Richard Beck Wants to Bring the Devil Back (Sort of)

If you’ve followed this blog much, you’re probably aware of my appreciation for the work of Richard Beck. I’ve written about his two books, Unclean and The Slavery of Death, I assign Unclean for my seminary senior seminar. Students sometimes say it’s the best book they read in seminary.

Kai Stachowiak, via Public Doman pictures.net. CC0 2.0

Kai Stachowiak, via Public Doman pictures.net. CC0 2.0

I haven’t read his latest book yet, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the 51MvLtQJ3yL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Disenchanted, but it looks like a good one.

Josh de Keijzer, over at HelloChristian, has an interview with Beck that gives a pretty good sense of the book–a thesis which is liable to equally confound both liberal and conservative Christians. Sounds like there’s lots here to think about.

The question and answer that jumped out to me was this:

Why is it such a big deal to not be focused on spiritual warfare?
“If there is not a spiritual aspect to spiritual warfare then all the evil that is left in the world is due to the people who perpetrate it. People then become the face of evil; they are then demonized. This is one of the paradoxes I explore in my book. In banishing demons and the devil from our world we are forced to see human beings who commit evil acts as the embodiment of evil. Human beings then become devils and demons. The only way to combat evil, if humans are the sole agents of evil, is for the Good Guys to take power away from the Bad Guys. And everyone knows that the Bad Guys are the people in the other political party. This is what happens when spiritual warfare is reduced to a purely human political struggle and it’s one reason, I believe, why politics in the US has become so ugly.”

That’s an interesting point. Although, there’s the other side of this, too, which is that demons and the devil give us a really good scapegoat for human evil. The problem with that isn’t so much that we minimize human responsibility for evil acts (regardless of our metaphysics of evil, we’re pretty good at demonizing people and punishing them for bad deeds). Instead, the problem may be that, if we lay the blame on evil, supernatural agents, we may not take the time and effort to understand, from the natural side of things, why it is that we do bad things. What are the systemic, social, psychological–which is to say, natural–causes the lead up to evil acts? The answer can’t simply be, “the devil made me do it.”

But Beck, empirical psychologist that he is, knows this too. So I’m interested to read the book and see how he engages this further.

 

Stay in touch with Kyle Roberts and Unsystematic Theology on Facebook:
About Kyle Roberts

(PhD) is Associate Professor of Public Theology and Church and Economic Life, supported by the Schilling Endowment, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Roberts has published essays on Kierkegaard and modern theology, including several essays in the series Kierkegaard Research: 2014-10-14 10.26.51Sources, Reception and Resources (Ashgate / University of Copenhagen) and other collected volumes on various topics, including Pietism, Karl Barth, and Christian spirituality. Roberts has published Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013) and is currently co-authoring a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans) and a book about the virgin birth (Fortress Press, Theology for the People)