Demons Aren’t Real, But People Believe in them Anyway [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Before I dive in to this week’s response, I just want to say that this series – The Questions That Haunt Christianity – has gone even better than I’d hoped. Over 200 questions have come in, and they are extraordinarily challenging. But, even better, you, the readers of this blog, have been overwhelming in your responses in the comment section. This week, for instance, we’ve already got 90 comments, and most of them are brilliant. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I want to buy you each a beer and talk theology.

With that, I turn to the challenging question put to us by Lee Pendarvis. A recent convert from atheism to Christianity, Lee asks,

Why do Christians continue to believe in the demonic when as far as I have seen, even in today’s multimedia infested world, we have yet to garner any evidence at all other than perhaps some youtube videos or recordings that are not at all remarkable (someone shouting curses in a gruff voice etc.)?

Lee thinks that demon possession belongs in the realm of UFOs and Big Foot, and I have to say that I agree with him.

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Why I Haven’t Given Up on the Bible

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel, by Rembrandt

When conversation on this blog turn to issues of sexuality, as it did this week with Brian McLaren’s View on Homosexuality, there are always some commenters who admit that their Christian faith has broken free of the Bible. For example, R. Jay comments,

I’m a Christian for whom the Bible is not my foundation, not my law code, not my ladder, not my pedestal. I love it dearly, but I don’t need it to know God, and I don’t need it to understand how to love my neighbor fully.

In the absence of the Bible, there is still God. And to know God does not require the Bible. Devotion to it has become the most insidious of all barriers.

Honestly, I understand how some people come to this conclusion. The Bible is a primitive book, coming out of a primitive time. Even the most staunch conservatives should be able to admit that. It is reflective of a different world than the world in which we live. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not applicable to our lives and our time, but that much hermeneutical work needs to be done to understand what it means for us today.

In Brian’s own evolution of how he understand human sexuality, he has not abandoned the Bible,

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What Is Genesis?

This sponsored post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the author, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

Christians continue to talk about Genesis, to debate Genesis, and to write books about Genesis. Fellow Patheos blogger Peter Enns, for instance, got some evangelical undies in a bunch with his 2012 book, The Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

The latest book on the scene is by fellow evangelical, Karl Giberson. Giberson is a scientist, not a biblical scholar, and this book is more poetic than prosaic. In Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, Giberson uses the seven-day creation account in Genesis 1 to retell the scientific origins of the cosmos. In other words, he uses Genesis as the framework for a scientific narrative.

In general, I think we need a lot more of this. That is, creative retellings of biblical accounts. It’s related to what people in my field call “theo-poetics.” It’s not about literalism, but about inspiration. It allows the Bible to do what it was meant to do: inspire our imaginations, stoke our passion, and, as Giberson writes in his chapter on the Seventh Day, communicate the Creator’s love for us.

We are, as Giberson nearly sings at the end, more than simply meat puppets, a collections of flesh and bones with nerves and a brain stem. We are creatures uniquely (at least as far as we can tell) capable of love:

“If the Spirit of God is everywhere at work in our open-grained universe, that means that every event since the beginning of has occurred in the presence of God. The history of life on our planet has unfloded with the real option of divine interaction. Events, as they occurred, may have been drawn by God toward fulfillment of divine purposes.

“Such possibilities open the door to a different kind of world — one with a real direction to unfolding patterns like the big bang and evolution — and not just in the sense of more complexity or more diversity. If life unfolds in the presence of the Spirit of God, that trajectory may reveal a purpose — a reason why the world is as it is.”

Yes, just imagine.

The Rabbi Says, “Sure Jesus Had a Wife!”

I had a little fun with the idea that Jesus had a wife last week. This week, something a little more serious. My dear friend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, often posts at the Emergent Village blog; he regularly co-preaches with me at Solomon’s Porch, and he and I are co-presenting next week at Luther Seminary’s Celebration of Biblical Preaching Conference. I asked him what a Jew might think of Jesus being married, and he wrote this superb guest post:

The Rabbi says, “Of course Jesus was married!”

The recent headlines regarding a fourth century papyrus fragment in which we read a reference to Jesus’ wife raises a wonderful dilemma for Jews and Christians in dialogue.

When Christians search for their (Jesus’) Jewish roots, the question of marriage and even children is not very radical. The first commandment of the 613 mtizvot (commandments) in the Torah is “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus would not have consciously chosen to be single nor celibate as a first century Judean following normative Torah, but the Christ, the risen and incarnate Messiah, is beyond those normative structures. When Jews are asked by Christians to explain what it means to be a Jew, far too many begin with the self-definition of: Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, tragically defining themselves by rejecting the primary religious axiom of all Christians.

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

So, this news about Jesus being married is a wonderful and unexpected opportunity for Jews and Christians to reconnect about who they are in relation to each other. Since Jews do not have a problem with the historical reality of Jesus and they assume the necessity of marriage, the possibility of Jesus having a wife is not very challenging.

The Essenes — the desert monastic cult that is mentioned along with the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ time — were celibate and are therefore outside any Jewish norm. Christians can help Jews understand that their focus is actually on the Christ and not the human Jesus, the Judean for whom marriage would have been the norm. Christians might feel ambivalent about giving up their Jewish roots, but for the sake of honest dialogue it is important to explain that the risen Christ is their salvation and the human Jesus while mysteriously linked to the Messiah/Christ can’t be married according to later doctrine!

Jews and Christians alike must face the challenge that the Scriptures and traditional histories and commentaries from which the Judaism and Christianity of today are based cannot be defined by facts discovered out of context. Our two communities will always be challenged by the next new discovery which as a matter of course will counter our traditional point-of-view. Our faiths, observances, and theologies are not accumulated facts that will be changed when new facts are found.

The current legal battle over circumcision requires contemporary medical and legal thinkers to accept that this is a ritual that defies rational debate. The rational possibility or even necessity of marriage for Jesus, the Judean/Galilean teacher, is of little importance, because the Christ Jesus could not have married! Jews have to listen and learn from their Christian dialogue partners that arguing against a Christian’s religious values is not a valid act of 21st century religious pluralism.

“Yes,” the rabbi would say, “Of course Jesus was married!” But if the rabbi wants to understand how Christians must intellectually multi-task, having both a Jesus in history and a Christ beyond history, then listening might be the best tactic.


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