This Present Darkness: A Theology of the Demonic

What follows is a comprehensive set of notes (in list form) by theologian Rob Knowles, of a series he delivered on the paranormal and demonic a couple of years ago.  This is an eye-opening read and one that should temper naive evangelical zeal in regard to the demonic, with a degree of wise caution, coupled with serious biblical insight into its sheer complexity and reality.

When we read in Scripture that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 6:12), Paul is not playing mere religious games.  He sees and he knows.  What follows, is an unpacking of what Paul was getting at, that we too might see and know.

May the sovereign grace and sureness of Christ’s salvation be ever in your heart and mind as you read:

Theology of the Paranormal/Demonic

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How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that (big assumption alert) close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

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The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

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Infantilism Evangelism

Immaturity-260x296The following is an excerpt from Dr Robert Knowles’ newly released book ‘Relating Faith – Modelling Biblical Christianity in Church and World’.

Much of what the Church does for evangelism isn’t.  It thinks it is because it is locked in to a way of doing that ignores content and context.  In other words, relational wisdom is sidelined for a program.  Here’s what Rob Knowles says on the matter, and it is just one point within a much larger framework:

“The church confuses evangelism with infantilisation.  It is assumed that ministers and elders are mature and can take profound biblical content, that seasoned churchgoers are almost as mature and can take moderate biblical content, but that most Christians can only take ‘the basics’, and that non-Christians – well – Thomas the Tank Engine is too advanced for them.  What a load of old patronizing and offensive drivel.

It is shameful that I and many others even have to point out that many non-believers have degrees, read text-books, do professional jobs that involve technical language, are familiar with current affairs, and are – quite frankly – very, very often much further on in their thinking that the Christian sloganeers are (by ‘sloganeers, Dr Knowles means the oppressive pseudo-evangelistic sloganeering activism that is devoid of interesting/rich/knowledgable content).

But the sad fact is, these days, many of us do have to point this out to the church.  Worse – when I and many others do point it out, what we say is often rejected as being irrelevant thinking ‘by intellectuals’ who ‘only have academic knowledge’.

[Earlier on in the chapter], we linked infantilisation to the standard strategies of those in power who wish to keep people immature so that their power bases and systems of privilege are not challenged.  Such abusers need to mislabel people who think as ‘mere academics’ so that they can falsely cast aside the genuine criticisms that thinkers bring to the table.  Moreover, such patronisation even assumes that academics or thinkers actually have ‘less real-life experience’ from which to contribute, which is also false and an abuse of power.

Furthermore, it is a genuine breach of etiquette, register and of politeness generally when evangelistic mission deploys speakers who sound like nursery-school teachers.  Frankly, this is insulting to those unfortunate enough to be listening.  Every day, people hear what some sloganeering believers think of as ‘the dreaded long words’ on television.  And yet, I have been rebuked in some church contexts for using vocabulary that would be commonplace on Blue Peter.pedobear-meme-generator-goo-goo-gah-gah-you-say-good-enough-for-me-070774

Only anti-intellectuals and power-hungry infantilisers resist vocabulary, however, for an extension of vocabulary often brings an extension of wisdom and an exposure of sin.  Indeed, it’s funny how anti-intellectuals and power hungry infantilisers are happy to learn a compound word like ‘video-recorder’, which has six syllables; but if one dares to articulate a three-syllable word such as ‘redemption’, then suddenly it’s ‘a long academic word’.  Oh, grow up!

[So what we are saying] for encouraging mission and evangelism, then, is to take the infantilisation out of evangelism and put some cognitive content and some vocabulary back into it.  I’m not saying that we should read out a paper on post-structuralism – I’m just advocating that we say something interesting that doesn’t insult people’s intelligence.

It is often the church that has become infantilised, not the world.”

Relating Faith, p.167-8

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Stop Forcing Me To Do Evangelism!

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Christians should be encouraged in their gifts and then their “evangelism” as it happens naturally in the lives, their circles of influence, etc, would become a joy and not a burden.  It would be natural, not forced.  I’m afraid the office of “evangelist” has got bad press down the years, and from what I’ve often seen, rightly so.  It is often left to the wildly inarticulate but enthusiastic extroverts who love to chat to strangers and lob cliché and scripture bombs into peoples laps and run away shouting the loudest!

What I guess I’m afraid of, is “doing” things in ministry that have an appearance of “that’s what evangelism/mission/proclaiming…[fill in the blank] looks like” but in reality, both true to the individual person, their gifting, calling, strength’s, etc, no one group of people should ever do  a preconceived standardised model of anything.  It’s like putting round pegs in square holes, or lighting a candle in a room with the oxygen slowly being sucked out.

