A Lutheran take on exorcism and the demonic

A Lutheran take on exorcism and the demonic September 30, 2016

We’ve blogged about a Lutheran exorcist.  A new book from Concordia Publishing House offers a theological framework on the reality of demonic activity, actual case studies of people afflicted by demons who were helped by Lutheran pastors, and practical guidelines on how these malign spirits can be cast out by means of the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.

The book is entitled Afraid:  Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in America.  It’s by Dr. Robert H. Bennett, the Executive Director of the Luther Academy and an Adjunct Professor of Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  Read my review after the jump.

With his extensive experience in the mission field, Dr. Bennet previously wrote a book about how the Lutheran Church of Madagascar (which has more members than the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) deals with the rampant spiritualism and “evil spirits” in that country’s animistic culture.  That book from 2013 is entitled I Am Not Afraid:  Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare.  This sequel is about how that same spiritualism and those same kinds of demonic possession and demonic oppression are now manifesting themselves in the United States of America.

He makes the interesting point that whereas the modernists of the 20th century were all rationalistic and naturalistic, dismissing the supernatural entirely, today’s postmodernists are “spiritual but not religious.”  As such, they are reverting back to animism.  As evidence, he cites today’s funeral customs, how people speak of (and to) the dead, objects people invest with special powers, interest in the occult, etc., etc.  And more often than we realize, these “spiritual” interests bring on encounters with demonic spirits.

These are not always of the dramatic, sensationalistic type that we see in movies.  (Though sometimes they are.)  Nor is casting them out always as dramatic as the movies depict.  Sometimes the process takes a long time.  The way to get rid of a devil is pretty much a heightened application of the ordinary resources of the Christian life:  Confession & absolution; God’s Word; Baptism and remembering its promises; the Lord’s Supper.  Dr. Bennett also makes use of hymns, many of which are “exorcistic” (a useful list of such hymns is included, including many that you will never have thought of in that way).  Also house blessings.  The Madagascar church uses a liturgy of exorcism that consists mainly of Bible passages, prayers, and commands.

Dr. Bennett also does a lot with Luther, who often wrote about dealing with devils.  Those accounts have not been taken very seriously lately, but it turns out they may have a great deal to teach us after all.  Dr. Bennett also shows the difference between the Lutheran approach, which focuses on the Gospel, and that of Roman Catholic exorcists.

There are some hair-raising case studies described here.  But the effect of the book is inspirational and encouraging.  We see how the demons are scared to death of Baptism.  Dr. Bennett quotes a voodoo priest saying how he can only curse non-believers or nominal believers.  But he can’t curse Christians because their God is so powerful that He protects them.  We see in these case studies over and over again how the devils are no match for the Word of God.

I read this book for a monthly book study that I was invited to join by a group of pastors in our circuit.  As we discussed it, I was astonished to hear how several of these pastors in small town Oklahoma had dealt with or were dealing with similar cases to those Dr. Bennett cites in his book.  (In fact, one case a pastor is currently dealing with was far worse and more terrifying than anything Dr. Bennett cited.)

Few pastors study this sort of thing in seminary.  When a parishioner comes to them convinced that he is under demonic attack, most pastors have no idea what to do.  This book will be of great help in dealing with what may become a major theme of pastoral care in the 21st century.

 

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