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A Doctrine of Demons

I recently had the pleasure of watching a stage production of CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters featuring a magnificent solo performance by actor and director Max Mclean as the titular devil of the play. His turn as a senior demon who works in a middle management office in hell was both serious and silly, just as Lewis intended it to be.

The problem is that popular culture usually focuses on one extreme or the other. The demonic is either portrayed as a comical devil with red horns and a pitchfork or as some gruesome and malevolent force, as in the recent spate of Exorcist-style dramas on TV. That’s why I’ve always appreciate Lewis’ pithy advice, quoted in this month’s cover feature ‘Exorcism Unmasked’ (p28): “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Tales of demonic possession and deliverance tend to catch our attention as Christians, but in asking Professor Graham Twelftree of London School of Theology to write from his experience on the subject we aren’t seeking to glamorise this area of ministry. Instead, we wanted a practical and theologically rigorous treatment of an issue that’s too often portrayed in overly esoteric or overly sceptical ways in our churches and culture. As deliverance practitioner John Tancock helpfully says of demons: “They are grubby, dirty and furtive. They pretend, mock and challenge but they are ultimately powerless before Jesus.”

Being reminded of the reality of spiritual warfare can also be helpful for our prayer life. For most of us this will rarely involve encountering physical manifestations of the demonic, but we shouldn’t think that we aren’t doing something important in the spiritual realm when we pray. Paul reminds us that “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 realm” (Ephesians 6:12).

There is a real spiritual battle being fought in our world, one which intersects with the physical battles and evil we see in the human realm. As our interview with Tom Wright (p20) discussing the cross of Christ reminds us, we are all called to join with God’s mission to bring heaven to earth, both through our practical action and through our faithful prayer. In doing so, I hope that you and your church will embody the famous maxim “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

Justin Brierley Senior editor


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