So I think, theologically and biblically, that the church, historically, and especially since the so-called Great Awakening, has made a catastrophic error of judgement: it has standardised church, ignored individuals; particular gifts and strengths, and simply enforced a model of operating that is life to the very few.  

This for me is one of the reasons why people squirm in their seats when anyone talks of “doing evangelism” or going on a mission.  Part of it is, admittedly, sinful resistance.  Part of it is embarrassment and shame;  part of it is timing and calling; part of it is seasons of gifts; part of it is the right person, at the right time in the right place – and they go, because it’s right for them.  And part of it is surely because they intuitively resist having one model being imposed on them.

For example: Why should Dave go door-to-door when he’s shared his faith with 8 blokes this week?  It just doesn’t make sense to me, not least for time, family and other reasons.  Dave is in his natural working environment, exercising his gifts of God in the workplace, and not ashamed to proclaim Christ.  I say, let the person who wants to go door-to-door go door-to-door.  They will have my support and blessing, but I will be the first to say this isn’t the only way to do evangelism and I won’t impose that on anyone.  “Let each one be convinced in his own mind.”

So for me, I do not want to fall into the same cultural trap with all the assumptions that come with it.  Let the teacher teach; the minister minister; the prophet prophecy; the generous give; the evangelist proclaim.  Let them all proclaim Christ as they do what God has gifted them to do, but let no person do what God has not called them to do – and this last bit is more a reflection of contemporary church life in the UK and the West than anything else. I.e. people being pushed and coerced into roles and functions because that’s the shape of the church rather than the shape of the church being flexible enough to excel in releasing people into their particular and specific gifts.

What does this mean?  In the words of theologian Dr Rob Knowles (author of ‘Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics, the search for a unified theory’ and a 2014 published book called ‘Relating Faith’) – just so I can convince you I’m not just inventing clever ways of avoiding a particular way of doing evangelism:

“(i) each church has different individuals with different gifts in it; (ii) therefore, each church-community is a unique combination of unique individuals, and is thuswait for it—unique!

But this means, surely, that leaders have to: first look at who they have got; second ask what is it that those unique individuals are uniquely good at and actually want to do; and third submit to the unique historical factuality of what their church will then have to look like. Imposing a standardised model is oppressive, gift-suppressing, ministry-killing, relationally-alienating, and turns church-community into a total charade.

In fact, imposing standardised models of church on uniquely-shaped groups is one of the causes of “churchianity”. Churchianity is that rather fake discourse-world—that pseudo-fellowship—that arises when people suspend their identities to speak the received language of a pseudo-community built upon suppressed individuality and ministries. This differs from a true community—i.e. a community that accepts, promotes, and benefits from each person’s cherished uniqueness and true ministry—which will not conform to the a priori categories of a standardised model.”

One reason I think that evangelism is a difficult subject to teach others about, is that it is done as standard, that fails to recognise gifts, it simply induces levels of anxiety that the only way to deal with them , are to “fake” it.  Every Christian is a teacher, in that their word and deed teaches others, but not everyone is called therefore to teach from the front.  To make the mistake of making everyone teach from the front, is the same.  While every Christian is to bear witness, not everyone is an evangelist, and more specifically, not every evangelist does door-to-door.

Dr Knowles goes on with another well made point:

“Relax! God has it under control. Think of Jesus asleep in the boat. Remember that it is God who created and who redeems the universe. Stop confusing your modernist system with righteousness. Learn to relate to people. Have a cup of tea, take some time to reflect. (And, if necessary, see an exorcist). Christianity is faith expressing itself in love, or, trust in God that learns to relate to people properly. It’s not about becoming Robo-vicar [or Robo-Christian]; God has already got the whole “justification” and “predestination” thing covered.”

Of course, Robo-vicars will say that I’m falling into the old ultra-Reformed trap of using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do evangelism.

Actually, though, I’m using the doctrine of election as an excuse not to do their kind of Robo-evangelism, which is not evangelism anyway, but a heart-attack trying to win people to something un-relational, un-Christian, unbiblical, and unlike Jesus.

To wrap up, I am not against door-to-door per se.  I am against the assumption that everyone should do evangelism [and specifically door-to-door] regardless of their gifts.  As an evangelist myself, I’m not very keen on unrelational cold calling door-to-door work anyway.  What I am keen on, is relational teaching and preaching and discipling others so that they are mature and effective where they are [Paul says stay where you were when you were called – be fruitful there!].  

Confident in the Gospel; confident in the Christ of the Gospel; exercising their gifts and being faithful with the field God has planted them in; faithful with the treasure they have received; and bold enough and wise enough to know when to speak and what to say.