Exorcisms were not part of what we considered the norm of church life when I was coming of age. I didn’t hear a word about exorcism until in college a group of ministers-to-be got to talking (we weren’t using “sharing” yet) about how one of them had participated and, to ready himself, fasted for a day and then prayed most of the night before the exorcism. It struck me as bizarre though I knew the Bible well enough to know Jesus exorcised, and I was enculturated enough into the “cessationist” ways to think this stuff might not be for today… but, still, some friends I knew were involved. A pastor friend told me it was mostly hocus-pocus and I should concentrate on other things… sitting here now I don’t think much of this was on my radar until I began teaching at TEDS with a colleague who had an exorcism ministry. Then Wayne Grudem got hold of the Vineyard movement, or it got hold of him, and we spent an evening with John Wimber. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie crossed my desk… I was asked to lecture on the topic, wrote up a two-part article in Moody Monthly and have routinely raised the topic as one who teaches the Gospels where Jesus routinely exorcises.
The issue is often called spiritual warfare. In the book we are examining, called Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views (with Walter Wink, David Powlison, Greg Boyd, C. Peter Wagner, with some others as well), the view that comes closest to what my “pastor friend” told me is in this book called “The Classical Model.” The proponent is David Powlison, and the essay is articulate, theological, informed, biblical and pastoral. If Wink represents a politicized viewpoint, Powlison represents a kind of cessationist or alternative viewpoint.
In brief, Powlison diminishes and domesticates power encounters without diminishing the reality of Satan or demons or evil or their importance in the world or Christian life. Spiritual warfare for him is about repentance, prayer, Scripture, and obedience. He seeks to show that texts are either misunderstood or overcooked, and that the most common way one deals with sin and evil spirits in the Bible was the ordinary way of trusting and obeying God and praying and fellowship.
His approach is to examine Ephesians 6:10-20 as the major text. The “armor” is more properly understood as the “weaponry” of God at work in the mission of God in this world through Christ. He doesn’t think this is about a Roman soldier but about mostly Isaiah’s themes. (The Logician’s Nephew might now need to stand up and point out that this is a false dichotomy, and it almost is… but give the guy some slack. He’s drawing our attention to the Isaiah texts.) “To win spiritual warfare is simply to live as light in a dark world” (98). The look and feel of the spiritual warfare life is the normal Christian life.
Occult? No need for power encounters. Bondage to sin? No need for power encounters. The norm for these are the norms of repentance and faith and Scripture and obedience and fellowship, etc.
Most will want to know what about Jesus and exorcisms? “Jesus’ mode of good good is by dramatic, performative words and actions. For us [that's a huge hermeneutical leap], the mode of doing good changes into dependent prayer and loving action” (105 n 2). There is just no defense of this but it’s got colossal influence in this chp.
He tells two stories, one of a missionary in Africa who learned that power encounters were not effecting long term transformation but by adapting to Powlison’s “classical” approach more change was seen; the other story is about a woman who had been abused who was changed not by power encounter but by routine discipling ministries.
1. I have no dispute with his concerns about extravagances in this field. There is some craziness at work.
2. Powlison, to me, seems hesitant to be “biblical,” searching for an alternative angle, when it comes to a worldview in which there are spirits that are to be encountered as Jesus and the apostles encountered them. He domesticates and diminishes what is demonic in the Bible.
3. Powlison’s “classical” themes are right-on: there is no need to flip into diminishing the importance of prayer, faith, trust, Scripture, fellowship, discipleship, etc..