? Who am I?’ If we act with humility, and it keeps persisting, the bishop will read a prayer of exorcism, and if it continues to weep, then perhaps it’s of God.” Paradoxically, resorting to exorcism in this case is the result of deep skepticism.

 

Arnold usually doesn’t take claims of demonic manifestations at face value. “If a person hears voices in their head, it might be a hallucinogenic drug; it might be dissociation, some kind of psychological disorder; or it might be an evil spirit,” he says. “At the same time, I believe in a biblical worldview that espouses the realities of demonic spirits and doesn’t dismiss that as a possible etiology to a person’s problems. So I take a multifaceted approach to deliverance.” That’s reflected in the fact that Arnold, Kelley, and anthropologist and missiologist Doug Hayward together teach a course on spiritual warfare, probably the best of its kind. Talbot School of Theology students get their money’s worth: Arnold brings his Ph.D. in New Testament exegesis to the mix, Kelley his doctorate in clinical psychology and insight into the human psyche, and Hayward his Ph.D. in anthropology and 20 years of missionary experience from Irian Jaya.

One Wild Truth

 

So, what do all these experts—Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical—advise we do when we suspect demonization? How do we know if we’re dealing with demons or their imitations?

 

First, we need to get ourselves in that teachable place between credulity and skepticism. There we can learn from the collective wisdom that Christians have accumulated over the ages. We should watch for paranormal symptoms, like levitation. We should consult medical doctors and trustworthy psychologists who don’t read too much into things. The psychologists would eliminate dissociative identity disorder, an illness that may resemble demonization but more than that is a cry for help. We should refuse counsel from entertainers but seek out modest exorcists, the kind we find through word of mouth, who pray a lot, refuse to become media personalities, and admit they don’t always know the answers. We should admit that in some cases we may never be able to distinguish between the direct and indirect ways in which the demonic may be attempting to thwart God’s purposes.

 

Over time and in prayer, we should look at family background, unconfessed sin, and level of suggestibility, as well as demonic “inroads”—ways in which humans invite, knowingly or unknowingly, the presence of demons. We should pay special attention to involvement in the occult, generational sins (“sins of the fathers”), and sexual molestation or other ways in which one person gets control of another’s body and/or mind. Once possible natural causes are examined, deliverance ministers will either recommend or discourage asking God in prayer to expel evil spirits.

 

Perhaps then we will know if true demons are involved.

 

But even if we don’t, we should remind ourselves of this wild truth: God, who is victor over both demons and their counterfeits, will come to our aid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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